Antarctic explorer Norman Vaughan dies at 100

Adventurer served as dog handler for Byrd's expeditions in 1928, '30

Posted: Sunday, December 25, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Norman Vaughan, who as a young man explored Antarctica with Admiral Richard Byrd in what was to become a life full of adventure, died Friday just a few days after turning 100 years old.

Vaughan died at about 10:30 a.m. at Providence Alaska Medical Center surrounded by family and friends, nursing supervisor Martha George said.

Vaughan was well enough on Dec. 17 to enjoy a birthday celebration at the hospital attended by more than 100 friends and hospital workers. His actual birthday was Dec. 19 and he celebrated again, but grew increasingly tired as the week progressed, his friend Susan Ruddy said.

Vaughan's life was filled with journeys. His motto was "Dream big and dare to fail." He joined Byrd's expeditions to the South Pole in 1928 and 1930 as a dog handler and driver.

Days before his 89th birthday, he and his wife, Carolyn Muegge-Vaughan, returned to Antarctica and climbed to the summit of 10,320-foot Mount Vaughan, the mountain Byrd named in his honor.

"It was the climax of our dream," he said in 2005. "We had to risk failure to get there. We dared to fail."

Vaughan continued to seek adventure his entire life. His exploits included finishing the 1,100 mile-Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race six times after age 70. At age 96, he carried the Olympic torch in Juneau, passing the flame from a wheelchair.

He wanted to climb Mount Vaughan again to celebrate his 100th birthday, but the expedition fell short of money. He planned to sip champagne at the summit.

"The only liquor I've ever had was the taste of wine at communion," he said. "I told my mother I wouldn't drink until I was 100 and she said, 'That's all right.'"

Vaughan had a taste of champagne during his first birthday celebration.

"The glass was always 99 percent full for him. He approached everything with gusto and excitement and anticipation and delight," Ruddy said.

Vaughan was born in Salem, Mass. He was the son of a wealthy leather tanner and shoe manufacturer. He became fascinated by tales of early-century polar explorers and taught himself to mush dogs.

In 1925, he entered Harvard College but soon left to be a dog musher in Newfoundland. He left Harvard for good to join Byrd on his expedition, which included creation of the first settlement in Antarctica and the first air flight over the South Pole. Vaughan was part of a crew that drove dog teams 1,500 miles across the frozen continent to collect geological samples and other scientific data.

"We were the last to use dogs," he recalled in his book, "With Byrd at the Bottom of the World." "From then on, explorers would use planes and over-the-snow vehicles."

Vaughan kept driving dogs after his return to New England, qualifying for an exhibition of the sport at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

At the outset of World War II, he was commissioned an officer in the Army Air Corps and assigned to a search-and-rescue unit in Maine.

After serving in the Korean War, Vaughan started making frequent trips to Alaska and moved permanently to the state at age 67.

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