After he won the race to the South Pole, he became the first man to reach the North Pole. Then, he vanished without a trace.
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station stands at the southernmost point on the planet, marking the spot that its two namesakes raced toward in an epic fight for glory in 1911. It stands as a research station, but also as a commemoration of the journeys embarked upon by Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, the man who reached the South Pole for the first time, and the man who died trying.
In June of 1910, Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen set off for the North Pole. His crew was excited, for no one had ever set out for the location, and should they be the first to succeed, their names would go down in infamy.
However, before they got far, Amundsen made an announcement. He had received word a few weeks prior that another expedition, by two separate Americans, had reached the North Pole already. Without telling anyone, he had planned an entirely new expedition, the same as the Arctic one, but heading to a slightly different location.
Rather than the North Pole, they would take on the South Pole.
The only flaw in Amundsen’s plan was that another expedition was already in the works. A British national named Robert Scott was planning his own expedition to the South Pole and was also underway.
The resulting competition would be one for the record books. It was riddled with controversy at first, as both Scott and some of Amundsen’s crew felt misled, but eventually, it turned into a battle for glory. The ensuing race for victory would go down as one of the most exciting competitions in the Historic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
It would also end in death for one of them.
It took Amundsen and his crew six months to reach the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in their single ship. The shelf was then known as the Great Ice Barrier and was known to Amundsen from his research on the journey of Ernest Shackleton. Dressed in Inuit-inspired furs and skins, the team left their ship in the Bay of Whales, and continued toward the South Pole on foot, with the occasional aid of a dogsled.
The first attempt proved a failure, as the men were unprepared for the extreme temperatures, and the high amounts of food they would have to consume to make up for the cold. They returned, angry and downtrodden, to the ship.
The second attempt was successful. Amundsen himself accompanied his crew on this one, insisting upon the use of more dogsleds. After four days, five men and 16 dogs made it to the South Pole. Roald Amundsen named his camp Polheim or “Home on the Pole.”
To his delight, Scott’s team didn’t arrive for another 33 days, making Roald Amundsen, without a doubt, the first man to reach the pole.
For Scott, the disappointment wasn’t even the worst of it. While Amundsen marked his camp, then returned safely to Norway, Scott’s entire expedition was lost on their way home.
The news of Scott’s death overshadowed the success of Amundsen’s crew upon their arrival home, but Amundsen didn’t mind. He had achieved his goal, and would soon achieve more.
Roughly ten years later, Amundsen would become the first man to reach the North Pole by flight. As it turned out, there was doubt over the two Americans’ claim of reaching the location first, leaving the title of the first man at the North Pole thoroughly unclaimed. Amundsen jumped at the chance, joining Lincoln Ellsworth on his expedition north.
Along with two pilots, the two explorers flew to the northernmost latitude ever reached by an aircraft, making Amundsen and Ellsworth the first men to get that far as well. In 1926, 14 years after becoming the first man to reach the South Pole, Roald Amundsen found himself at the North one as well, making him the first person to reach both.
Unfortunately, just a few years later the explorer’s life would be cut tragically short before he could break any more exploratory records. During a rescue mission for his fellow explorer Umberto Nobile, Roald Amundsen disappeared. He was aboard a plane that was attempting to locate Nobile’s dirigible, which likely became disoriented by fog and found itself lost at sea.
To this day, however, despite several Naval searches, no wreckage from the fateful Amundsen flight has ever been found.
Though tragic, a mysterious disappearance while on a rescue exploration seemed like a fitting way for Roald Amundsen to go. His life and his work was later memorialized, along with Scott’s, in the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, which serves as a reminder of the two men who fought to the death to claim the rights to the exciting, unexplored territory.