Amundsen, born in 1872 near Oslo, Norway, left his mark on
the Heroic Era as one of the most successful polar explorers
His career of adventure began at the age of 15,
originally studying medicine, but dropping out to go to sea
where he soon moved his way up to the rank of mate. His first
experience in the Antarctic was with
de Gerlache's 1899 BELGICA EXPEDITION.
became the first to travel the Northwest Passage, in his ship Gjoa in 1903-06.
After this expedition, plans were
assembled to drift across the North Pole in Nansen's famous FRAM, but news arrived of
successful attainment of the pole which caused Amundsen to
make new plans - covert plans - for an expedition to
the Antarctic and the subsequent capture of the South Pole.
On December 14, 1911, Amundsen and four others stood at the
South Pole, a month before Robert
Scott. This expedition was an incredible masterpiece of
organization. Here is the story...
North Pole is reached!" was the news that flashed all over the world... it
was September 1909 when the news reached Amundsen.
The original plan of
the FRAM'S third voyage - the exploration of the North Polar
basin - was quickly called off. In order to save the expedition, Amundsen
immediately turned his attention to the South simultaneously emphasizing
to his financial contributors that the FRAM'S Arctic voyage
would be, in every way, a scientific expedition and would have nothing
to do with record-breaking.
Therefore, as far as the supporters were aware,
Amundsen's Arctic voyage would not be influenced one way or another by
Peary's accomplishment. Since he was so heavily in debt, Amundsen felt
his change in plans to head south and capture the South Pole should be
kept a secret.
In his own words, Amundsen wrote,
"I know that I have been
reproached for not having at once made the extended plan public, so that
not only my supporters, but the explorers who were preparing to visit
the same regions might have knowledge of it.I was well aware that these
reproaches would come, and had therefore carefully weighed this side of
As hinted at, he also felt it important to keep his intentions
secret from his peers.
"Nor did I feel any great scruples with regard
to the other Antarctic expeditions that were being planned at the time.
I knew I should be able to inform Captain Scott of the extension of my
plans before he left civilization, and therefore a few months sooner or
later could be of no great importance.
Scott's plan and equipment were
so widely different from my own that I regarded the telegram that I sent
him later, with the information that we were bound for the Antarctic regions,
rather as a mark of courtesy than as a communication which might cause
him to alter his program in the slightest degree.
The British expedition
was designed entirely for scientific research. The Pole was only a side-issue,
whereas in my extended plan it was the main object".
Amundsen must have
been in a dream world as this simply was not true.
Scott's intention to
try for the Pole had been widely publicized and was certainly not a side
issue...one only need turn to Scott's Antarctic Expedition announcement
in the September 13, 1909, issue of The Times of London.
admitted that he was heavily in debt and knew that his best chance of
raising money was to bring off a spectacular triumph. Amundsen wrote,
"If at that juncture I had made my intention public, it would only have
given occasion for a lot of newspaper discussion, and possibly have ended
in the project being stifled at its birth. Everything had to be got ready
quietly and calmly. My brother, upon whose absolute silence I could blindly
rely, was the only person I let into the secret of my change of plan,
and he did me many important services during the time when we alone shared
The only other man to know of the change in plans was
the ship's commander, Lieutenant Thorvald Nilsen.
Amundsen kept his plans
so secret that only these two men, along with Lieutenants Prestrud and
Gjertsen (told on the eve of the FRAM'S departure), knew
of them before the FRAM reached Madeira, ostensibly on the
way to Buenos Aires and then northwards to the Arctic; the Madeira trip
was supposed to be mainly for the purpose of oceanographical research.
Norwegians left Christiania on August 9, 1910, eight weeks after Scott's TERRA NOVA EXPEDITION had departed Cardiff.
were 97 Greenland dogs, the key to Amundsen's success, along with
a hut and provisions for two years in the Antarctic. A month later,
on September 6, the FRAM arrived at Madeira where fresh
water and other provisions were taken on board. A few minor repairs
were made to the ship as the crew enjoyed some free time ashore.
the evening of the 9th, some three hours before departing for Antarctica,
Amundsen called the crew to his attention. Many of the men were quite
puzzled and unhappy to be interrupted as they were quickly writing
final letters for home.
As they came on deck, Amundsen was standing
next to a map of Antarctica pinned to the mainmast.
"...it is my intention to sail Southwards, land a party on the Southern
continent and try to reach the South Pole". Gjertsen wrote, "Most
stood there with mouths agape staring at the Chief like so many question
Amundsen personally asked each man if he would like to join
him on this historic journey.
The last man to go ashore was Amundsen's
brother, Leon. His charge would be to mail the men's letters and cable
Scott... but not until the beginning of October when Amundsen knew
he would be beyond the point of recall.
