Our vehicles and modules are named after famous American and Norwegian Antarctic explorers and their dogs who pulled the expeditions across Antarctica. The names also represent a cross section of Antarctic exploration history.
(Text by Stein Tronstad and Ted Scambos)
Throughout the first 50 years of exploration of the Antarctic mainland, dogs played a crucial role in all the successful research expeditions, from Carsten Borchgrevink’s first forays inland to the great mapping sorties of the Byrd, Ronne, and Maudheim expeditions, and up to the Norway Station campaign during the International Geophysical Year 1957-1959. New Zealand maintained dog teams on the continent for scientific surveys even into the 1970s. Mechanical means of transportation were introduced to the Antarctic continent right from the beginning with Scott’s, Shackleton’s and Mawson’s motor sledges, and later with tractors, tracked vehicles and aircraft. But not until after World War 2 did these become sufficiently reliable to replace the efficient and incredibly hard-working dog teams completely.
From the 1950s tracked vehicles and skidoos took over the bulk of the work, but dogs remained in use for lightweight, long distance field excursions and adventurer crossings of the Antarctic until they were banned from the continent with the introduction of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, specifically its Annex on Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora. Since then, no species of animals or plants that are not native to Antarctica are permitted on the continent, unless well-documented reasons warrant a special permit.
|Image: Our tracked vehicles are named after famous sled dogs, and the sledge modules after the Antarctic explorers who employed them. The figure shows the configuration of vehicles and sledges for the traverse. Red = vehicles and modules, yellow = fuel, grey/white = equipment.|
Our four tracked vehicles, the 'prime movers' of our expedition, carry the names of four outstanding sled dogs. In chronological order they are:
Sembla is portrayed as “the expedition’s best dog” in Carsten Borchgrevink’s account from the Southern Cross Expedition in 1899-1900. On February 17, 1899, that ship arrived at Cape Adare with a crew of 31, 90 Siberian sled dogs and a prefabricated hut to stage what was to be the first overwintering on the continent. A winter party of 10 persons was put on shore, among them seven Norwegians, two British scientists and the Australian Louis Bernacchi.
Image: Sembla, "the expedition's best dog", as portrayed by E. Ditlevsen in Borchgrevink's book 'First on the Antarctic Continent'.
The expedition was the first to take sled dogs to Antarctica, and they were employed for several journeys to explore the region. Sembla was the great leader, but a dog named Lars also laid down a claim to fame. He accompanied the Sami Per Savio on a solo excursion from the wintering camp when Savio fell 60 ft into a crevasse. Lars remained on the rim during the hours it took Savio to extricate himself - according to Borchgrevink by chimneying up the sheer ice walls with nothing but a knife to help him. It was a feat, encouraged by the dog's watchful presence on the surface.
The following summer the ship returned, and the expedition proceeded to explore the region discovered by Sir James Clark Ross 60 years earlier. Sixty years after James Clark Ross, Borchgrevink re-discovered the Bay of Whales, which was to become the starting point for both Amundsen and Byrd on their Antarctic journeys. From this point Borchgrevink, Per Savio and lieutenant Colbeck made a one day dog-sled excursion, reached a “farthest south” at 78° 50’ S, and thus opened the race for the South Pole.
On the way back to Australia, most of Borchgrevink’s dogs were left at Stewart Island, New Zealand. Seven years later Ernest Shackleton came by to pick up 9 of their descendants for his 1907-1909 expedition towards the South Pole.
Lasse is a nickname for Lars, and this Lasse was again nicknamed Lassesen. He was Roald Amundsen’s favourite dog on the expedition to the South Pole, and one of the 17 dogs to take part in the final push across the high plateau and reach the Pole. Lasse was a Greenland Dog and quite a character. He earned Amundsen’s respect from the very beginning, as writes Amundsen in his own account:
“But I can tell you that when I had to pass Lasse, I always judged the distance first. As a rule, he just stood looking down at the deck -- exactly like a mad bull. (…) A fortnight passed in this way. Then at last the upper lip sank and the head was raised a little, as though he wanted to see who it was that brought him food and water every day. But the way from that to friendship was long and tortuous. (…) I came a little nearer to him every day, until one day I risked my hand. He gave me an ugly look, but did nothing; and then came the beginning of our friendship. Day by day we became better friends, and now you can see what footing we are on.”
