King of Arctic (1872-1928)
Roald Amundsen had an ice cold dream: He wanted to be the first man to set foot on the South and the North Pole.
From an explorers point of view, it was reasonable; America was already taken; discovered and explored – so In the late 19th century, if you had the explorers gene in your blood, what was left? Well, The South and North Poles were pretty attractive for young adventurers.
Our hero, Roald, was the son of a sailor and ship owner. He grew up in Kristiania (Oslo) where he was surrounded by nature that gave him the opportunities to check out his favourite activities: skiing, ice skating, sailing, swimming and fishing.
Roald was the quiet kid, and not particularly enthusiastic about school. However, he was early fascinated by something else, something that would turn into an obsession.
Exploring. To go out and rule the ocean on his own ship and to set foot on new undiscovered land. Both Sir John Franklins expeditions to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic and the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen who was the first to cross Greenland from coast to coast were natural heroes and inspirers for the young Amundsen.
Amundsen was originally going to be a doctor, basically to fulfil the wish of his mother’s, but when she died in 1894 he interrupted his studies and devote himself to what he wanted the most: to follow his explorer dream. Amundsen knew he needed sailor experience, so in 1894 he joined as an unpaid sailor the Belgian whaling ship Belgica on a trip to the Arctic Ocean. It was an almost fatal expedition where the ship had to stay overwinter for 13 months stuck in the ice. Can you imagine how it was on the ship? The isolation, the frustration, the anger, the fear, the food – and behold, the smell? Of men staying together on a ship for 13 months?
I guess you’d rather not.
After this experience, Amundsen felt he was ready for his own expedition. After Sir John Franklins fatal last expedition through the Northwest Passage, Amundsen thought this was his call... He wanted to succeed where Sir John Franklin and his men failed. Noone had so far managed to travel through the infamous Northwest Passage, which was the door from the Atlantic Sea to the Pacific. But to obtain financial support for this expedition, he realised he needed an excuse, a scientific purpose. Amundsen went to Hamburg to study magnetism. He wanted to settle the magnetic north poles present location on his planned trip through The Northwest Passage.
And he needed a ship. In 1901 Amundsen bought the ship Gjøa. The ship left in 1903 and went away for almost three years. Amundsen did a lot of groundbreaking ethnographic studies of the Inuits. He gained from the netsilikis their knowledge of survival in this rough climate, what clothes to use, what tools, what equipment, and above all, the use of sledge-dogs – knowledge that became extremely useful on later polar expeditions.
The expedition to the Northwest Passage was a success! Amundsen became the first man to sail through it. By this time Amundsen had become a famous man. He was ready for bigger tasks, greater adventures. The South Pole.
However, the original idea was to take The North Pole, but the idea was scrapped since the American explorers Cook and Peary insisted they had already conquered The North Pole. The change of plan, going to the South Pole instead, was extremely delicate since there already was another expedition on its way, led by an Englishman Robert F. Scott. The change of plan was kept secret, and wasn’t revealed for the crew, or the press, or Robert F. Scott, until they left Madeira.
That was the starting shot for the famous Race to the South Pole.
Who came first? Amundsen had borrowed the ship Fram from Nansen, end the ship arrived in January 1911, ten days after The Scott expedition. But Amundsen had more than one ace up his sleeves, the Inuit inspired equipment – and the sledge-dogs. This was by far superior of the heavy Mongolian horses Scott had brought with him. It’s hard for us to imagine the phenomenal stress and strain Amundsen and his men were exposed to. The temperature, the food – to survive they had to slaughter 24 of the dogs. But on 14th December 1911, they reached the Pole point, beating Scott by over a month. Scott and his men tragically died on their return to the base camp.
On the 8th of March 1912, a short telegram was sent out to the world from Hobart, Australia: “The Norwegian flag is planted on The South Pole. All is well! Roald Amundsen”.
But what was Amundsen to do next? Was he satisfied with conquering The South Pole?
Nope. There was more to be done.
First, it was The North East passage to be taken. This passage is only navigable during summer and had been passed first time in 1878. Amundsen took his ship, Maud, from Oslo 24th June 1918 and reached Nome in Alaska on 27. July 1920.
During First World War, Amundsen discovered the fascinating art of flying. He wanted to become a pilot himself, and in 1914 he gained his plane certificate. This resulted in plane expeditions to The North Pole with the seaplane N-25 in 1925.
And if that wasn’t enough, In 1926, Amundsen reached the North Pole with the airship Norway. The airship left Ny Ålesund on May 11, 1926, passing the geographic North Pole the next day and continued on to Teller in Alaska.
Phew – what guy! What achievements! What stubbornness! What confidence! What endurance!
But what kind of man was Amundsen really? He was reportedly strict, but fair; he was the captain and the expedition leader, and no one else. But, he also cared a lot for his men, and always took the toughest jobs for himself. His men never doubted his authority, and the respect for this man was enormous.
On 18th of June 1928, Roald Amundsen died as he lived. Dramatically. Set out to help when his friend’s airship capsized, Roald Amundsen lost control over his Letham flying boat and died in the crash.