Amundsen’s Dogs Were Sacrificed For The South Pole: 1911 December 14th

Amundsen and his working and non-working dogs.

Amundsen showed up in Antarctica with the cutting-edge in polar technology; Inuit clothes, sleds and igloos. His ship, The Fram, left Christiana, Norway in August 1910 with provisions for 2 years and nearly a hundred Greenland sled dogs that were to be the key in his team’s success in reaching the South Pole.

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Amundsen’s second attempt to reach the pole left Framheim on the 19th of October 1911 leaving with five men, and four sledges each pulled by thirteen dogs for a total of fifty two. They made good progress feeding the dogs on seal meat and blubber that had been brought with them. The men’s rations were meagre in quality, but sufficient in quantity. Amundsen avoided Scott’s route to the Polar Plateau up the Beardmore Glacier instead ascending a steeper, more difficult but more direct route up a small glacier he named after Axel Heiberg, one of his financial backers. Seven dogs died on the ice barrier before reaching the glacier, and all but eighteen were killed at the top of the glacier, those killed were eaten eagerly by dogs and men alike, with some depoted for the return journey.

At 3 p.m. on Friday December the 14th 1911 the party arrived at the South Pole. Scott had not beaten them to the prize. They erected a small tent and placed inside it a letter to the King of Norway asking Scott to send it. They left the pole on the 18th of Dec and arrived back at the Fram on the 25th of Jan 1912, just 38 days after leaving the south pole and 99 days, 10 less than anticipated. They had covered 3,440km (1,860 nautical miles), five men and fifty two dogs set off, five men and eleven dogs returned.

This part usually gets left out of children’s book about Roald Amundsen. Dogs were not only the transportation plan for the Norwegian expedition, they were also part of the meal plan. As the load lightened, Amundsen’s men slowly eliminated unneeded dogs to provide fresh meat to the team (including the other dogs). British people eat a lot of things, but they don’t eat dogs — so this fell into the category of tactical advantages that were never considered by Scott. For transport, the Brits instead relied on a combination of proto-snowmobiles, ponies and dog sleds. When the proto-snowmobiles broke and the ponies quickly died, they were left to drag their stuff with “man-sledges.”

Scott believed in the value of struggle, and it led him to take reckless bets like relying on man-sledges or leading his team through brutal Antarctic storms. Amundsen, by constrast, was more meticulous about not risking his expedition when he didn’t need to…like other great explorers, Amundsen knew when to turn back.

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