Archive for December 14th, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but not nearly as frightful as other places around the country…yikes!!  Winter has struck hard and fast.  So this morning I was standing outside the Home Depot, which has a big U.S. flag above it.  It was facing north, almost completely straight, held there by 25mph winds straight from the south…temperature?…50°F and sunny.

But just to the northwest were the dark gray, ominous clouds of the cold front about to hit us.  I just stood there and watched and, in less than 30 seconds, the flag had switched from facing straight north to facing straight southeast, as the front passed and the now-even-stronger winds were from the northwest.  The temperature plummeted to the teens in just a couple hours, and is now barely above 0°F.  You gotta love winters in the Midwest…because I don’t.

It’s obvious that I need perspective, so let’s talk about Today’s History Lesson.  On December 14, 1911, Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole…that lone spot where every direction is north.  Of course, airplanes were a pretty new idea 100 years ago, so he didn’t fly there, land, drop a rock on the spot, and leave.  Instead, he traversed the world’s most inhospitable terrain using sleds and teams of sled dogs.

Amundsen, a Norwegian, left Oslo in June…of 1910, which gives you an idea of how long these expeditions took.  Their ship arrived at its Antarctic base camp in January, and setting up several supply depots took months more time.  In the end, their final push to 90°00’S didn’t begin until mid-October (late spring/early summer in Antarctica).  But the Norwegian was an experienced sledge driver (learned when traversing the Northwest Passage) and his well-located base camp helped reduce the distance to the Pole.

Having arrived on the 14th, they left a letter in a small tent noting their arrival…and with good reason.  If they didn’t survive the return trip, the letter would prove they made it.  Second, British explorer Robert Scott was also on his way to the Pole, and needed to know he’d been beaten.  Amundsen returned to base camp, and his feat was formally announced in March of 1912.  He would later cross the North Pole…in an airship.  Scott reached the South Pole in January, 1912 (a month later than Roald), and was understandably dejected to be 2nd, but worse was to come.  His entire 5-man team would perish on their return, having run out of supplies and into horrendous weather.

The early 1900’s was a time marked heavy exploration of both Poles.  Men like Amundsen, Robert Peary, Scott, and Douglas Mawson endured unbelievable hardship and the most brutal conditions on the planet to achieve their dream of standing on the top (or bottom) of the world.

Recommended Reading:  The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole

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