Ends Of The Earth

Sailors noticed that the curvature of the earth was round as they observed that elevated lights or areas of land were visible at greater distances than those less elevated.  Roald Amundsen a Norwegian explorer nicknamed “The Last of the Vikings” was the first person to visit both the North and South Pole.  In 1906, Roald Amundsen became the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage.  Amundsen traveled from Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound through the maze of islands and straits of the Canadian Arctic aboard the ship Gjöa.  This passage had been searched for over many centuries.  His ability to navigate and survive this trip was a great accomplishment.  Experts at this time were debating whether the North Pole was surrounded by an inland sea that could be sailed; a thick, smooth ice sheet that could be easily traversed by a sleigh; or as proved to be the case, to the dismay of explorers and the fascination of scientists, it contained devastatingly unstable stretches of open water within fields of shifting sea ice.  No country owns the North Pole, as it sits in international waters.

If you combine his discovery of the Northwest Passage and him being the first person to make it to the South Pole and possibly the first one to fly over the North Pole, he made a lot of significant accomplishments in his life.  Amundsen interacted with the Eskimos and fervently studied their methods of survival.  He ate their diet and wore the same clothing made by reindeer.  He learned to use animal skins rather than wool coats to keep warm.  Amundsen discovered that eating walrus blubber was adequate to prevent scurvy on long sledging journeys in the arctic, since he could not get any tangerine zing.  Hunting animals and eating fresh meat probably saved him and his crew from getting scurvy.

The first two decades of the 20th century, are commonly called the “heroic era” of Antarctic exploration, and during this period great advances were made in not only geographic, but also scientific knowledge of the continent.  An era of breathless anticipation came to an end on March 7, 1912, when Roald Amundsen landed in Tasmania and sent telegrams announcing that he and his team of Antarctic explorers had reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911.  You have to admire a man who set out to explore these desolate, frigid and forbidding lands where no human being in their right mind wanted to set foot on.

On September 7, 1909, a New York Times front-page headline stated, “Peary Discovers the North Pole After Eight Trials in 23 Years.”  The North Pole was one of the last remaining laurels of earthly exploration, a prize for which countless explorers from many nations had suffered and died for 300 years.  A week earlier, the New York Herald printed its own front-page headline, “The North Pole is Discovered by Dr. Frederick A. Cook.”  This article claimed that Cook, an American explorer reached the pole in April 1908, a full year before Peary.  Roald Amundsen was planning a trip to the North Pole, when he heard that Cook and Peary claimed to have already reached the North Pole, so he decided to switch his plans and pursue the South Pole instead.  The South Pole lies on a continental land mass and Amundsen set out with his crew of five men, 52 dogs, and four sleds to reach the South Pole and he planted the Norwegian Flag at the South Pole on December 14, 1911.

He determined the location of the South Pole by using a device called a sextant, which is basically a protractor that measures the angle between two objects.  By measuring the angle between the lines, one can triangulate the position on the Earth the same way as the GPS does today.  Roald Amundsen used the position of stars on the horizon from the South pole, but due to lack of equipment that we posses today, Roald Amundsen was off by 250 meters of the actual South Pole location.  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 they traveled over 1,800 miles.

There was some doubt over the claim that anyone actually ever reached the North Pole, so Roald Amundsen joined with Lincoln Ellsworth and Umberto Nobile aboard the airship Norge on an expedition north in 1926.  The explorers flew to the northernmost latitude ever reached by aircraft, making Amundsen and Ellsworth the first men to get that far as well.  On May 9, 1926, polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd announced that he had been the first to fly over the North Pole, but skeptics doubted his claim because they felt that his airplane did not have enough speed to accomplish that flight.

Amundsen’s aerial expedition reached the North Pole on May 11, 1926, two days after Byrd’s and this was the fourth one that claimed success in reaching the North Pole.  The other three were made by Frederick Cook in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, and Richard Evelyn Byrd in 1926, but this expedition was the only one that contained verified proof of their exact route.  Amundsen with his explorer crew of 15 men and the Italian aircrew led by aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile, made the first crossing of the Arctic with the airship Norge.

Just a few years later the explorer’s life would be cut tragically short before he could break any more exploratory records. Amundsen jumped at a chance for one last polar adventure joining a rescue mission to scout for his fellow explorer Umberto Nobile, who had 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.  Amundsen’s plane flew into a dense fog, and radio contact went silent moments after.  To this day, despite several Naval searches, no wreckage from the fateful Amundsen flight has ever been found and this continues to mystify some.  Amundsen was never seen or heard from again.  Though tragic, a mysterious disappearance while on a rescue exploration seemed like a fitting way for Roald Amundsen to go.  Amundsen disappeared with five crewmembers on 18th June 1928, and it is believed, that the plane crashed in fog in the Barents Sea, and that everyone died in the crash.  This rescue operation was Amundsen’s last expedition which he made at the age of 56.

Written for Sheryl’s Daily Word Prompt – Mystify, for Roger Shipp’s Daily Addictions prompt – Round, for the Daily Spur prompt – Combine, for FOWC with Fandango – Switch, for July Monthly Writing Prompts – Tangerine zing, for Ragtag Community – Passage and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Scout.

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