200 years ago to the day, the continent of Antarctica was discovered, arguably kicking off the race to the South Pole that culminated in the golden age of Polar exploration. The expeditions of men like Peary, Nansen, Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton have inspired adventurers to this day. For them, it was all about being the first to achieve something – first to cross Greenland, first to the Poles or first to cross Antarctica. Since then, Polar exploration has become it bit more confusing. Here’s my attempt at explaining the history and what to look out for when reading about Polar – and especially Antarctic – expeditions.
Early February this year, Lauren and I found ourselves on the slopes of a mountain pass leading from the Mogen tourist hut up to the Hardanger plateau. We were 46km into our 120km crossing of the Hardangervidda and were already a day ahead of our schedule, so we weren’t too worried by the slow progress. As long as we’d clear the mountain and get onto the flat plateau by the end of the day, we’d be fine. We were worried about one thing, however, and that was avalanches. It had snowed quite a bit near Mogen in the days before we arrived there, and all morning we observed worrisome signs of unstable snow conditions: creaking noises under the fresh snow and snowdrifts sliding downhill even on the moderate slopes covered by trees as soon as we stepped into them. Finally, we reached a small cluster of huts at the edge of the tree cover. We decided to take a rest and regroup. The wind had picked up by now and we were wearing our goggles and face masks to protect ourselves from the elements. While we had been able to see the top of the pass, our goal, for the entire morning, now a thick cloud cover was rolling in and soon we weren’t able to make out our path up the mountain any longer. We had to make a decision. Was it safe to go on?