100 Years of po­lar trekking

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It’s a cen­tury since Nor­we­gian Roald Amund­sen pipped Robert Fal­con Scott to the South Pole in 1912 and much was made last year of the ef­forts to be first and fur­thest south.

Scott died be­fore he got back to his base and his party came back by boat, call­ing at Oa­maru to land two of­fi­cers who sent word back to Lon­don that the mis­sion had fa­tally failed. I found out by ac­ci­dent – watch­ing Tony Robin­son’s TV ex­plo­ration of Ade­laide and its his­tory, that Amund­sen had turned up out of the blue in his fur-lined po­lar kit, to ra­dio home the news of his suc­cess. This in the days be­fore they had com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the far south. In his ex­cel­lent book 1912 – The Year the World Dis­cov­ered Antarc­tica, Chris Tur­ney records the var­i­ous ef­forts made. Scott didn’t be­lieve in the new skis, pre­fer­ring to trudge while Amund­sen was com­fort­able on the skis and his trip was a breeze by com­par­i­son. Ernest Shack­le­ton thought cars might be the an­swer and took an Ar­rol-John­ston to try in 1909, tak­ing low-tem­per­a­ture oil and a va­ri­ety of wheels and skis.

“The Ar­rol-John­son car had promised much but de­liv­ered lit­tle. Al­though it looked im­pres­sive on the ice, the ve­hi­cle proved wholly in­ad­e­quate for its new climes. As soon as it strayed off the ice, the tyres sank. The gleam­ing metal cas­ing and trap­pings were stripped off, leav­ing the driver to sit on the barest of frames above the en­gine. The ex­posed en­gine had to be reg­u­larly de­frosted, some­times by the po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive method of putting a small bowl of petrol un­der the car­bu­ret­tor and set­ting it alight; if stuck in the snow, the car would have to be pulled out and a dif­fer­ent type of wheel tried.”

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