originally began a career studying medicine at
the University of Christiana (now the University of
Oslo), but dropped out in order to go to sea. His first
Antarctic trip was in 1899 on the
expedition when he was one of the first party ever to
over winter in Antarctica as the ship became trapped
in the pack ice and drifted until it broke out in the
following spring. He established his credentials on
this trip as a leader, ice master and as a resourceful
He led his first polar expedition in
the Arctic from 1903 - 1906 in the Gjoa, successfully
traversing the "North West Passage" a extraordinary
achievement in a tiny ship that came after a century
of attempts and the loss of literally hundreds of lives.
The next major
expedition was to be to drift over the North pole with
the pack ice in the ship
built for the fellow Norwegian explorer Nansen
(regarded as being the father of polar travel - North
and South). The Fram was an unusual ship, unlike
many polar exploratory ships that started life as merchant-men,
coal ships, or the like, the Fram was designed
and built for polar travel. It was a round bottomed
ship that was about a third as wide as it was long.
The idea being that it was immune to the perils of being
stuck in pack ice. Other ships stuck in pack would succumb
to the immense pressures on them and be crushed leaving
the occupants stranded on floating seasonal ice with
The Fram was different in that
she would respond to the sideways pressure by being
pushed upwards, rising out of the pack to sit above
the ice in the way that many small and relatively weak
boats had regularly been seen to do when frozen in forming
sea ice in the Norwegian Fjords in winter time. Against
many expectations, the Fram performed perfectly
in this manner.
Before the expedition set off to drift
over the North Pole, news reached Amundsen of Peary's
attainment of the their goal. Plans were hastily changed
and Amundsen set out to lead the party that would the
first to reach the South Pole instead.
Amundsen left Christiana, Norway in
August 1910 with provisions for 2 years and nearly a
hundred Greenland sled dogs that were to be the key
in his team's subsequent success in reaching the
South Pole ahead of Scott and his manhaul party.
Such was the
secrecy of Amundsen's plans, that it was not
until a month after leaving Norway, when their ship
had reached Madeira, that Amundsen told his crew
of the revised goal of Antarctica and the South
Pole. Until this point, they were all of the impression
that they were then to head north again for the
The Fram and Amundsen's party
reached Antarctica and land fall at the Bay of Whales
on January 14th 1911 where a winter base was established.
Depots were established between then and April when
the sun set for the long Antarctic winter night, depots
of stores that would be used in the push to reach the
South Pole the following spring.
The winter was passed in orderly industriousness
while the party prepared the equipment and stores for
the polar journey as well as settling into winter routines
to maintain morale and make sure the men were kept occupied.
Amundsen had endured a difficult enforced winter on
the Belgica over 10 years beforehand and understood
the importance of preparation for the winter and of
maintaining spirits particularly during the dark days
By late winter
/ early spring, the sun had reappeared, sledges were
ready for the push to the pole and dogs and men were
prepared. The weather however was a constant
source of frustration, everything would be in place
and ready but the weather would turn at the last moment,
so the trip would be cancelled.
When eventually Amundsen and his team
set off, there were 8 men with sledges, pulled by 86
dogs. The first attempt was halted by the weather that
became much colder than expected forcing the team to
return to the winter base.
In the end a team of 5 men set
off each with a sledge pulled by 13 dogs. They made
good progress feeding the dogs on seal meat and blubber
that had been brought with them. The men's rations
were meagre in quality, but sufficient in quantity.
Plans were made for the final push to
the pole based on setting out with dogs that would be
systematically shot and fed to the remainder. They struggled
on against poor weather, blizzards and bad snow conditions
which took their toll on both dogs and men.
At 3 p.m. on Friday
December the 14th 1911 the party arrived at the South
Pole. They had been concerned that Scott may
have beaten them to the prize. They erected a small
tent and placed inside it a letter and then set off
back to their winter base. They arrived 39 days later
with all five men and 11 dogs "hale and hearty".
The party that had reached the South Pole first was:
Olav Olavson Bjaaland
Amundsen continued his explorations
in the Arctic becoming more and more interested in flying
and airship travel. He disappeared with no trace in
1928 while searching for the survivors of an airship
crash in the Arctic. He was much troubled in later years
by accusations of ungentlemanly conduct and being unsporting
in the manner that he arrived in Antarctica to "race"
Scott to the pole without giving any prior notice of
intention. Accusations made all the more painful because
he and his team survived while Scott and his party all
Crew of the Fram
on this page by permission of
National Library of Australia