Once Amundsen left Madeira,
he vanished, bound for an unknown destination...Scott never dreamt
it would be the Ross Sea. Scott, on board the TERRA NOVA,
arrived in Melbourne on the evening of October 12, 1910.
mail waiting for him was Amundsen's telegram, sent from Madeira, which
came as a complete surprise:
"Beg leave inform you proceeding Antarctic.
Although there is no record of Scott's reaction, Evans
"we considered that he [Amundsen] would go to the
Pole from the Weddell Sea side".
In London, Sir Clements Markham eagerly
put forth his opinion:
"She [the FRAM] has no more sailing
qualities than a haystack. In any case, Scott will be on the ground
and settled long before Amundsen turns up, if he ever does".
gleaned information from his sources in Norway and reported to the
Royal Geographic Society's secretary, on October 15, that Amundsen
"quietly got a wintering hut made on board and 100 dogs and a
supply of tents and sledges. His secret design must have been nearly
a year old. They believe his mention of Punta Aranas and Buenos Aires
is merely a blind, and that he is going to McMurdo Sound to try to
cut out Scott...If I were Scott I would not let them land, but he
is always too good-natured".
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the
matter, the general view among those involved in Scott's expedition
was that Amundsen's behavior was underhanded.
It took the FRAM
four months to reach the Ross Ice Shelf, on January 14, 1911.
chose the Bay of Whales as winter headquarters for a number of reasons.
First, they could sail a whole degree farther south than Scott could hope
to get in McMurdo Sound, putting them 60 miles closer to the Pole; secondly,
they could set up their headquarters right on top of their field of work;
thirdly, animal life in the Bay of Whales was extraordinarily rich and
offered all the fresh meat the men required in the form of seals, penguins,
Besides, it offered a favorable site for an investigation of the
meteorological conditions in all directions and was very easy to reach
by ship. Unloading started on January 15 with camp established two miles
inland. The first sledge was loaded with supplies, hitched to eight dogs
and led away by Amundsen.
For the next three
weeks, five sledges, 46 dogs and five men transferred some 10 tons of
supplies daily to base camp. Meanwhile, the carpenter, Jorgen Stubberud,
supervised the assembly of the prefabricated hut.
After a visit from Scott's TERRA NOVA, the base camp was christened Framheim
home of Fram" - and the depot-laying journeys began. Within a three-week
period, depots were established at 80°S, 81°S and 82°S... more
than a ton and a half of supplies had been stored within 480 miles of
On April 21 the sun finally sank and the long winter night began.
taken by a crewmember aboard TERRA NOVA
great deal of work had to be done over the next four months. Amundsen
was well aware of potential problems brought by nine men cramped into
close quarters over the long winter nights so a strict routine was
Six days a week the men would rise at 7:30 am,
have breakfast, start work at 9:00 and have lunch at noon. They would
return to their work at 2:00 pm and end at 5:15, with the balance
of the day to be used as they pleased. Each man took his turn as the
week's housekeeper emptying ashtrays, sweeping up and generally keeping
the hut clean.
Each man had two hooks on which to hang clothes, while
the rest of their small stuff was kept out of sight in a clothes sack
nearby. In addition to the hut in which they lived, fifteen 16-man
tents were erected to store fuel and supplies.
Bjaaland and Hassel
built a Scandanavian staple...a sauna. A bottomless box, on a platform
raised two feet off the ice floor, was built large enough to slip
over the man, allowing only his head to protrude. A tin box, fitted
between the platform and the ice floor, was heated by two paraffin
stoves. As the water boiled, the compartment would fill with steam.
When the man was finished, a rope-and-pulley system would lift the
box clear, exposing a naked man, who then had to make a dash back
to the hut. Exposure to the elements would quickly seal the pores...the
event became a Saturday night ritual.
Over the winter, every
man had specific chores.
Kristian Prestrud, assisted by Hjalmar Johansen,
made scientific observations; Sverre Hassel, assisted by Helmer Hanssen,
was nicknamed the "Managing Director of Framheim's Coal, Oil and Coke
Company Limited", the position responsible for supplying lamps and heaters
Johansen packed the sledges with pemmican, chocolate, milk
powder and biscuits. Remodelling and overhauling of the expedition's sledging
equipment was left to the skilled carpenter, Olav Bjaaland, assisted by
Jorgen Stubberud. Bjaaland was an expert at reducing unnecessary weight
on the sledges. As well as preparing two sets of skis for each man, Bjaaland
lightened the weight of the sledges by nearly one third. Stubberud achieved
similar results with the sledging cases.
When Bjaaland was finished, Hanssen
and Oscar Wisting would assemble the sledge using rawhide lashings. In
a tiny snow cave off the main storage room, Wisting spent most of the
winter at a sewing machine where new tents were made, complete with floors,
from weight-saving windcloth. The new tents weighed nearly nine pounds
less than the tents brought on the expedition.
