During the night a gale sprang up from the south-east, and blew so that it howled in the guy-ropes of the tent; it was well that the tent-pegs had a good hold. In the morning, while we were at breakfast, it was still blowing, and we had some thoughts of waiting for a time; but suddenly, without warning, the wind dropped to such an extent that all our hesitation vanished. What a change the south-east wind had produced! The splendid covering of snow that the day before had made ski-running a pleasure, was now swept away over great stretches of surface, exposing the hard substratum. Our thoughts flew back; the crampons we had left behind seemed to dance before my eyes, backwards and forwards, grinning and pointing fingers at me. It would be a nice little extra trip back to the Butcher's to fetch them.
Meanwhile, we packed and made everything ready. The tracks of the day before were not easy to follow; but if we lost them now and again on the smooth ice surface, we picked them up later on a snow-wave that had resisted the attack of the wind. It was hard and strenuous work for the drivers. The sledges were difficult to manage over the smooth, sloping ice; sometimes they went straight, but just as often cross-wise, requiring sharp attention to keep them from capsizing. And this had to be prevented at all costs, as the thin provision cases would not stand many bumps on the ice; besides which, it was such hard work righting the sledges again that for this reason alone the drivers exercised the greatest care. The sledges were put to a severe test that day, with the many great and hard irregularities we encountered on the glacier; it is a wonder they survived it, and is a good testimonial for Bjaaland's work.
The glacier that day presented the worst confusion we had yet had to deal with. Hassel and I went in front, as usual, with the rope on. Up to the spot Hanssen and I had reached the evening before our progress was comparatively easy; one gets on so much quicker when one knows that the way is practicable. After this point it became worse; indeed, it was often so bad that we had to stop for a long time and try in various directions, before finding a way. More than once the axe had to be used to hack away obstructions. At one time things looked really serious; chasm after chasm, hummock after hummock, so high and steep that they were like mountains. Here we went out and explored in every direction to find a passage; at last we found one, if, indeed, it deserved the name of a passage. It was a bridge so narrow that it scarcely allowed room for the width of the sledge; a fearful abyss on each side. The crossing of this place reminded me of the tight-rope walker going over Niagara. It was a good thing none of us was subject to giddiness, and that the dogs did not know exactly what the result of a false step would be.
On the other side of this bridge we began to go downhill, and our course now lay in a long valley between lofty undulations on each side. It tried our patience severely to advance here, as the line of the hollow was fairly long and ran due west. We tried several times to lay our course towards the south and clamber up the side of the undulation, but these efforts did not pay us. We could always get up on to the ridge, but we could not come down again on the other side; there was nothing to be done but to follow the natural course of the valley until it took us into the tract lying to the south. It was especially the drivers whose patience was sorely tried, and I could see them now and then take a turn up to the top of the ridge, not satisfied with the exploration Hassel and I had made. But the result was always the same; they had to submit to Nature's caprices and follow in our tracks.
Our course along this natural line was not entirely free from obstruction; crevasses of various dimensions constantly crossed our path. The ridge or undulation, at the top of which we at last arrived, had quite an imposing effect. It terminated on the east in a steep drop to the underlying surface, and attained at this point a height of over 100 feet. On the west it sloped gradually into the lower ground and allowed us to advance that way. In order to have a better view of the surroundings we ascended the eastern and highest part of the ridge, and from here we at once had a confirmation of our supposition of the day before. The ridge we had then seen, behind which we hoped to find better conditions, could now be seen a good way ahead. And what we then saw made our hearts beat fast with joy. Could that great white, unbroken plain over there be real, or was it only an illusion? Time would show.
Meanwhile Hassel and I jogged on, and the others followed. We had to get through a good many difficulties yet before we reached that point, but, compared with all the breakneck places we had already crossed, these were of a comparatively tame description. It was with a sigh of relief that we arrived at the plain that promised so well; its extent was not very great, but we were not very exacting either in this respect, after our last few days' march over the broken surface. Farther to the south we could still see great masses piled up by pressure, but the intervals between them were very great and the surface was whole. This was, then, the first time since we tackled the Devil's Glacier that we were able to steer true south for a few minutes.
