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The Race to the South Pole; Scott and Amundsen

Et essay om kappløpet om Sydpolen; kampen mot hverandre og døden.

Karakter: 6 (VG1 Studiespesialiserende)

Sjanger:EssayLastet opp:07.04.2011
Tema:Historiske personer
Norsk historie
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I have decided to focus my part one on the differences between the Amundsen- and Scott expeditions. I have also included several factors on why Amundsen achieved his success, and why Scott failed so disastrously. In the second part, I have written about my dreams and my plan to accomplish these dreams. Further on I will talk about why Amundsen won the Antarctic Polar Race, along with how his experience can be transferred into your everyday situation to succeed in whatever you seek to attain.


“I may say that this is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” 
– Roald Amundsen, 1912[1]


The race to the South Pole is still known as one of the modern days most hazardous and adventurous expeditions of all time. These brave men sacrificed everything for their country, their countrymen and their sense of nationalism. They all gave their best, and a few won the ultimate price; Glory, honor and to be greeted as heroes. But others paid the ultimate price; death.



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Robert Falcon Scott.



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Roald Amundsen.



 On the morning of November 1st, 1911, a little cavalcade left Cape Evans in the Antarctic, straggled over the sea ice and faded into the lonely wastes ahead. Their leader was Captain Robert Falcon Scott. “The future is in the lap of the gods,” [2]he had written in his diary the night before. “I can think of nothing left undone to deserve success.” [3]


Two hundred miles ahead, on the same with southward road, another man were already well on his way. He was the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. He had uncharacteristically blundered into a fog-bound labyrinth of chasms and led his companions through the shadow of death that day. They all, Amundsen wrote in his diary, “were determined to get through-cost what it may.”[4] Thus began the race for the South Pole. Both men were prepared to drag themselves 1,500 miles across a frozen wilderness, and become an obsession of Western man. It could be argued against, but not argued away.


Since he was a little kid, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen had always been fascinated by the polar adventures of Sir John Franklin. Sir Franklin is best known for mapping two thirds of the north Atlantic, and for his last and fatal voyage; the search for the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Despite his vast knowledge and experience, his British cockiness’ let him down. The two ships froze into the sea ice, and the crew of 129 British sailors were never seen again. Regardless of Franklin’s failure, Amundsen admired this pioneer nearly fanatically and he became an unlikely hero for Roald. In addition to Franklin, Roald was also inspired by his countryman Fridtjof Nansen. He was an explorer, and the first to cross Greenland from coast to coast. Amundsen took many lessons from Franklin’s failures and Nansens precautions. His leadership was described as very strict; he was the captain and the expedition leader, and no one else. Nevertheless, he also cared a lot for his men, and always took the hardest jobs for himself. His men never doubted his authority, and the respect for this man was enormous.


Robert Falcon Scott was the complete opposite. They could not be any more different. Scott, as a British naval officer, followed the saying; “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by hard work and determination”. This was Scott’s primal rule. He depended on hard work, determination, improvisation and pure luck to win the race. On the other hand, Amundsen was an individualist who deliberately avoided hiring naval officers and scientists for his expedition as they would undermine his authority and question his decisions. Before entering the race, Scott served as a young lieutenant, and in the late 19th century with Britain in peace, the way to distinguish yourself was to go on an arctic exploration expedition. Eagerly willing to rise quickly in the ranks, Scott immediately requested a transfer to one of these expeditions. Although being seen as a charming, confident young man, his lack of leadership soon came for sight. Panic and the lack of will to prepare were just two of the flaws Scott had as a leader. These deficiencies would later become significant and disastrous.


Amundsen set of June 6th from Norway, officially heading for the North Pole. Not even his crew except the second in command and himself knew otherwise. In a time of financial insecurity, Amundsen had to keep his real intentions, namely reaching the South Pole. Amundsen loaned over 100.000 NOK for his expedition from various creditors and still had over 10.000,- left to pay. In the fear of losing his ship “Fram”, he officially announced his voyage as one with the scientific purpose to find the magnetic North Pole. Scott had his departure ten days later from Wales, England. In Madeira, Portugal, Amundsen called his men to the upper deck. One by one they were confronted with the fact that Amundsen had no intentions going for the leftovers of the North Pole, and that he instead had planned a journey to discover the geographic South Pole. They all had the option to say no, get discharged and get off at Madeira. They all continued the quest for the pole.