He was lost in poor weather on one of the depot trips in March 1911, but found his way back. Amundsen: “I was very sorry for it, as he was my strongest and most willing beast. I was glad, therefore, when he suddenly appeared again, apparently fit and well. (…) It must have been food that had revived him. From 80º S. home he did remarkably good work in Wisting's team.”
The question has often been asked which dog was the first one to reach the South Pole. Lasse is in fact an unlikely candidate since he was running in Oscar Wisting’s dog team. The question is, however, hard to answer. Amundsen got all his dogs from Greenland, and the three dog teams to go on the Polar Plateau were driving Greenland style, i.e. with the dogs in a fan formation. Thus the teams had no obvious front runner. What we do know is that Helmer Hanssens dogs were leading on the day of arrival at the pole, December 14, 1911. On this afternoon Amundsen himself was the forerunner, followed by Hanssens dogs. When the camp was moved closer to the exact position of the pole 3 days later, Olav Bjaaland was the forerunner, followed by Sverre Hassel and then, again, Helmer Hanssens dog team. Wisting and his dogs and Amundsen himself followed behind. Olav Bjaaland’s dog team had been dissolved two days earlier, and the dogs distributed between Hanssen’s and Wisting’s teams.
Of the 17 dogs to reach the pole, 11 are identified in Amundsen’s own account: Lasse, Uroa, Mylius, Ring, Obersten, Per, Svartflekken, Nigger, Suggen, Helge and Frithjof. Other sources list the names of Bjaaland’s dogs as Kven, Lapp, Pan, Gorki, Jåla and Uroa (already mentioned), but we are not sure whether all of these reached the pole.
(Some current sources on the Internet claim that a Samoyed dog named 'Etah' was the first on the Pole. However, there is nothing to support this claim in Amundsen’s own accounts, nor in any other available Norwegian sources. No dog by that name is mentioned in the texts. We can also establish that the dog in question was not a Samoyed. All of Amundsen’s dogs were Greenland dogs, supplied by the Danish inspector for Northern Greenland, Jens Daugaard-Jensen.)
Chinook was one of the lead dogs on Richard Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctica in 1928-1930 – or even the lead dog. He belonged to the famous dog driver and breeder Arthur T. Walden of New Hampshire. Walden had been a dog driver during the Klondike gold rush, before he moved to New England and set himself up as a breeder and trainer of sled dogs. In 1928 he was appointed as a lead driver and dog trainer by then Commander Byrd for his first Antarctic expedition.
According to www.chinook.org, Chinook was born in New Hampshire on January 17, 1917. Walden had been attempting to recreate his sled dog ideal of a friendly and gentle dog that would have intelligence, power, endurance and speed. One of the pups of a mastiff-like male dog and a female Greenland Husky descending from Robert E Peary’s sled dogs showed exactly the traits that Walden had been looking for. He was named Chinook after an impressive dog Walden had been working with in Yukon. Later Chinook was bred to Belgian Sheepdogs, German Shepherd Dogs, Canadian Eskimo Dogs, and so a new breed was formed and given the name of the progenitor.
Walden took Chinook to Antarctica as his lead dog, and the team made a tremendous effort. Byrd wrote in Little America: "Had it not been for the dogs, our attempts to conquer the Antarctic by air must have ended in failure. On January 17th, Walden's single team of thirteen dogs moves 3,500 pounds of supplies from ship to base, a distance of 16 miles each trip, in two journeys."
Sadly, Chinook ended his days during the expedition. One day he strayed away, and was never found. Byrd wrote: “Chinook was Walden's pride, and there was no doubting the fact that he was a great dog. He was old when brought to the Antarctic, too old for hard, continuous labor, and Walden used him as a kind of "shock troop", throwing him into a team when the going turned very hard. Then the gallant heart of the old dog would rise above the years and pull with the glorious strength of a three-year-old."
