Snowshoe hike

August 8th, 2023

Famous Norwegian explorers and where they found their inspiration

August 8th, 2023

Written by

Synnøve Strømsvåg

Synnøve Marie Kvam Strømsvåg

Archaeologist, The Explorers Club Norway Chapter Chair

Tailor your own journey in the footsteps of the Norwegian explorers. Come on Up!

Socialising at Basecamp Explorer in Svalbard

Tailor your own journey in the footsteps of the Norwegian explorers. Come on Up!

As local experts and travel curators, we'd love to tailor your perfect holiday adventure. Just answer five simple questions so we'll know where to start.

There is something about Norway

There is something about Norway. Something that has made people want to go out, away, further, always. And yet, something that brings them back home. Back home to share their passions, their experiences and their insights. We admire these explorers because they were pioneers, but also because they let us have a sneak peek into their unique experiences. They let us believe that we can all go further, always. Perhaps not to a remote destination or across a challenging and dangerous landscape, but in our own lives, with our own goals and dreams.

Fridtjof Nansens Greenland Expedition 1888-1889
The airship "Norway" leaves Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard

Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen and Thor Heyerdahl

Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen and Thor Heyerdahl are household names in Norway. These explorers are famous across the world for their achievements. Roald Amundsen for being the expedition leader of the first successful South Pole expedition in 1911, the first explorer to reach both poles when he flew over the North Pole with the airship Norge in 1926, and earlier on the first crossing of the Northwest Passage with Gjøa in 1903-06, coinciding with the independence of Norway in 1905. Amundsen went missing during a rescue operation, in search for Italian explorer Umberto Nobile, who had crashed with the airship Italia near the North Pole in 1928.

Fridtjof Nansen was not only a great explorer, but also a scientist, a diplomat and great humanitarian. By creating the Nansen passport for paperless refugees, his initiatives helped repatriate hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work aiding refugees from famine and war.

In previous years, he had made his mark on polar exploration. His team traversed Greenland in 1888, the first to explore its interior. During the 1893-1896 Fram expedition, he reached the record northernmost latitude of 86º 14. His techniques and experiences with equipment and clothing for extreme temperatures served as guidance for other polar expeditions for years to come.

Nansen's Greenland Expedition 1888-1889

Thor Heyerdahl was born when Nansen and Amundsen were in their old age. Like them, he visited the most remote sites accessible to humans. His experiences in Polynesia in the late 1930s inspired the Kon-Tiki expedition, recreating an early South American balsawood raft and drift with the ocean currents from South America to Polynesia. He demonstrated that such contact had been possible, thus accounting for all the similarities he had found between these cultures. Heyerdahl did not actually intend to cross the ocean in a vessel none had built for 500 years. He was only looking to publish his thesis on the similarities and theory of contact across the Pacific Ocean. When they left port, he could still not swim, and only one of the crew members had experience on the ocean. Heyerdahl´s driving force was his determination to prove his theory. The crew members were motivated by the possibility of adventure - and inspired by Heyerdahl´s leadership.

Thor Heyerdahl

Breaking Barriers

In a world dominated by the Cold War, closed borders and dangerous tension, Heyerdahl sought to break down barriers. He selected international crews for all his reedboat expeditions; men with vastly different backgrounds, most of whom had no sailing experience but who could keep their eyes on the target to get across the ocean, as one team. They were quite literally in the same boat. The human aspect of the experiment was a success, and demonstrated to the world that the colour of our passport or indeed our skin, what we choose to name our god, or what our daily habits are, are not obstacles for coexistence and friendship.

An Inspiration for Life and Choices

As the reader may have guessed, amongst these three legendary explorers, the one closest to my heart is Thor Heyerdahl. He had a sense of quiet greatness to him, and as a result of my meetings with Heyerdahl, I became an archaeologist, I became a member of The Explorers Club, and met my tribe. I currently serve as the Chapter Chair for Norway, help build local chapters worldwide and I have served several years on the Board of Directors at the New York Headquarters.

In my network of explorer friends, you will never hear anyone wonder «is there really anything left to explore?». We continue to find and lose species, we are constantly challenged by a changing planet, and explorers continue to push the boundaries of the human mind and body to enlighten us all.

Close to Heart

There is something else that makes us hold these explorers close to our hearts besides their incredible expeditions. Being inspired by explorers is for me — and I know many others — not so much about their achievements, the oceans they crossed, the poles they reached or the summits they conquered. As impressive as those exploits are, the real privilege of inspiration gained from explorers is their mindset, their views on life, challenges and dreams and passions. They are stubborn, they are incredibly focused on their dreams (but perhaps not always completely present in everyday mundane tasks) and they have the ability to transform dreams into plans and plans into action. The spirit of the great explorers of the past is still alive and well. And very much so in our modern explorers such as Børge Ousland and Randi Skaug.

