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Amundsen, the polar explorer


Thanks to María Jesús Chacón for her splendid translation

2014 Editorial Weeble Author: Fernando G. Rodríguez Illustrations: Fernando G. Rodríguez Translation: María Jesús Chacón Huertas Madrid, Spain, March 2014

Licence: Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 1

For all those who try to challenge their own human limits




During the first years This excited and freezing adventure is dated back on 16 July 1872, when our hero was born. His name was Roald Amundsen and he came from a small coastal town near Oslo, Norway, known as Borge.

As his father worked as a captain and his brothers also were sailors, his mother tried to convince him to be a doctor. So, she did not stop saying to his husband: - Jens, I would love Roald to be a doctor. I would not like him to become a sailor or a captain. - As you wish! – answered Amundsen´s father.


As the years went by, Roald went to school and learnt a lot. However, he was increasingly fascinated by the adventures of the explorers. He dreamt of becoming a famous explorer while he was constantly reading... He read about Greenland, the huge island located between North America and the Artic Ocean. He was quite surprised when he read that nearly all of the giant island was covered with ice. ARCTIC OCEAN GLACIER When Amundsen was 16, he heard the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, became the first person to cover Greenland. He knew some other explorers failed to make the same Nansen´s crossing.

As this Nansen´s expedition was a great success, when he returned to his country, he was received as a hero all over Norway.


Nansen road



That encouraged Amundsen to continue learning everything he could about Nansen´s expedition. He was so fascinated about it that an increasing desire to became a polar explorer awoke in his mind. Then, he states to his mother: - Mum, I already know what I want to be when I grow up. - And tell me, Roald, what do you want to be when you grow up? - I want to be a great polar explorer! – Amundsen strongly answered. At this, she was so amazed that she also replied to her son strongly: - No, Roald. You must do whatever I say: you will become a doctor!


So following his mother´s wishes, Amundsen began studying Medicine. Unfortunately, his father died when he was 14 and shortly after beginning his medical studies, his mother also died. It was then when he left school in order to pursue his anxious dream: to become a great polar explorer. Then Roald became a sailor on various seal ships travelling to the Arctic, where he learnt everything he could about navigation and other survival techniques.




The first expedition

When Amundsen was 25, he found out a Belgian expedition was about to explore the Antarctica. As he stongly wished to be part of that expedition, he managed to get an interview with the expedition leader:


- Mr. Adrien de Gerlache – allow me to present to you my experiences to work as a helmsman – Amundsen says. Mr. Adrien de Gerlache, after a careful study of Amundsen experiences, tells him: - Mr. Amundsen, you are the new helmsman of our ship, the Belgica. - Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I certainly will not dissapoint you – Amundsen answers.


And this is how Amundsen and his shipmates sailed on the Belgica in August , 1897. Needless to say that our brave explorer was a little nervous as this was his first polar expedition. Finally, despite the exhausting and dangerous trip, they reached the Antartic Peninsula. But, the Belgica got trapped in the ice. As a result of that, they became the first expedition to survive a frozen winter on the Antartic. During that winter, Amundsen remembered and always put into practice every valuable lessons of survival he had learnt in his early trips. In that way, they were preparing themselves to survive ... 10

For instance, the American expedition doctor, Frederick Cook, tells Amundsen how to feed the crew: - My captain, the crew must eat meat of marine animals, even fresh meat. This is the only way we will prevent them from suffering scurvy. - Well, I agree, Mr. Cook. Command the crew to hunt all we can eat. We will have to eat fresh meat as we cannot cook it here – the captain replies. One of the lessons Amundsen had learnt was that using animal skins rather than wool coats were much better to keep warm. So, he exclaims to the hunters: - Don´t throw the seal skins out. If we use them for coats, we will protect from cold.


When the harsh winter finished, the spring came and the ice was melt in such a way the Belgica went out of the ice. Mainly, thanks to the advices given by Cook and Amundsen, the entire crew had survived without much difficulty. Amundsen continued learning from his experiences throughout his voyages: he would never forget all the lessons learnt in this cold voyage. So, he would take them on board to further improve his upcoming trips.




