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Roald Amundsen

Biography >> Explorers for Kids

Roald Amundsen steering ship
Roald Amundsen piloting his ship
Source: Lomen Bros.

Roald Amundsen (1872 - 1928) was an explorer of the North and South Poles. He led the first expedition to reach the South Pole and was the first person to visit both the North and South Pole.

Where did Roald grow up?

Roald was born in Borge, Norway on July 16, 1872. He grew up in Norway with his three brothers. His father, who was involved with the shipping industry, died when Roald was just 14 years old. Roald had dreamt of becoming an explorer, but his mother wanted him to become a doctor. He followed his mother's wishes until she died when he was 21 years old. Then he left school to pursue his dream of exploring.

Roald became a crewmember on various ships traveling to the Arctic. In 1887 he was first mate on a ship named the Belgica. It became the first expedition to survive the winter on the Arctic. Roald learned valuable lessons of survival during these early trips that would help him later on. One was that fresh seal meat had vitamin C which would help in curing scurvy. Another was to use animal skins rather than wool coats to keep warm.

Northwest Passage

In 1903 Roald commanded his own expedition on his ship the Gjoa. He traveled to the magnetic North Pole and was the first to discover the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This passage had been searched for over many centuries. Roald's ability to navigate and survive this trip was a great accomplishment.

Amundsen's ship the Gjoa
His ship the Gjoa
Photo by Unknown

South Pole

Roald next planned an expedition to reach the North Pole. However, when he heard that Robert Peary claimed to have already reached the North Pole, he made last minute plans and decided to pursue the South Pole. He kept this a secret until the last minute. He was in a race with British explorer Robert Scott to be the first to the South Pole.

On January 14, 1911 Amundsen's ship, the Fram, arrived at the Bay of Whales in Antarctica. They set up camp there and prepared for the trip to the South Pole. Roald made sure that the dogs were well fed. One of the crew, a carpenter named Olav Bjaaland, redesigned the sleds they would use. He lowered the weight from 195 pounds to 50 pounds. This lower weight would be crucial in saving energy during the trip.

Sled on the way to the South Pole
Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition
Source: Illustrated London News

They set out to reach the South Pole ten months after arriving on Antarctica on October 20th. There were five men, 52 dogs, and four sleds. At first they traveled quickly, but soon they had to pass over mountains and avoid dangerous crevasses. Finally, after nearly two months of hard traveling, they reached their destination. On December 14, 1911 Roald Amundsen planted the Norwegian Flag at the South Pole.

All five of Amundsen's crew returned safely to base camp, but only 11 dogs made it back alive. The expedition took 99 days and traveled over 1,800 miles.

At the South Pole
Amundsen and the Norwegian Flag at the South Pole
Source: National Library of Norway

Robert Scott's British expedition reached the South Pole 35 days after Amundsen. Unfortunately, they did not make it back alive, but were found frozen to death months later.

North Pole

Amundsen still had the goal of reaching the North Pole. In 1926 he joined an expedition with Umberto Nobile aboard the airship Norge. They flew over the North Pole in May in what was is considered to be the first undisputed (many people dispute Robert Peary's claim) visit to the North Pole.

Rescue Attempt

Roald died in a plane crash during a rescue attempt on June 18, 1928. He was trying to save some of the crew of one of Nobile's airships that had crashed.

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