November 5, 2014

Explorer Profile: Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen portraitNorwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had a deep love for the earth’s most frigid places. Considered one of the greatest polar explorers to ever live, Amundsen was the first to sail the Arctic’s Northwest Passage, but it was his expedition to the South Pole in 1911 that brought him worldwide fame.

Before traveling to Antarctica, Amundsen had hoped to be the first to reach the North Pole. However, in 1909 he abandoned his plan after learning that an American’s Robert Peary and Frederick Cook had already reached the Pole. Immediately, he shifted his focus to the opposite end of the earth. In a boat named “Fram,” which means “forward” in Norwegian, Amundsen sailed south from Oslo, Norway on June 3, 1910, determined to be the first to stand at the South Pole.

Amundsen and his Norwegian crew were in a race against a British team led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who was also heading for the South Pole. Having spent time in the Arctic, Amundsen applied the wisdom he had learned from the Inuit people. He and his crew favored animal skins and fur clothing for warmth and used sled dogs to transport equipment, just like the Inuit, while Scott’s team wore woolen clothes and brought Norwegian donkeys to transport goods, an animal that was not well suited for the harsh climate and terrain of Antarctica. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen and four other men reached the South Pole, beating Captain Scott and his crew by 34 days.

Both Amundsen and Scott were competitive explorers and shared a friendly rivalry, as indicated by the note Amundsen left for Scott at the South Pole:

Dear Captain Scott — As you probably are the first to reach this area after us, I will ask you to kindly forward this letter to King Haakon VII. If    you can use any of the articles left in the tent please do not hesitate to do so. The sledge left outside may be of use to you. With kind regards I wish you a safe return. Yours truly,
 Roald Amundsen 

Continent of Antarctica via satellite. Image:

Continent of Antarctica via satellite. Image:

Using the notes he had written in his journal, Roald Amundsen later wrote a book about his great adventure titled, The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram,’ 1910–12. Amundsen was the first man to reach both the North Pole and South Pole in his lifetime.

Despite the risks, Amundsen continued to explore the polar regions of the earth throughout his life. While flying on a search and rescue mission in the Arctic in 1928, his plane disappeared. Despite an extensive search, the plane and crew were never found. Amundsen was 55 years old.

Tributes to Roald Amundsen can be found around the world—from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica to the Amundsen Monument in Svalbard, Norway. The parents of the famous children’s book writer, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and many other classics of children’s literature, named their son after the polar explorer. There is even a high school named after him in Chicago, Illinois.

Amundsen statue in Tromso, Norway. Image: Antony Stanley

Amundsen statue in Tromso, Norway. Image: Antony Stanley

A key to Amundsen’s success as an explorer was his ability to plan ahead for all possible situations. It seemed he was always prepared for whatever he and his crew encountered. As Amundsen himself once said, “Adventure is just bad planning.” So remember Amundsen’s advice next time you tackle something important—be it a trip to a place you’ve never been, a big school project, a test, or even soccer tryouts. Planning ahead will ensure that you are prepared, and if you are prepared you are far more likely to be successful!

Learn more about Roald Amundsen and other polar explorers by visiting the following websites: