Roald Amundsen originally
began a career studying medicine at the University of Christiana (now the
University of Oslo), but dropped out in order to go to sea. His first Antarctic
trip was in 1899 on the Belgica
expedition when he was one of the first party ever to over winter in Antarctica
as the ship became trapped in the pack ice and drifted until it broke out
in the following spring. He established his credentials on this trip as
a leader, ice master and as a resourceful expeditioner.
He led his first polar expedition
in the Arctic from 1903 - 1906 in the Gjoa, successfully traversing
the "North West Passage" a extraordinary achievement in a tiny ship that
came after a century of attempts and the loss of literally hundreds of lives.
The next major expedition
was to be to drift over the North pole with the pack ice in the ship
Fram built for the fellow Norwegian
explorer Nansen (regarded as being the father of polar travel - North
and South). The Fram was an unusual ship, unlike many polar exploratory
ships that started life as merchant-men, coal ships, or the like, the
Fram was designed and built for polar travel. It was a round bottomed
ship that was about a third as wide as it was long. The idea being that
it was immune to the perils of being stuck in pack ice. Other ships stuck
in pack would succumb to the immense pressures on them and be crushed leaving
the occupants stranded on floating seasonal ice with no ship.
The Fram was different
in that she would respond to the sideways pressure by being pushed upwards,
rising out of the pack to sit above the ice in the way that many small and
relatively weak boats had regularly been seen to do when frozen in forming
sea ice in the Norwegian Fjords in winter time. Against many expectations,
the Fram performed perfectly in this manner.
Before the expedition set off
to drift over the North Pole, news reached Amundsen of Peary's attainment
of the their goal. Plans were hastily changed and Amundsen set out to lead
the party that would the first to reach the South Pole instead.
Amundsen left Christiana, Norway
in August 1910 with provisions for 2 years and nearly a hundred Greenland
sled dogs that were to be the key in his team's subsequent success in reaching
the South Pole ahead of Scott and his manhaul party.
Such was the secrecy
of Amundsen's plans, that it was not until a month after leaving Norway,
when their ship had reached Madeira, that Amundsen told his crew of
the revised goal of Antarctica and the South Pole. Until this point,
they were all of the impression that they were then to head north again
for the Arctic.
The Fram and Amundsen's
party reached Antarctica and land fall at the Bay of Whales on January 14th
1911 where a winter base was established. Depots were established between
then and April when the sun set for the long Antarctic winter night, depots
of stores that would be used in the push to reach the South Pole the following
The winter was passed in orderly
industriousness while the party prepared the equipment and stores for the
polar journey as well as settling into winter routines to maintain morale
and make sure the men were kept occupied. Amundsen had endured a difficult
enforced winter on the Belgica over 10 years beforehand and understood
the importance of preparation for the winter and of maintaining spirits
particularly during the dark days of winter.
By late winter / early spring,
the sun had reappeared, sledges were ready for the push to the pole and
dogs and men were prepared. The weather however was a constant source
of frustration, everything would be in place and ready but the weather would
turn at the last moment, so the trip would be cancelled.
When eventually Amundsen and
his team set off, there were 8 men with sledges, pulled by 86 dogs. The
first attempt was halted by the weather that became much colder than expected
forcing the team to return to the winter base.
In the end a team of 5
men set off each with a sledge pulled by 13 dogs. They made good progress
feeding the dogs on seal meat and blubber that had been brought with them.
The men's rations were meagre in quality, but sufficient in quantity.
Plans were made for the final
push to the pole based on setting out with dogs that would be systematically
shot and fed to the remainder. They struggled on against poor weather, blizzards
and bad snow conditions which took their toll on both dogs and men.
At 3 p.m. on Friday December
the 14th 1911 the party arrived at the South Pole. They had been concerned
that Scott may have beaten them to the prize. They erected a small tent
and placed inside it a letter and then set off back to their winter base.
They arrived 39 days later with all five men and 11 dogs "hale and hearty".
The party that had reached the South Pole first was:
Sverre H. Hassel
Amundsen continued his explorations in the
Arctic becoming more and more interested in flying and airship travel. He
disappeared with no trace in 1928 while searching for the survivors of an
airship crash in the Arctic. He was much troubled in later years by accusations
of ungentlemanly conduct and being unsporting in the manner that he arrived
in Antarctica to "race" Scott to the pole without giving any prior notice
of intention. Accusations made all the more painful because he and his team
survived while Scott and his party all perished.
Crew of the Fram
Historical photographs on this page by permission
of National Library of Australia