December 16, 2011

Saturday, 16 December 1911


After ten hours' march, they had covered 11 miles, over new snow covering ice-hard old sastrugi. "The sledges were so often brought up by this," wrote Scott, "that we decided to take to our feet, and thus made better progress, but for the time with very excessive labour. The crust, brittle, held for a pace or two, then let one down with a bump some 8 or 10 inches. Now and again one's leg went down a crack in the hard ice underneath." [1]

"We must push on all we can, for we are now 6 days behind Shackleton, all due to that wretched storm. So far, since we got amongst the disturbances we have not seen such alarming crevasses as I had expected; certainly dogs could have come up as far as this. At present one gets terrible hot and perspiring on the march, and quickly cold when halted, but the sun makes up for all evils. It is very difficult to know what to do about the ski; their weight is considerable and yet under certain circumstances they are extraordinarily useful. Everyone is very satisfied with our summit ration. The party which has been man-hauling for so long say they are far less hungry than they used to be. It is good to think that the majority will keep up this good feeding all through."


The Norwegians broke camp early in the morning. Amundsen gave the honour of skiing to the Pole to Bjaaland. "Thank you," Bjaaland said quietly. "The blokes in Morgedal will be grateful. It'll be fun, the finish to this race." [2]

Bjaaland took off, running dead straight, followed by Hassel, then Helmer Hanssen with his sledge, and Amundsen last to check the line of march. It was, he wrote, "pure pleasure to see Bj. keep his course. He moved as if he had a marked line to follow." [3] At eleven a.m., they arrived.

They pitched camp, and prepared for final observations, building two snow pedestals, one for the artificial horizon and the other to rest the sextant when they were not using it. Hourly observations were then taken for the next twenty-four hours, all four navigators -- Amundsen, Hassel, Wisting, and Helmer Hanssen -- taking it in pairs watch on and watch off. They each counter-signed the other's observation books.

In the tent that evening, Bjaaland made a speech in honour of the day, "in extremely well chosen words," Helmer Hanssen recalled. "In a shining humour, he let the curtain drop by presenting both past and present, with the very best prospects for the future, for our journey home." [4] He then passed around a box of cigars, presenting the case and remaining cigars to Amundsen with a little bow. "And this I give to you in memory of the Pole." [5] Amundsen was deeply touched, for Bjaaland himself did not smoke, and had carried the box all of the way from Framheim as a Christmas present.

"All the dogs are lying stretched out in the heat of the sun," finished Amundsen, "and enjoying life despite the poor rations -- apparently in good condition. It has been so clear today that we can see for many nautical miles around. We have all used the telescope industriously to see if there is any sign of life in any direction -- but in vain. We are the first here all right."


[1] R.F. Scott, diary, 16 December 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[2] Tryggve Gran, Kampen om Sydpolen, p. 144 (Oslo : Mortensens, 1961), quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.492.
[3] Roald Amundsen, diary, 17 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Race for the South Pole : the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen (London : Continuum, c2010), p.190.
[4] Helmer Hanssen, "Minner fra Sydpolsturen", Polar-Årboken, 1941, p.17, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.493.
[5] Johann Austbø, Olav Bjaaland, p.80, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.493.

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