January 31, 2009

January 1909


Olav Bjaaland, photographed in 1910 just before the Fram's departure for the south, by Anders Beer Wilse. [1]

At the end of January, on his way to lecture at the RGS on his coming Arctic expedition, Amundsen changed trains at Lübeck in northern Germany, and happened to meet in the station restaurant a Norwegian ski team going to Chamonix.

"Do you know," one of them said as they chatted, "it would be fun to be with you at the North Pole." "Indeed!" Amundsen replied. "Well, if you really mean it, I think it could be arranged. Just look me up in Christiania when you get home from Chamonix. But -- think it over carefully. It won't only be fun." [2]

This was was not as casual as might appear, for the man was Olav Bjaaland, from Morgedal in Telemark, one of the best skiers in Norway, who had won the Nordic combined ski-jump and cross-country competition at Holmenkollen a few years earlier. Now thirty-five, he was a farmer and a skilled carpenter, and could make both violins and skis; he was travelling abroad for the very first time, and saw Amundsen's expedition as a chance for a bit of adventure. He did look up Amundsen on his return, and by February he had joined the expedition.


[1] GalleriNOR, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[2] Olav Bjaaland, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.214.