The Northwest Passage

Amundsen commanded his own polar expedition when he was 27. He pretended to find a new sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the islands of Canada. To achive that goal, Amundsen raised enough money to buy a ship called Gjoa. It was a small but a manageable ship to navigate on routes through the harsh Artic waters.




Northwest passage 14

On 16 June 1903, with a crew of 6, our brave explorer sailed from Oslo around the south of Greenland, through Baffin Bay and to reach northern Canada finally. The expedition spent two cold winters there and during that time the crew survived by hunting and fishing. Then Amundsen met the native esquimos from Canada, known as the Netsilik. They were the ones who teached them how to protect themselves from the severe cold and how to pull sleds by dogs. Also, the crew learnt other survival techniques. Once more Amundsen continued learning and improving his polar exploration techniques.


Finally, after those harsh and freezing two years, the Gjoa arrived safe and sound to the Alaska´s northwest coast. Amundsen exclaims excited: - I am very happy. Thank you for your great efforts! I am very proud of you all! Once the expedition arrived Alaska, Amundsen was eager to communicate to the world his expedition had been a real success. So, he found out the nearest city where there was a telegraph was about 400 kms. from there. Then, our explorer, almost without thinking, decided to get there with nothing but his skis. In those times, as mobile phones and Internet did not exist, people used the telegraph for communication.


The message he sent to the world said as follows: “The Gjoa has reached Alaska. The expedition has been a success. Opened the Northwest Passage. Signed by Roald Amundsen”. Because of Amundsen´s ability to navigate and survive, this trip had been a great accomplishment. Because of his courage and his never-ending energy, he became the great explorer he had always dreamt of… As it happened with Nansen´s expedition, when Amundsen´s expedition came back to Norway, this one was treated as a hero.




Towards the North Pole

After the success of this last expedition, Amundsen started to organize another one. But, this time, his main aim was to be the first to reach the North Pole. For that, he needed a different, a strong ship. Suddenly, he thought the ship used by Nansen, named `the Fram´ was the best ship for this new adventure. Therefore, Amundsen decided to visit to Nansen in order to borrow `the Fram´. After listening carefully Amundsen proposal, he believed it was a wonderful idea and agreed to borrow his ship.


The Fram was a quite different ship because it was built for a particular task: open water in rough sea and adverse meteorological conditions. For that reason, although it was a plain ship in shape, it was also very wide. The Fram was so wide that it could even carry provisions for six years! Before embarking on his adventure, Amundsen looked up several sponsors to fund the expedition.


While he was preparing his voyage, he heard the explorers Cook and Robert Peary had already reached the North Pole as a result of two different expeditions. Clearly, this news deeply disappointed Amundsen, who thinks: `I must change the aim of my journey as I cannot be the first to reach the North Pole´. Then, he kept thinking and thinking … and finally he states: - ‘Yes, I´ve got it! I will be the first to reach the South Pole!´


He was happy and excited but at the same time Amundsen was afraid because he had to communicate his new aim to Nansen and his sponsors. He thought … `Now, it is probably they do not want to support my new plan. Maybe, they decide not to help me this time´. To avoid it, he concludes by saying: `I will keep in secret my new route. And later, when nobody can hold back from his decision, I will tell them the real aim of my expedition´.


Then Amundsen started choosing his crew: among others, he chose a doctor and a good cook. Both of them were key jobs in such difficult voyages. Of course, Nilsen was chosen as the second in charge to the captain. As in his early trips he learnt that the best way to move across the ice was pulling sleds by dogs, he also decided to recruit a dog expert.


When everything was ready, on August 1910 the expedition left. Although everybody thought they went towards the North Pole … They sailed through the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean towards the island of Madeira, which belongs to Portugal. The first idea was to reach the North Pole from Alaska, reason whereby the Fram had to surrounded America. At Madeira, Amundsen met up with the crew to communicate his new plan. -As you all know, the Americans Frederik Cook and Robert Peary have already reached the North Pole. So, if we go forward with my plan, we will no longer be the first … - the captain says. - Therefore, I propose to you a new challenge which will allow us to be the first … - he goes on to say. After listening to Amundsen´s words, they were all astonished and impatient. 24

