Understanding Roald Amundsen

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 9.14.23 PMA bust of Roald Amundsen in the attic of the Hobart Antarctic Centre with Mari, a fellow NOLS/WMI graduate and former NSF logistics/supply manager for McMurdo Base – a 21st Century Amundsen after her return from The South Pole for the final time. 


Roald Amundsen wrote a telegramme to the World announcing he and his crew had ‘made The South Pole.’   A few months later,  Prof. Dr. Fridtjof Nansen – who gave his ship, Fram, to Roald Amundsen – wrote for the Introduction to his book, The South Pole

“Like everything great, it all looks so plain and simple. Of course, that is just as it had to be, we think.  Autumn was drawing on. One day there came a letter from him. In order to raise the money he could not get at home for his North Polar expedition he was going to the South Pole first.

“People stood still — did not know what to say. This was an unheard-of thing, to make for the North Pole by way of the South Pole! To make such an immense and entirely new addition to his plans without asking leave!  Some thought it grand; more thought it doubtful; but there were many who cried out that it was inadmissible, disloyal — nay, there were some who wanted to have him stopped!

“But nothing of this reached him. He had steered his course as he himself had set it, without looking back. Then by degrees it was forgotten, and everyone went on with his own affairs.

“The mists were upon us day after day, week after week — the mists that are kind to little men and swallow up all that is great and towers above them.  Suddenly a bright spring day cuts through the bank of fog. There is a new message.

“People stop again and look up.  High above them shines a deed, a man.  A wave of joy runs through the souls of men; their eyes are bright as the flags that wave about them.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 9.11.49 PMVilborg Arna, holding the flag of Íslands at the fixed ceremonial South Pole after ski-ing solo from the Ice Shelf  on the coast of Antarctica.  She is the first Icelander to solo The South Pole, and the first to woman-haul her sled without dogs.

“Amundsen even kept his plans for a South Pole expedition a secret from officials within the Norwegian government. He feared that government officials would be hesitant to challenge Great Britain, upon whom they were highly dependent, in a race to the Pole. It was not until Amundsen’s ship, “Fram”, was well off the coast of Morocco that he announced to his crew that they were headed for the South, not the North, Pole.” – PBS American Experience,  Alone on the Ice: People & Events Roald Amundsen

It may be perplexing, 105 years later, to even imagine a private citizen hiding the destination of such a huge and historic voyage to Antarctica from his own government and the World.  Imagine if Elon Musk or Paul Allen had launched a rocket to test a space craft, they said, that was designed for Earth orbit. Then sent its crew hurtling towards the Moon…or even Mars! With them on board!

Even more, Amundsen hid it from most of his crew, in what had to be one of the most democratic and honest discussions that ANY ship captain has ever had with his crew. His argument was something like this before the vote in Funchal, Madeira: ‘Guys, we’re not headed to the North Pole that you signed on for and you have every reason to sue me. We’re headed to the South Pole with no more pay and longer time away from your homes, but think of this as double duty for our nation, Norway, and for science.  As well as ourselves, if we are fortunate enough to come back alive.’

That should give you both pause and insight into the impact of what Roald Amundsen and his crew did in being the first humans to reach The South Pole. Of course, the crew knew Roald Amundsen, and the preparation they themselves had made hinted at something larger.

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