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Echoes of Amundsen as Norwegian races to Pole

Eighty-one years after Captain Roald Amundsen planted the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, a tired but fit Oslo lawyer yesterday became the first man to reach the Pole alone on foot without air or land support.

Erling Kagge, 29, skied into the US Amundsen-Scott station Pole at 5.30am GMT after an almost incident-free 52- day journey across the ice-cap.

In a cheap and single-minded piece of exploration reminiscent of Amundsen's 1911 journey, Mr Kagge hauled his supplies 1,310 kilometres (814 miles) through often glutinous snow and into strong headwinds and temperatures as low as -25C. But in an echo of the race for the Pole between Amundsen and Captain Robert Scott of the Royal Navy, a British expedition was yesterday behind schedule after a very difficult crossing. According to a radio message received at Punta Arenas in Chile on Wednesday, Sir Ranulf Fiennes and Dr Michael Stroud were still at 88 degrees, 18 minutes south, or at least 100 nautical miles short of the Pole.

There is speculation that the British team might be forced to abandon their plan to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported (without pre-positioned supplies or air drops). But David Harrison, a spokesman, said in London: 'It's been a tough route so far but they're going ahead. That's what they said consistently.' The message received on Wednesday also said: 'All okay.'

Mr Kagge, who works for Norway's largest industrial company, Norsk Hydro, set off from Berkner Island on the Weddell Sea on 17 November after a delay of about 10 days because of bad weather. He made good time and on 11 days skied more than 30 kilometres (18.6 miles), man-hauling about 264lb (120kg) of supplies on a sled.

He consumed 8lb (3.6kg) of raw bacon and drank neat olive oil to try to preserve fat. When training in Punta Arenas, he devoured four or five puddings at dinner.

In contrast, Sir Ranulf, 48, and Dr Stroud, 37, set off across the neighbouring Filchner ice shelf, fissured with nightmarish crevasses which held up their heavy sleds carrying at least 460lb (208kg) of provisions each for the full 1,650-mile journey to their destination on the Ross Sea. They are believed to have lost at least 20lb (9kg) in weight.

The British team has taken out insurance to cover any rescue, which could run to dollars 250,000 ( pounds 162,000), according to Adventure Network International, the Punta Arenas outfitter which took both expeditions to their starting points.

In 1990, Mr Kagge reached the North Pole unsupported while the Fiennes- Stroud team were obliged to turn back. Mr Kagge has a reputation in polar circles for brattishness, which is denied by his Norwegian friends.

The British camp has repeatedly denied that there was a race on because Sir Ranulf and Dr Stroud are skiing twice the distance and hauling twice the weight each.

Captain Scott also refused to race after he received a message in Melbourne, Australia, in 1911, that Amundsen was heading for the Antarctic. Using dog sleds and skis, the lightly equipped Norwegian party reached the geographic South Pole on 14 December.

Scott's team arrived on 17 January 1912, having man-hauled heavy sleds from the base of the Beardmore glacier. Their return was an epic tale of gallantry, bad weather, frostbite, scurvy and hunger. All died.

Yesterday's news was greeted with elation in Norway, where memories of Amundsen, who died in an aircraft accident in Antarctica in 1928, are kept bright.

(Photograph omitted)