At last, Amundsen exclaims: - We will be the first to reach the South Pole! The crew was delighted with the new proposal and everybody yells: -Yes, captain, we will be the first to reach the South Pole! - It is a wonderful idea! We do not want to be the second! He had not to persuade them more. There was no doubt that the entire crew had a blind faith in Amundsen. The captain says: -Then, we will do so! Thank you for your support. I will telegraph Norway and the rest of the world to inform about our new plan. The news of Amundsen´s revised plan reached Norway early in October and Nansen was the first to know it. Of MADEIRA course, Nansen gave his blessing and warm approval. Besides, his country as well as his expedition sponsors also supported him.




The South Pole expedition

Nearly six months later and after a long, hard voyage, the Fram reached Antarctica on 14 January 1911. The expedition arrived at the eastern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. They established their base camp at a large inlet called the Bay of Whales. The camp was called `Framheim´, which means `home of the Fram´.


At that time, our brave explorer knew he was in race with the British explorer, the captain Robert Scott to be the first to reach the South Pole. Fortunately, thanks to they established Framheim at the Bay of Whales, Amundsen and his crew already had a certain advantage to his competitor: Amundsen´s base camp was nearly 100 kms. closer to the South Pole than Scott´s base camp.

ROSS SEA Scott Base Camp

80º S

Ross Ice Shelf

Amundsen Base Camp



The entire crew was aware that for them to succeed they had to be well-prepared: among other things, they must use skis and dog sleds for transportation. Then, Amundsen and his men decided to create 3 intermediate supply depots along the way to the Pole. They created them during the months of February, March and April. Besides, they took advantage of the freezing winter to improve their expedition materials, particularly the sledges. Their purpose was to start their trip in September.


Our brave explorer thought September was the perfect month, mainly because spring came to Antarctica then and, therefore, the weather conditions were rather better. So, when everything was ready for the voyage, Amundsen chose 8 crewmen and they departed towards the South Pole. However, contrary to what they believed the freezing temperatures were so extreme that dropped as low as minus 40ºC: there were strong winds with snow; the blizzards and heavy fogs were so strong that visibility was extremely poor‌ Therefore, they had to quit their huge trek due to the adverse weather conditions. Though they decided to leave the food supplies they did not need in the first intermediate camp. Meanwhile, the expedition looked forward patiently in the base camp until the weather conditions improve.


A second attempt took place in mid October, with a team made up of 5: Bjaaland, Hassel, Wisting, Hanssen and Amundsen. Everybody in the camp wished the new team all the best. This time, they departed Framheim on 19 October. They took four sledges and 52 dogs. The sled dogs were led by a Samoyed named Etah. Amundsen made sure that the dogs were well fed. Bjaaland, the carpenter of the crew, was the one who redesigned the sledges they would use by lowering their weight. Later, this lower weight was crucial in saving energy during the trip.


Once again, when everything was ready, Amundsen ordered to trek. - Come on, guys! Towards the South Pole! – Amundsen exclaims. - Yes, towards the South Pole! –the team yells. It had been over a year since they left their country and finally, the long awaited moment had arrived…


- We will continue straight on towards the South Pole, crossing the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf – Amundsen tells to his team. Fortunately, this time, the weather conditions did not worse, so that they reached the first depot without any kind of setback. Also, they reached the second depot without any problem and at the beginning of November they arrived at the third intermediate depot. Until then everything was going well. Even the sledges pulled by dogs were progressing as scheduled. Sometimes, the blistering cold and the frozen wind forced them to shelter in their tents. So, fighting against the extreme cold, the expedition continued as planned.


In mid November, they arrived at the edge of the Trans-Antarctic mountains using a route along the previously unknown Axel Heiberg Glacier. Although the ascent to the mountains was not as hard as expected, the intense cold remained being their first enemy ‌ At last, after a four-day climb, Wisting, who was the first in the group, shouts: - Captain, the plateau! They had arrived at the Antarctic Plateau, a large and flat area of central Antarctica.