Jack ('the Giant Killer')
Richard E Byrd’s second expedition to Antarctica and the Bay of Whales took place in 1933-1935. The expedition was heavily motorised, with four airplanes, a tractor and five snowmobiles. One of the planes was an autogyro, a rather funny 'helo-plane' vehicle. Two of the planes were wrecked early on. Not surprisingly, the auto-gyro was one of the early victims. (They're notoriously hard to fly.) Nevertheless, since motorised transportation still had not proven itself in Antarctica, no fewer than 153 sled dogs were taken along, and proceeded to do extensive work for the science programs. As Byrd later noted 'dogs still are the infantry of the polar regions.'
One particular dog is mentioned several times in Byrd's book "Discovery: The Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition". His name was Jack, and one of the men to drive him was the young Finn Ronne (see below). Stuart Paine, one of the dog handlers of the expedition and Jack's master, was part of a team of three men two dog teams that trekked to the Dronning Maud Mountains, beyond the Ross Ice Shelf. Their goal was to explore and map the mountain ranges discovered by Amundsen just twenty-three years earlier. Ronne and another man joined this group for several weeks as they pushed south, and the young explorer noted with amazement the talents of Paine's lead dog. Byrd writes: "..of Paine's great leader, Jack, Ronne spoke as another man might speak of genius. "There," he said softly, "is a dog - a dog that's half man. All the way south that dog broke trail for the whole party. I've never seen a dog do that before."”
Jack, known as 'Jack The Giant Killer' because of his toughness, independence, and strength, was found in Labrador (a Labrador-Newfoundland mix) and purchased from 'Eskimo' owners. Leading teams in the featureless Antarctic terrain, Jack learned to pull a straight path with nothing before him. More than that, Jack began to get an instinctive 'feel' for crevasses and how to guide a team across them. When approaching a snow bridge, he would look up and down the trend of the crack, and then turn the team quickly to cross it at more or less a right angle – and then return to the general bearing of the trek. Paine developed a close bond with this unique lead dog, and wrote admiringly in his diary of the partnership of man and animal.
In 1936, G. P. Putnam and Co. published Paine’s book, The Long Whip: The Story of a Great Husky about Jack. Jack died at age 10 and was buried on a farm owned by Paine; his death was covered by a long article carried in newspapers across the U.S. In it, Admiral Byrd praised Jack the Giant Killer as “the only hero of the Expedition”.
Following the “dogs” are our three living and working modules, named after the explorers who employed the dogs.
Roald is of course named after Roald Amundsen, who was the first person to reach the South Pole together with his teammates Olav Bjaaland, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting and Helmer Hanssen.
Image: Roald Amundsen (right), with Robert E Peary.
Amundsen (July 16, 1872 – c. June 18, 1928) was one of the three great Norwegian polar explorers active around the turn of the previous century, the others being Fridtjof Nansen and Otto Sverdrup. Amundsen gained his first experiences from Antarctica serving as second mate on board the Belgica in 1897-1899. The ship became locked in the sea ice west of the Antarctic Peninsula, and endured an Antarctic winter for which it was ill prepared – an event which Amundsen took ample learnings from. A few years later (1903-1906) he took command of the first expedition of his own, navigating the Gjøa through the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Gjøa was the first ship to traverse the Passage. En route Amundsen and his crew spent a winter with the Netsilik people, and from them he learnt to master the use of sled dogs.
Later Amundsen led several expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions: He traversed the Northeast passage with the Maud 1918-1920, and he made an attempt to reach the North Pole with two aircraft in 1925 – accompanied by pilot Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, the American sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth and three crew members. Amundsen finally succeeded in reaching the North Pole with the airship Norge in 1926, together with Ellsworth, Riiser-Larsen, Oscar Wisting and the Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile, thus becoming the first person to reach both poles.
