The Professional. The race between Scott and Amundsen to the pole is often categorised as the difference between the professional snow traveller and explorer (Amundsen) and the brave plucky amateur (Scott). This is unfair and fits a telling of the story to match a national image rather than an actual reality. Yet there was a difference between the two approaches. Amundsen had learned his skills and trade and it was what he did while Scott was a naval torpedo officer and this is what he had been assigned to do. In the previous summer 1910/1911 while Scott and his team were laying depots for the pole attempt the Terra Nova had sailed east. The ship had entered the Bay of Whales and found Amundsen and his men. The Terra Nova crew met the Norwegians and Priestly noted that, ‘the impressions they have left with us is that of a set of men of distinctive personality, hard and evidently inured to hardship, good goers and pleasant good humoured men’. When the crew met Amundsen they described him as having an appearance of a powerful leader and a face that showed the experience and hardships he had endured. Priestly summarised the Norwegians as, ‘they have unlimited dogs, the energy of a race as Northern as ourselves and experience with snow-travelling that could be beaten by no collection of men in the world’. On this day in 1912 Amundsen is making excellent progress back to his base after reaching the pole. There were several dangerous moments but he and his men would move as swiftly as they could covering 15/20 miles then stop and rest for 8 hours and then move again. They paid no attention to the normal constraints of the day and were making a speedy dash for home.
Roald Amundsen – Picture taken from Wikimedia Commons
Scott’s journal January 14th 1912. The surface improved a little for today’s march but still very hard work with only close to 12 miles achieved. The temperature is climbing with a light wind and indications that a blizzard to coming. Scott is hopeful that won’t happen but he agin acknowledges that those on ski are finding it easier and even on foot Bowers is not only powerful but is assuring their direction with his constant attention to the navigations. They are now less than 40 miles form the pole but Scott again notices that they are feeling the cold. Scott things it maybe the poor state of the finnesko (raindeer boots / ski shoes) and so he buts a grease on the bare side and reports that it made a big difference. Scott also notices that it is Oates who is feeling the cold and fatigue the worst but also comments that they are all fit. He concludes his entry with, ‘oh for a few fine days ! So close it seems and only the weather to baulk us’.
Commentary. For Scott to declare that they are are all fit when they are fatigued, cold and two of the party are injured is the possible result of something that happens all to often to leaders. Scott is so driven and committed to the goal he has a desire to have the facts match his own narrative rather than the other way around. This is not uncommon and if it has been recognised as a phenomenon it must serve a purpose, but what ?. While it can often be seen as a negative such a single minded, powerful, dogged ambition maybe what is required in some circumstances. We need to ask what purpose it serves and understand it in the context of the moment.