A depot is a store of food and materials that is placed along a trail so that polar explorers don’t have to bring all that stuff with them. By now we all know the story of Captain Robert Scott, the famous Antarctic polar explorer who expired along with two of his men only 11 miles from the nearest depot!
This was a tragedy of historic proportions, during the race to the pole in the early 1900’s. As history has shown, Roald Amundsen made it to the south pole first, many weeks before Scott and his men. But Amundsen was a master dog handler as well as skier, and his Norwegian roots as well as cold weather experience made him a favorite to reach the pole first. The Amundsen party even had food left over from their depots which were deposited far in advance before their dash to the pole.
Polar exploration during the heyday of the famous explorers not only was a very dangerous business, it was physically taxing! The amount of calories consumed trekking through the snow and ice as well as the severely low temperatures meant that a tremendous amount of food had to be eaten. Since every pound of weight had to be “man-hauled”, at least in the case of Scott, food depots were deposited up to a certain point along the path to the pole. This way, less weight had to hauled, therefore less calories consumed. As the explorers would reach each depot, they could unpack their gear, erect the tents, and cook the depot food to replace all those lost calories expended along the trail. The practice was sound and worked, at least in the case of Amundsen.
It worked with Scott as well, but on the return trip north, after Scott and his men had reached the pole after discovering that Amundson was already there before them, they hit severe weather. Already suffering from frostbite and severely dejected by being second to the south pole, they were only 11 miles from “One-ton-depot” as they lay in their tent waiting for the blizzard to end. They were too weak to reach the depot, and the severe cold basically did them in.
But throughout the golden years of polar exploration, depot laying was a sound strategy for conquering the frozen miles at each end of the planet!