On April 21st the sun disappeared and the longest night began which had ever been experienced by man in the Antarctic.
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.
The part of the Barrier over which we had gone heretofore has an average height of 165 feet and looked like a flat plain which continued with slight undulations without any marked features that could have served for orientation. It has heretofore been the opinion that on such an endless plain no provisions can be cached without risking their loss. If we were, however, to have the slightest chance of reaching our goal we had to establish depots, and that to as great an extent as possible. This question was discussed among us, and we decided to establish signs across our route, and not along it, as has been generally done heretofore. We therefore set up a row of signs at right angles to our route, that is, in an east-west direction from our depots. Two of these signs were placed on opposite sides of each of the three depots, at a distance of 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) from them; and between the signs and the depot two flags were erected for every kilometer. In addition, all flags were marked so that we might know the direction and distance of the depot to which it referred. This provision proved entirely trustworthy; we were able to find our depots even in dense fog. Our compasses and pedometers were tested at the station; we knew that we could rely upon them.
By our excursions to the depots we had gained a great deal. We had not only carried a large amount of provisions toward the south, but we had also gained valuable experience. That was worth more and was to be of value to us on our final advance to the Pole.
The lowest temperature we had observed on these depot excursions was -50° Centigrade. The fact that it was still summer when we recorded this temperature warned us to see that our equipment was in good condition. We also realized that our heavy sleds were too unwieldy and that they could easily be made much lighter. This criticism was equally applicable to the greater part of our equipment.
Several days before the disappearance of the sun were devoted to hunting seal. The total weight of the seals killed amounted to 132,000 pounds. We therefore had ample provisions for ourselves as well as for our 115 dogs.
Our next problem was to supply a protective roof for our dogs. We had brought with us ten large tents in which sixteen men could easily find room. They were set up on the Ice Barrier; the snow was then dug out to a depth of six and a half feet inside the tents, so that each dog hut was nearly twenty feet high. The diameter of a dog hut on the ground was sixteen feet. We made these huts spacious so that they might be as airy as possible, and thus avert the frost which is so injurious to dogs. Our purpose was entirely attained, for even in the severest weather no dogs were frozen. The tents were always warm and comfortable. Twelve dogs were housed in each, and every man had to take care of his own pack.
After we had seen to the wants of the dogs we could then think of ourselves. As early as April the house was entirely covered by snow. In this newly drifted snow, passageways were dug connecting directly with the dog huts. Ample room was thus at our disposal without the need on our part of furnishing building material. We had workshops, a blacksmith shop, a room for sewing, one for packing, a storage room for coal, wood, and oil, a room for regular baths and one for steam baths. The winter might be as cold and stormy as it would; it could do us no harm.
On April 21st the sun disappeared and the longest night began which had ever been experienced by man in the Antarctic. We did not need to fear the long night, for we were well equipped with provisions for years and had a comfortable, well-ventilated, well-situated and protected house. In addition we had our splendid bathroom where we could take a bath every week. It really was a veritable sanatorium.
After these arrangements had been completed we began preparations for the main advance in the following spring. We had to improve our equipment and make it lighter. We discarded all our sleds, for they were too heavy and unwieldy for the smooth surface of the Ice Barrier. Our sleds weighed 165 pounds each. Bjaaland, our ski and sledmaker, took the sleds in hand, and when spring arrived he had entirely made over our sledge equipment. These sleds weighed only one-third as much as the old ones. In the same way it was possible to reduce the weight of all other items of our equipment. Packing the provisions for the sledge journey was of the greatest importance. Captain Johansen attended to this work during the winter. Each of the 42,000 loaves of hard bread had to be handled separately before it could be assigned to its proper place. In this way the winter passed quickly and agreeably. All of us were occupied all the time. Our house was warm, dry, light and airy, and we all enjoyed the best of health. We had no physician and needed none.
Meteorological observations were taken continuously. The results were surprising. We had thought that we should have disagreeable, stormy weather, but this was not the case. During the whole year of our sojourn at the station we experienced only two moderate storms. The rest of the time light breezes prevailed, mainly from an easterly direction. Atmospheric pressure was as a rule very low, but remained constant. The temperature sank considerably, and I deem it probable that the mean annual temperature which we recorded, -26° Centigrade, is the lowest mean temperature which has ever been observed. During five months of the year we recorded temperatures below -50° Centigrade. On August 23d the lowest temperature was recorded, -59°. The aurora australis, corresponding to the northern lights of the Arctic, was observed frequently and in all directions and forms. This phenomenon changed very rapidly, but, except in certain cases, was not very intensive.
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