December 15, 2011

Friday, 15 December 1911


"Did a splendid bust off on ski," Bowers wrote cheerfully, "leaving Scott in the lurch, and eventually overhauling the party which had left some time before us. All the morning we kept up a steady, even swing which was quite a pleasure." [1]

Scott, though, wrote, "Evans' is now decidedly the slowest unit, though Bowers' is not much faster. We keep up and overhaul either without difficulty." [2]

They were now at 84° 8', at about 2500 ft. (762 m). "At the lunch camp," Scott continued, "the snow covering was less than a foot, and at this it is a bare nine inches; patches of ice and hard névé are showing through in places. I meant to camp at 6.30, but before 5.0 the sky came down on us with falling snow. We could see nothing, and the pulling grew very heavy. At 5.45 there seemed nothing to do but camp -- another interrupted march. Our luck is really very bad. We should have done a good march to-day, as it is we have covered about 11 miles (stat.)."

Back in the Western Mountains with Debenham and Taylor, Tryggve Gran wrote in his diary, "I dreamed I had a telegram reading: 'Amundsen reached Pole, 15-20 December.'" [3]


"An extremely agitated day," Amundsen began his diary entry. [4]

Observations showed the camp to be four miles from the Pole, and Amundsen set about to make certain of it. He woke the men at midnight, "to the most glorious sunny weather," Bjaaland wrote, "so the observers ran about with their instruments to fix the position." [5] At 2.30 a.m., Bjaaland, Wisting, and Hassel all set out to ski ten miles, Bjaaland continuing on their course from Framheim, and the other two at right angles.

"Thus equipped," Amundsen wrote later, "and with thirty biscuits as an extra ration, the three men started off in the directions laid down. Their march was by no means free from danger, and does great honour to those who undertook it, not merely without raising the smallest objection, but with the greatest keenness. Let us consider for a moment the risk they ran. Our tent on the boundless plain, without marks of any kind, may very well be compared with a needle in a haystack. From this the three men were to steer out for a distance of twelve and a half miles. Compasses would have been good things to take on such a walk, but our sledge-compasses were too heavy and unsuitable for carrying. They therefore had to go without. They had the sun to go by, certainly, when they started, but who could say how long it would last? The weather was then fine enough, but it was impossible to guarantee that no sudden change would take place. If by bad luck the sun should be hidden, then their own tracks might help them. But to trust to tracks in these regions is a dangerous thing. Before you know where you are the whole plain may be one mass of driving snow, obliterating all tracks as soon as they are made. With the rapid changes of weather we had so often experienced, such a thing was not impossible. That these three risked their lives that morning, when they left the tent at 2.30, there can be no doubt at all, and they all three knew it very well. But if anyone thinks that on this account they took a solemn farewell of us who stayed behind, he is much mistaken. Not a bit; they all vanished in their different directions amid laughter and chaff." [6]

Each man carried a marker, a spare sledge runner twelve feet long with a black flag attached and a bag containing a note with the bearing and distance of the camp. The men were to ski ten miles by the clock, then plant the marker in the snow. They all three arrived back at almost exactly the same time, after about six hours. "No English flag to be seen anywhere," Bjaaland reported.

Amundsen and Helmer Hanssen had in the meantime been taking frequent altitudes of the sun. Amundsen's meticulousness surprised no-one: he was taking no chances, and his men understood this. "The Chief wanted it that way," Helmer Hanssen said simply, "and that was the way he had it." [7]

Late in the afternoon, Amundsen found his position, on the 123rd meridian East, not the 168th West that he had been following on the Plateau. Nevertheless, they had come only about seven miles out of their way, and were now 5 1/2 miles from the Pole itself, well within the area boxed by Bjaaland, Wisting, and Hassel.

Sixteen dogs remained, and were reorganised into two teams, and Bjaaland's sledge was abandoned. "Thank God," he noted with relief, "I am quit the fuss and bother of my dogs."

"Tomorrow," finished Amundsen, "we will set off for the exact point of the Pole 5 1/2 nautical miles from here. We now have food for us human beings for 18 days, for the dogs 10. I think we will be all right back to our depot at 88° 25', and from there to the depot at the 'Devil's Glacier'."

In the north-east, Prestrud, Johansen, and Stubberud arrived back at Framheim.


[1] H.R. Bowers, diary, 15 December, 1911, quoted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, v.2.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 15 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[3] Tryggve Gran, diary, 15 December 1911, quoted in The Norwegian With Scott : Tryggve Gran's Antarctic Diary 1910-1913 (National Maritime Museum, 1984), p.153.
[4] Roald Amundsen, diary, 16 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Race for the South Pole : the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen (London : Continuum, c2010), p.187-188.
[5] Olav Bjaaland, diary, 16 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Race for the South Pole : the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen (London : Continuum, c2010), p.188.
[6] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.12.
[7] Helmer Hanssen, Gjennem Isbaksen, p.95, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.489.

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