Randi Skaug's Naustholmen Island
Børge Ousland from Manshausen

Børge Ousland

Børge Ousland is a living legend, one of the greatest polar explorers of all time. He made the first solo and unsupported journey to the North Pole in 1994, and the first unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica in 1996-97.

In 2006, together with Mike Horn, he skied to the North Pole during winter, all the time in complete darkness. In 2010 his team circumnavigated the North Pole, and in 2019 he crossed The Arctic Sea on skies together with Mike Horn. Børge has an element of superhuman about him. Yet when you meet him he is the most humble, gentlest person, always ready and willing to share his insights.

Fans and adventurers are welcome to visit his dream come true; Manshausen, where Randi Skaug is his next-door (island) neighbour.

Randi Skaug

Randi Skaug is a walking source of inspiration. After completing Seven Summits and exploring large portions of our world, she decided that the only place she had not truly explored was her own backyard. She turned her attention to Norway, lost interest in chasing summits and started collecting «golden moments». Golden moments found during her kayaking trips up the Norway coast, or ice bathing in a forest stream.

Those golden moments that bring a little smile of satisfaction, and right there and then you feel so fortunate to be at that specific place at that moment, with those people. Those moments that stick with you and make you grow and flourish. Randi is an expert at living the best life possible. And in her presence it rubs off on you. Something a stay at her island Naustholmen proves.

Randi Skaug

Two Explorers. Two Neighbouring Islands.

At Manshausen and Naustholmen, you can find peace and quiet, but also the inspiration that will make you pursue goals, plans and dreams. A journey back to the basics that matter. Do not be surprised if your body leaves invigorated and rejuvenated and wonderfully relaxed, and with your mind buzzing with ideas. When you come home, remember those dreams, and then think, «What would Heyerdahl do with these dreams?». Or: «What would Randi do? What would Børge do?». We know this much; they would follow their dream, and they would translate that dream into a plan, and that plan into action.

Nighttime at Manshausen in Northern Norway
Female Norwegian Explorer

In 2019, Nepalese Sherpa Nimsdai climbed all the world's 14 peaks above 8,000 metres in less than seven months. This resulted in the Netflix documentary "14 peaks: Nothing is impossible". In 2022, Norwegian explorer Kristin Harila was aiming to beat his record.

Kristin Harila from Finnmark has - together with Dawa Ongju Sherpa and Pasdawa Sherpa - in 2022, climbed 12 of the world’s 14 highest peaks – missing only Shishapangma and Cho Oyu after not getting the permits in 2022. This year, Kristin, together with Tenjen Sherpa, accomplished her goal, and one of the most astonishing records in mountaineering history. The duo climbed all of the world's 14 peaks above 8000 metres in just 92 days!

Kristin´s interest in mountain climbing started when she moved to Tromsø, and in only a few years she has become one of the world's toughest and fastest mountain climbers. In May 2021 she became the fastest woman to climb Mount Everest and Lhotse, in less than twelve hours - so Kristin is no stranger to difficult challenges. Being a role model with her achievements, she wants to create a more inclusive future within the international climbing culture.

In the trails of Roald Amundsen

In Villa Rolighed in Kongsvinger, you can now discover exploration history from women’s points of view. Visit the new Ice Breaker exhibition - a tribute to Monica Kristensen at Norway's only women's museum - Kvinnemuseet.

Monika Kristensen Solås was the first woman to follow in the ski trails of Roald Amundsen and the (slett) other great polar explorers of the past. She is a glaciologist, meteorologist, polar explorer and author, and has led several expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. One of her most controversial expeditions took her to the South Pole looking for the tent Roald Amundsen left in 1911. For her scientific work on both poles, she became the first woman since 1942 to receive the Founder’s Medal by the Royal Geographical Society. In her later years, she used her experience to write 5 critically acclaimed crime novels taking place on Svalbard.

The Ice Breaker Exhibition with Monika Kristensen

About Synnøve

Synnøve Marie Kvam Strømsvåg is an archaeologist by training, holds several positions in The Explorers Club, including Norway Chapter Chair, and serves on the Board of Directors at New York Headquarters. She is the Chair of Tsavo Conservation Group Nordic and coordinates the organisation´s advisory council. She also works on projects with Impactvista, an international company dedicated to matching investors and businesses with entrepreneurs and sustainable initiatives.

Want to Explore More?

In Oslo we can arrange for a private guide allowing you to immerse yourself in our explorer history on an excursion to Bygdøy peninsula where you will find both the Kon-Tiki Museum and The FRAM Polar Exploration Museum. For our guests in Svalbard, we arrange private guiding through the North Pole Expedition Museum. For those who want to go all in, we can arrange expedition training courses with our expert partners in the field.