Norway's Antarctic Heroes

Norway's Antarctic Heroes

Few countries have such a long and proud Antarctic history as Norway and much has already been written about the Norwegian explorers of the heroic age and those from more recent times.

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen (credit unknown)
Roald Amundsen is the first name that comes to Norwegian minds whenever Antarctica is mentioned but he has also achieved much in Arctic regions and has been recognised for his leadership or participation in several major polar expeditions.

- The Belgica Antarctic Expedition 1897-1899
- The discovery of the North West Passage – finally completed in 1905
- The South Pole 1911
- His survival of an attempt to fly to the North Pole in 1925
- His fatal attempt to locate and rescue the crew of Umberto Nobile who disappeared while attempting to fly over the North Pole with an airship in 1928

It is ironic that in 2011, on the centenary of his greatest achievement there will be no remaining evidence of his base or the tent and flag he left at the South Pole.  A graphic reminder of the importance of preserving Norway’s remaining heritage there.

More information in Norwegian                                                    More information in English


Leonard Kristensen

Leonard Kristensen is one of Norway’s lesser known polar hero’s and someone who did not really set out to become one.  Kristensen was the master of the sealer/whaler “Antarctic” that sailed from Tønsberg in on 20th September 1893.  His sealing activities around the islands of the Southern Ocean had been a success but he had not found any whales and decided to sail further south to areas where whales had been reported earlier.

In Melbourne he hired a young Norwegian, Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink as a general hand.  Borchgrevink was clearly ambitious and eager to make an impression and as a result the relationship between him and Captain Kristensen was to become strained.

In the course of their search for whales the “Antarctic” penetrated the pack ice to enter the Ross Sea and after an almost fruitless search for whales they returned northwards along the South Victoria Land Coast.  On 24th January 1895 conditions were good and they were able to take the ship close to the shore at what is now known as Cape Adare.  A boat was lowered and 6 men along with the expedition manager Henrik Bull made a landing.  It remains a matter of debate as to was actually first to touch land but there is general agreement that it was either Borchgrevink or Kristensen.  There is no doubt however that it was the result of Kristensen’s leadership that the ship sought to go so far south and then to undertake the landing that has made its way into the history books of the world.


Tryggve Gran

Trygve Gran (Credit Herbert Ponting)

Tryggve Gran became known as the “Norwegian with Scott”.  He was included in Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910-1913 "Terra Nova" expedition as an expert skier and instructor to Scott’s men.  He was a quiet and industrious member of the team but was not included in the final ‘polar party’ of five who died on their return in 1912.

Gran, along with the other members of the expedition spent the winter in the hut at Cape Evans and in the southern spring of 1912 he set out with a small group to try to find the polar party.  As they searched the ice shelf it was Gran who first sighted the tent with the bodies of Scott’s party.  Gran was first to enter the tent and he recovered the pouch with Scott’s diary and papers including a letter to King Haakon of Norway that had been written by Amundsen and left in his tent at the South Pole to be found and returned by Scott as proof that Amundsen had in fact been first to the Pole.

After collecting the party’s personal belongings the tent was lowered over Scott and his men and large snow cairn was built over it.  Gran made a cross from his skis and this was erected on top – a fitting Norwegian tribute from Gran to his leader.

Gran later became well known for his pioneering exploits in Norwegian aviation including being the first to fly across the North Sea.  He was also actively involved in the 1928 search for Roald Amundsen who disappeared during another Arctic search operation for his rival Nobile and the airship "Italia".

Read more about Tryggve Gran in Norwegian


Kristian Prestrud

Lieutenant Kristian Prestrud was originally selected by Roald Amundsen as one of the members his pole party but after departure they experienced difficulties caused by extreme cold and all returned to “Framheim”.  Amundsen then decided to reduce the number in the party and Prestrud was left out but given the task of leading a 3 man expedition to explore the completely unknown territory of Edward VII Land to the north and east of Framheim. 

Along with Hjalmar Johansen and Jørgen Stubberud they surveyed a large area to the north and east of Framheim and provided valuable information and mapping that enhanced the scientific outcomes of Amundsen’s expedition.

“The Eastern Sledge Journey” written by Prestrud about their exploration is included as a chapter in Amundsen’s account of the expedition.





Modern Adventurers


Norway has also had a host of adventurers in more recent times who have been at the leading edge of a new era of Antarctic expeditions.  They include:

Erling Kagge – 1992/93 : First unsupported solo expedition to the South Pole.

Børge Ousland – 1996/97 : First unsupported crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

Liv Arnesen – 1994 : First woman unsupported solo to the South Pole.

Cato Zahl Pedersen – 1994 : to the South Pole without arms.

Norway as a nation continues its active involvement in Antarctic activities and is prominent in modern polar research through the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Norway is an active member of the Antarctic Treaty System.

Cape Adare
Antarctic Heritage Trust
New Zealand

New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust
Cape Adare
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This website was produced with the support of the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage, Riksantikvaren.