The name is Amundsen. Roald Amundsen. He was a Norwegian, in its true sense, with innate epithet of exploring the sea, deeply reclining in his inner soul. He wanted to be the first man standing at the 900 S latitude, literally the south Pole, and he did it, beating the much celebrated British rival- Robert Falcon Scott heading to the same crease. Even in the midst of howling blizzards and thermometers reading fourties below zero, it was a moment of excitement when he held the Norwegian Flag in his Frost-bitten hands securing the pride of his nation, in that faraway land. It was 14 December 1911 when Amundsen achieved this, putting great shame to the British Empire by defeating their imperialistic naval explorer- Captain Scott. The British team could reach there only on 17January 1912 only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by 33 days. More humiliating was the death of all the team, including Scott, starving and dying in bad weather. It was a great shame, rather than a matter of sorrow to the English world which they avenged through demoralizing and defaming Amundsen.Only after the collapse of the British Empire, the iron-curtain over Amundsen’s achievement could fall apart, revealing him to be an unsung hero deserving an empathy. Sadly, it was so late that it came after the death of Amundsen who led a painful life troubled by many falsified accusations. Beyond all these, here comes that hero once again, marking the 100th anniversary of “man on South Pole”, the UNESCO is celebrating it as part of its scheduled list of anniversaries for the year 2011. The Norwegian government has also declared 2011 as “Amundsen Year” as an honour to their great national hero.
Amundsen was born to a family of merchant sea captains and shipowners, in Christinia near Oslo , Norway on july 16, 1872. Even from childhood, he wanted to become an explorer of the high seas, fascinated by the adventures of John Franklin. While on his teens, he insisted on sleeping with the windows open, even during winter time, which he claimed for conditioning himself to the climate of the Poles. No wonder, he would later become the first man to reach both the North and South Pole, but his mother couldn’t imagine him to be a maritime traveler. She wanted Amundsen to be a doctor and upon her words, he pursued the study of medicine at an university there. When he was 21, his mother died leaving Amundsen to his own way where there was no other choice, than becoming an explorer. Franklin returned to his dreams once again, this time with the map of the “Northwest Passage” upon charting of which he disappeared during his historic mission in 1849. That was how the word “Northwest Passage” catched his mind, which he traversed in 1903. Moreover it gave him great confidence in tackling Arctic hardships and gathering survival skills. He learned much from the local Netsilik people, about how to use sled dogs, wearing animal skin to sustain body heat and how to remain healthy with the minimum amount of available food. And probably, he might have also learned how much it is important to leave an official acknowledgement always: he send a message to the new king of Norway, Haakon VII, stating what he has done as “a great achievement for Norway”
The Secret Plan
Amundsen wanted to be the first in either of the Poles, but both the plans now seemed useless. Since Peary had already done it, there was no scope in returning to the North Pole, but he found something left to be done in the South Pole. Moreover, he heard that Scott was preparing for a South Pole conquering expedition. Amundsen saw no reason to concede the South Pole to him, but he didn’t reveal his plan. Upon being asked about his future plan publically, he always spoke about the prospects of going to the North Pole. In mind, however, he was sure that though Shackleton had done something in the South, “ a little corner remained” there for him. With the life-learned understanding of the climate of the Antarctic, he prepared everything in advance, catering their minute details. He was fortunate to get an expert to guide – Fridtjof Nansen, who had a good command over polar exploration technique. Nansen had made an attempt to reach the North Pole, but failed due to the general drifting pattern of the polar ice. He had also made an attempt, though turned unsuccessful, to reach the South Pole by walking. So, the lessons he could impart were priceless, as Amundsen felt. The main attraction was the ship used by Nansen in his Arctic exploration called ‘Fram’ , it proved to be the best in fighting the harshest attributes of the polar climate. Though the ship was under Nansen’s command, it was the property of the Norwegian government. And, if the government would fund Amundsen’s expedition, the ship would remain with him. Without much awaiting, the fund was granted, accompanied by ‘Fram’ as a personal gift from Nansen.
