Famous Antarctic Explorers: Roald Amundsen

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen, a Norwegian polar explorer is most notably famous for being the first to arrive at the South Pole.

Friday, October 20, 2017

We hope you enjoy this brief dose of polar history, the second in our Famous Antarctic Explorers Series – Roald Amundsen!

Born 16 July 1872, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer. He’s most notably famous for arriving first to the South Pole on December 14, 1911, and beating out Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team.

Roald Amundsen’s First Voyage

Roald Amundsen’s polar adventures began much earlier. In 1897, he joined as the first mate to the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, captained by Adrien de Gerlache on the RV Belgica.

The ship and crew of the Belgica had bad luck as they found themselves stuck in sea ice just west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Luckily, their onboard doctor, Frederick Cook, was able to stave off scurvy by hunting for and serving everyone fresh meat throughout the winter.

Roald Amundsen and his crew in Antarctica

Roald Amundsen and his crew in Antarctica


Northwest Passage

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. Moreover, they spent time with and learned from the Inuit locals about animal furs and sled dogs. For their next exploration, they would replace their horses and wool coats for more useful equipment fit for the polar environment, including 52 dogs.

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. They left base camp on 19 October 1911 and arrived at the South Pole on 14 December 1911—34 days before Robert Falcon Scott.

Northeast Passage

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 Ocean, dubbed ‘the Northeast Passage.’

The End

In June 1928, among five others, Amundsen 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.

Roald Amundsen has many sites in both Polar Regions dedicated after him in honor of his discoveries and expeditions. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the Amundsen Coast, the Amundsen Glacier, the Amundsen Sea, and several more are 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.

Want to learn more about other famous Antarctic explorers? Read about Ferdinand Magellan here.

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