N.S. ARUN KUMAR
100th ANNIVERSARYOF REACHING THE SOUTH POLE
The story of the race to reach the South Pole is a tribute to Roald Amundsen’s grasp of the prevailing conditions in the icy continent and his sense of intricate planning. The year 2011 celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the conquest of the South Pole.
IS life was as much adventurous and And enthrallingly enough it was true.
During his entire preparation for the expedition, Amundsen kept saying that he was going to the North Pole. Only on the deck of his ship, he disclosed his real destination to his shipmates. But he did send a telegraphic message to Scott that he was moving to the South Pole.
It was 14 December 1911 when
Amundsen achieved this, putting to great shame the British Empire by defeating their imperialistic naval explorer Captain Scott.
The British team reached there on 17
January 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. Their point was
Amundsen won the race by keeping his plans secret, never revealing his intention to reach the South Pole.
Hhmeysnteervioeursleats ahinsydoenaetho. nWhhiilse pallaivnes, and eventually became the first human ever to reach the barren icy continent of Antarctica. His death was equally mysterious. 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.
Many, however, believed that nobody reached the South Pole other than Scott who owing to some very bad luck lost his way home. Only after the collapse of the British Empire did the iron-curtain over
Amundsen’s achievement fall apart, revealing him to be an unsung hero. Sadly, it came after the death of Amundsen who
Even a hundred years after his amazing exploits, Roald Amundsen still remains a symbol of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration that can never be forgotten. The UNESCO is celebrating the year 2011 as the 100th anniversary of “the first man on the South Pole”.
The Norwegian government has also declared 2011 as the “Amundsen Year” as an honour to their great national hero.
Amundsen, the first man standing on the South Pole
Amundsen always 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. 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.
SCIENCE REPORTER, DECEMBER 2011
Stamps in honour of Amundsen led a painful life troubled by many falsified accusations. 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 that it was important to leave an official acknowledgement always: he sent a message to the new king of Norway, Haakon VII, stating what he had done was “a great achievement for
Norway”. returned to his dreams once again, this time with the map of the “Northwest
Passage” charting which he disappeared during his historic mission in 1849. That was how the word “Northwest Passage” caught
Amundsen’s mind, which he traversed in
Amundsen was born to a family of merchant sea captains and ship owners, in Christinia near Oslo, Norway on 16 July
1872. Even from his childhood he wanted to become an explorer of the high seas, fascinated by the adventures of John
Franklin. While in his teens, he insisted on sleeping with the windows open, even during winter time, to condition himself for the climate at 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.
He did it with a small seal-hunting vessel Gjoa outfitted with a small gasoline engine. The passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans remained historic as it was unsuccessfully attempted earlier by most famous explorers like Christopher
Columbus. This was a passage linking
Europe to Asia, but no ship had succeeded in sailing its entire length for the past 300 years. The place where Gjoa spent her two winters has been named
‘Gjoa Haven’ which is near King William
Though the discovery of the Northwest
Passage brought great fame to
Amundsen, it was the “first mate” to the Belgian Expedition to Antarctica which was specifically scientific in its objectives.
Antarctica was a prevailing fascination among the explorers due to its incredible beauty in view as evident from the expeditions by James Clark Ross. Ross’s exploration team was looking for the South
Magnetic Pole for which they sailed
His mother wanted Amundsen to be a doctor and he dutifully pursued the study of medicine at a university there. When he was 21, his mother died leaving Amundsen on his own. He had no other choice now than becoming an explorer. Franklin
Traversing the “Northwest Passage” gave Amundsen great confidence in tackling Arctic hardships and gathering survival skills. He learned much from the southern Antarctic coast.
They saw two eastward along the Amundsen’s team setting up their headquarters mountains encased in
“eternal ice and snow”, to be named Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, after the ships under their command.
According to the journal of Dr. Robert McCormick, the expedition’s surgeon, it was on 28 January 1841 that they saw it, soon to be followed by aperpendicular cliff of ice. It was about 36 to 70 meters
SCIENCE REPORTER, DECEMBER 2011
Amundsen’s ship Fram in a museum (left); a monument honouring Amundsen (right) the South Pole, made it an exploratory one with Robert Scott at the wheels.
Though they could reach only up to the latitude of 820 17’S, 850 km away from the Pole, it reflected the desire of the British high, flat on the top and made of solid toll on the explorers. The constant darkness snow. Nothing could be seen beyond that and not an inch could be moved ahead.
So, they retreated, naming it “Ross Ice
Shelf” and placing the British flag there.
But, Ross wrote in his diary: “(this beauty).… would soon be made to contribute to the wealth of our country.”
This statement and the presence of the “Union Jack” at the “farthest end of the world” turned to be the real temptation for many that came later. The Belgian
Expedition was one among those. It was led by a young Belgian Navy Lieutenant,
Andrian de Gerlache who was aboard
Belgica leaving Belgium in August 1897.
