Roald Amundsen; a hero?

By Louwrens Hacquebord
Arctic Centre / WBPI

On December 14, 2011 it is exactly 100 years ago that five Norwegians (Helmer Hanssen, Oscar Wisting, Olav Bjaaland, Sverre Hassel and Roald Amundsen) reached the geographical South Pole. The driving- force and the leader of the expedition was Roald Amundsen. The South Pole was situated on an extremely flat snow plateau and according to the explorers it was difficult to find the place to plant the flag. The team spent three days at the South Pole to encircle the Pole and to measure their position. Amundsen did not want to make the same mistake as Cooke and Peary who did not measure their position, which led to great discussion as to whether they had reached the North Pole or not. Based on arguments for conducting research in the Arctic Ocean and for finishing the work of Fridtjof Nansen Amundsen raised funds and obtained permission to use the Norwegian research vessel Fram. In his own words: the goal of the expedition was to research the northernmost polar basin. However, after the announcements of both Cook and Peary that they had reached the North Pole, Amundsen decided to go to the South Pole. In fact he was already playing with idea before these announcements: If I wanted to retain my name as an explorer sooner rather than later I needed to win a sensational victory in one or another way. So I decided on a coup (Amundsen 1927). In August 1909 Amundsen went to Antarctica. The Norwegians established their base in the Bay of Whales, about one degree latitude closer to the South Pole than Scott’s base in McMurdo Sound. The distance from their base Framheim to the South Pole was about 1500 km.
After a false start on September 8, 1911, that caused a conflict between Amundsen and Hjalmar Johansen, the real expedition started on October 20, 1911. Five men, four sledges and 52 dogs left Framheim in the direction of the South Pole. The route to the South Pole can be divided into three stages: the first stage is the relatively flat Ross Ice Shelf, the second is the ascent and crossing of the Queen Maud Mountains over the Axel Heiberg glacier and the third is the ca. 3000 meter high and very icy South Pole plateau. The Axel Heiberg Glacier with its big crevasses gave the expedition many problems. On December 14 they arrived at the South Pole. After three days they decided to turn back and on January 26 1912 they arrived safely at their base Framheim. Five men, two sledges and 11 dogs returned after 99 days and 3000 km.

Amundsen was an extremely motivated person. He was a very good planner and excellent in logistics. In his diary Sverre Hassel however, characterized Amundsen as distant and cantankerous. He initiated quarrels instead of keeping the peace. On the trip to the South Pole Hassel and Bjaaland criticized Amundsen’s decisions and leadership several times. According to Hassel, Wisting and Hanssen were his buddies. On May 30, 1912 when in Argentina at a banquet organized by the Norwegian La Plata Association Amundsen said he knew he was an unpleasant man to work with. Sverre Hassel reacted in his diary: Amundsen spoke well.
The financial situation of the expedition was so precarious that when the Fram arrived in Montevideo there was no money anymore to pay the salaries of the crew, the provisions of the ship and the oceanographic journey and the ship itself was in danger of total ruin. Thanks to the financial support of Don Pedro Christophersen, a Norwegian living in Argentina, the expedition could go ahead but the finances continued to be a big problem. So big that right after the South Pole-expedition Amundsen undertook a lecture tour in Australia in order to save the financial situation.

Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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