January 27, 1929: Václav Vojtěch becomes first Czech to set foot on Antarctica

Václav Vojtěch

Ninety-five years ago, Václav Vojtěch, geography teacher, scientist and polar explorer, became the first Czech to reach Antarctica together with an American expedition.

Václav Vojtěch | Photo: archive of the Nový Bydžov

Václav Vojtěch was born in 1901 in the town of Skřivany, east of Prague, and as the son of a forester, loved adventure and the great outdoors from an early age. He studied history and geography, and as an editor of Czechoslovak Radio he was able to visit Paris. There, he saw a film about the race to the South Pole between Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British adventurer Robert Scott and became obsessed with the notion to reach the South Pole himself. Eventually, after many attempts and rejections, he was able to join an expedition to Antarctica led by the American Admiral Richard Byrd. Vojtěch was twenty-seven, and although he participated in the expedition only as a gunner on a supply ship and later as a waiter, on January 27, 1929 his lifelong dream came true. That day he stepped onto the shore in Ross Sea's Whale Bay on the coast of Antarctica.

Václav Vojtěch with his dog York on board 'City of New York' | Photo: Václav Vojtěch,  'Námořníkem,  topičem a psovodem za jižním polárním kruhem',  1932

He also participated in the triumphant return of the Byrd Expedition to the United States and, following an audience with President Herbert Hoover, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor. Vojtěch became its first Czech recipient. When he returned to Czechoslovakia in July 1930, as a respected polar explorer, he was accompanied by his dog York, the first musher's dog in Bohemia and Vojtěch's loyal friend.

Václav Vojtěch with his dog York after returning to Prague in 1930 | Photo: e-Sbírky,  National Museum,  CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED

In memory of Dr. Václav Vojtěch, a dog sled race "Ice Ride - Dr. Václav Vojtěch Memorial" has been held annually in the Krkonoše Mountains since 1986. The race is inspired by long trails through the Arctic wilderness, during which the musher carries everything he needs with him.

Source: Český rozhlas