No man had ever yet seen it, no man had ever yet stood on it. In no direction was a sign to be seen.
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.
On the next day the clouds parted and the sun burst forth. It seemed to us as if we had been transferred to a totally new country. In the direction of our advance rose a large glacier, and to the east of it lay a mountain range running from southeast to northwest. Toward the west, impenetrable fog lay over the glacier and obscured even our immediate surroundings. A measurement by hypsometer gave 8,200 feet for the point lying at the foot of this, the “Devil’s Glacier.” We had therefore descended 2,600 feet since leaving the “Slaughter House.” This was not an agreeable discovery, as we, no doubt, would have to ascend as much again, if not more. We left provisions here for six days and continued our march.
From the camp of that night we had a superb view of the eastern mountain range. Belonging to it we saw a mountain of more wonderful form than I have ever seen before. The altitude of the mountain was 12,300 feet; its peaks roundabout were covered by a glacier. It looked as if Nature, in a fit of anger, had dropped sharp cornered ice blocks on the mountain. This mountain was christened “Helmer-Hansen Mountain,” and became our best point of reference. There we saw also the “Oscar Wisting Mountains,” the “Olav Bjaaland Mountains,” the “Sverre Hassel Mountains,” which, dark and red, glittered in the rays of the midnight sun and reflected a white and blue light. In the distance the mountains seen before loomed up romantically; they looked very high when one saw them through the thick clouds and masses of fog which passed over them from time to time and occasionally allowed us to catch glimpses of their mighty peaks and their broken glaciers. For the first time we saw the “Thorvald Nilsen Mountain,” which has a height of 16,400 feet.
It took us three days to climb the “Devil’s Glacier.” On the first of December we had left behind us this glacier with its crevasses and bottomless pits and were now at an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level. In front of us lay an inclined block-covered ice plateau which, in the fog and snow, had the appearance of a frozen lake. Traveling over this “Devil’s Ball Room,” as we called the plateau, was not particularly pleasant. Southeasterly storms and snow flurries occurred daily, during which we could see absolutely nothing. The floor on which we were walking was hollow beneath us; it sounded as if we were going over empty barrels. We crossed this disagreeable and uncanny region as quickly as was compatible with the great care we had to exercise, for during the whole time we were thinking of the unwelcome possibility of sinking through.
On December 6th we reached our highest point — according to hypsometric measurement 11,024 feet above sea level. From there on the interior plateau remained entirely level and of the same elevation. In 88° 23′ S. we had reached the place which corresponded to Shackleton’s southernmost advance. We camped in 88° 25′ S. and established there our last — the tenth — depot, in which we left 220 pounds of provisions. Our way now gradually led downward. The surface was in excellent condition, entirely level, without a single hill or undulation or other obstacle. Our sleds forged ahead to perfection; the weather was beautiful; we daily covered seventeen miles. Nothing prevented us from increasing our daily distance. But we had time enough and ample provisions; we thought it wiser, also, to spare our dogs and not to work them harder than necessary. Without a mishap we reached the eighty-ninth parallel on December 11th. It seemed as if we had come into a region where good weather constantly prevails. The surest sign of continued calm weather was the absolutely level surface. We could push a tent-pole seven feet deep into the snow without meeting with any resistance. This proved clearly enough that the snow had fallen in equable weather; calm must have prevailed or a slight breeze may have blown at the most. Had the weather been variable — calms alternating with storms — snow strata of different density would have formed, a condition which we would immediately have noticed when driving in our tent-poles.
Our dead reckoning had heretofore always given the same results as our astronomical observations. During the last eight days of our march we had continuous sunshine. Every day we stopped at noon in order to measure the meridian altitude and every evening we made an observation for azimuth. On December 13th the meridian altitude gave 89° 37′, dead reckoning, 89° 38′. In latitude 88° 25′ we had been able to make our last good observation of azimuth. Subsequently this method of observation became valueless. As these last observations gave practically the same result and the difference was almost a constant one, we used the observation made in 88° 25′ as a basis. We calculated that we should reach our goal on December 14th.
December 14th dawned. It seemed to me as if we slept a shorter time, as if we ate breakfast in greater haste, and as if we started earlier on this morning than on the preceding days. As heretofore, we had clear weather, beautiful sunshine, and only a very light breeze. We advanced well. Not much was said. I think that each one of us was occupied with his own thoughts. Probably only one thought dominated us all, a thought which caused us to look eagerly toward the south and to scan the horizon of this unlimited plateau. Were we the first, or — — ?
The distance calculated was covered. Our goal had been reached. Quietly, in absolute silence, the mighty plateau lay stretched out before us. No man had ever yet seen it, no man had ever yet stood on it. In no direction was a sign to be seen. It was indeed a solemn moment when, each of us grasping the flagpole with one hand, we all hoisted the flag of our country on the geographical South Pole, on “King Haakon VII Plateau.”
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