Ladislaus said: I actually saw some reserach that does a pretty good job of backing up the argument that neither Amundsen nor Byrd actually made it to the South Pole. Both had to turn back for different reasons (I believe Byrd's plane lost some fuel and didn't have enough to make it back before he would have run out), whereas Amundsen ran out of supplies.
Admiral Byrd's claims have definitely been called into question for good reason; his calculations do not ring true. Likewise, the two that claimed to be the "first to the North Pole", Dr. Cook and Robert Peary, were most likely both liars who just fabricated their data. No doubt, there were quite a few explorers who basically became second-rate charlatans and faked their exploits just for a moment in the limelight.
I'd be really interested to learn more about Amundsen running out of supplies, is there a resource you would recommend for that? Scott certainly ran out pretty badly.
My point about Amundsen in the post though was not so much about a fixation about his "first to the South Pole" claims as much as that he knew his trade regarding certain aspects of survival in Antarctic climates. When you read the works themselves (or works by other Norwegians such as Nansen) and take them at face value, you realize very quickly that he was much better equipped in his polar techniques than those from other Western countries. This was most likely due to the hardy Norwegian culture in general, as well as the fact that he was actually interested in the Inuit methods. Rather than scoff at the methods of the Inuit as other explorers did or use them for labor, he respected their techniques and actually trained his Norwegian crew in quite a few of them. There are reasons why the historical Norwegians, Icelanders, etc. didn't just survive but thrived in difficult occupations such as whaling in frigid climates. My thinking is that the methods Amundsen and others subscribed to can be learned from, regardless of the "first at the South pole" side of things. Obviously they shouldn't be copied literally, but a lot of the principles are the same as the present day.
Ladislaus said: Many of these explorers were despicable human beings.
Yes, as I said in the original post, many were by no means perfect men, and some were much worse. Some were liars in varying degrees, some had massive egos, some had horrific personal lives etc. However, in and of itself that doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't learn from their scientific/exploration works. For that matter, Dr. Cook fabricated his North Pole claim, but his advice/writings about diet for survival in the Arctic were absolutely correct and saved lives. It is up to us to extract the good from the bad and judge truth from falsehood; it is rarely "black and white".
And on the other side of the coin, we have explorers who brought the Faith to distant lands (think Columbus, the French Jesuits, the Spanish etc.) The Jesuits were often as much explorers and trailblazers as they were missionaries; they basically had to be.