3 Important Antarctic Explorers and What They Did

The Heroic Age is marked by its frenzy of explorers anxiously setting out to make their mark on history with their discoveries of the South Pole and Antarctic region.  During this time, three particular explorers shaped the future of exploration, not just with their trail blazing voyages, but with their ideas of leadership and expedition tactics.

Ernest Shackleton

Name: Ernest Shackleton

Notable Explorations:
British Antarctic Expedition / Nimrod 1907-09

Imperial Transantarctic Expedition

Endurance (Weddell Sea) / Aurora (Ross Sea) 1914-17

Contributions to Antarctic Exploration: After Shackleton was terminated from Scott’s Discovery expedition for “medical” problems, he won sponsorship for his own expedition aboard the Nimrod. The Nimrod crew, which included the notable explorer Douglas Mawson, completed the first ascent of Mt. Erebus, nearly making it to the South Magnetic Pole. 

It was a less successful endevour, however, that Shackleton is best known for.  During the ill-fated transcontinental voyage of the Endurance, the ship got stuck in ice and drifted north where it sank.  Though the expedition was a failure, Shackleton reached infamy for keeping his entire crew alive on the voyage despite several months of weathering the Antarctic region on ice, marking him as one of the most charismatic explorers of all time. Some consider his death the real end to the Heroic Age.

Roald Amundsen

Name: Roald Amundsen

Notable Explorations:
Norwegian South Pole Expedition / Fram 1909-11

Contributions to Antarctic Exploration: Amundsen is credited with winning the "Race to the South Pole", reaching it about a month prior to Robert Falcon Scott's crew.  Though both set out to reach the South Pole at the same time, Amundsen had a few notable advantages.  Among them, Amundsen was one degree closer to the Pole at the time of departure from the Bay of Whales.  He also had a team that used dogs and knew how to ski well.  Finally, Amundsen's team was well nourished thanks to supplies of whole meal bread, fruit preserves, and seal meat.

Amundsen remains credited as one of the most organized and professional southern explorers of his time, however, at the same time he is noted for secretly aborting course during his exploration of the North Pole (after it was discovered) and heading south to Antarctica to make history there.

Robert Falcon Scott

Name: Robert Falcon Scott

Notable Explorations:
British National Antarctic Expedition / Discovery 1901-04

South Pole Expedition / Terra Nova 1910-12

Contributions to Antarctic Exploration: Sailing the Discovery to McMurdo Sound, Scott and crew (which included none other than Sub-Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton) wintered the elements of the Sound. Together, Scott and Shackleton conducted scientific experiments and land expeditions, with the primary objective of reaching the South Pole first, but failed to use the expeditions sled dogs, never making it to the exact South Pole (though they did make it further than anyone prior).

Scott’s ultimate and unfortunate claim to fame was his second, fatal attempt at the South Pole. Using ponies as well as sled dogs to traverse the Antarctic terrain, the experiment was ultimately a disaster, and even though the crew finally made it to the South Pole, it was after Amundsen.  Disappointed at the second place finish, the crew made their way back and eventually died during their departure at their base camp of Camp Evans.