who got to the SOUTH Pole first

Apropos of the North Pole controversy and your comments about navigators on the Roald Amundsen South Pole expedition: A few years ago I read a serious book (titled, I think, The Race to the South Pole) which speculated that Amundsen’s team may have nmissed the South Pole by a few hundred metres whereas the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott actually hit the spot. In other words, maybe, just maybe, the luckless Brit hot the jackpot and died without credit. Who knows…except, of course, the Omniscient Cecil. Enlighten us Oh Wondrous One.
Chris Mitson, New Zealand

I don’t think anyone is worried about a few hundred meters, given the state of navigation at the time. In fact, when Scott got there, he saw that Amundson had got “there” first.

Peary, OTOH, may not have even been within tens of miles, and his data may have been faked. The circumstances are very suspicious as he didn’t even tell anyone he had made it until he heard that Cook was also making claims.

My Dad was an expert musher, and claimed that there is no way Peary could have done the milage he claimed, considering his equiptment and the conditions.

Welcome to the SDMB, chris.

A link to the column is appreciated. Providing one can be as simple as pasting the URL into your post, making sure to leave a blank space on either side of it. Like so: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/060609.html

…except that Peary’s dash has been duplicated.

Just how “big” are the poles? A few hundred meters across? The size of an electron?

Also, with the magnetic poles and the geographic poles being apart from one another, how do I tell when I’m at “true north” vs. “magnetic north” without the aid of GPS?

The thing is that Amundsen presumably wandered around a bit while he was at the South Pole, taking measurements and so on- and undoubtedly hit the “actual” South Pole (one presumes the geographic one, since the Magnetic one drifts all over the show) in the process.

Of course, Amundsen is only famous (outside Scandinavia) for getting to the South Pole before Scott, and even then you have to have at least a passing interest in Antarctic Exploration to know this.

Scott, on the other hand, became famous for not only being a runner-up (and not that many great people become better known as a runner-up than the guy who got there first), but freezing to death with the remainder of his expedition team on the way back.

Amundsen vanished looking for the blimp Italia in 1928, so in the end neither of them really acheived any long-term benefit from getting there before anyone else, which manages to be both sad and ironic at the same time…

Not really. He used modern GPS tools, and his sled dogs had the advantage of another 100 years of selective breeding, he has 5 not 2 memebers, his clothes were made of modern & lighter materials, his food was better, and the conditions were better… about the only thing he duplicated was the sleds.


  • 2 x Peary sleds
    1 x 5-man custom-made floorless octagonal tent
    1 x 3-man Hilleberg Keron tunnel tent (for emergencies)
    2 x Petzl head torches
    4 x MSR Whisperlite stoves (2 for cooking/melting snow, 2 for heat)
    1 x MSR aluminium pot
    1 x aluminium kettle
    MSR Fuel bottles (3 litres Colman Gas per day)
    Plastic bowls, serving spoon, mugs, spoons

Individual camping equipment

1 x Mountain Hardwear Wraith SL sleeping bag
1 x Integral Designs over bag
1 x Integral Designs Hooded VB sleeping bag liner
1 x Mountain Hardwear Conduit bivy bag
1 x Mountain Hardwear Backcountry 75 sleeping pad/chair
1 x Thermarest Z rest
1 x pair of Sierra Designs Tech down booties
1 x 1 litre Nalgene water bottle

Individual ski equipment

1 x pair 198cm Fischer Europa 109 Crown skis
1 x pair 135cm Swix Expedition poles

Individual clothing

The feet

    1 x pair Alpha Modre Ekstrem boots
    1 x pair Meindl Profli inner boots
    1 x pair Meindl woollen inner boot
    1 x pair Northwinds Super gaiters
    2 x VB boot liners
    2 x pairs Bridgedale Thermal Liner socks
    2 x pairs Bridgedale Snow Sport socks

The legs

    2 x pairs Patagonia lightweight boxer shorts
    2 x pair Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch tights
    2 x pair Mountain Hardwear Microchill pants
    1 x pair Mountain Hardwear Pack pants
    1 x pair Mountain Hardwear Chugach insulated pants

The body

    2 x Mountain Hardwear Ignition T thermal tops
    1 x Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch Zipped T thin fleece
    1 x Mountain Hardwear Tempest SL insulated jacket
    1 x custom made Mountain Hardwear treated Gore Dry Loft FTX Parka
    1 x Mountain Hardwear Below Zero SL down jacket

The head

    1 x Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon hats
    1 x Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch balaclava
    2 x Turtle Fur neck gaiters
    1 x pair Oakley A Frame goggles (polarised lens)
    1 x pair Oakley Monster Dog sunglasses (polarised lens)

The hands

    1 x pair Northwinds wristlets
    1 x pair Thinsulate finger gloves
    2 x pairs Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch fleece gloves
    1 x pair Mountain Hardwear Genome leather-palmed gloves
    1 x pair Lill Sport Adventure Fjellvott over mitts

Technology and communications

2 x Iridium 9505A satellite telephones
1 x Argos positioning beacon
1 x Garmin Etrex GPS*
 (some snipping)

His stuff is better made, lighter- allows more food to be carried as they restricted themselves to the same 500# load Peary had. More food for the dogs allows them to pull faster.

