AMUNDSEN’S NAVIGATION OF THE NORTH WEST PASSAGE & HIS JOURNEY TO EAGLE ALASKA
I thought I would give a little more detail on Amundsens navigation of the North West Passage and his 700 mile journey to tell the world of his achievement.
For hundreds of years expeditions had searched for the North West passage without success and often with heavy loss of life. It wasn’t until 1854 that Robert McClure’s expedition identified the route. The crew of the Gjoa. Amundsen is pictured bottom row left
On 16th June 1903 Amundsen and his crew set sail from Oslo in Norway in the Gjoa (pronounced You-ah), a converted fishing boat, with enough food and supplies for 5 years. They spent the next three years from 1903 -1906 navigating the North West Passage.
For the first two years of the expedition Amundsen and his crew were on King William Island with their boat set fast in sea ice. They built a cabin and store room on the island.
Whilst on the island, Amundsen made sledging journeys carrying out research of the magnetic pole and established that it was in constant movement. He also traded with the local Inuits, learning a lot about their way of life, Arctic survival techniques and sledging with huskies that would greatly help with his successful attempt on the South Pole in 1911.
In August 1905 Amundsen managed to sail on from King William Island continuing his navigation of the North West Passage. He eventually met up with an American Whaling ship near Kings Point, he knew then that he had succeeded in his ambition to be the first person to navigate the North West Passage – he was 33 years old.
Once again the Gjoa had to spend a 3rd winter locked in the sea ice. Amundsen, wanting to tell the world of his success, left his crew to build a shore cabin and winterize the boat while he set off for Herschel Island 30 miles away. Herschel Island in 1905 had a thriving whaling industry with about 1500 people living on the Island. There was a store, a Canadian Mounted police presence and a Mission house as well as many other buildings.
Amundsen met a sea Captain who wanted to go to Eagle and paid for outfitting the journey. With an Inuit guide, the guides wife, the sea Captain and Amundsen set off with two sledges and twelve dogs on his journey to tell the world of his success in navigating the North West Passage. Amundsen took the less used route which whilst shorter than the normal trail via Old Crow was a much more testing and difficult terrain (in his diary he mentions that he regretted taking the shorter route due to the difficulty of the trail).
It took him six weeks and 700 miles to get to Eagle travelling down the Firth River, across the British Mountains, down the Coleen and Porcupine Rivers to Fort Yukon. Disappointed not to find a telegraph at Fort Yukon Amundsen travelled on to Eagle along the Yukon River to get to the nearest telegraph.
The difference between our journey and Amundsens is that we will have the use of satellite phones and GPS. Amundsen had a guide, traded for food and made use of established trails that have today all but disappeared along with the guest houses that he stayed in along the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers.
Trading for dog meat and supplies is not an option for us as today there are almost no people living in the area. Instead we have laid in food depots and will also be having a plane food drop on route.
We will be recording and making comparisons of the differences of our journeys and submitting a report to the Royal Geographical Society on our return.
One of the issues for us will be the state of the rivers and how climate change may affect the ice on them, particularly as we get nearer to Eagle on the Yukon River in April. The earliest recorded breakup was on April 28th. A lot of people bet on the date of the break up!
We will be replicating Amundsens sledging journey starting on the 22nd February and finishing in early April this year. We hope you will follow us on our website which will have a map tracking our progress.