Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Search for the Northwest Passage
Roald Amundsen was born into a family of Norwegian ship owners. Despite promising his mother that he would become a doctor, he joined the family business after her death. His first expedition was the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-1899, where he was the first mate to Adrien de Gerlache. The first expedition that Amundsen led was a search for the North West Passage in 1903. The elusive North West Passage had been sought after for many years by many men, starting in 1539 when Hernan Cortez commissioned Francisco Ulloa to sail along the peninsula of Baha, California.
Amundsen began his journey with six crewmen in a 47-ton steel seal hunting ship named Gjoa. They began in Baffin Bay and made their way to Resolute and then to Gjoa Haven, where they were forced to winter but instead stayed a whole year. Next they sailed around the southern coast of Victoria Island and along the northern coast of Canada and Alaska before landing in Eagle City, Alaska. On December 5, 1905, while staying in Eagle City, Amundsen wired a message of success. Forced to spend the winter in Eagle City, they arrived in Nome in 1906, where Amundsen received news that Norway had become independent of Sweden. He sent a message to the new King, Haakon VII, that his success “was a great achievement for Norway.” Amundsen later went on to become the first person to reach the South Pole and the first person to fly over the North Pole.
During his time in Gjoa Haven (which he called the finest little harbor in the world) he learned survival skills from the local Nattilik people. He was taught how to use sled dogs and to wear animal skins instead of woolen parkas. Also, during this time he made several observations about magnetics.