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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Roald Amundsen: the first man to reach the South Pole



Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) was a Norwegian explorer who led the first expedition to reach the South Pole, which he did in December 1911. History tells far fewer stories about him than it does about Robert Falcon Scott, who reached the pole a month later to find a Norwegian flag stuck in the ice, and who perished on the return journey.

The problem with Amundsen’s expedition, from the point of view of romance and history, is that there were not many problems.

Amundsen did not make many of the mistakes that Scott made. For example, he did not use heavy woolen clothing but lightweight furred skins. He also relied on dog teams for hauling sledges and not ponies, as Scott did.

The venture was carefully planned, with supply depots established at strategic points along the route. One factor that led to disaster for Scott’s party was that the supply depots were wrongly placed, which was not a mistake that Amundsen made.

Amundsen’s expedition did have one setback, with the first group that tried to reach the Pole being forced to turn back, but the second party, including Amundsen himself, reached its objective and returned safely to base camp.

Amundsen announced his success when he reached Hobart (capital of Tasmania) in March 1912. Some people in the UK were not willing to credit him with having beaten Scott to the Pole, preferring to wait for Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, to return to the UK with the triumphant explorers aboard. Of course, this did not happen. The full horror of Scot’s failure was not discovered until November.

Roald Amundsen later carried out expeditions in the Arctic, including flying to the North Pole by flying boat. He disappeared in 1928 when on a rescue mission in the Arctic. His flying boat is believed to have crashed into the sea, with his remains, and those of the other crew members, never being found.
© John Welford

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