Roald Amundsen- Life and Legacy

Lets start with Roald Amundsen-born 1872. Likely the most famous of the Norwegian Explorers.

Roald Amundsen goes down in history as one of the most iconic heroes of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Roald, born into a family of maritime trade, was encouraged by his mother to study medicine, and find a life for himself outside of his family’s sea faring ways. At the age of 21, when his mother passed away, Roald quickly changed gears in order to dedicate his life to exploration of wild and unknown places. His role model was none other than Fridtjof Nansen, and Roald Amundsen was determined to make a name for himself.

In 1898, Roald joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, the first expedition to overwinter in Antarctica, locked in the frozen sea ice. The expedition is estimated to have been saved from Scurvy-extreme vitamin C deficiency- by their American Doctor Frederick Cook (another iconic explorer of the time), who hunted for fresh meat to feed the crew. The Vitamin C present in the meat can offer enough sustenance to prevent Scurvy, and at times, treat the fatal disease. The participants on this Expedition survived, and Roald was able to return home wiser and more experienced than he was before.

In 1903, Roald planned the first ever attempt to traverse Canada’s Northwest Passage. With just 6 men, Roald took off. On this journey, Roald and his crew interacted with the local Netsilik Inuit people, who taught the crew essential and traditional Arctic survival skills. The knowledge was indispensable concerning Arctic survival, and likely contributed to Roald’s successes. They learned to use sled dogs to move supplies and wear animal skins for warmth, superior to the woolen garments they came with. With these vital tips from the locals, Roald succeeded in his mission, and returned home in 1906. The ship this crew used for this mission, Gjøa, now sits in Oslo at the Fram Museum, and is well worth a visit if passing through Olso.

Although Roald had already achieved the incredible, he set his sights to conquering the South Pole. Using the ship Fram, previously used by his predecessor Nensen, Roald set off from Oslo with his crew in 1910. The trick here, is that Roald originally told everyone, including his crew, they were going to the North Pole. It wasn’t until they were on the water and sailing South, Roald informed them of his decision. You would guess, this did not create the best team dynamic. They arrived 6 months later on the Ross Ice Shelf and dubbed the basecamp Framheim. Using their skills from the Inuit people of Northern Canada, he and a team of 5 men took 4 sleds and 52 dogs in an attempt to reach the South Pole. Two months later, with 16 dogs, Roald and his team arrived, naming the South Pole Camp Polheim, and left a small tent and letter in their place to prove their accomplishment, should they not return to Framheim safely. 6 weeks later, they arrived at Framheim with 11 dogs…significantly fewer than they started with, as many were used for fresh meat. Upon arrival, they set sail for Australia. You would guess they needed some warmer weather after this frigid expedition. Roald publicly announced their success on March 7th, 1912.

Roald didn’t stop there. In 1918, Roald and his crew set off on what would become a 7 year journey. This Expedition would take them to the unknown regions throughout the Northeast Passage. On this voyage their ship, Maud, was frozen solid in ice so thick they could not get free. The crew, running short on provisions, were attacked by polar bears and desperately needed supplies. Therefore, Roald and 4 other men decided to dog sled 1,000 km to Nome, Alaska in order to resupply. However, upon reaching the Bering Strait, they found it was not frozen solid, and could not be safely crossed. Time passed, and after three winters on the frozen ice, Maud was free from the ice to sail towards Seattle. In the next year Roald split his crew into two, desperate to reach the North Pole. One team would continue trying by boat, and they spent 3 more years drifting in the sea ice, never reaching their destination. The other half attempted to fly from Alaska to Spitsbergen, flying over the Pole, but were unable to complete their mission due to aircraft damage. Finally, in 1926, Roald and his team completed their mission to fly over the North pole from Spitsbergen to Alaska over two days. As to if they were truly the first team to reach the North Pole is still debated today, as previous claims have not been proved. If Roald’s team was indeed the first team to reach the North Pole, it would make him and his expedition partner Oscar Wisting the first two men to reach both poles.

After his successful expedition life, Roald disappeared on a flight rescue mission in 1928. Remnants of his airplane were found off the coast of Tromsø in Norway, and it was concluded that his plane crashed in the Barents Sea. The search was called off, and their bodies were never found.

If you plan of visiting Oslo when traveling with us in Norway, take some time to explore the Fram Museum to learn more about this iconic period in exploration history.