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Upon arrival, Amundsen and his men immediately started to build a shelter to survive the winter. This took a week to accomplish, whilst Scott’s men used over a month to accomplish the same, as their unpacking and the set-up of a permanent camp were dominated by chaos.  From Framheim, the camp of the Norwegians, a vast array of depots were laid out and marked thoroughly; 9 quart miles in every direction. All in all, Amundsen had over three tons of resupplies lying in depots; that is more than 300 kilos of supplies per person! In comparison, Scott’s men had only 50 kilo per person. This turned out to be another fatal error of Scott’s. After months of waiting through the tough arctic winter, both Amundsen and Scott left late in October. Several differences in tactics emerged right away from the start; Scott used horses, motorized sledges and manpower to haul the supplies. Amundsen used primarily dogs and described Scotts man-hauling as; “Inhuman! I could never ask my men to do something so gruesome and ineffective”[5]. Amundsen’s men were also experienced skiers, they had experience with sub-zero temperatures and had specialized equipment; Inuit clothing, Greenland-dogs (the hardest type of dogs available), new types of skis and bindings etc. Scott managed with standardized equipment and did not even bother to test it before he got to the Antarctic.


Amundsen raced over the feared “Great Ross Barrier”, managing over 37 kilometers per day. Scott managed only 15 kilometers per day. Upon arrival, all three of his motor sledges were inoperative by the cold weather, or they had fallen through the ice. The horses were also found ineffective in the deep power snow. Scott had compassion for the poor horses, but found it too atrocious to kill them. It meant that they had lost an important source of fresh meat which contained lots of vitamin C; vital to keep the scurvy at bay.



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Even though Amundsen had to plot his route into the uncertainty, he beat Scott to the South Pole with 34 days, nearly without problems due to thorough precautions and planning. Once he arrived at 14th December, he made several calculations to determine If they actually were at the geographic pole. All the men got together and pierced the Norwegian flag into the hard ice. To Scott, he put up a tent with some spare supplies and gear, plus to letters. One signed to Haakon VII, and the other to Scott himself.  What Scott described in his journals as the “worst weather that we ever could imagine to encounter”[6], Amundsen described as “a little windy today, but nothing special. Still managed to travel 19 quart-miles (35 kilometers) without any kind of problems.”[7] The myth describing Scott encountering much harsher conditions than Amundsen is purely fiction. Scott had the habit of over-dramatizing the circumstances to make himself more hero-like, in addition to that he and his crew became more and more exhausted.


When Scott and his men approached the pole, the fatigue and the lack of enough food became menacingly critical. To make things even worse, Scott decided to add a fifth man to the final push, and the rations were stretched even thinner. Just 20 kilometers from the South Pole, they discovered a black flag marking a small depot laid out by the Norwegians. The defeat was striking. In the distance they saw the Norwegian colors flying high. They took the supplies inside, and opened the letter designated for Scott where Amundsen wished Scott all the luck in the world on the return. He also asked Scott to deliver the letter to King Haakon VII if Amundsen and his team fell victim for an accident. Scott felt that he had been degraded to a post-carrier and took this as a direct insult. Eagerly willing to get away from the godforsaken continent, they only spent one brief night on the pole. The 1381 km march home seemed endless.


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Being the complete utterly failure as a leader that Scott was, he had calculated the rations out from perfect weather and that the men would be in tip-top shape. This was far from the truth. Suffering from scurvy and fatigue, the five men fought through every single day with 16 hours of marching. An expedition member, Oats, and had acquired gangrene in his right foot after the long days of marching. Soon, the pains for Oakes became too much to bear and the rest of the men decided to make camp to recover. The men stayed in their tent for three days before they perished. As the last one to allegedly die, Scott made his last letter to the public; “We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past”[8]. Even on his deathbed he tried to glorify he and his men and cover up his mistakes and failures as a leader. Scott was found 10 months later, frozen to death in his tent with the two remaining his team.