On the expedition to the South Pole in 1911, dogs were the key to success. For Amundsen the chief consideration was simply to get to the destination as speedily and efficiently as possible. In 1911 dog-sledding and skiing was by far the most efficient mode of travel on the snowy expanses of the polar regions, and Amundsen employed it to perfection. Later, he became one of the first explorers to look at the potential of modern technologies, such as airplanes and airships.
|Image: Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting at the South Pole in December 1911. The picture was taken by Olav Bjaaland. To the right the tent made by Martin Rønne, the father of Finn Ronne.|
Amundsen disappeared in June 1928 while flying to Svalbard to take part in a rescue mission for Umberto Nobile and the crew of the airship Italia.
Richard Evelyn Byrd (October 25, 1888 – March 11, 1957) was the great American explorer of Antarctica, leading four expeditions to the continent: 1928-1930, 1933–1935, 1939–1940, and 1946–1947, and finally participating in Operation Deep Freeze 1 in 1955–56. Although Byrd’s expeditions must be said to have opened the mechanical age of Antarctic exploration, dogs played an important role during the three first expeditions.
Byrd Antarctic Expedition I arrived in the Bay of Whales on December 28, 1928, with the ship City of New York. Incidentally this was a ship that Byrd had acquired on Roald Amundsen’s recommendation (his other recommendations were: 'take a good plane, take plenty of dogs, and only the best men'). She was purchased in Tromsø, Norway, under the name Samson, and renamed after a major overhaul carried out in New York. To the Bay of Whales she carried one airplane, 54 men, 80 dogs and food for 15 months. Later in the summer two more planes and additional dogs arrived on board the ship Eleanor Bolling, and a winter base named Little America was set up a few kilometers from the site of Amundsen’s base, Framheim.
The following summer, on November 28-29, Byrd made his famous South Pole flight with the Ford trimotor named Floyd Bennett, with Bernt Balchen at the controls (see below). During both summers extensive photographic expeditions and geological surveys were undertaken over a wide area inland from the Bay of Whales, mainly in the Dronning Maud Mountains, and this is where Chinook and the other 90-and-a-few dogs played their great part. The Marie Byrd land was partly explored, named, and claimed as US territory. However, the claim was never made official by the US Government.
Byrd Antarctic Expedition II took place in 1933-1935, also to the Bay of Whales (Little America) and surrounding areas. During this expedition extensive inland exploration was for the first time done by means of motorised ground travel, using a tractor and five tracked vehicles (in addition to three airplanes). Nevertheless, the 153 dogs did the lion’s share of the transportation work for the more distant traverse to the Transantarctic Mountain ranges.
Byrd’s third expedition to Antarctica (1939-1941), the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, was initiated in parallel with Richard Black and Finn Ronne, both of them members of the second expedition. Two new Antarctic bases were established, but evacuated after a year due to the US involvement in World War II. Yet significant achievements were made, among them the mapping of more than 1000 km of Antarctic coastline. Another interesting fact about this expedition was the attempt to take motorised exploration to a new level by introducing a mobile base, the Snow Cruiser – a 17 meter long vehicle with on board sleeping quarters, laboratories, radio room, galley and food storage for a year’s supply. This massive 'mobile laboratory' was even designed to carry a small ski-equipped aircraft on its back for determining routes through heavily crevassed areas. However, the experiment failed since the rubber wheels provided insufficient traction in the soft snow. The dogs still proved to be indispensable. A recent paper on the history of the Snow Cruiser, and where it might be found now, was recently published (see below).
After World War II Byrd was involved in Operation Highjump (1946-1947) and Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-1956). The former was organised by the US Navy, but terminated 6 months early for unexplained reasons. Richard Byrd eventually attained the rank of Rear Admiral and was awarded several prestigious medals.
Finn Ronne (Rønne in Norwegian) was an American explorer of Norwegian descent, born in Horten, Norway, in 1899. His father was Martin Rønne, who worked for Amundsen on four of his expeditions, including the South Pole expedition and the airplane and airship expeditions for the North Pole in 1925 and 1926. Serving as a sailmaker on board the Fram, Martin Rønne was the person who made Amundsens South Pole tents, including the one which was left behind at the Pole itself. During the 1926 expedition Rønne met with Richard Byrd in Ny-Ålesund. On Byrd’s request for a Norwegian advisor to his upcoming Antarctic expedition, Amundsen had recommended Rønne. He was recruited by Byrd for the first expedition to Little America in 1928-1930. Byrd appears to have been quite impressed with Rønne despite his age (he turned 68 in 1929), so he went on to cable his son Finn from Little America to invite – and challenge – him to join the next Antarctic expedition.
