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.
The Arctic ocean is, and always has been, one of the most challenging terrains for expeditions. The drifting sea ice creates a labyrinth of open water, frozen leads, and pressure ridges, where the straight line is rarely the fastest way ahead. With the fading ice, modern explorers have to use dry suits to swim across open leads, dragging their floating sledges behind them. On thin ice, one wrong step can mean almost death, plunging an explorer into the freezing water. If that’s not enough, polar bears are roaming the ice cap, ready to hunt any prey, including humans.
When I first learned about Fridtjof Nansen, it was because of his groundbreaking achievements in Polar exploration. He was the first to achieve an overland traverse of Greenland and set a record for farthest North during his Fram expedition. His unique approach to expeditions and inventive talents would serve as an example for other great explorers, such as Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and Peary. Apart from his Polar achievements, Nansen was also a dedicated Scientist and became a respected diplomat and humanitarian later in his life. His achievements in both these fields are just as remarkable as his Polar exploits and well deserving of a blog post on their own.
On this day 131 years ago, November 24th 1887, a newspaper in Kristiania, as Oslo was called back then, publicised a daring plan, proposed by a young scientist, to cross the Island of Greenland from coast to coast the following year. The man’s name was Fridtjof Nansen and he would go on to become arguably the most influential figure in the history of Polar explorationn
The polar exploration community is currently buzzing with news about Colin O’Brady and Loius Rudd. Both are taking on a challenge nobody has successfully completed, yet: a solo traverse of Antarctica via the South Pole, unsupported, and using only human power. You can follow Lou Rudd’s journey on his sponsor’s website, and Colin O’Brady on his Instagram or his own website. These expeditions stand out because they are one of the last supposed firsts out there to achieve for polar explorers. Since the first humans set foot on the Antarctic continent explorers have always found ways to add more challenges to their journey or make it unique in some way or another to qualify for that precious “first” label. Let’s take a look at some notable firsts in Antarctic history.