Famous Antarctic Explorers: Roald Amundsen
We hope you enjoy this brief dose of polar history, the second in our Famous Antarctic Explorers Series!
Born 16 July 1872, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer. He’s most notably famous for being the first to arrive at the South Pole (beating out Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team) on 14 December 1911.
The First Voyage
But Amundsen’s polar adventures began much earlier. In 1897, he joined as first mate to the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, captained by Adrien de Gerlache on the RV Belgica.
The ship and crew of the Belgica were met with bad luck as they found themselves stuck in sea ice just west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Luckily, their on-board doctor, Frederick Cook, was able to stave off scurvy by hunting for and serving everyone fresh meat throughout the winter.
Four years after returning from Antarctica, Amundsen led his own expedition across Canada’s Northwest Passage beginning in 1903. Throughout the three-and-a-half-year journey, Amundsen perfected the survival skills that would later win him the race to the South Pole.
The South Pole
Amundsen had his sights set on being the first to achieve the South Pole. When he heard of Robert Falcon Scott also attempting the trek, he sent a telegram to Scott simply stating “BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC–AMUNDSEN.”
Aboard the Fram (Norwegian meaning ‘forward’), Amundsen shared the goal to be the first to reach the South Pole with his crew. And as they learned from the Inuit, animal furs and sled dogs (instead of horses and wool coats) would be much more useful in the polar environment.
They left base camp on 19 October 1911 and arrived at the South Pole on 14 December 1911—a whole 34 days before Robert Falcon Scott.
Several years later, Amundsen captained the new ship, Maud, from 1918 through 1925, as they traversed from west to east the ice-filled waters of the Russian Arctic, dubbed ‘the Northeast Passage.’
In June 1928, Amundsen, among five others, led a search party for fellow explorers who had crashed the airship Italia when returning from the North Pole. Although the wing-float and gas tank were found floating in the waters, the wreckage and bodies of Amundsen and his crew were never found. The Norwegian government called off the search in September 1928.
In honour of his discoveries and expeditions, Roald Amundsen has many sites in both Polar Regions dedicated after him. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the Amundsen Coast, the Amundsen Glacier and the Amundsen Sea, and several more all in Antarctica. In the Arctic, the Amundsen Gulf, the Amundsen Basin as well as a few others. As well, the Canadian Coast Guard named their icebreaker after him—the CCGS Amundsen.