Born on July 16, 1872, Roald Amundsen would become one of the larger than life figures from the Golden Age of Arctic Exploration, a time when the exploits of brave adventurers made headlines vying to be the first to reach the North and South Poles. These explorers captivated the globe. Because of his numerous accomplishments and the mystery surrounding his death, Amundsen has become a legendary figure amongst Norway’s many iconic explorers.
Amundsen’s quest for glory in the Arctic began at a young age. He was just 25 when he set out on his first expedition. While first mate on the Belgian RV Belgica, Amundsen and the crew were the first to survive a winter in Antarctica. In 1903, Amundsen led an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage that would last more than three years. In midst of the journey, he learned of Norway’s newly-gained independence. In a letter to the King of Norway, Haakon VII, Amundsen said his exploration “was a great achievement for Norway.” In 1906, Amundsen became the first person to successfully cross the Northwest Passage.
In 1910, the explorer set his sights on the South Pole. After a first unsuccessful attempt, Amundsen set out from his base camp in October 1911 with four sleds and 52 dogs. On December 14, he and five others arrived at 90° 0’s, thus becoming the first group to reach the South Pole. Less than a month later on January 11, 1912, they returned to the base camp with just 11 of the dogs remaining.
Thirteen years later, Amundsen and five others set out to reach the Arctic by air. In a time when aviation was still in its infancy, Amundsen and his crew made the northernmost landing by aircraft. Not one to settle, he returned a year later with a crew to fly over the Arctic, which succeeded. By 1926, three other expeditions had reached the North Pole, but all three claims were disputed. Amundsen could also lay claim to being the first to reach the North Pole and the first explorer to reach both Poles by ground or air.
Roald Amundsen would disappear in 1928 during a rescue mission to aid Umberto Nobile, a fellow explorer stranded during an Arctic expedition. Although wreckage from his seaplane was recovered in an exhaustive search, the body of Amundsen has never been discovered. To this the day, the resting place of one of Norway’s greatest explorers remains a mystery. In what would later prove to be eerie foreshadowing, Amundsen shared with a reporter in the months before his trip, “If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that’s where I want to die.”
Want to learn more about Norway’s famous explorers? Check out our feature from Viking magazine.
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