Rumor has it that explorer Roald Amundsen slept with the windows in his bedroom wide open as child, allowing the frigid Norwegian winters to condition himself to handle chilling subzero temperatures he would encounter during his adulthood as a polar explorer.
Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, was essentially a polar bear himself. Described as “the last of the Vikings,” he dedicated his life to polar exploration. In the mid-1800s, no man had yet set foot on the continent of Antarctica Amundsen planned to be the first.
When outfitting a crew for his legendary voyage, Amundsen chose stern, sturdy men, taking “special measures to be sure members of his crew possessed personalities suitable to long polar voyages.” Having already established a reputation as an experienced sailor and explorer, Amundsen and his crew set out to reach the South Pole in 1910. In a twist, Amundsen told his team they’d be charging for the North Pole, though secretly he’d planned for the South all along as two Americans had already laid claim to reaching the North. Only a few years earlier Englishman Ernest Shackleton had come within 97 miles of the South Pole and had been forced to turn back. Amundsen didn’t tell the Norwegian government about his plans, as he feared they would dissuade him as to not upset the British, upon whom they were highly dependent. Only when Amundsen’s ship Fram set out from Morocco did he inform his crew of their real destination.
On October 18, 1911, Amundsen’s entourage set out from the Bay of Whales, on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, for their final drive toward the pole. Assisted by exceptionally trained sled dogs and miraculously fair weather, Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911 and drove the Norwegian flag into the icy ground, claiming the spot as “Polheim,” or “Pole Home.” He and his crew returned to their base camp January 25,1912 – 99 days and 1,860 miles after their historic departure.