In other words, what Tom Avery did was show that with modern equiptment, modern dogs, a bigger team, and so forth, you can do it. Now, my dad worked with pre-WWII equiptment, only a tiny bit better that Peary’s. Admittedly he never went to the North Pole, but he was the closest thing I know to an Artic explorer, and thus I trust his judgement (well, one of my great uncles went on one of the failed Antartic expeditions).

Count me as another vote for Amundsen’s claim of being first to the South Pole as being unchallenged. After all, even Scott’s notes acknowledged that they were second.

Personally, I got into the history of Antarctic exploration while I was angling to get the Navy to exile me to Deep Freeze. Because of my reading I’ve got a very dim view of Robert Falconer Scott. But - I also recognize that he had more than just ego and bloody-mindedness in his head. He was an excellent explorer and had been pushing the boundaries of Antarctica back for years. Unlike what I remember of Amundsen’s team, Scott’s expedition was there with scientific enquiries to follow, as well as pushing for the pole. AIUI Scott was the first explorer to use a mechanical sled (Snow tractor, or snowmobile, but given the state of the art at the time, it was better as a lead weight than for use pushing supplies.) and his expedition also got a good deal of use out of horses. (I think that they were Shetland ponies, but I don’t feel like pulling out my books to check, now.) Scott was willing to try new ideas to see what might work, while Amundsen was running just with what he knew would work.

While Scott’s Expedition is famous for the having the pole-ward team dying, Amundsen’s team was in dire straights by the time they’d made the pole. They left messages there, for Scott’s team to find, because they honestly questioned whether they’d be able to survive the trip back out. Scott, in a very real sense, was a victim of what he didn’t know: his whole crew was suffering from vitamin deficiencies. If one looks at the records and accounts of surviving members of Scott’s team you’ll find that the caches set up for the Pole-ward push were set up to contain a surplus of food for everyone. They were eating 1 and a half to twice the food they’d budgeted, and still were suffering the effects of malnutrition, because of a lack of vitamins.

In contrast, Amundsen’s expedition had chosen to skip the laborious, time-consuming and expensive process of setting up advance caches. So when they were having to cut their rations to make their supplies last they were wondering if they’d end up trapping themselves without food. But, because they’d been isolated from normal foods for a much shorter time than Scott’s team, they were in better over-all health, because they weren’t suffering trace nutrient deficiencies.

Now, one charge that I think that Scott is guilty of is failing to consider doing what his mentor, Lord Shackleton, had done on their last push: turning back short of the Pole. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I think Shackleton had to turn back less than 50 miles from the pole. Scott never forgave Shackleton for that. And I think that, and the harsh words he’d had for Shackleton’s choice once they got back to England left him constitutionally unable to consider abandoning the Pole as his team weakened, even while on extra rations.

Of course, it’s has to be said - modern readers of the accounts will look at the symptoms of the men in the team, and wonder why no one can see that it’s vitamin deficiency: unable to digest foods, scurvy, and I think losing finger nails, and hair. All classic signs. But without the knowledge of vitamins, I can imagine how people could see all those as being brought on by the cold, or something else. :dubious:

Watch any celestial object (sun, moon, stars, etc) for 24 hours. If it always stays the same height above the horizon, then you’re at the Pole. If it doesn’t, then the direction where it’s lowest on the horizon is the direction you need to go in. And if it rises and sets, then you’re not even close.

I’m not a pole-explorer, but surely the Moon is a poor choice of object for that test?

The Moon moves about 13 degrees per day with respect to the fixed stars. Sometimes, depending on where the Moon is in its orbit and what time of year it is, a sizeable component of that motion is going to be north or south (positive or negative in the declination coordinate). This could fool you into thinking you were a couple degrees closer or further from the pole than you really were — assuming you’d been expecting the Moon to stay fixed.

Well, yes, I was giving the simplified version. If you use the Sun, Moon, or a planet, you’re going to have to throw in some calculations, or choose your observation time particularly well. Much simpler to use a star. But you could in principle use anything.

Scott was also counting on some a) “normal” temperatures in the Antarctic, and b) seasonal tailwinds to help “push” them back home. That winter was much colder than normal, so pulling the sleds (as I heard it described), would have been about like pulling them across sand. The absence of favorable season winds also didn’t help.

But getting back to Peary, the article glossed over how the photographic evidence was shaky, while the NGS maintains that it proves his location. And what about his depth soundings? How close did they get?