The camp's cook was an
overweight and jolly man named Adolf Lindstrom. Lindstrom would rise each
morning at 6:00 am to prepare a breakfast of hot buckwheat cakes spread
with whortleberry preserve, plus wholemeal bread enriched with wheatgerm,
butter and cheese.
Amundsen said Lindstroms' cakes "slipped down with
As for lunch, various meals were prepared from fresh
or frozen seal meat, supplemented with tinned meats by the end of winter.
For dessert, tinned California fruits, tarts, pudding, pies and pastries,
all made by Lindstrom, were served. Supper was seal steak, bread with
butter, whortleberry jam and cheese. Coffee was the staple beverage although
brandy was served on Saturday evenings, birthdays and holidays.
made certain the food at Framheim was very nutritious since he'd learned
first-hand the effects of scurvy while on the BELGICA EXPEDITION
men actually enjoyed getting together each evening over supper. Since
they had worked in different parts of the camp during the day, rarely
was there a lack of conversation come evening time.
Card games, dart
matches, reading and needlework took place often around the main table.
Occasionally the gramophone was brought out and a few records played.
But, despite the relative easy passing of winter nights, Amundsen
remained worried about Johansen's quick temper. Forced abstinence
from alcohol made Johansen quite difficult to deal with at times.
To make matters worse, Johansen had as much experience in polar exploration
as Amundsen; he had been to the Arctic with Nansen. Johansen felt
this put him, at worst, on level par with Amundsen.
And then there
was the matter of Robert Scott...how far had the English advanced?
Amundsen was aware that Scott was using motorized sledges although
he doubted their efficiency.
Little did he know of what was going
on at McMurdo Sound.
August 24 the sun had reappeared and the packed sledges were ready
to be taken out from their underground storage.
But two long, frustrating
months would pass before the weather was warm enough for them to start
the journey to the Pole. Tensions increased as each day passed. Amundsen
would have the men and dogs prepared for departure only to cancel
at the last moment due to inclement weather.
The weather had to be
clear for their first run to the 80°S depot, or there was a real
risk of missing it. Finally, on Friday, September 8, 1911, they sped
off across the snow...eight men with sledges pulled by 86 dogs; only
Lindstrom was left behind as custodian of Framheim.
that "the going was splendid" and they covered 31 miles over the next
three days. However, on the morning of the 11th they awoke to frigid
temperatures nearing -70°F.
By the next day, conditions were even
worse as the fluid in their compasses froze solid. Amundsen determined
that it was simply too risky to continue on towards the Pole. That
evening a decision was made to make a run for the depot, weather permitting,
unload their sledges and race back to Framheim. The weather co-operated
and they arrived at the depot on Thursday.
The next evening Hanssen
and Stubberud discovered their heels were frostbitten. As well, a
number of the dogs were suffering from the cold; two of the dogs froze
to death in their sleep.
At 7:00 the next morning they set off for Framheim.
would normally keep in sight of each other but the first two sledges
moved so rapidly that the others were soon left behind. The sledge
teams continued to break up, with Bjaaland and Stubberud reaching
Framheim first at 6 pm, followed two hours later by Amundsen's group.
A half an hour after that Hassel arrived and six hours later, at 12:30
am, Johansen and Prestrud finally stumbled into camp. Johansen and
Prestrud were totally exhausted, having found Framheim in the dark
and fog only by following the barking of the dogs.
At breakfast the
next morning, Amundsen finally succeeded in knocking the chip off
Johansen's shoulder when Amundsen asked why it had taken them so long
to make it back to Framheim. Johansen exploded, angrily accusing Amundsen
of panicking and displaying poor leadership qualities when the group
had been allowed to split up.
In the dead silence that followed, Amundsen
remained speechless. It was what Amundsen had always feared - a confrontation
with the one man in the expedition with experience to equal his own.
This brought to an end the harmony amongst all the men as Amundsen
never forgave Johansen or spoke to him unless absolutely necessary.
Amundsen's excuse to the others was that Hanssen was suffering too
severely from frostbite to linger behind...the men were not totally
Amundsen announced to his men a change in plans. Amundsen would lead one
party to the Pole while Prestrud - with Johansen - would lead a second party
to explore King Edward VII Land.
Amundsen's decision was not a revengeful
one as he felt that if the Pole party were not successful, at least there
might still be a "first" gained for Norway. Amundsen then spoke to each
man individually (ignoring Johansen), asking for his pledge of loyalty...all
gave it. And so, on October 20, 1911, Amundsen, Bjaaland, Wisting, Hassel
and Hanssen departed on their historic journey to the Pole. Four sledges
were used, each pulled with 13 dogs.
They made good progress, other than
a little trouble with crevasses, and arrived at 80°S depot on the
24th. They uncovered the provisions and gave the dogs a feast of seal
meat and blubber. The next day the party left with all five men on skis.