Meanwhile Finn Rønne had earned a degree in engineering and subsequently emigrated to America. In 1929 he became a US citizen, changed his name to Ronne, and was working as a naval architect and engineer when he received Byrd’s invite to join the second Antarctic expedition as a skier, dog driver and radio operator. Ronne signed up for the 1933-1935 expedition, and that is where he became so impressed with the capacity of Jack, the dog that “was half man”.
In 1939 Ronne had established the reputation of an explorer for himself, and joined Byrd’s third expedition as executive officer. During the Austral summer of 1940-1941 Finn Ronne and Carl Eklund made a sledge journey of more than 2000 kilometers in 84 days, and surveyed 800 kilometers of coastline along the Antarctic Peninsula.
After World War II, Ronne returned to Antarctica with his own expedition in 1947-1948, with Navy support, three planes, and dogs. The expedition explored and mapped large parts of Palmer Land and the Weddell Sea coastline, and identified the Ronne Ice Shelf, named by Ronne after his wife Edith. Ronne also claimed to have established that East and West Antarctica was one single continent, i.e. that the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea are not connected.
When the US Government organized the Operation Deepfreeze in 1957-1958, Ronne became the scientific and military leader for the research base Camp Ellsworth on the Weddell Sea coast, and thus became a significant contributor to the multinational, scientific effort of the International Geophysical Year.
Finn Ronne is the author of several books on Antarctica and many scientific papers on Antarctic research. He received numerous medals and awards for his service, for
geographical exploration and for the advancement of science, including the St. Olav's Medal awarded by the King of Norway. Like Byrd and Balchen, he rests at Arlington National Cemetery.
Carsten Borchgrevink has no vehicle named for him, but as the employer of Sembla he deserves a mention. Borchgrevink was Norwegian, but moved to Australia for some years in 1888. In 1893 he gave up his position as a lecturer at the Sydney University to join a whaling expedition to Antarctica led by his fellow countryman Henrik Bull. During this expedition, in January 1895, he made the first confirmed landing on the Antarctic mainland at Cape Adare (though the Antarctic peninsula had probably been visited earlier). Borchgrevink set his mind on getting back to Cape Adare for overwintering and scientific exploration, an overwintering which was to become another first for the Antarctic mainland.
Image: Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink, pictured in Antarctica in 1894.
Three years later Borchgrevink managed to set up his own expedition with funding from the British publisher Sir George Newnes. The ship, “Southern Cross”, put out from London in August 1898 with a crew of 31, 27 of whom were Norwegian, and 90 Siberian sled dogs. The expedition landed at Cape Adare on February 17, 1899. An overwintering party of 10, among them two British scientists and the Australian Louis Bernacchi, spent the following autumn exploring much of the Robertson Bay area, collecting specimens of birds, fish, seals and penguins, and making meteorological observations.
Borchgrevink's expedition contributed significantly to the knowledge of Antarctica, but this was hardly recognized by the sponsor nation, the United Kingdom, until 1930 when he was finally awarded a medal by the Royal Geographical Society. The explanation for this seems to lie partly in Borchgrevink’s somewhat overbearing nature, and partly in England being focused on Robert F Scott’s upcoming voyage with the Discovery. Borchgrevink was, however, duly recognised in Norway and the United States.
Shortly after the Southern Cross expedition, Borchgrevink returned to Norway, where he died in 1934.
Our two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are named after pilots who pioneered airborne exploration of Antarctica.
Bernt Balchen (23 October 1899 – 17 October 1973) was a Norwegian-American polar and aviation pioneer. He became a pilot in the Norwegian Naval Air Force (Marinens Flyvevæsen) in 1921, and later joined Amundsen’s airship expedition. In 1926, when the Norge airship was ready to take off for the North Pole, Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen was chosen as the pilot at Balchen’s expense. Balchen, eager to fly, chose to join Richard Byrd’s team instead, and followed Byrd back to the USA from Svalbard. That proved to be the start of a remarkable career.
