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Amundsen during the expedition.

Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition (1910–1912) was a Norwegian expedition to Antarctica aiming to be the first to reach the South Pole. The expedition was a success, with five of the mission (Amundsen, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting) arriving at the pole on December 14, 1911, beating Robert Falcon Scott and his ill-fated party by thirty-five days.


Course of the Expedition


Change of Plans

After crossing the Northwest Passage Amundsen made plans to go to the North Pole and explore the North Polar Basin. On hearing in 1909 that first Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary claimed the Pole, he changed his plans. Using the ship Fram ("Forward"), earlier used by Fridtjof Nansen, he instead set out for Antarctica in 1910. He states in his book The South Pole that he needed to attain the South Pole to guarantee funding for his proposed North Polar journey. In preparation for the new objective, Amundsen carefully read all the accounts of the previous expeditions to Antarctica. He combined this with his own experiences, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, in planning for the southern expedition.

Amundsen told no one of his change of plans except his brother Leon and Thorvald Nilsen, commander of the Fram. He was concerned that Nansen would rescind use of Fram if he learned of the change. (In fact, Nansen supported Amundsen fully.) Also, he probably didn't want to alert Robert Falcon Scott that he would have a competitor for the pole; Scott later said that Amundsen's presence had no effect on his own plans for the Pole. The original plan had called for sailing Fram around the Horn to the Bering Strait. Amundsen waited until Fram reached Madeira to let his crew know of the changed plan. Much to his relief, every member agreed to continue. Leon made the news public on October 2. While in Madeira, Amundsen sent a telegram to Scott, notifying him of the change in destination: "BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC -- AMUNDSEN".

Arrival at the Bay of Whales

 Map of a segment of Antarctica, identifying the polar marches of Scott and Amundsen.
The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

They arrived at the eastern edge of Ross Ice Shelf at a large inlet called the Bay of Whales on January 14, 1911. Amundsen located his base camp there and named it Framheim, literally, "Home of Fram". When Shackleton had visited Bay of Whales in 1907, he observed extensive calving in the inner bay, and rejected the location as too unstable for a base camp. Amundsen read Shackleton's account of his expedition and noted the location and shape of the Bay had changed little from when James Clark Ross had discovered it seventy years previously in 1841. He reasoned that the feature was stable enough for his purposes and guessed that the ice shelf in the area was grounded on small islands or skerries. Amundsen remarked that if Shackleton had arrived a few days later, he might have chosen Bay of Whales. The ice shelf on which Amundsen's camp rested broke away in 2000 and floated out to sea.[1]

The Bay of Whales location gave Amundsen an immediate advantage over Scott's location on McMurdo Sound. It was 60 statute miles (96 km) closer to the Pole than Cape Evans, where the rival British expedition led by Scott made its base camp. Scott would follow the route up the Beardmore Glacier to the Antarctic Plateau, discovered by Ernest Shackleton in 1908. Amundsen, however, would have to find his own entirely new path south to the Pole.

Amundsen and his men created supply depots at 80°, 81° and 82° South, along a line directly south to the Pole. They began this process on February 10. The depots were to supply part of the food necessary for the trip to the Pole, which was to take place in the following austral Spring. The depot trips gave Amundsen some experience of conditions on the Ross Ice Shelf and provided crucial testing of their equipment. The Ross Ice Shelf proved to be an excellent surface for the use of ski and dog sleds, Amundsen's primary source of transportation. When the depots were completed, they contained 6700 pounds (2750 kg) of food for the Pole journey.

At Framheim, while the depot trips were conducted, the remaining team offloaded the remaining equipment and supplies from the Fram, killed seals and penguins for food and assembled a wooden hut that had been originally constructed in Norway for this purpose. Fram then departed and was to return the following year.

The winter period was used to prepare for the attempt on the Pole the following Spring. The team kept themselves busy by improving their equipment, particularly the sledges. The sledges, the same kind and manufacturer that Scott used, weighed 165 pounds (75 kg). During the winter, Olav Bjaaland was able to reduce their weight to 48 pounds (22 kg). The tents and footwear were also redesigned. On February 4, 1911, members of Scott's team on Terra Nova paid a visit to the Amundsen camp at Framheim.

