Roald Amundsen was a polar technician. His approach to the Pole was slow, methodical and proven. He carried spare food, extra fuel and backups for all essential equipment. The team used skis and brought dogs to do the heavy pulling, saving the men’s strength. He also pragmatically calculated the worn-out dogs as food for the others.
Leaving their base at the Bay of Whales on October 19, 1911, Amundsen and Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting set out on skis with four sledges, each pulled by 13 Greenland dogs. As Norwegians, they were well trained in the use of skis, and during his Arctic years Amundsen had developed excellent dog-driving skills. This served them well.
The five men climbed (and named) Axel Heiberg Glacier to the Polar Plateau and reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911. They camped in a dark-green tent for three days at what they called 'Polheim' and made weather observations and precisely calculated their position. Amundsen claimed the Polar Plateau for Norway, naming it King Haakon VII Land, and wrote a note for Scott that he left in the tent. Then, they turned for home, triumphant.
In contrast to Scott’s desperate race against starvation just a month later, the Norwegians’ return trip from S 90° to their coastal base seems little more than a bracing ski trek. ‘On January 25, at 4am,’ Amundsen laconically recorded in his diary, ‘we reached our good little house again, with two sledges and 11 dogs; men and animals all hale and hearty.’
Amundsen’s polar camp remains buried under the annual accumulations of snow, and by now should be about 12m below the snow surface. In 1993 a Norwegian group came to the Pole with hopes of recovering the tent, Norwegian flag and sledge for display at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. They gave up when one of the group fell 40m down a crevasse and was killed. The huts Amundsen left at his camp on the Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales disappeared long ago as pieces of the ice shelf calved and floated out to sea.