Tribute to Norman Vaughan
Explorer Norman Vaughan Dies at 100
Hear audio clips and read about his extraordinary life
Editor's Note: Explorer Norman Vaughan died on Friday, December 23, of natural causes, just four days after his 100th birthday, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. To celebrate his extraordinary life, we have reposted the article we ran in the April 2005 issue of Adventure. Unfortunately, according to Expedition News, Vaughan's 100th birthday climb of his namesake mountain, Antarctica's Mount Vaughan, was thwarted due to limited funding. We admire Vaughan's incredible spirit.
What'll You Do for Your Centennial?Explorer Col. Norman Vaughan has big plans for his
As told to Claire Antoszewski
Published in Adventure, April 2005
Col. Norman Vaughan, the last living member of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's 1928-1930 Antarctic expedition (the first to fly over the South Pole), has also raced a dog-team in the 1932 Olympic Games, led more than 200 rescue dogs in World War II's Battle of the Bulge, and competed in the Iditarod 13 times. Some heart trouble has kept him from mushing of late, but for his 100th birthday, the "Indomitable Snowman" from Salem, Massachusetts, plans a trip that would test the hearts of men half his age. He's no blowhard, but after 99 years on Earth, he's not short on advice, either.
Listen to audio clips of Norman Vaughan >>
I was born on December 19, 1905. For my 100th birthday, I plan to go back to Antarctica and climb the mountain that's named for me.
I climbed Mount Vaughan for the first time just before my 89th birthday. I was very glad to be the first person to climb it. It's a very rugged mountain. There are long glaciers on both the north and south sides. I am planning to climb the south glacier which has anywhere between a 30- and 50-degree slope. It is mandatory to rope up because there are many crevasses, and if you slip into a crevasse, you might never come out. Most likely we will take the same route, but the details haven't been finalized yet. I will have six guides, plus a doctor and a nurse at the base. I will have my first taste of champagne ever at the summit. I've never had a drink in my life. Well, only at the altar when I took communion.
My advice for young explorers, or anyone, is dream big and dare to fail. If you don't try to accomplish your dream, you fail before you start. And you must persevere. In 1981, I joined an expedition to Greenland in search of the Lost Squadron of 1942, a group of eight planes downed during the war. I was out with two other people, and we couldn't find them, and as we were leaving we were feeling very discouraged. While we were packing everything up, one of my partners got really mad at me because I was whistling. He said, "Norman, why are you whistling? Don't you realize we have failed?" And I said, "We haven't failed until we quit." I went back every summer for the next 11 years, and we eventually located all eight under the ice and snow, including a P-38 that has since been restored and flown again.
My other advice is to do something different. The greatest joy in exploration is the realization that you are the only one who has done something. But you had better find a way to raise money, too. Money plays a really important role in getting any big expedition done.
I asked Admiral Byrd about exploring one time, and he said, "Norman, I hope you are not going to do it."
"Why not, Sir?" I asked him.
"Because all the explorers I know are broke!"
Admiral Byrd was a wonderful man. Everyone should be lucky enough to be led by someone like him. He was always thinking of his men, his "shipmates" as he called us. He felt very responsible for us. The one thing he would have hated would have been to have lost a man. He almost did a number of times, but he never did.
Also, everyone should have a dog in their life. I don't have any at the moment because I had a small heart problem, but I expect to have a team again soon. I got into dogsledding when I was young. I was reading about how Indians used dogs to pull them around. I said to my best friend who lived down the road and was reading the same adventure books, let's make a team with our fathers' dogs. We had two mongrels. We made harnesses for them, hitched them to a sled, and said, "Mush!" Well, they didn't know what that meant and came back to the sled with wagging tails to see what we were up to. They just wanted to be loved.
It's thanks to dog mushing that I met my wife. When we met, I told her I needed a dog handler for the winter and asked if she could come to Alaska. She said she'd give me an answer in two weeks. She came for three weeks before the start of the Iditarod, fell in love with Alaska, the Iditarod, and, lucky for me, she fell for me, too. The only way people could get to our wedding was by dogsled and snowmobile.
I once took Pope John Paul II for a dogsled ride. I had to convince the committee that was in charge of organizing his trip that I could ensure the safety of the pope. They finally agreed to my plan, and when the pope arrived I said to him, "Your Honor, would you like to do the driving and I'll do the riding?" His eyes sparkled, and he said that would be great. He was about to get on the sled and I said, "Your Honor, there is something I should tell you. There are two dogs with terrible names, but I must call them by name as we go. It's a bad habit, but I always talk to the dogs when we drive." So he asked, "Well, what are their names?" I answered, "One is Satan, and the other is Devil." He smiled, and said, "You can leave them in, so long as I am the one doing the driving."
The one trip everyone should make? Go to the Antarctic! It is such a different place. It calls to you. It challenges you every time you move down there. Anything that makes you think clearly and properly is good. And your brain is what keeps you going straight—or crooked.
Spending time alone is very beneficial because it makes you think of salvation. And how you are going to get out of being alone. It's very good for everyone.
All stories are good because they are about how you get somewhere.
I've had a full life because I have tried so many things. I have done everything I wanted. Well, actually, there's still a pretty long list of things I want to do.
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