Upon reaching the Antarctic Peninsula in early 1898, Amundsen and other crew members were engaged in collecting specimens from the Antarctica shore for about two months. and deep cold plunged in isolation left many in a state of severe psychological instability. Only two could manage to maintain their high morale—Amundsen and an officer by the name Frederick
Cook. This experience helped Amundsen to harden himself as one among the most successful polar explorers ever born.
Belgica’s voyage marked the beginning of what become known as the ‘Heroic age of Antarctic exploration’. It created many heroes, iconising their personal bravery and stoicism. Among them, the first that is worth mentioning is
Robert Falcon Scott, the all time rival of Roald Amundsen. He was appointed to command the “British National Antarctic
Expedition” of 1901-1904 which was a joint venture of the Royal Society and Royal
Geographic Society. Initially, the expedition was considered as a purely scientific one with a scientist in overall command but the fascination for the “unknown treasures” of Poster announcing
Amundsen’s lecture on how he reached the South Pole
But, inevitably in March, winter crept in, freezing the waters. Belgica was to remain stuck for 347 days taking a terrible
A Norwegian Airlines aircraft with Amundsen’s image on the tail
SCIENCE REPORTER, DECEMBER 2011
The Legacy of Amundsen
A number of places have been named after Amundsen, as an honour of his life as the most successful Polar explorer. The sea off the coast of Antarctica has been named ‘Amundsen Sea’. Similarly, there are ‘Amundsen glacier’,
‘Amundsen Bay’, and ‘Mount
Amundsen’, all in Antarctica.
‘Amundsen Gulf’ is in the Arctic
Ocean. There is a memorial of Amundsen on the Moon also – a crater on the Moon’s South Pole!
Empire to be there in the Polar plateau.
Evidently, it had a political significance too. With the ‘Union Jack’ already put there by Ross, the British dreamed of Antarctica becoming another of their
The Secret Plan
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.
Nansen was a very influential person in the Norwegian parliament and could easily sanction the funding.
What Shackleton and Peary did was a severe blow to Amundsen’s intentions. He wanted to be the first at either of the Poles, but both the plans now seemed useless. Since Peary had already done it, there was no scope of returning to the North Pole, but he found something still left to be done at 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. colonies. What remained was
“capturing” the remaining part too, though they hadn’t any idea about its actual vastness. And for the same reason, other colonial forces also began targeting the hidden land.
But, the expedition would have to be a northward one, as conquering the North
Pole was his unfulfilled dream. As per the prevailing political climate, the Norwegian government also was not interested in offending the British monopoly of the South Pole. Amundsen was well aware of these facts. Nansen submitted Amundsen’s project before the Norwegian Geographical Society. No wonder, the fund was granted, accompanied by Fram as a personal gift from Nansen.
Between 1901 and 1910, there were seven missions to Antarctic – Germanic,
Swedish, Scottish, French and even
Japanese. Among them was the Nirmod
Expedition carried out by Ernest
Shackleton. On 9 January 1909, Shackleton reached upto 100 nautical miles nearer to the South Pole, to the latitude of 880 23’
S. And on 16 January 1980, Professor
Edgeworth David reached the South
Magnetic Pole (mean position 720 25’S 1550
Upon being asked about his future plan publicly, he always spoke about the prospects of going to the North Pole. In his mind, however, he was sure that though
Shackleton had done something in the South, “a little corner remained” there for him.
With his understanding of the climate of the Antarctic, he prepared everything in advance, catering to minute details. He was fortunate to get an expert to guide –
Fridtjof Nansen, who had good command over the polar exploration technique.
Nansen had made an attempt to reach the North Pole, but failed due to the general drifting pattern
In September 1909, another news flashed throughout the world – Robert
Peary claimed to have reached the North
Pole. And to the surprise of many, he was an American!
With the ship and money in hand,
Amundsen began his preparations for the journey. His first attempt was to get about hundred fully trained North Greenland sledge dogs. He was keen on selecting the strongest available, the best money could buy. of the polar ice. He had
His Belgian expedition had made him realize that they were the most reliable mode of transport in the Polar environment.
The Inuit of North America and the indigenous people of Arctic Asia had been using them to haul sledges for many hundred years. One pound of food could keep a dog pulling a sledge of about 100 pounds for up to 10 hours, with few rest stops. The ‘huskies’ as they were commonly called were loyal to their master, but were also made an attempt, though unsuccessful, to reach the South Pole by walking. So, the lessons he could impart were priceless, Amundsen felt.
The main attraction was the ship used by
Nansen in his Arctic exploration called Fram.
