The Adrenalist

Powered By Degree Men

Extreme Polar Explorers



Veteran British polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is poised to tackle one of the last remaining polar challenges.  Sir Ranulph will attempt to cross Antarctica in winter – the coldest journey on Earth — this year, the centenary year of Captain Robert Scott’s 1912 Antarctic death. His predecessors would be proud.

Here are five of the most extreme polar explorers in history.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 Sir Ernest Shackleton

Born 1874, Died 1922

No figure in this list looms larger than Ernest Shackleton, who has come to embody the notion of bravery in the face of extreme hardship. Shackleton’s greatest journey began in 1914 when the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition left England under his leadership. Disaster struck when Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was gradually crushed before the shore parties could land. His team then drifted on ice floes for five months, finally escaping in boats to Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands. To seek help, Shackleton and five others sailed 800 miles to South Georgia in a whaleboat and made the first crossing of the island. In a final sustained burst of effort, Shackleton spearheaded four relief missions to retrieve all his men from Elephant Island. No lives were lost, assuring Shackleton’s later heroic status. His Endurance expedition is widely seen as one of the greatest survival stories of all time.

Photo Credit: National Library of Norway –

Roald Amundsen

Born 1872, Died 1928

Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen was an almost habitual record-breaker: the first to reach the South Pole, the first to make a ship voyage through the Northwest Passage and one of the first to cross the Arctic by air. Amundsen achieved his best-known feat — reaching the South Pole — through a bizarre twist. Originally, he planned to drift across the North Pole in the Fram: an old ship belonging to fellow go-getter Fridtjof Nansen. Then Amundsen learned that the American explorer Robert Peary had already reached the North Pole in April 1909. Instead of despairing, Amundsen secretly decided to “pivot.” When he left Norway in 1910, only his brother knew he was heading for the South Pole instead of the North. Amundsen sailed the Fram straight from the Madeira Islands to the Bay of Whales, Antarctica, along the Ross Sea. In October 1911, Amundsen set out from his base with four friends, 52 dogs and four sledges. Met by good weather, Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14. There, his team recorded scientific data before embarking on the return journey on December 17 and safely reaching their Bay of Whales base on January 25, 1912. Amundsen had much to celebrate, unlike our next explorer, Robert Scott.

Photo Credit: Recuerdos de Pandora –

Robert Scott

Born 1868, Died 1912

British naval officer and explorer Robert Scott launched a major Antarctica mission in his ship, the Terra Nova, in June 1910.  His goals were to study the Ross Sea area and reach the South Pole. Armed with motor sledges, ponies and dogs, Scott and 11 others started overland for the pole on October 24, 1911, tracing a route pioneered by fellow legend Ernest Shackleton. But the sledges’ motors soon fizzled out. The ponies had to be shot and the suffering dog teams sent back. Unbowed, on December 10, Scott’s team started climbing one of the world’s biggest glaciers, Beardmore, using three man-hauled sledges. Extreme hardship exacted a toll, however. By December 31, seven men had been sent back to base. The remainder — Scott, E.A. Wilson, H.R. Bowers, L.E.G. Oates and Edgar Evans — reached the pole on January 18, 1912 after 81 days of titanic effort. Devastatingly, they found evidence that Roald Amundsen had beaten them to the pole by about a month. Imagine the misery of the return journey, which was dogged by dire weather that caused the death of Scott and his whole team. Still, after his death Scott came to be seen as a British national hero. His widow was given the knighthood that he would have won had he survived.

Photo Credit: National Library of Norway –

Fridtjof Nansen 

Born 1861, Died 1930

Fridtjof Nansen is remembered as one of the greatest explorers of all time. The Norwegian oceanographer, statesman and humanitarian led a string of missions to the Arctic (1888, 1893, 1895–96) and won the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize for post-First World War relief work. After leading the team that made the first crossing of Greenland’s interior in 1888, Nansen embarked on an even more risky mission: his 1893–96 North Pole expedition. His key weapon was his tough wooden ship, the Fram, which he rode into the ice off the coast of Siberia in 1893 and let drift for 18 months. Finally, as the tide turned, the Fram ground to a halt just some 200 miles away from his target. That moment must have been hugely frustrating, but, proving just how hardcore he was, Nansen hopped on a dog sled and rushed 140 miles across open ice. Thwarted again, he came up just short of the North Pole but achieved the highest latitude ever reached back then. His sturdy ship still exists, preserved in a museum outside Oslo.

Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Sir John Franklin

Born 1786, Died 1847

English rear admiral and explorer Sir John Franklin is best known for spearheading a doomed but epic 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage — a Canadian Arctic waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Franklin’s hunt for the Northwest Passage started on May 19, 1845. Then, he sailed from England with two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, carrying 128 officers and men. The boats were last seen by British whalers north of Baffin Island at the entrance to Lancaster Sound in late July. In 1847, the first search parties went in search of the adventure seeker. For no less than 12 years, efforts to find him and his team continued. The truth finally surfaced in 1859 when a final search mission, sent in 1857 by Franklin’s second wife, Lady Jane Franklin, and led by Captain Francis Leopold McClintock, reached King William Island, south and west of Lancaster Sound. Captain Francis found ship crew skeletons and documentation of what happened. It transpired that everyone had died from conditions including starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning and scurvy. Apparently, in a bid to survive, Sir John Franklin’s team even resorted to cannibalism. If that’s not extreme, we don’t know what is.

Cover Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey –

Add Your Voice To The Conversation: