November 7, 2011

Tuesday, 7 November 1911


In the teeth of a blizzard, Meares arrived with his dog sledge to find the polar party tent-bound. He had been told to join Scott at 80° 30' S., just beyond One Ton Depot. Irritated at Meares' unexpected arrival, Scott wrote in his diary, "[he has] played too much for safety in catching us so soon, but it is satisfactory to find the dogs will pull the loads and can be driven to face such a wind as we have had. It shows that they ought to be able to help us a good deal." [1]

"We men are snug and comfortable enough, but it is very evil to lie here and know that the weather is steadily sapping the strength of the beasts on which so much depends. It requires much philosophy to be cheerful on such occasions."

Oates took advantage of Meares' arrival to have a whinge with his friend. "We both damn the motors. 3 motors at £1,000 each, 19 ponies at £5 each. 32 dogs at 30/- each. If Scott fails to get to the Pole he jolly well deserves it." [2]


Forty-five dogs were now left, pulling four sledges. Helmer Hanssen went first, because he was the best driver; being also the best navigator, he had the special non-magnetic sledge with its gimbelled compass. Behind him came Hassel, then Wisting, and Bjaaland at the end because he was the worst driver. Amundsen, on skis, roamed the line as needed, sometimes going ahead as forerunner. They marked the route as they went with a cairn at every third mile built of nine large snow blocks. Each cairn was visible from the next, and contained a record with its position, the distance from the last depot, and the bearing of the previous cairn. The interval between each cairn was deliberately selected to give the dogs a rest every hour.

"We are going like greyhounds over the endless flat snow plain," wrote Amundsen. [3]

"It'll be Dad himself who first sees the mountains!" Bjaaland teased, one evening not long after leaving 82°. "Why do you think that?" asked Amundsen. 'Because you're so ridiculously tall!" [4]

They quickly settled into a daily routine that wasted as little effort as possible. They travelled six or seven hours per day -- ideally a quarter-degree of latitude (17 1/4 miles, or 27.75 km) -- and rested for the remainder of the day and night. Upon stopping for camp, the tent was unloaded first, and Amundsen crawled inside to raise the single pole, while the others drove in the pegs outside and tied the guy ropes. Amundsen would then light the Primus stove and start cooking the meal; with the provisions permanently lashed and loaded, unloading the daily supplies was simply a matter of opening the lid of a case. Each man was responsible for keeping precise record of the supplies he was carrying as each meal was served, in a combined provision and navigation book. The others unharnessed the dogs and gave them their pound of pemmican; Bjaaland detached the leather ski bindings and brought them into the tent so that the dogs would not eat them. The men put up a low wall of snow to keep the dogs from urinating on the tent. Setting up camp and preparing the meals for men and dogs took about an hour.

On the same day, the Eastern Party left Framheim for King Edward VII Land, Johansen and Stubberud with teams of seven dogs each, Prestrud as forerunner.

"It goes without saying," Prestrud wrote later, "that it gave me, as a beginner, a great feeling of security to have with me such a man as Johansen, who possessed many years' experience of all that pertains to sledging expeditions; and as regards Stubberud, I could not have wished for a better travelling companion than him either -- a first-rate fellow, steady and efficient in word and deed. As it turned out, we were not to encounter very many difficulties, but one never escapes scot-free on a sledge journey in these regions. I owe my comrades thanks for the way in which they both did their best to smooth our path." [5]

Now and then along their route, the tracks of the polar party were clearly visible, as well as their marker flags.


[1] R.F. Scott, diary, 7 November, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[2] L.E.G. Oates, diary, 7 November, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.424.
[3] Roald Amundsen, [diary], 8 November 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.437.
[4] Tryggve Gran, Kampen om Sydpolen, p.136, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.436-437. It is not clear exactly how tall Amundsen was, but he was a head taller than most of his Gjøa crew as well as many of those on the South Pole journey.
[5] Kristian Prestrud, "The Eastern Sledge Journey", in Roald Amundsen's The South Pole, ch.15. Note that the date here is given as 8th November; see Hinks' note on dates in "The Observations of Amundsen and Scott at the South Pole" (The Geographical Journal, April 1944, p.169).

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