SCIENCE REPORTER, DECEMBER 2011
Cruise liner on way to Antarctica (left); country flags fluttering in Antarctica (left below); Amundsen’s memoirs of his exploits in the South Pole (above)
Norway on 9th August, eight weeks after
Scott’s Terra Nova expedition departed
On board Amundsen’s ship were 97 dogs, whereas Scott’s Terra Nova carried
65 men, 19 Siberian Ponies and three 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 – AMUNDSEN”. But while Leon was about to go ashore,
Amundsen asked him not to send it until the beginning of October. savage enough to have vicious fights wines and alcohol for festive and social among themselves. So, if not properly occasions. Remembering the monotonous handled, the whole team of dogs could winter nights, he also turned a cabin in Fram deteriorate into chaos of tangled into a library of around 3,000 books. There harnesses and snarling dogs.
Amundsen was very cautious in of musical records and instruments. And recruiting dog-trainers in which Nansen also on the upper deck there was one large was also a gramophone, a large number lent a helping hand. Nansen was also cabin, fully air-conditioned – not for himself helpful in arranging a “lightning course” in but for the sledge-dogs! Amundsen surgery and dentistry for the expedition wanted to keep them as comfortable and doctor – Frederick Gjertsen. Amundsen healthy as possible with regular was also aware of the dangers of Scurvy in supplements of seal meat because he high-sea voyages, though the true cause knew that without those ‘huskies’ he would of the disease was not known at that time. not be reaching the South Pole!
From his Belgica experience, he could understand that eating fresh meat could The Journey counter the disease.
Amundsen also found the clothing August 1910 sailing to Maderia in Atlantic and footwear to be as important. He and from there directly to the Rose Sea in acquired 200 heavy-duty blankets from the Antarctica. He thought of making his base
Amundsen’s plan was to leave Oslo in
When Scott arrived in Melbourne, on the evening of October 12, he saw
Amundsen’s telegram waiting for him.
Although there is no record of Scott’s actual reaction, it created anger and scorn when the news reached the British. “Amundsen’s
Royal Norwegian Navy to which skins of camp nearer the Ross Ice Shelf that could
Seals, Reindeer and Wolf were tailored into, be reached through the Bay of Whales, while keeping in line with the the southernmost point to which a ship contemporary fashion. He also carried could penetrate. Amundsen’s team left
SCIENCE REPORTER, DECEMBER 2011
12 Cover Story
Team that crossed the North Pole
Amundsen publicly announced his success on 7 March
1912, when he arrived at Hobart,
“Everything went like a dance”.
Amundsen with the crew that went on the Fram luxury was two stoves that heated the interior of the hut. Amundsen called it the ‘Framheim’ or “home of the Farm.” expedition’s winter headquarters ashore, which was about 2 nautical miles away from the ship’s anchoring point on the Bay of Whales. It was 60 miles closer to the Pole than McMurdo Sound where Scott made his base later. Furthermore, the ice was stable and weather better at the Bay of Whales both making an enormous difference in travel time, for which Scott’s team would have to pay a big price later.
By February, Amundsen and his men
One morning, while at work, they were surprised to see a ship moving across the Bay of Whales. On approaching, they found it to be Scott’s Terra Nova. Scott was not there on the ship, but the six men in the ship were in search of Amundsen’s team.
That Amundsen had made a base at the Bay of Whales came as a shock to them, because they too knew about its proximity to the Pole. is a very dirty trick,” wrote Sir Clements
Markham, an influential member of the Royal Geographic Society who was reported to have said: “If I were Scott, I would not let Amundsen land.” Norway, however, received the news of Amundsen’s altered plan with cheers and unrestrained enthusiasm. Even Nansen was not annoyed by the altered plan of Amundsen and called it a wonderful one. Newspapers gave titles like “An Exciting Fight for the South Pole”. built a26-by-13-foot hut having foundations dug deep in to the ice, with the door facing to the west, as the winds came from the East. The hut was well insulated, with a bunk and seat for each.
A large supply of food and meat was brought to the base. But, the maximum
Though Scott did not visit ‘Framheim’,
Amundsen paid a visit to Scott’s camp, noticing a great flaw among its elaborate facilities – they had no wireless radio! That meant, Scott had no scope of alerting the world about his achievement even if they were to be the first to reach the Pole. But, in the true spirit of a race, Amundsen offered a site for Scott’s team near their base at Whales Bay. Scott might have been thinking of his motorized-sledges that could ensure greater speed and so he refused.
It took four months for Fram to reach the Ross Ice Shelf, on 14 January 1911.
Amundsen selected a site for the Fram—Amundsen’s Ship
Fram was originally the ship used by Fridtjof Nansen during his North Pole expedition during 1893–96.
Nansen made it specifically for his Arctic expedition with strict specifications to withstand prolonged exposure to the “killing” environment of the Polar waters.