02 January 2009

The South Pole - Roald Amundsen

In the picture above, the Norwegian flag is raised high above the South Pole, commemorating one of mankind's truly extraordinary feats of adventure. Of course, the picture above is completely false: notice, for one, how Amundsen has his hat off for goodness sakes. Someone should tell the painter that it was minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit on that day. Moreover, they were on a summit of nearly 12,000 feet; oxygen is sparse up here and I doubt they would have had time to rejoice. In fact Amundsen himself claims that there was very little rejoicing. From the account, the crew seems more pleased with surpassing Captain's Shackleton's marker at 88 degrees 23 minutes for the furthest south a human had ever ventured to.

A somewhat overly detailed account of the Norwegian's expedition to the South Pole in 1911, this is a must read for any adventure lovers. Even by today's standard, the story is significantly well detailed to provide an accurate understanding of their expedition, while still keeping the reader's attention (I will admit that at times, I don't need a multiple page description on the socks you wore, old Roald).

How many of us could even imagine embarking on such a journey today? Even with modern fabrics, NASA technology, global warming, and Oakley sunglasses, such an endeavor would undoubtely be overwhelming for the vast majority of us. We have likely become too comfortable in our cozy homes to wonder what it would be like to ride a sledge of dogs 20 miles a day across a barren plateau with nothing in site but snow, at temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius. Would we have the heart to slaughter these dogs when their time had come to an end, only to feed their carcasses to their fellow huskies? I doubt it.

Truly legendary explorers.

Our dogs, which during the last few days had covered a distance of nearly 440 miles, put in a very good piece of work that day, as they did twenty-two miles on ground rising to 5,770 feet. It was an almost incredible record. It only took us four days from the barrier to reach the immense inland plateau. We camped at a height of 7,600 feet. Here we had to kill twenty-four of our brave dogs, keeping eighteen -- six for each of our three sledges

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