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14 December 2011

On this day in history: First expedition to reach the South Pole, 1911

On 14th December, a team of arctic explorers led by Roald Amundsen arrived at the South Pole. They had beaten a rival expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, by 34 days. While Amundsen's team returned safely, Scott's group all perished while marching back across the ice.

Amundsen was born in Borge, Norway, in 1872. His family were shipowners and naval captains, a tradition that he kept up in spite of pressure for him to become a doctor. He served as first mate on a Belgian Antarctic expedition between 1897-1899, before leading the first successful expedition to cross the Canadian Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean.

For his next adventure, he planned an expedition to the North Pole, but when he heard that others had already reached it, he decided to head for the South Pole instead. He did not inform the other members of the expedition until they were at sea aboard his ship, Fram. He also sent a telegram to Scott notifying him of the change in plans.

Fram reached the Antarctic on 14th January, 1911, setting up his base camp, which he called Framheim. From there his team ventured forth setting up supply depots on a line directly to the Pole. Following an unsuccessful attempt on the Pole, of which Amundsen was not part, he led a second attempt, departing on 19th October.

As well as Amundsen, the team included Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, traveling on four sledges with fifty-two dogs. Following a four day climb up a glacier the group reached the Antarctic Plateau on 21st November. Twenty-three days later they reached the Pole and set up a camp, called Polheim, where they left a letter to prove their accomplishment, in case they failed to return.

The team arrived back at Framheim on 25th January, 1912, with the eleven remaining dogs. They reached Hobart, Australia, on 7th March, when they announced the success of their expedition. The news was met with national celebration back in Norway.

Amundsen continued his polar explorations, becoming the first man to indisputably visit both poles. In June, 1928, Amundsen was aboard a flying boat searching for an airship that had crashed while returning from the North Pole. The plane never returned, most likely crashing in the Barents Sea.

If you wish to learn more, Project Gutenberg hosts copies of Amundsen's The South Pole; an account of the Norwegian Antarctic expedition in the "Fram"(1912)

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