A different world
It was in many respects a very different world when Roald Amundsen set forth to conquer the South Pole in 1910.
For one, the technologies that exist today that adventurers consider essential would have been the stuff of science fiction to the Norwegian and his team. The likes of GPS, satellite phones and Gore-Tex clothing were all many decades away.
So how did he and his team, with equipment that would today be called primitive at best, make one of the 20th Century’s most significant, dangerous journeys and return home safely?
A look at his early life reveals a highly motivated, driven character. Amundsen was born in 1872 in Østfold, Norway, into a seafaring family. His protective mother, however, wanted her son to enter the medical profession and not risk his life in the dangerous world of a 19th Century maritime career.
Feeling immense pressure to please his mother, the young Roald committed himself to becoming a doctor. However, after reading of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s expedition to Greenland in 1888, a seed was sown in his young mind; the desire to become an explorer. When Amundsen’s mother died when he was only 21 years old, so too did his studies to be a doctor. He immediately quit university to begin a life of adventure at sea.
The crowning achievement of his exploratory career was the South Pole expedition, which lasted from 1910-1912. Originally Amundsen had his sights set on the North Pole but heard that this had already been claimed before his own voyage had even set sail.
Undeterred he headed to Antarctica instead.
It was here that Amundsen revealed that he was not without his flaws: he did not make his change of plan known to his men until after they had set sail.
The move also came as a surprise to the Englishman Robert Scott, also on his way to the South Pole, on what would prove a fatal conquest attempt. An element of competition was introduced when Amundsen sent Scott a telegram to notify him of his change of plans.
In practical terms, what set Amundsen apart was his level of preparation - particularly with regard to his understanding of Inuit survival techniques.
His team used dog sledges (others insisted on using horses) and he decided against using heavy woollen clothing, despite it being the ‘uniform’ of the polar explorer in those days.
Instead he used Inuit-style skins with natural moisture-wicking properties that modern synthetic fibres such as Gore-Tex replicate.
The polar explorer
On October 19, 1911, the team set off on a nearly two-month trek to the Pole. The journey itself was notable for its lack of drama, largely as a result of Amundsen’s remarkable planning and meticulous attention to every conceivable detail.
He had good equipment based on a clear understanding of how hostile the environment is, exemplified by the Inuit-style skins they all wore. The team was very well provisioned. Markers were set up for miles around their base camp, to reduce the risk of getting lost close to home. He also had a clear goal: to reach the Pole and come back safely. Unlike many expeditions, Amundsen was not concerned with taking photographs or surveying.
His team had a deep understanding of the dogs, the sledges and the use of skis. In short, Amundsen reduced risk at every opportunity and returned back to base camp on January 25, 1912 with no casualties.
AGR admires this aspect of Amundsen, of his pioneering approach to the challenge he faced - how his triumph was a result of preparation and experience. Whatever their project, our clients can reduce risk by using AGR solutions and services