Friday, February 7, 2014

Scott Expedition Successfully Completes Round Trip to South Pole

Last October I wrote about a team setting out to retrace the round trip journey taken by the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott in 1911-1912. As we know, Scott perished along with his men on the return trip from the pole, after being beaten there by the Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundsen. Well, it appears that now the team of Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere has successfully managed to retrace Scott’s route to the pole and back, completing the trip in 106 days.


Unfortunately, on day 70 of the journey, Ben and Tarka had to call in for a supply drop, dissolving the unsupported status of the expedition. Until that point they had hauled all of their supplies, but were unable to travel fast enough to reach their next food depot; a tale strikingly similar to that which ended Scott’s life.

There are a lot of parallels between this expedition and Scott’s original one in 1911. One of the ways in which the two expeditions were different is the equipment used. Ben and Tarka used modern tools and clothing, as well as applying modern techniques. It is extremely unlikely that they would have gotten anywhere near to success without those advantages.

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A surprising dissimilarity, which interestingly made this current expedition much harder than the 1911 one was not only that it was undertaken by only two men, but also that they had to pull much heavier loads for much longer than Scott’s 1911 team members. The reason for that is that much of Scott’s equipment was moved towards the pole by teams of men and horses who then returned rather than continuing to the pole. As a result, Ben and Tarka were pulling 440 lb each from the beginning, compared to the 200 lb pulled by each of Scott’s men, which they only started pulling once they reached the Beardmore Glacier.

Even though this expedition used modern equipment and techniques, it is hard to say if Scott’s journey, to that extent of having a small team of men pulling all of their supplies and equipment to the pole and back using this same route, is possible. At some point there is only so much weight a man can pull. There have been some studies done on the subject, and while people equipped in the manner of Roald Amundsen and his men were able to complete the same journey without serious problems, the team attempting to do it with Scott’s equipment and techniques had to be stopped due to health issues resulting from extreme weight loss.

Anyway, congrats to Ben and Tarka for this remarkable achievement. You can view much more information about the expedition here.

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