Map Of The Arctic

The enormity of the task that faced those endeavouring to sail southwards and the overwhelming odds against success mostly turned thoughts of further exploration to other areas, particularly again to the Arctic which was considered to be more easily accessible. Therefore for some 50 years little further was achieved in the Antarctic region.

There were a few attempts to travel deeper in but they didn’t accomplish very much. There was some continuing scientific interest but the research stations were all set up outside Antarctica and therefore were not really effective. The mysterious white region still attracted periodic attention but the extreme conditions usually repelled ships which had little chance against the overwhelming strength of the crushing ice.

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Antarctica was still virgin territory with little known of what would be encountered and the unknown perils awaiting those who ventured there. There is a classic Russian fairy tale which sums up the difficulties faced: ‘Go not knowing where. Bring not knowing what. The path is long, the way unknown.’ Several expeditions were organised over the following five decades by many countries including Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, Japan and of course by Britain. But the impenetrable Antarctic easily thwarted most efforts.

Now we arrive at the golden age of Antarctic exploration and the three greatest names associated with it, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton. Scott was the first expedition leader of the three to explore the region, in leading the British Antarctic Expeditions of 1901 04. His famous ship Discovery, built in Dundee, Scotland, was frozen in at McMurdo Sound (which Scott changed from McMurdo Bay as originally named by Ross) for two successive winters. Although exceptionally strong the wooden ship had developed a persistent leak, which led to the crew’s standing joke, ‘What’s the worst vegetable we have taken with us? Well, of course, the Dundee leek.’ The Discovery had also taken on board 800 gallons (over 3,600 litres) of rum, 42,000 lbs (over 19,000 kg) of flour, 10,000 lbs (over 4,500 kg) of sugar, and 3,000 lbs (over 1,350 kg) of roast beef, as well as 23 sledge dogs and 45 sheep. On this occasion, despite the numerous setbacks, Scott eventually managed, on dog sledges, to reach 82 oS before being forced to return.

Shackleton had been on Scott’s expedition in 1902 but had been invalided home with scurvy. At the end of 1907 he determined to try on his own account and set off with his team on his first expedition in Nimrod. They reached to within 175 km of the Pole before a shortage of supplies forced them to abandon this attempt and return home in 1909. However, they had located the Magnetic South Pole and team members had climbed to the summit of Mount Erebus (3,794 metres).

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