Scott, Amundsen and the persistent thrill of the "Race to the End"

The story of Scott and Amundsen racing to the South Pole at the dawn of the 20th century only gains dimension as time passes. The mythical (you could say tabloid) aspects are as captivating as ever, but it’s the humanity that bleeds out from the details over time that has us returning to the story 100 years later. I recently read “Race to the End: Amundsen, Scott and the Attainment of the South Pole,” an illustrated account of the competing expeditions, and the one that didn’t make it back.  It was a compelling and emotional retelling of the events that left Robert Falcon Scott and four of his fellow British explorers dead in their tent, not long after being beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team.

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Under the ice, the unknown

Russian scientists pierced a 2.2-mile-thick shell of ice that protected an inky, alien lake untouched for millions of years this week, and briefly, the world seemed deeper, older, and more mysterious that it did the week before. Cloudy, unconfirmed reports started trickling in Monday about a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica, and the isolated team that had been boring into it for 20 years in the coldest place on Earth (a recorded low of minus 128.6F).

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Penguin Stew

Turn-of-the-century Antarctic explorers had a cute, disgusting secret for fending off scurvy in a wasteland lacking fruits and vegetables. They ate wild, vitamin C-rich penguins. They ate penguin steak, they ate penguin stew, they ate penguin eggs, they fed them to dogs, they burned their fat for fuel. Sometimes the poor, unsuspecting creatures would waddle right into camp, unaware of this strange new animal wandering toward the South Pole for the first time. Other times, the men would lure their happy feet in with a song. Discoblog has a gross little history of penguin cuisine among late 19th century explorers, referencing a recent paper in Endeavor, and the journals of Frederick Cook.

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