On the third day we made the disagreeable discovery that we should have to descend 2,100 feet, as between us and the higher mountains to the south lay a great glacier which crossed our path from east to west.
Continuing Discovery of the South Pole,
our selection from The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the “Fram,” 1910–1912 by Roald Amundsen published in 1912. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Discovery of the South Pole.
When we reached the eighty-third parallel we saw land in a southwesterly direction. This could only be South Victoria Land, probably a continuation of the mountain range which runs in a southeasterly direction and which is shown on Shackleton’s map. From now on the landscape changed more and more from day to day: one mountain after another loomed up, one always higher than the other. Their average elevation was 10,000 to 16,000 feet. Their crest-line was always sharp; the peaks were like needles. I have never seen a more beautiful, wild, and imposing landscape. Here a peak would appear with somber and cold outlines, its head buried in the clouds; there one could see snow fields and glaciers thrown together in hopeless confusion. On November 11th we saw land to the south and could soon determine that a mountain range, whose position is about 86° S. and 163° W., crosses South Victoria Land in an easterly and northeasterly direction. This mountain range is materially lower than the mighty mountains of the rest of South Victoria Land. Peaks of an elevation of 1,800 to 4,000 feet were the highest. We could see this mountain chain as far as the eighty-fourth parallel, where it disappeared below the horizon.
On November 17th we reached the place where the Ice Barrier ends and the land begins. We had proceeded directly south from our winter quarters to this point. We were now in 85° 7′ S. and 165° W. The place where we left the Barrier for the land offered no special difficulties. A few extended undulating reaches of ice had to be crossed which were interrupted by crevasses here and there. Nothing could impede our advance. It was our plan to go due south from “Framheim” and not to deviate from this direction unless we should be forced to by obstacles which nature might place in our path. If our plan succeeded it would be our privilege to explore completely unknown regions and thereby to accomplish valuable geographic work.
The immediate ascent due south into the mountainous region led us between the high peaks of South Victoria Land. To all intents and purposes no great difficulties awaited us here. To be sure, we should probably have found a less steep ascent if we had gone over to the newly discovered mountain range just mentioned. But as we maintained the principle that direct advance due south was the shortest way to our goal, we had to bear the consequences.
At this place we established our principal depot and left provisions for thirty days. On our four sleds we took provisions with us for sixty days. And now we began the ascent to the plateau. The first part of the way led us over snow-covered mountain slopes, which at times were quite steep, but not so much so as to prevent any of us from hauling up his own sled. Farther up, we found several glaciers which were not very broad but were very steep. Indeed, they were so steep that we had to harness twenty dogs in front of each sled. Later the glaciers became more frequent, and they lay on slopes so steep that it was very hard to ascend them on our skis. On the first night we camped at a spot which lay 2,100 feet above sea level. On the second day we continued to climb up the mountains, mainly over several small glaciers. Our next camp for the night was at an altitude of 4,100 feet above the sea.
On the third day we made the disagreeable discovery that we should have to descend 2,100 feet, as between us and the higher mountains to the south lay a great glacier which crossed our path from east to west. This could not be helped. The expedition therefore descended with the greatest possible speed and in an incredibly short time we were down on the glacier, which was named Axel Heiberg Glacier. Our camp of this night lay at about 3,100 feet above sea level. On the following day the longest ascent began; we were forced to follow Axel Heiberg Glacier. At several places ice blocks were heaped up so that its surface was hummocky and cleft by crevasses. We had therefore to make detours to avoid the wide crevasses which, below, expanded into large basins. These latter, to be sure, were filled with snow; the glacier had evidently long ago ceased to move. The greatest care was necessary in our advance, for we had no inkling as to how thick or how thin the cover of snow might be. Our camp for this night was pitched in an extremely picturesque situation at an elevation of about 5,250 feet above sea level. The glacier was here hemmed in by two mountains which were named “Fridtjof Nansen” and “Don Pedro Christophersen,” both 16,000 feet high.
Farther down toward the west at the end of the glacier “Ole Engelstad Mountain” rises to an elevation of about 13,000 feet. At this relatively narrow place the glacier was very hummocky and rent by many deep crevasses, so that we often feared that we could not advance farther. On the following day we reached a slightly inclined plateau which we assumed to be the same which Shackleton describes. Our dogs accomplished a feat on this day which is so remarkable that it should be mentioned here. After having already done heavy work on the preceding days, they covered nineteen miles on this day and overcame a difference in altitude of 5,700 feet. On the following night we camped at a place which lay 10,800 feet above sea level. The time had now come when we were forced to kill some of our dogs. Twenty-four of our faithful comrades had to die. The place where this happened was named the “Slaughter House.” On account of bad weather we had to stay here for four days. During this stay both we and the dogs had nothing except dog meat to eat. When we could at last start again on November 26th, the meat of ten dogs only remained. This we deposited at our camp; fresh meat would furnish a welcome change on our return. During the following days we had stormy weather and thick snow flurries, so that we could see nothing of the surrounding country. We observed, however, that we were descending rapidly. For a moment, when the weather improved for a short time, we saw high mountains directly to the east. During the heavy snow squall on November 28th we passed two peculiarly shaped mountains lying in a north-south direction; they were the only ones that we could see on our right hand. These “Helland-Hansen Mountains” were entirely covered by snow and had an altitude of 9,200 feet. Later they served as an excellent landmark for us.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history