December 14, 2011

Thursday, 14 December 1911


"Indigestion and the soggy condition of my clothes kept me awake for some time last night," Scott noted in his diary, "and the exceptional exercise gives bad attacks of cramp. Our lips are getting raw and blistered. The eyes of the party are improving, I am glad to say. We are just starting our march with no very hopeful outlook. (T. + 13°.)" [1]

"Evans' party started first this morning; for an hour they found the hauling stiff, but after that, to my great surprise, they went on easily. Bowers followed without getting over the ground so easily. After the first 200 yards my own party came on with a swing that told me at once that all would be well. We soon caught the others and offered to take on more weight, but Evans' pride wouldn't allow such help. Later in the morning we exchanged sledges with Bowers, pulled theirs easily, whilst they made quite heavy work with ours."

They camped in the evening after climbing eleven or twelve miles, up to 2500 ft. and lat. about 84° 8'.

Man-hauling, Bowers wrote, was "the most back-breaking work I have ever come up against.... The starting was worse than pulling as it required from ten to fifteen desperate jerks on the harness to move the sledge at all.... I have never pulled so hard, or so nearly crushed my inside into my backbone by the everlasting jerking with all my strength on the canvas band round my unfortunate tummy." [2]


At the South Pole: Amundsen, Hassel, Bjaaland, and Wisting. Helmer Hanssen took this photograph with Bjaaland's camera. [3]

Wisting with his team. [4]

Bjaaland with his team, 14th December, 1911. [5]

Helmer Hanssen with his team, 14th December, 1911. Some of these images are apparently reversed, but it is difficult to tell which. [6]

"Friday 15 December (really 14th). So we arrived, and planted our flag at the geographical South Pole. Thanks be to God!"

"The time was 3 p.m. when it happened," Amundsen went on. "The weather was of the finest sort when we started this morning, but around 10 a.m., it became overcast. Fresh breeze from SE. The going has been partly good, partly bad. The plain -- King Haakon VII's Plateau -- has had the same appearance -- quite flat and without what one can call sastrugi. The sun came out again during the afternoon, and we ought to get a midnight observation.... We arrived here with 3 sledges and 17 dogs. Helmer Hanssen put one down immediately after arrival. 'Helgi' was worn out. Tomorrow we will go out in 3 directions to ring in the polar area. We have eaten our celebratory meal -- a little piece of seal meat each." [7]

Helmer Hanssen had been leading as usual -- he was the best dog-driver and the best navigator. With eight miles to go, he had called back to Amundsen to take the lead. "I can't get the dogs to run if nobody runs in front." But Hanssen felt that of course the honour of being first at the Pole belonged to Amundsen.

"The goal was reached, the journey ended," Amundsen wrote later. "I cannot say -- though I know it would sound much more effective -- that the object of my life was attained. That would be romancing rather too bare-facedly. I had better be honest and admit straight out that I have never known any man to be placed in such a diametrically opposite position to the goal of his desires as I was at that moment. The regions around the North Pole -- well, yes, the North Pole itself -- had attracted me from childhood, and here I was at the South Pole. Can anything more topsy-turvy be imagined?" [8]

It later turned out that Amundsen's camera was damaged. Bjaaland had brought a smaller one of his own, and his photographs would be the only record of the journey.

Wisting's flag. [9]

"Roald Amundsen," Wisting recalled, "asked us to gather round to plant the flag. 'It is not the privilege of one man alone to carry out this ceremony. It is the privilege of all those,' he said, 'who have risked their lives for this cause.' Each man gripped the flagpole, and together we planted Norway's flag at the South Pole, where no human being had yet set foot." [10]

Amundsen described the scene with more detail in his later account: "Pride and affection shone in the five pairs of eyes that gazed upon the flag, as it unfurled itself with a sharp crack, and waved over the Pole. I had determined that the act of planting it -- the historic event -- should be equally divided among us all. It was not for one man to do this; it was for all who had staked their lives in the struggle, and held together through thick and thin. This was the only way in which I could show my gratitude to my comrades in this desolate spot. I could see that they understood and accepted it in the spirit in which it was offered. Five weather-beaten, frost-bitten fists they were that grasped the pole, raised the waving flag in the air, and planted it as the first at the geographical South Pole. 'Thus we plant thee, beloved flag, at the South Pole, and give to the plain on which it lies the name of King Haakon VII.'s Plateau.' That moment will certainly be remembered by all of us who stood there."

"So now," Bjaaland wrote in his diary, "we have attained the goal of our desires, and the great thing is that we are here as the first men, no English flag waves, but a 3 coloured Norwegian. We have now eaten and drunk our fill of what we can manage; seal steak, and biscuits and pemmican and chocolate." [11]

Hanssen, on the other hand, felt only "relieved that I no longer should have to stare down at the compass in the biting wind which constantly blew against us while we drove Southwards, but which we now would have behind us." [12]

"One gets out of the way of protracted ceremonies in those regions," Amundsen said dryly, "the shorter they are the better. Everyday life began again at once." [13]


[1] R.F. Scott, diary, 14 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[2] H.R. Bowers, diary, 14 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.466.
[3] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[4] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[5] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[6] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[7] Roald Amundsen, diary, 14 December 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London: Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.130. Amundsen had neglected to drop a day on his calendar when the Fram had crossed the International Date Line, but for this entry he made sure to note the fact.
[8] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.12.
[9] "In pictures: UK's first Roald Amundsen exhibition", BBC News Cambridgeshire, 16 September 2011. The flag was loaned from the Fram Museum in Oslo to the Polar Museum (SPRI) in Cambridge for the exhibit.
[10] Oscar Wisting, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987, p.131.
[11] Olav Bjaaland, diary, [14 December 1911], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.487.
[12] Helmer Hanssen, Gjennem Isbaksen, p.94, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.487.
[13] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.12.

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