To begin with, Balchen flew as Floyd Bennett’s co-pilot on a flying tour around the USA to promote commercial aviation, in a Ford trimotor named “Josephine Ford”. In 1927 Balchen flew the first US mail transport across the Atlantic, with Richard Byrd. Then came Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition, and the South Pole flight on 28-29 November 1929 with the Ford Trimotor Floyd Bennett. Balchen was the pilot, and so became the first person to fly over the South Pole.
Balchen later joined the US Air Force and rose to the rank of colonel, involved mainly in Arctic operations. In May 1949 he flew a C-54 Skymaster from Fairbanks, Alaska via the North Pole to Thule Air Base in Greenland, thus becoming the first pilot to have piloted aircraft over both poles. Balchen was also involved in the establishment of a national, Norwegian airline (Det Norske luftfartselskap), and later helped open the transpolar flight route between Europe and the USA with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).
Viggo Widerøe was one of the more notable pioneers of civil aviation in Norway. He pioneered commercial flying and air surveying in Norway, and in 1934 founded the airline Widerøe, currently Norway’s oldest. In 1936 he was employed by the whaling tycoon Lars Christensen to fly aerial mapping campaigns in Antarctica.
Antarctica was important to the whaling industry, and several shipowners involved in whaling worked to have Norway annex Dronning Maud Land, primarily to secure the whaling rights. One of them, Lars Christensen, also took a keen interest in the exploration of Antarctica, and in Antarctic research. He encouraged his whaling captains to explore, and also organised and sponsored a total of nine expeditions between 1927 and 1937, with the ships Odd, Norvegia and Torshavn. Christensen himself participated in several. Aerial reconnaissance was carried out already on the 1929–1930 expedition by the pilots Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen and Finn Lützow-Holm, over the areas that were to be named Kronprins Olav Kyst (Coast) and Prinsesse Ragnhild Kyst. Seaplanes were taken along on several later expeditions to do aerial surveying of the coastline and the interior of Dronning Maud Land (named by Christensen).
Viggo Widerøe was the seaplane pilot on Christensen’s 1936-1937 expedition. Flying a Stinson seaplane off the tanker Thorshavn, Widerøe and photographer Nils Romnæs mapped extensive regions of Dronning Maud Land between the Greenwich meridian and 90 degrees eastern longitude. Widerøe and Romnæs flew close to 10.000 km in total, and covered a 2000 km section of Antarctic coastline. Several thousand aerial stereo photographs were taken and used for photogrammetric mapping, which resulted in a map series of 12 sheets covering the coastline and mountainous sections of Dronning Maud Land.
Carsten Borchgrevink: 'First on the Antarctic Continent' (original edition in Norwegian: 'Nærmest Sydpolen').
Roald Amundsen: ‘The South Pole’ (original edition in Norwegian: 'Sydpolen').
Richard Evelyn Byrd: ‘ Little America: Aerial Exploration in the Antarctic, the Flight to the South Pole’ and ‘Discovery, the Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition’.
Merlyn Paine: 'Footsteps on the Ice', an account of Jack’s and Stewart Paine's adventures, written by his daughter.
Finn Ronne: ‘Antarctic Conquest’ (on the 1947-1948 expedition) and ‘Antarctic Command’ (1957-1958 expedition). The first book is translated in Norwegian under the title ‘Erobring i Antarktis’.
Bernt Balchen: ‘Kom nord med meg’ (in Norwegian only).
Stuart Paine: 'The Long Whip: the Story of a Great Husky', an account of sledging south across the Ross Ice Shelf with Jack.
Both Amundsen and Byrd wrote several other books on their polar endeavours.
For more information on the Snow Cruiser, see Scambos, T., and C. Novak, 2005, On the current location of the Byrd “Snow Cruiser” and other artefacts from Little America 1, II, III, and Framheim, in Polar Geography, vol. 29 (4), 237-252.
Image: A dog team traversing Antarctic sea ice during Byrd's second expedition to the Bay of Whales.