Beyond the Pages: MYSTERY RANCH Ambassador John Huston Relives Amundsen’s Epic Expedition

Published 2024-01-28

Photo: Glacier ramp. John Huston and his dog team heading up a glacier near Mt. Forel in easter Greenland. “It was a relatively warm day, so we nicknamed the glacier Hot Dog
Glacier.” Credit: Keo Films/BBC

In 2005, MYSTERY RANCH Brand Ambassador, John Huston, got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Recreating Roald Amundsen’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole, John joined a team led by Norwegian Polar Explorer and ex-Norwegian Navy SEAL Rune Gjeldnes. The 1400-mile journey in Greenland, using authentic solely 1911-style gear, not only made good on Amundsen’s revolutionary methods but also marked the beginning of John’s enduring polar expedition career. John provides a reflection on the trip that remains a cherished highlight for him almost two decades later.

From the Experts: John Huston

In 2005, I got to jump into the pages of my favorite book, ‘The Last Place on Earth’ by Roland Huntord. I did a re-staging of Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole using all 1911-style clothing, equipment, and food.

Seal skin anorak. John Huston on the Greenland ice cap early in the expedition, wearing an anorak modeled on Amundsen’s. Credit: Keo Films/BBC

This BBC/History Channel documentary film production aimed to test history. I was selected to join a team of four Norwegians, led by one of the most accomplished polar explorers in the world, ex-Norwegian Navy Seal (Marinejegerkommandoen) Rune Gjeldnes. There was no acting involved as we raced against a team of Brits who made up the modern team of Amundsen’s rival for the pole, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott.

Using Greenland instead of Antarctica, the five of us dog sledded and skied over 1400 miles in 72 days with 48 Greenlandic huskies, who were divided into four 12-dog teams. We were outfitted as close to the historic expedition as possible, no plastic, no zippers, no rip stop nylon, no blogging. We skied on 8-foot hickory skis, used bamboo ski poles, wore sealskin anoraks, slept in reindeer fur sleeping bags inside a cotton tent, and navigated by sextant.

Dog train. Our 4 12-dog teams head north toward the endless ice cap horizon. Credit: Keo Films/BBC

Prior to the expedition I had worked as an instructor and sled dog trainer at the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, Minnesota. There I spent many nights sitting by the wood stove reading about Amundsen’s expeditions. I often used Amundsen’s expeditions as leadership curriculum for the courses I instructed.

The expedition had it all: hurricane force storms, truly terrible food every single day, stunning glaciers and mountains, the sublime simple life of living on an ice cap for two months, 24-hour sunlight, 45-mile dog sled and ski days, magical canine companionship, and camaraderie that would last a lifetime. Our team ended up besting Amundsen’s times by a significant margin and crushing our British competitors by over 600 miles.

Pseudo South Pole. At out ‘South Pole’ point, coordinates chosen to mirror Amundsen’s historic route, the team built this cairn. Credit: Martin Madsen

The experience jump started my polar expedition career and remains a major highlight almost 20 years later. I even got to hang out and talk about it all with the author of my favorite book.

Learn more about John here.