South Pole pony trap

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Captain Scott, who sacrificed his life coming second in the race to reach the South Pole, was a true Englishman. Brave, resolute, intrepid - and a dog lover. His reluctance to mistreat man's best friend contributed to the failure of his 1911 Antarctic expedition.

For Scott, unlike his successful rival, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, ignored conventional wisdom when preparing for his foray into the cold place at the end of the earth. He hated to shackle dogs to sledges, drive them for hundreds of miserable miles, and then kill them when they were too tired or hungry to pull any more. And Scott had another problem.

As polar expeditions advanced, it was normal for the slaughtered animals to be fed to the men and the remaining dogs. Scott could not face doing this.

So he resolved, as far as possible, to use horses and motorised sledges instead. Unfortunately, the horses were not chosen by his team mate Captain Oates, the man who was to die famously by walking out of the expedition's tent into a blizzard. Oates was a former cavalry officer and keen rider and he might have purchased better ponies than the ones Scott bought.

Even though the horses came from Siberia, they were wretched in the Antarctic. Unlike the sledge dogs, they could not curl up in the snow and sleep in temperatures that fell as low as - 30 LESS THAN C. When they tried to pull sledges they sank into drifts and could hardly move forward. On November 1, 1911, after nearly a year on the ice, Scott's team set off for the Pole. By then, nearly half the ponies were dead. Two days later, the motorised sledges broke down - and so did the remaining horses.

The explorers ended up having to pull their sledges themselves over mountainous glaciers and through bitter blizzards for the next two months.

Five men from Scott's team reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912.

Disappointed, they turned back, to meet their deaths. Amundsen had reached the Pole a month before Scott. He had used 52 dogs. The Norwegian liked them. "If we ourselves wanted a piece of fresh meat we could cut off a delicate little fillet. It tasted to us as good as the best beef."

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