December 31, 2011

Sunday, 31 December 1911


The camp on 31st December, at 86°56' S, before Lt. Evans turned back with Crean and Lashly. Bowers took this photograph. [1]

"The second party depoted its ski and some other weights equivalent to about 100 lbs.," wrote Scott. "I sent them off first; they marched, but not very fast. We followed and did not catch them before they camped by direction at 1.30. By this time we had covered exactly 7 miles (geo.), and we must have risen a good deal." [2] He did not give a reason for the depoting of the skis.

After a short march, Scott made camp and had the men dismantle the sledges and shorten them from twelve feet to ten, in order to lighten them and improve their running. This took eight hours, longer than Scott had intended, and Evans cut his hand badly in the process.


"Dear Diary," wrote Bjaaland, "wasn't the first day of the New Year fine and easy, the loveliest day of all." [3]

Because of fog and blizzard on the way up, the Norwegians were seeing the landscape for the first time, and for a few days were unable to tell exactly where they were. Amundsen had relied for his bearings on a distinctive mountain at the edge of the Norway Glacier, known today as Mount Bjaaland, but now, confused by the unfamiliar angle and changing light, as well as being cagey about his short-sightedness, could not seem to find it. "We are in truth running through an enigma. To recognise where we are is an impossibility." [4] They had stopped taking astronomical observations since leaving the Pole, and had lost the line of cairns after 88° S, but son picked up the mountains around the Butcher's Shop in the distance.

The Norwegians and the British were in fact barely a hundred miles apart, Amundsen approaching the descent from the Polar Plateau via the Axel Heiberg Glacier, and Scott just coming up to it from the Beardmore.

Wisting came down with toothache. He was the one with dental training, and since, he wrote later, "it was a little far to the nearest dentist, I asked [Amundsen] if he would take care of the beast. He instantly declared himself willing, and our forceps were got out. On account of the cold, it first had to be warmed over the Primus. Then I knelt in my sleeping bag, and he sat over me in his, and pulled as hard as he could. After a tremendous fuss the operation -- eventually -- succeeded, and with that all my troubles were over." [5]

Prestrud's Eastern Party started out on their third survey journey, this time to the southwestern corner of the Bay of Whales. They were surprised to find, he later wrote, that "the solid Barrier divided into small islands, separated by comparatively broad sounds. These isolated masses of ice could not possibly be afloat, although the depth in one or two places, where we had a chance of making soundings, proved to be as much as 200 fathoms. The only rational explanation we could think of was that there must be a group of low-lying islands here, or in any case shoals." [6]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 1 January 1912, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[3] Olav Bjaaland, diary, [1 January, 1912], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.499.
[4] Roald Amundsen, diary, 1 January, 1912, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.499.
[5] Oscar Wisting, 16 År med Roald Amundsen, p.38, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.500. Amundsen had studied medicine as a young man at the request of his mother; when she died, he gave it up almost immediately to dedicate himself to polar exploration.
[6] Kristian Prestrud, "The Eastern Sledge Journey", in Roald Amundsen's The South Pole, ch.15. Note that the date is given as 1st January 1912; 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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