Amundsen’s plan was to leave Oslo in August, 1910 sailing to Maderia in Atlantic and from there directly to the Rose Sea in Antarctica. He thought of making his base camp nearer to the Rose Ice shelf which could be reached through the Bay of Whales, the southernmost point to which a ship could penetrate. Amundsen’s team left Norway on August 9, eight weeks after Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition departed Cardiff. On board there were 97 dogs in Amundsen’s ship where as Scott’s Terra Nova carried 65 men, 19 Siberian Ponies and 3 motorized-sledges. With Amundsen , there were only 19 men including the dog -team drivers. A month later, on September 6, Amundsen’s ship Fram reached Maderia. Water and food were taken on board and the crew enjoyed some free time ashore for three days. On the evening of the 9th, Amundsen called an urgent meeting on the main deck. When they came they saw Amundsen standing next to the map of Antarctica pinned to the mainmast. Amundsen raised his voice and said: “Gentlemen, my intention is to sail southwards, land a party on Antarctica and try to reach the South Pole. Anybody who wants to leave may depart now, I will be booking their traveling tickets home”. Most of the crew stood there with their mouth agape, but none left. Then Amundsen asked his brother Leon to write a telegraphic message to Scott which read like this: “ BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC – AMU NDSEN”.
The Race Begins
On April 21, the sun sank over Framheim and the long “winter night” began which was to last for the next four months. There was much to be done before it would rise again on 24 August. By 8 September, there was a slight improvement and Amundsen felt he could delay no longer though the temperatures still remained nearer to -270 C. Leaving one to guard the base, the eight-men team headed towards the Pole. There were 86 dogs and plenty of food. They covered 31 miles over the next three days, Amundsen himself saying it a “good start” but the morning of 11th was stuck in frigid temperature once again. By the evening, decision was made to race back to Framheim, unloading the sledges at a depot on the way. The return journey was more worse than expected. Two members of the team had their heels frostbitten. Even the dogs were suffering from cold and two of them froze to death. After returning to Framheim, by next morning, Amundsen made a slight change in his plan. He said that only Five men will be going to the Pole, while a second party will explore the King Edward VII Land. The Pole exploring party led by Amundsen was accompanied by Olav Olavson Bjaaland, Hilmer Hanssen, Sverre H. Hassel and Oscar Wisting. 19 October became the date of the second start, while all had taken enough rest and recovered from the frost-bites. Each of the five members were in charge of a sledge pulled by a team of thirteen dogs. Their path across the Rose Ice Shelf proved easy and on 11 November, the Queen Maud Mountains came into view. The weather was good and the temperature never dropped below -34 C.
The Winners Point
On 8 December , the Polar party passed Shackleton’s record of the “farthest South Point”. They put the Norwegian flag on the top of the leading sledge. Hilmer Hanssen was driving the lead sledge and he asked Amundsen to walk in front. He told Amundsen that “dogs run better with someone infront of them”. Thus they ensured Amundsen to be the first man to cross the South Pole. At 3:00 pm, on Friday, December 14, there was a loud cry of “Halt!” from one of the fellow travelers. The sledge-meter showed the latitude to be 900S ! Yes, South Pole ! They achieved the goal. Then symbolic of their unity, the five men together grasped the Norwegian flag and planted it firmly there. Within the period of their three day’s stay there, they also made a small tent and gave it the name – the ‘Polheim’ meaning “Home on the Pole”. Inside it they left two letters, one for Scott and the other for King Haakon VII. In the letter to Scott, he was asked to deliver the other letter to the Norwegian King—in case anything happen to Amundsen’s team. On 18 December they began their return journey and reached Framheim on January 25, 1912. Amundsen Publically announced his success on March 7, 1912, when he arrived at Hobart, Australia. “Everything went like a dance”, this was what he said while referring to his race to the South Pole. And in his later life also he carried out many challenges including a daring expedition to the North Pole. He did it by flying an air-ship ‘Norge’ over it in 1926. The great Norwegian hero’s death was also in the midst of an adventure- he just disappeared while flying a rescue mission over the Barents Sea on 18 June 1928. It is believed that his plane crashed and he died. But his body was never found.