Knud RasmussenKnud Johan Victor Rasmussen 1879 - 1933
Knud Rasmussen is perhaps one of the greatest Arctic Explorers ever to have lived - yet he is not that well known.
A Kalaallit, Rasmussen was born in Ilulissat in Greenland in 1879. It is said that Rasmussen had his first dog team and sled when he was seven years old!Rasmussen’s father was from Denmark, and at age 12 Rasmussen was sent to Denmark on his own to go to school there. As he grew up, he family moved to Denmark as well and Rasmussen was studying both ethnography and to be an author—for a few years he even pursued being an actor and an opera singer!
Then, in 1902 – 1904 he took off on his first expedition, the famous: Danish Literary Expedition, with Jørgen Brønlund, Harald Moltke and Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen, to examine Inuit culture. After returning home he went on a lecture circuit and wrote The People of the Polar North (1908), a combination travel journal and scholarly account of Inuit folklore. In 1908, he married Dagmar Andersen.
In 1910, Rasmussen and friend Peter Freuchen established the Thule Trading Station at Uummannaq in Greenland, as a trading post. The name Thule was chosen because it was the most northernly trading post in the world, literally the "Ultima Thule"!
Thule Trading Station became the home base for a series of seven expeditions, known as the Thule Expeditions, between 1912 and 1933.
The First Thule Expedition was in 1912, the team just Rasmussen and Freuchen—setting out to test polar explorer Robert Peary’s claim that a channel go divided Peary Land from Greenland. They proved this was not the case in a remarkable 1,000-km journey across the inland ice that almost killed them. Clements Markham, president of the Royal Geographic Society, called the journey the "finest ever performed by dogs."
Three more expeditions followed before the grandest and amazing some 20,000 km (12,000 miles) dog sled journey known as The Fifth Thule Expedition or The Great Sled Journey.
The team of seven included artists and scientists in zoology, geology and mineralogy. The expedition first went to eastern Arctic Canada where the team began collecting specimens, interviewing and doing excavations. Rasmussen then left most of the team to stay to work in that region while he traveled on with two other Inuit dogsledding for 16 months across North America to Nome, Alaska! They actually tried to continue to Chukotka in Russia, but were stopped by the island Little Diomede because Rasmussen’s visa was refused.
Not accepted at the time, Rasmussen believed that Inuit people throughout the circumpolar north are connected. We now known he was right – and the way that Rasmussen set out to explore if this was the case was through conversation and documentation of the traditional myths and legends. What he found was that Inuit living in different countries, thousands and thousands and thousands of miles apart – people that had no or very little contact with any other people than other nomads they would cross on the hunting trail, indeed had myths and legends that were the same or very similar! Stories that had been passed in generations over hundreds and thousands of years as the people spread, migrating from Chukotka Russia to Greenland!
This journey put Rasmussen in the history books as the first person ever to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled and the expedition to be the longest dog sled expedition ever. His journey is recounted in his book “Across Arctic America “ a true classic of polar expedition literature. Rasmussen is reknown for his amazing beautiful writing and true love and passion for his work and dogsledding. When reading the book you realize the extreme conditions through which he and his team traveled, yet Rasmussen rarely speaks of suffering or hardshi, but instead he writes about the beauty of the Arctic, its people and that of dogsledding with his dogs.
During the expedition Knud wrote in thirty-two journals and the journey was dramatized in the Canadian film “The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006).”
The sixthh Thule Expedition (1933) became the last one. While preparing for the seventh, Rasmussen became deadly sick with pneumonia after an episode of food poisoning, dying a few weeks later in Copenhagen at the age of 54.
In his life, Rasmussen was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the American Geographical Society in 1912, and its Daly Medal in 1924; and he was made honorary doctor at the University of Copenhagen in 1924.
Read short story written by Knud Rasmussen about his scariest moment "The Bear in the Ice Hole"
Read "Across Arctic America – Narrative of the Fifth Thule Expedition" by Knud Rasmussen