December 17, 2011

Sunday, 17 December 1911


Mount Hope -- the centre peak -- discovered and photographed by Shackleton's party in December 1908. [1]

A good run in the afternoon up the centre of the glacier took them about 12 1/2 miles, to an altitude of about 3,500 ft. "This has put Mount Hope in the background and shows us more of the upper reaches," Scott wrote. "If we can keep up the pace, we gain on Shackleton, and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't, except that more pressure is showing up ahead. For once one can say 'sufficient for the day is the good thereof.' Our luck may be on the turn -- I think we deserve it." [2]


Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Hassel, and Wisting taking leave of Polheim, 18 December, 1911, photographed by Bjaaland. The sloping edge of the tent was a special construction to reduce wind resistance. [3]

The Norwegians boxed the "remaining few minutes of arc" by putting pennants a few miles in each direction. "We have done what we can," wrote Amundsen. "I think our observations will be of great interest for the experts." [4] Polheim was within 2,500 yards of the mathematical point.

Work finished at midday, and they began to prepare for the return journey. At the Pole mark, Amundsen raised the reserve tent made by Rønne on the Fram, revealing two yellow leather labels sewn to it, one reading "Bon Voyage" and the other "Welcome to 90 degrees", signed by Rønne and Beck. To the top of the tent was lashed a long bamboo pole onto which was fixed the Norwegian flag and a pennant reading "Fram".

Inside the tent, Amundsen left some superfluous equipment, a few items of reindeer-skin clothing they didn't need, and a letter to King Haakon. "Your Majesty," it read, "We have determined the Southernmost extremity of the great 'Ross Ice Barrier', together with the junction of Victoria Land and King Edward VII Land at the same place. We have discovered a mighty mountain range with peaks up to 22,000 ft. a.s.l., which I have taken the liberty of calling -- with permission, I hope -- 'Queen Maud's Range'. We found that the great inland plateau ... began to slope gently downwards from 89°.... We have called this gently sloping plain on which we have succeeded in establishing the position of the Geographic South Pole -- with I hope Your Majesty's permission -- 'King Haakon VII's Plateau'...." [5]

The envelope and a covering letter were addressed to Scott, who, Amundsen wrote in his diary, "I must assume will be the first to visit the place after us." [6] "The way home was a long one," he explained later, "and so many things might happen to make it impossible for us to give an account of our expedition." [7] His explanation was certainly logical, but, as Hassel put it, "It won't be nice for Scott, if he gets here now, to arrive and see the tent with the Norwegian flag and the burgee with Fram on it." [8]

At half past seven in the evening, they turned again to the North. "And so, farewell, dear Pole," wrote Amundsen. "I don't think we'll meet again." [9]

Back at the Bay of Whales, Prestrud, Johansen, and Stubberud departed Framheim again for a five-day journey to explore the long eastern arm of the bay. "Although we came across no bare rock," Prestrud wrote later, "and in that respect the journey was a disappointment, it was nevertheless very interesting to observe the effects of the mighty forces that had here been at work, the disruption of the solid ice-sheath by the still more solid rock." [10]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 17 December 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[3] National Library of Australia.
[4] Roald Amundsen, diary, 18 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.493.
[5] Roald Amundsen, letter to King Haakon VII, 15 December 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.494.
[6] Roald Amundsen, diary, 18 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.494.
[7] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.12.
[8] Sverre Hassel, diary, [18 December, 1911], quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.109.
[9] Roald Amundsen, diary, [18 December, 1911], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.495.
[10] Kristian Prestrud, "The Eastern Sledge Journey", in Roald Amundsen's The South Pole, ch.15. Note that the date is given as 18th December; 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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