A False Start to the Pole

Amundsen made a false start to the Pole on September 8, 1911. The temperatures had risen, giving the impression of an austral-Spring warming. This Pole team consisted of eight people, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, Jørgen Stubberud, Hjalmar Johansen, Kristian Prestrud and Amundsen. Soon after departure, temperatures fell below -60 °F (-51 °C). On September 12, it was decided to reach the depot at 80°, deposit their supplies and turn back to Framheim to await warmer conditions. The depot was reached on September 15 from which they hurriedly retreated back to Framheim. Prestrud and Hanssen sustained frost-bitten heels on the return. The last day of the return, by Amundsen's own description, was not organized. This was the result of poor leadership, by all accounts except Amundsen's. Johansen carried Prestrud through a blizzard for hours. At Framheim, Johansen, who had extensive Arctic and dogsled experience with Nansen, openly suggested that Amundsen had not acted properly and had abandoned Prestrud and himself. Amundsen then reorganized the Pole party by reducing its number. Prestrud, with Johansen and Stubberud, was tasked with the exploration of Edward VII Land. This separated Johansen from the Pole team. Johansen was further humiliated by having the inexperienced Prestrud placed in command of the subsidiary expedition. On their return to Norway, Johansen was prevented from landing with the others and eventually committed suicide in 1913.

The South Pole Journey

The new Pole team consisted of Bjaaland, Hanssen, Hassel, Wisting, and Amundsen. They departed on October 19, 1911. They took four sledges and 52 dogs.

The route was directly south from Framheim across the Ross Ice Shelf. On October 23, they reached the 80°S Depot and on November 3, the 82° Depot. On November 15, they reached latitude 85°S and rested a day. They had arrived at the base of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. The ascent to the Antarctic Plateau began on 17th. They chose a route along the previously unknown Axel Heiberg Glacier. It was easier than they had expected, though not a simple climb. The team made a few mistakes in choosing the route. They arrived at the edge of the Polar Plateau on November 21 after a four-day climb. When they arrived, they camped at the place they named "Butcher Shop." Here, 24 of the dogs were killed. Some of the carcasses were fed to the remaining dogs,[2] the men themselves ate some of the fresh meat as a measure against the onset of scurvy. The balance was cached for the return journey.

The trek across the Polar Plateau to the Pole began on November 25. After three days of blizzard conditions, the team grew impatient. Blizzards and poor weather made progress slow as they crossed the "Devil's Ballroom", a heavily crevassed area. They reached 87°S on December 4. On December 7, they reached the latitude of Shackleton's furthest south, 88°23'S, 180 km (97 nautical miles) from the South Pole. Amundsen paid special tribute to Shackleton and his expedition at this point, reminding his colleagues that Shackleton, Marshall, Adams, and Wild were the first to traverse the Ross Ice Shelf, the first to penetrate the Antarctic Mountain Range, and the first to set foot upon the Antarctic Plateau (by him named King Edward VII Plateau).

Arrival at the South Pole

The team at the South Pole - Polheim.

On December 14, 1911, the team of five, with 16 dogs, arrived at the Pole (90°00'S). They arrived 35 days before Scott's group. Amundsen named their South Pole camp Polheim, "Home on the Pole", and renamed the polar plateau Kong Haakon VII Vidde, "King Haakon VII Plateau". They left a small tent and letter stating their accomplishment, in case they did not return safely to Framheim.

Amundsen's extensive experience, careful preparation and use of high-quality sled dogs (Greenland dogs) paid off in the end. In contrast to the misfortunes of Scott's team, the Amundsen's trek proved rather smooth and uneventful, although Amundsen tended to make light of difficulties. They returned to Framheim on January 25, 1912 with eleven dogs. Henrik Lindstrom, the cook, said to Amundsen: "And what about the Pole? Have you been there?" The trip had taken 99 days (originally planned to have taken 100 days), the distance about 3,000 km (1,860 miles).

