On This Day: Amundsen Reaches The South Pole (1911)


On this day in history, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen leads a small group to the  South Pole. They were the first people to reach the South Pole. Amundsen had beaten his great rival  Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer to the Pole and he became world-famous as a result of his remarkable feat.

Amundsen was born near Oslo, the Norwegian Capital in 1872. He went to sea and he was the first mate on a ship that was the first to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903 he led an expedition through the North West passage around the Northern Coast of Canada. He was the first sea-captain to undertake this journey which was very dangerous. He had achieved something that no other explorer had. Amundsen was a national hero in his homeland. Amundsen was a restless man and planned to be the first man to reach the North Pole. While he was planning this expedition, he learned to his great disappointment that an American, Robert Perry had recently reached the North Pole.

Roald Amundsen in 1920s

Amundsen decided to change his plans. Instead of trying to reach the North Pole he decided that he would attempt to lead a team to the South Pole. In 1911, he sailed to the Antarctic and he established a base in the Bay of Whales. In October, Scott and Amundsen began their journey to the South Pole. Amundsen used sleigh-dogs in his expedition  to the South Pole.  Scott used motorized sleighs and Siberian ponies.  Amundsen had cleverly established a base camp a day’s journey nearer to the South Pole than Scott. Amundsen was able to reach the North Pole on this day. After spending a day at the Pole and marking it with a flag he and his men made it safely back to his base camp.

Scott’s expedition became a disaster. The sleds were not able to operate in the snow and ice and the ponies could not cope with the extreme weather. They eventually made it to the Pole only to discover that Amundsen had made it there first.  Scott’s expedition on the return journey was dogged with problems. Two members of Scott’s team died then a storm trapped the team, only twelve miles from their base camp. Scott and two members of his team froze to death.

Amundsen returned home and set up a shipping business. He then became an aviator and made an attempt to become the first explorer to fly over the North Pole in a dirigible (an airship) .  There is some controversy if on another attempt he did became the first man to fly over the Pole in his airship.  Amundsen later died on the island of Spitsbergen trying to rescue a fellow explorer.