November 20, 2011

Monday, 20 November 1911


"Got out of the thousands of metres deep crevasses where we had our camp," wrote Bjaaland. "The excitement was great as we approached the side of [Mount Ole Engelstad], not knowing if it was snow covered and passable, and it was a pleasant surprise. We got up with single teams, it was heavy, but we managed. It was the hardest day we have had."

"After having managed the worse slope, [the terrain] went in wave after wave with disgusting hummocks hard as flint, and [after twelve hours] we reached the top ... and pitched tent ... and then you can bet that pemmican and chocolate went down and then into the sleeping bag; heigh ho, polar life is a grind." [1]

"We are lying on the plateau at 10,600 ft. altitude," Amundsen wrote. "It has been a hard day -- mostly for the dogs. But 24 of our brave companions received the bitter wage -- death. On arrival they were shot. The 18 best remain... It was a marvel what the dogs did today. 17 nautical miles and 5,000 [ft.] climb. Come and say that dogs cannot be used here. In 4 days, we have climbed from the coast to the plateau -- 44 nautical miles -- 10,600 ft." [2]

"But the part of my work that went more quickly than usual that night was getting the Primus started," he later admitted, "and pumping it up to high-pressure. I was hoping thereby to produce enough noise to deaden the shots that I knew would soon be heard -- twenty-four of our brave companions and faithful helpers were marked out for death. It was hard -- but it had to be so. We had agreed to shrink from nothing in order to reach our goal. Each man was to kill his own dogs to the number that had been fixed."

"The pemmican was cooked remarkably quickly that evening, and I believe I was unusually industrious in stirring it. There went the first shot -- I am not a nervous man, but I must admit that I gave a start. Shot now followed upon shot -- they had an uncanny sound over the great plain. A trusty servant lost his life each time.... The holiday humour that ought to have prevailed in the tent that evening -- our first on the plateau -- did not make its appearance; there was depression and sadness in the air -- we had grown so fond of our dogs. The place was named the 'Butcher's Shop'." [3]

There was in fact an easier way up, via what is now called the Amundsen Glacier, but he was not to know that, and at the time the only sensible route was forwards.

Amundsen's dead-reckoning later proved to have been within a mile of the true one.


[1] Olav Bjaaland, diary, 21 November, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.449.
[2] Roald Amundsen, diary, 21 November 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.125.
[3] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.11.

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