Amundsen's success was publicly announced on March 7, 1912, when he arrived at Hobart, Australia. Amundsen recounted his journey in the book The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram", 1910–1912. That year The Explorers Club in New York elected Amundsen to its highest category of membership, Honorary Member.

Film Footage

The Norwegian Film Institute and the National Library of Norway hold a collection of original film material documenting Amundsen's historic South Pole Expedition. It includes original sequences filmed between 1910 and 1912 and was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of its historical value in documenting this important event. [3]

Comparison of the Amundsen and Scott expeditions

Amundsen in 1913

Amundsen's achievement was for many years overshadowed in the English speaking world by Scott's failure and death which was seen as heroic. More recent biographies of Amundsen and Scott, particularly that by Roland Huntford, have changed the popular view of both men and Scott is now often seen as an incompetent leader and planner. Both views tend to the extreme.

The reasons for Amundsen's success and for Scott's failure in returning from the South Pole have always been the subject of discussion and controversy. Unforeseeable weather conditions played a significant role in each expedition's fate. For example, Amundsen's expedition experienced normal Antarctic weather at the time he was travelling, though his men still suffered from frostbite. On the other hand, Scott was travelling later in the season and also experienced exceptionally severe weather, and his entire party lost their lives on the Ross Ice Shelf while returning from the pole. This deadly weather was exceptionally severe for the time of year: between 1985 and 1999 weather of this severity had only been observed once.[4]

Careful planning and appropriate use of resources

There are a number of other reasons why Amundsen was successful. Among these was his sole purpose to reach the pole, knowledge of Inuit technology, planning, attention to detail, and good luck.[citation needed] Amundsen discovered the Axel Heiberg Glacier and it proved to be a shorter route up to the Polar Plateau than the Beardmore Glacier. The Beardmore had been discovered by Shackleton three years previously and was used by Scott. Without the good luck of finding this new, shorter route, Amundsen's careful planning and attention to detail would have been fruitless. Though some have said the Heiberg Glacier is an "easier" route, it is merely shorter. It has been described by explorers as a tumult, a "catastrophe of ice."

Another factor contributing to Amundsen's success was his use of dogs for transport since these allowed him to head south some three weeks earlier in the Antarctic summer season than Scott. Amundsen used Greenland dogs[5] to haul his sledges. After reaching the Polar Plateau, over half of the dogs were killed and fed to the remaining dogs, reducing the weight of dog food required for the entire trip.

In contrast to Scott, Amundsen did not experience the leakage or evaporation of fuel due to his practice of soldering the fuel tins until they were to be used. As Amundsen used dog-sleds, his team generated much less body heat and perspiration than the British team did in man-hauling. They needed the insulation of fur clothing which Arctic experience indicated as best.

Amundsen's Assessment

Amundsen's expedition benefited from good equipment, a fundamentally different primary task (Amundsen did no surveying on his route south and is known to have taken only two photographs[citation needed]), an understanding of dogs and their handling, and the effective use of skis. He pioneered an entirely new route to the Pole and they returned. In Amundsen's own words:

"I may say that this is the greatest factor -- the way in which the expedition is equipped -- the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."
--from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen.

See also


  1. ^ Ranulph Fiennes, Captain Scott (2003) ISBN 0-340-82699-1, account of Robert Falcon Scott's south polar expeditions
  2. ^ Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, Volume 2, Chapter XI
  3. ^ "Roald Amundsen's South Pole Expedition (1910-1912)". UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  4. ^ - On the role of the weather in the deaths of R. F. Scott and his companions
  5. ^ Roland Huntford (1999). The Last Place on Earth. Random House. p. p 208. ISBN 0375754741. 


  • The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford Modern Library (September 7, 1999)
  • The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the Fram, 1910 - 1912, by Roald Amundsen, John Murray, 1912.

External links


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