The expedition camped there and then … the harshest moment in the voyage came. Amundsen reminds his men: - Hassel, Hanssen, as you already know, we must slaughter some dogs. -Yes, captain. We know that is our foreseen plan – they answer while unsheathing their knives. So, fulfilling their initial plan, they had to slaughter 24 dogs. The expedition team as well as the other 28 dogs were fed by them. The remaining meat and the bones were buried under the frozen snow with the aim of being eaten when they returned. Henceforth, that place was called as `The Butcher´s Shop´.


From there they started walking through the Antarctic Plateau. Unfortunately, the weather tended to worsen: a dense fog forced them to take refuge in the tent until it was cleared. But ‌ the days passed by and the fog continued and even grew. The explorers were slowly becoming impatient. - Captain, the fog does not disappear. We cannot just stay here quietly and wait! – Hanssen tells to Amundsen. - I know it. We can hardly do otherwise. We have to resist. This endless fog will rise soon! – Amundsen, with conviction, answers. Amundsen was also concerned about the situation, but he wanted to avoid bringing them any sadness. Besides, he was worried because they were taking more provisions than expected and it was an unbearably cold.


The fog was risen after 9 long days. From then they were able to continue their voyage towards the South Pole. On 7 December 1911, after a difficult journey, they were very close to achieving their target. - Gentlemen, I would inform you, we are 150 kms. from the South Pole. So far, no one has been so close. Keep going, don´t give up! – Amundsen encourages them. -My captain, we are about to achieve it. The dogs are behaving rather nicely and we are certainly on the right track – Bjaaland replies. This way, despite all the difficulties, the crew encouraged each other to move forward. However, our brave polar explorers were less and less strength…


At last, they reached their destination on December 14, 1911. -Amundsen, we have achieved it, we are in the South Pole! – Wisting yells. -We are the first! – Hassel welcomes. It was nearly two months since they had left the Framheim. With a big smile on his face and with bright eyes, Amundsen congratulates his team. -Gentlemen, congratulations for the fine work you have done. It has been a pleasure to reach the South Pole with all of you. -Hurray, Amundsen! – everybody yells almost without any strength left. On that historic day, the team of five, with their 16 dogs, arrived at the South Pole, at latitude 90º S. There, they planted the Norwegian flag. They also left a small tent and a letter stating their accomplishment, in case they did not return safely to Framheim. 38

Quickly, they returned to the base camp following the same route. They were so exhausted and so cold they may not stay there any longer. On the other hand, Robert Scott´s British expedition reached the South Pole 35 days after Amundsen. But, unfortunately, they did not return home alive. Some months later, they were found frozen to death … On the contrary, all five of Amundsen´s crew returned safely to Framheim, but only 11 dogs made it back alive. The journey to the South Pole and back had taken 99 days. So, it was on 25 January, 1912, when the team finally reached the base camp. When they saw the expedition safe and sound, everybody shouts for joy: - Congratulations captain! - We are the first. Cheers for Norway! Long live Amundsen! 39



Others expedition achivements

During the next years, Amundsen continued making many explorations: among others, he sailed the Northwest Passage, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through Russia´s northern coast. Later on, he joined an expedition aboard an airship and they flew over the North Pole. Amundsen died in a plane crash during a rescue attempt on 18 June, 1928. He was trying to rescue some of the crew of an expedition which had lost. The hydroplane wherein he flew crashed in the deep Bareints sea, in northern Norway and Russia. His body was never found ‌


This story is considered as one of the greatest historical epics in recent human history. All the brave explorers who took part in the conquest of the South Pole shared their frozen experiences with all of us. They all challenged their own human limits. They all are considered our great heroes‌


The end If you wish, you can express your own opinion: what you liked the most and the less, what kind of tales you would like to read the next time or… just, you can say `HELLO!´ THANK YOU very much for sharing your great ideas with us!

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2014 Editorial Weeble Author: Fernando G. Rodríguez Illustrations: Fernando G. Rodríguez Translation: María Jesús Chacón Huertas Madrid, Spain, March 2014

Licence: Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0

Amundsen, the polar explorer  

The story of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen told for children. The first man to reach the South Pole. One recent epics of humanity...

Amundsen, the polar explorer  

The story of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen told for children. The first man to reach the South Pole. One recent epics of humanity...