Amundsen won due to his extremely precise calculations and because he did not take any unnecessary risks, he handpicked his team from only the best of the best skiers and dog-sledge operators, he was the one and only authority within his crew and he had much more experience with extreme temperatures along with specialized gear straight from the Inuit settlements on Greenland. Scott on the other hand were after my understanding pretty much what you call incompetent in every single way when it comes to Arctic and Antarctic exploration voyages. He had a total lack of leadership, he knew nothing of snow and freezing weather even though he already had been on an Antarctic expedition for two years. He did not bother to specialize his equipment and he paid the price for his lack of preparations.


The tales of Scott and Amundsen have always intrigued me. From I was a little boy, I have dreamt of going in Amundsen’s steps. His determination and style of leadership is exceptional. Amundsen’s need to achieve greatness is just admirable. As with my life I want to accomplish my goals too. My childhood dream has always been to join the Norwegian Armed Forces, or more specifically, NORSOF, Norwegian Special Forces. To reach this goal I train endurance through jogging and sprinting in addition to strength training.


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I exercise every single day of the week, both at school and at home. There are those who train just to either become slim(mer). However, I think that kind of motivation is rubbish and idiotic. I train specifically to achieve my goal, not to look good. In the end, that kind of motivation will eventually fade away. But physical condition will not help me get through the hard selection of the NORSOF. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the woods and the Norwegian wilderness, enhancing my survival skills In addition to just having a great time. I have numerous of nights spent outdoors, the coldest in nearly -30°.


I chose to write about Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole because it’s a timeless example of preparation versus improvisation, capability against incompetence. This Antarctic pioneer did one of the world’s most risky ventures of all time. The one and only factor that made Amundsen victorious is preparation and preparation yet again.  One can achieve almost anything with the right planning, training and the right set of skills.



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Roald Amundsen.



Huntford, Roland. Scott og Amundsen. H. Aschehoug & co, 1982.

Amundsen, Roald. The South Pole. Kagge Forlag AS, 2003.

Amundsen, Roald. My Life As An Explorer. Amberley, 2009

Cherry-Garrard, Apsley: The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910–13. Penguin Travel Library, 1970

http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/klipp/488295/; Norsk Polarhistorie; Polfarerne. Seen 5.2.2011 at 10:56

http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/klipp/498635/; Norsk Polarhistorie; To Poler. Seen 5.2.2011 at 10:21

http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/klipp/707440/; BBC, On Thin Ice. Seen 5.2.2011 at 10:22

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roald_Amundsen ; Read 31.1.2011 21:05

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Falcon_Scott ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:05

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amundsen's_South_Pole_expedition ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:07

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fram ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:08

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_Expeditions ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:11

http://www.nansenamundsen.no/no/amundsen/ ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:11

http://www.polarhistorie.no/personer/roald_amundsen ; Read 31.1.2011 at 21:12


http://www.stowevintage.com/gpage50.html; Portrait of Roald Amundsen

http://www.windows2universe.org/people/modern_era/robert_scott.html; Portrait of Robert Scott

http://www.epi-centre.com/reports/9410cs.html; Scott and his men at the North Pole

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_Expeditions; Map of the route the two different expeditions used

http://gearsoc.com/board/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=91&start=75; NORSOF image

http://www.eoearth.org/article/The_South_Pole:_Illustrations_to_Volume_2; Amundsen at the pole

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roald_Amundsen_Signature.svg; Amundsen’s signature


[1] Amundsen, Roald. The South Pole. 1910-1912

[2] Robert, Scott. Scott og Amundsen, 1982

[3] Robert, Scott. Scott og Amundsen, 1982

[4] Amundsen, Roald. Scott og Amundsen/The South Pole, 1982

[5] Amundsen, Roald. Scott and Amundsen.

[6] Scott, Robert. Scott and Amundsen

[7] Amundsen, Roald. Scott and Amundsen

[8] Scott, Robert. Scott of the Antarctic

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