The South Pole

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The South Pole



Photographer on Ice

Moustache encrusted with ice, photographer Herbert Ponting stands on an iceberg near McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, in 1911. Ponting was part of the scientific staff on the 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole.

British explorer and expedition leader Robert Falcon Scott reached the Pole on January 17, 1912. A hundred years later, Ponting's photographs—including many rarely seen copies housed in the National Geographic archives—offer an "incredibly rich visual record" of the expedition, according to historian Max Jones.

Though Ponting did not go all the way to the South Pole, he chronicled the Antarctic continent from a hut on the coast, capturing scientists at work, unusual wildlife, and "grand landscapes," said Jones, senior lecturer in modern history at the University of Manchester.

"These astonishing photographs he took really created a language of heroic Antarctic photography—of presenting the Antarctic as a natural fortress to be besieged and conquered by man," Jones said.


100th Anniversary of Roald Amundsen Reaching South Pole—How the Grueling Race Was Won

It was the strangest of all races. Two teams of five men each—one British, the other Norwegian—set out at the beginning of the 1911 Antarctic summer, both bent on becoming the first explorers to reach the South Pole. The British team was led by 43-year-old Robert Falcon Scott, the Norwegian by 39-year-old Roald Amundsen. Each man had already made bold expeditions to the Antarctic region.

Yet because the two expeditions had chosen to build their coastal base camps 600 miles apart, at either edge of the vast Ross Ice Shelf, their paths would never overlap, and the two teams would never catch sight of each other. There was no way to know who was leading the race.