On the way south, they spotted a cairn still standing as they had built
it the prior April.
Thus proving reliability, another 150 similar cairns
were built on the journey south, each left with a written record inside
stating the distance and bearing to the next cairn. Each day, as they
built their cairn, lunch was eaten...
"nothing very luxurious", wrote Amundsen,
"three or four dry oatmeal biscuits, that was all. If one wanted a drink,
one could mix snow with the biscuit".
They arrived at 82°S depot on
Two days later they left...they were accomplishing 20 miles
each day, in only five hours, after which they would build their cairn,
in an hour and a half, and then rest for the remainder of the day. On
November 11 the peaks of mountains were seen in the distance, which Amundsen
later named Queen Maud's Range, after the Queen of Norway.
At the foot
of the range they camped and discussed strategy for the final push to
the Pole, some 340 miles distant. The final plan was to take supplies
and provisions for 30 days, along with the remaining 42 dogs, and make
the climb. After reaching the top, 24 of the dogs would be shot, since
they would no longer be needed, using the remaining 18 in the final dash
for the Pole. Once reached, six more would be slaughtered to provide food
for the remaining twelve on the trip back to Framheim.
On November 17
they started the climb up the Axel Heiberg Glacier. The weather was warm
and the climb even better as they covered 11.5 miles before making camp
at 2000 feet. Four days later, on November 21, they found themselves at
the summit. They'd managed to carry a ton of supplies to an altitude of
10,000 feet. Twenty-four dogs were shot and the party stayed at "The Butcher's
Shop", as it was now called, for four more days before heading off into
a raging blizzard. They had already waited two days longer than planned
so they had no choice but to push on.
For the next ten days they struggled,
five men and 18 dogs, against driving snow in 35 mph winds and thick fog.
At last they reached the plateau, only to be confronted by "The Devil's
Ballroom", a glacier with a thin crust of snow covering a number
of dangerous, deep crevasses.
This proved to be the last major obstacle.
December 8, with the sun shining brightly, they passed Shackleton's
farthest south, 88°23'S. They were only 95 miles from the South
The dogs were hungry and exhausted, the men had many sores and
frostbitten faces, yet still the party pushed on. The closer they
came to the Pole, the more Amundsen worried that Scott had already
The temptation to race on, at full speed, was shared
by everyone. At 3:00 pm, on Friday, December 14, 1911, there was a
simultaneous cry of "Halt!" as the sledge meters registered their
arrival at the South Pole.
They had achieved their goal. Symbolic
of their struggle in unity, each of the men, with their weathered
and frostbitten hands, grasped the Norwegian flag and planted it firmly
at the geographical South Pole. Amundsen named the plain King Haakon VII's Plateau.
There were festivities in the tent that evening with
each man sharing a little seal meat. At midnight observations were
taken that put them at 89° 56'S. Arrangements were now made to
encircle the camp with a radius of approximately twelve and a half
on December 17, the observations had been completed and it was certain
the men had done all that could be done.
In order to come a few inches
closer to the actual Pole, Hanssen and Bjaaland went out four geographical
miles and promptly returned. Bjaaland surprised Amundsen when he pulled
out a cigar-case full of cigars at dinner. A cigar at the Pole! Following
the festival dinner, preparations for departure began. A tent was erected,
naming it Poleheim, with Amundsen leaving a message inside for Scott,
along with a letter for King Haakon.
Thirty-nine days later the party
returned to Framheim, as planned, with all five men and 11 dogs "hale
and hearty". The month-long voyage back to Tasmania was a frustrating
time for Amundsen, who was now quite anxious to be the first to announce
the news of their achievement.
On March 7, 1912, Amundsen finally cabled
his brother Leon with the historic news.
During World War I
Amundsen made a significant amount of money from supplying "neutral" shipping.
He went on to build the MAUD in order to continue his Arctic
drift. He managed to complete the Northwest Passage around Siberia - only
the second to do so - but failed in his attempt to proceed farther north.
Subsequently, he left the ship in 1921.
Amundsen now became consumed with
flying, but was soon facing extreme financial hardship before gaining
support from Lincoln Ellsworth. Together with Ellsworth, history was made
when they flew the airship NORGE from Spitsbergen to Alaska
via the North Pole. This was the first trans-Arctic flight right across
Amundsen, fulfilled by his reputation, now retired. Unfortunately,
he never could come to terms with the British reaction to his secret change
of plans in 1910. Mill, of the Royal Geographic Society, described him
as the most unhappy of all the polar explorers he had ever met.
while searching for survivors of an airship disaster, Amundsen's plane
crashed and he disappeared without a trace.
Ham Radio QSL Card
Confirming My 2-Way Radio Contact With the South Pole