100 Years of polar trekking
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.”