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Rune Gjeldnes plays Amundsen in a BBC series: "The unlucky ones were Scott's men"

Posted: Aug 09, 2006 02:38 pm EDT

(ThePoles.com) Norwegian Rune Gjeldnes was center stage during the Antarctica 2005/06 season as he completed a solo 4804 km Antarctic crossing without resupplies.

Before Antarctica though, Rune took part in a project that enjoyed a little less attention - until now that is: A documentary about Scott and Amundsens race to be the first humans to reach the South Pole.

Two modern teams racing with 1911 equipment

Led by Bruce Parry and Rune Gjeldnes, two modern day teams, using 1911 equipment, clothes and food, recreated the iconic race Rune, of course, was Amundsen. The resulting six-part series is titled "Blizzard: Race to the Pole" and is currently being aired on BBC.

The adventure was filmed during spring/summer 2005 across a route identical in length to that covered by Scott and Amundsen: 2,500 km. However, the backdrop audiences will be viewing is not actually Antarctica, but Eastern Greenland.

Rune Amundsen Gjeldnes on the 'making of'

The documentary allegedly aims once for all to settle the controversy between the different approach and methods used by the two expedition leaders, which in the end resulted in Amundsen reaching the Pole first, and Scott and his men dying on the way back.

Rune has provided ThePoles.com with some juicy details on the 'making of' this TV series. He also shares his own ideas on Amundsen and Scott, independently from the hypothesis stated in the series.

The main goal of the expedition/filming was to recreate the race to the South Pole (Amundsen & Scott) as identically as possible, but with modern people and our solutions and thinking. The idea behind everything was a new book published two or three years ago, which claims Scott was very unlucky, and if he had chosen the same route and had the same weather conditions as Amundsen they would have been first to the pole. In fact, they would have needed different equipment and supplies!

Preparations: A previous race against the clock

I led the Amundsen team, also comprised by John Huston, Harald Kippenes, Ketil Reitan, and Inge Solheim. Bruce Parry led the Scott team.

"It was up to us to plan and prepare the "expedition". We had to set our own tactics and strategy. The problem was we only had 2 months to get everything ready, so we had to improvise quite a lot on several things. We would have wished to train a lot with the dogs in advance, but that was impossible.

During the trek we were followed by one cameraman and one security guy on a skidoo. They where not allowed to disturb or help the expedition team there just watched and filmed.

Dogs, vintage outfits and bad pemmican

"We had 48 dogs, just as Amundsen. Equipment was as identical as possible to the gear used in 1911: Sealskin clothing, reindeer sleeping bags, Nansen sledges, and woolen underwear. But we were allowed to do all the modifications we wanted.

As for the food, the ingredients and the amount of rations, (they) were exactly like the ones Amundsen's team had: Chocolate, milk powder and pemmican. Honestly though, I think Amundsen had better pemmican than we had. Dogs had dehydrated food, and we also asked for seal blubber and pemmican for the dogs. We ended up eating quite a lot of the dogs blubber instead of the pemmican.

Navigation was the same as in the old days: Sextant and tables.

The South Pole was in Greenland

Both teams started on April 29, 2005 from the ice plateau at 1000 m, just north of Isertoq on the East coast. We headed up across the plateau until we reached 2000m, and then descended eastward across the Sweiserland Mountains in order to get similar conditions as Axel Heiberg Glacier. We left three depots, located at similar distances as those Amundsen's team left at 80, 81 and 82 degrees. From the last depot we had a fixed position meant to represent the South Pole", which actually was located at 75 30' N on NE Greenland. Then we returned and trekked almost all the way back.

Back in 1911/12, eventually Amundsen shot his dogs. Our dogs instead got a first class Twin Otter ride back to civilization. Also instead of feeding our dogs with their dead four legged mates, we got approximately the same amount of dehydrated food.

R.F. Scott: Bad leader or bad luck?

As for the Scott/Amundsen controversy, some people say the Norwegian reached the Pole first and made it safely back because they had followed a better-planned strategy and adapted their expedition adequately to the conditions and the kind of trip they were facing.

Scotts detractors describe the British captain as a poor leader who used the wrong tactics and equipment, and thus led his men to death. However, Captain Robert Falcon Scott is generally considered a hero in the UK. The BBC series defends the hypothesis of bad luck as the main cause for Scotts failure.

Rune Gjeldnes, one of the most experienced polar explorers nowadays, has his own point of view on the subject.

Rune: The unlucky ones were Scotts men

The Brits often says Scott was unlucky. Ranulph Fiennes, quoted as historian, states precisely that in the series. In my opinion, the unlucky ones were Scotts men I feel very sorry for those good men who got involved in a deadly trip lacking good leadership and preparation."

"Scott had lots of really good people in his team, but he did not listen to them. To be really rude, I do think Scott achieved what he really aimed for: Becoming a hero. Maybe he was unlucky too but I just know that Amundsen was better prepared, even if he was just a little bit nervous at the beginning (I think starting in September as Amundsen did was not a good idea).

"Concerning the film, it is coming at the right time (right before the International Polar Year) and KEO films have done a really great job with the editing. Ive seen the first two chapters and I really liked them: Entertaining and also interesting, with constant comparisons between our expedition and the original one using a lot of archive material. As far as I know this is the first time the race has been really reconstructed as genuinely as possible. It provides appealing experiences for everyone interested in the old pioneers.

For me, the best thing was getting the Amundsen experience, which was fantastic. Previously I had big thoughts about Amundsen, but today I do really admire him and his South Pole team even more.

What Rune has not told us is who won the race to the supposed South Pole in the film. The clue is sure to be in the series.

Blizzard: Race to the Pole series is currently being aired on BBC 2 at 9:00 pm.

Last Sunday the first chapter was released. Part 2 will be shown today. The next chapters are scheduled for August 13, 16, 20, and 23. The series will also be released soon on The History Channel.

In 2000 Rune and Torry Larsen set out from Severnaya Zemlya in Russia, in full Arctic winter night, to cross the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. When they finally reached Cape Discovery in Canada, the guys had lost their sleds, gear and everything else really, and were finally picked up wearing only a backpack. The doctors of a small research station that examined them on arrival said that Rune and Torry were only 48 hours from death. They had been out for 109 days, covering 2100km.

Rune kited across Greenland lengthways from Cap Farewell to Cap Morris Jessup in 1996.

In 2005/2006, Rune Gjeldnes crossed the Antarctic continent from Queen Mauds Land via the South Pole to Victoria Land. Hes went kite-assisted, solo and without resupplies. He covered 4808km in 90 days. Rune arrived at Terra Nova base at 02.00 CET, on February 3, 2006, becoming the first person to traverse both polar ice caps without resupplies.


Members of the 'modern" Scott team hauling the vintage sled. Image courtesy of BBC (click to enlarge).
Bruce Parry and Rune Gjeldnes, two modern day teams, used 1911 equipment, clothes and food, and recreated the iconic race – Rune, of course, was Amundsen. The resulting six-part series was titled "Blizzard: Race to the Pole" and aired on BBC.
Image by Rune Gjeldnes courtesy Rune Gjeldnes