This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Arrival at Antarctica.
On December 16, 1911, a Norwegian exploring party headed by Captain Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Two years earlier Peary had reached the North Pole.
Antarctic exploration had never attracted so much attention as that of the far north; partly because an almost impossible ice barrier a hundred feet high was known to extend across the southern ocean at about the parallel of the Antarctic Circle. In 1908, however, an English expedition under Lieutenant Shackleton managed to penetrate beyond this barrier in the region south of New Zealand and reached to within less than two hundred miles of the pole. They established the fact that in contrast to the deep waters which flow above the northern Pole, the southern Pole is raised upon an Antarctic mountain continent many thousand feet in height. Shackleton’s success led to several other expeditions, and in 1910 three separate parties made almost simultaneous efforts to reach the Pole, one from Japan and one from England, as well as the Norwegian one.
We give here Captain Amundsen’s own account of his expedition as first explained by him before the Berlin Geographical Society and published by the New York Geographical Society in their bulletin.
The glowing success of Amundsen’s expedition throws into sharpest relief the tragedy of the parallel English expedition. Captain Scott, the leader of this party, also reached the Pole after a far more desperate struggle. But he reached it on January 18, 1912, only to find that his Norwegian rival had preceded him, and he and his entire party died of starvation and exhaustion on their return journey toward their
This selection is from The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the “Fram,” 1910–1912 by Roald Amundsen published in 1912.
The story written by the leader of the expedition.
The first aim of my expedition was the attainment of the South Pole. I have the honor to report the accomplishment of the plan.
I can only mention briefly here the expeditions which have worked in the region which we had selected for our starting-point. As we wished to reach the South Pole our first problem was to go south as far as possible with our ship and there establish our station. Even so, the sled journeys would be long enough. I knew that the English expedition would again choose their old winter quarters in McMurdo Sound, South Victoria Land, as their starting-point. From newspaper report it was known that the Japanese had selected King Edward VII. Land. In order to avoid these two expeditions we had to establish our station on the Great Ice Barrier as far as possible from the starting-points of the two other expeditions.
The Great Ice Barrier, also called the Ross Barrier, lies between South Victoria Land and King Edward VII. Land and has an extent of about 515 miles. The first to reach this mighty ice formation was Sir James Clark Ross in 1841. He did not dare approach the great ice wall, 100 feet high, with his two sailing ships, the Erebus and the Terror, whose progress southward was impeded by this mighty obstacle. He examined the ice wall from a distance, however, as far as possible. His observations showed that the Barrier is not a continuous, abrupt ice wall, but is interrupted by bays and small channels. On Ross’s map a bay of considerable magnitude may be seen.
The next expedition was that of the Southern Cross in 1900. It is interesting to note that this party found the bay mentioned above at the same place where Ross had seen it in 1841, nearly sixty years before; that this expedition also was able to land a few miles to the east of the large bay in a small bay, named Balloon Bight, and from there to ascend the Ice Barrier, which heretofore had been considered an insurmountable obstacle to further advance toward the south.
In 1901 the Discovery steamed along the Barrier and confirmed in every respect what the Southern Cross had observed. Land was also discovered in the direction indicated by Ross, namely, King Edward VII. Land. Scott, too, landed in Balloon Bight, and, like his predecessors, saw the large bay to the west.
In 1908 Shackleton arrived there on the Nimrod. He, too, followed along the edge of the Ice Barrier. He came to the conclusion that disturbances had taken place in the Ice Barrier. The shore line of Balloon Bight, he thought, had changed and merged with the large bay to the west. This large bay, which he thought to be of recent origin, he named Bay of Whales. He gave up his original plan of landing there, as the Ice Barrier appeared to him too dangerous for the establishment of winter quarters.
It was not difficult to determine that the bay shown on Ross’s map and the so-called Bay of Whales are identical; it was only necessary to compare the two maps. Except for a few pieces that had broken off from the Barrier, the bay had remained the same for the last seventy years. It was therefore possible to assume that the bay did not owe its origin to chance and that it must be underlaid by land, either in the form of sand banks or otherwise.
This bay we decided upon as our base of operations. It lies 400 miles from the English station in McMurdo Sound and 115 miles from King Edward VII. Land. We could therefore assume that we should be far enough from the English sphere of interest and need not fear crossing the route of the English expedition. The reports concerning the Japanese station on King Edward VII. Land were indefinite: we took it for granted, however, that a distance of 115 miles would suffice.
On August 9, 1910, we left Norway on the Fram, the ship that had originally been built for Nansen. We had ninety-seven superb Eskimo dogs and provisions for two years. The first harbor we reached was Madeira. There the last preparations were made for our voyage on the Ross Barrier — truly not an insignificant distance which we had to cover, namely, 16,000 nautical miles from Norway to the Bay of Whales. We had estimated that this trip would require five months. The Fram, which has justly been called the staunchest polar ship in the world, on this voyage across practically all of the oceans, proved herself to be extremely seaworthy. Thus we traversed without a single mishap the regions of the northeast and of the southeast trades, the stormy seas of the “roaring forties,” the fogs of the fifties, the ice-filled sixties, and reached our field of work at the Ice Barrier on January 14, 1911. Everything had gone splendidly.
The ice in the Bay of Whales had just broken up, and we were able to advance considerably farther south than any of our predecessors had done. We found a quiet little nook behind a projecting ice cape; from here we could transfer our equipment to the Barrier with comparative safety. Another great advantage was that the Barrier at this place descended very gradually to the sea ice, so that we had the best possible surface for our sleds. Our first undertaking was to ascend the Barrier in order to get a general survey and to determine a suitable place for the erection of the house which we had brought with us. The supposition that this part of the Barrier rests on land seemed to be confirmed immediately by our surroundings. Instead of the smooth, flat surface which the outer wall of the Barrier presents, we here found the surface to be very uneven. We everywhere saw sharp hills, and points between which there were pressure-cracks and depressions filled with large masses of drift. These features were not of recent date. On the contrary, it was easy to see that they were very old and that they must have had their origin at a time which long preceded the period of Ross’s visit.
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