Roald Amundsen’s achievements as a polar explorer are unparalleled. The first to conquer the Northwest Passage by sea, and the first to reach the South Pole, Amundsen’s life reads like a Boy’s Own adventure of derring-do, bravery and courage in the world’s most treacherous and fearsome environments.
The circumstances around his great voyages are in themselves riveting. Constantly on the brink of financial collapse, Amundsen just managed to set sail for the Northwest Passage in time to escape his creditors, fleeing to make his famous three-year voyage in Gjøa, finally wiring his message of success upon reaching Eagle, Alaska in December 1905.
And similar circumstances surrounded his South Pole expedition, gaining backing by playing up the trip’s scientific purposes, and only revealing the true purpose of the journey to his crew hours before setting sail, leaving Norwayin August 1910.
Yet for all his cavaliering back home, Amundsen on the ice was a meticulous, inspirational leader, expertly planning his team’s bid for the South Pole and executing his plan with almost incomprehensible mettle and fortitude.
To his crew he was simply "the chief", and where Amundsen led, they would follow. And he, of course, led them into a frigid hell, braving temperatures of under -50°C, walking headlong into driving snow and whipping winds, negotiating thick, dizzying fog. Not just that, however, but the terrain they trod across was deadly: ‘the Devil's Ballroom’, for example, a glacier with a thin crust ofsnow covering dangerous, deep crevasses. And the mountains – the party managed to carry a tonne of supplies to an altitude of 3,000 metres.
And so at 1500 on 14thDecember 1911, some eight weeks after leaving base camp, there was a simultaneous cry of "Halt!" The Pole had been reached, the great race won.