As we progressed, it could be seen that we had really come upon another kind of ground; for once we had not been made fools of. Not that we had an unbroken, level surface to go upon — it would be a long time before we came to that — but we were able to keep our course for long stretches at a time. The huge crevasses became rarer, and so filled up at both ends that we were able to cross them without going a long way round. There was new life in all of us, both dogs and men, and we went rapidly southward. As we advanced, the conditions improved more and more. We could see in the distance some huge dome-shaped formations, that seemed to tower high into the air: these turned out to be the southernmost limit of the big crevasses and to form the transition to the third phase of the glacier.
It was a stiff climb to get up these domes, which were fairly high and swept smooth by the wind. They lay straight in our course, and from their tops we had a good view. The surface we were entering upon was quite different from that on the northern side of the domes. Here the big crevasses were entirely filled with snow and might be crossed anywhere. What specially attracted one's attention here was an immense number of small formations in the shape of haycocks. Great stretches of the surface were swept bare, exposing the smooth ice.
It was evident that these various formations or phases in the glacier were due to the underlying ground. The first tract we had passed, where the confusion was so extreme, must be the part that lay nearest the bare land; in proportion as the glacier left the land, it became less disturbed: In the haycock district the disturbance had not produced cracks in the surface to any extent, only upheaval here and there. How these haycocks were formed and what they looked like inside we were soon to find out. It was a pleasure to be able to advance all the time, instead of constantly turning and going round; only once or twice did we have to turn aside for the larger haycocks, otherwise we kept our course. The great, clean-swept stretches of surface that we came upon from time to time were split in every direction, but the cracks were very narrow — about half an inch wide.
We had difficulty in finding a place for the tent that evening; the surface was equally hard everywhere, and at last we had to set it on the bare ice. Luckily for our tent-pegs, this ice was not of the bright, steely variety; it was more milky in appearance and not so hard, and we were thus able to knock in the pegs with the axe. When the tent was up, Hassel went out as usual to fetch snow for the cooker. As a rule he performed this task with a big knife, specially made for snow; but this evening he went out armed with an axe. He was very pleased with the abundant and excellent material that lay to his hand; there was no need to go far. Just outside the tent door, two feet away, stood a fine little haycock, that looked as if it would serve the purpose well. Hassel raised his axe and gave a good sound blow; the axe met with no resistance, and went in up to the haft. The haycock was hollow. As the axe was pulled out the surrounding part gave way, and one could hear the pieces of ice falling down through the dark hole. It appeared, then, that two feet from our door we had a most convenient way down into the cellar. Hassel looked as if he enjoyed the situation. "Black as a sack," he smiled; "couldn't see any bottom." Hanssen was beaming; no doubt he would have liked the tent a little nearer. The material provided by the haycock was of the best quality, and well adapted for cooking purposes.
The next day, December 1, was a very fatiguing one for us all. From early morning a blinding blizzard raged from the south-east, with a heavy fall of snow. The going was of the very worst kind — polished ice. I stumbled forward on ski, and had comparatively easy work. The drivers had been obliged to take off their ski and put them on the loads, so as to walk by the side, support the sledges, and give the dogs help when they came to a difficult place; and that was pretty often, for on this smooth ice surface there were a number of small scattered sastrugi, and these consisted of a kind of snow that reminded one more of fish-glue than of anything else when the sledges came in contact with it. The dogs could get no hold with their claws on the smooth ice, and when the sledge came on to one of these tough little waves, they could not manage to haul it over, try as they might. The driver then had to put all his strength into it to prevent the sledge stopping. Thus in most cases the combined efforts of men and dogs carried the sledge on.
In the course of the afternoon the surface again began to be more disturbed, and great crevasses crossed our path time after time. These crevasses were really rather dangerous; they looked very innocent, as they were quite filled up with snow, but on a nearer acquaintance with them we came to understand that they were far more hazardous than we dreamed of at first. It turned out that between the loose snow-filling and the firm ice edges there was a fairly broad, open space, leading straight down into the depths. The layer of snow which covered it over was in most cases quite thin. In driving out into one of these snow-filled crevasses nothing happened as a rule; but it was in getting off on the other side that the critical moment arrived. For here the dogs came up on to the smooth ice surface, and could get no hold for their claws, with the result that it was left entirely to the driver to haul the the sledge up. The strong pull he then had to give sent him through the thin layer of snow. Under these circumstances he took a good, firm hold of the sledge-lashing, or of a special strap that had been made with a view to these accidents. But familiarity breeds contempt, even with the most cautious, and some of the drivers were often within an ace of going down into "the cellar."
If this part of the journey was trying for the dogs, it was certainly no less so for the men. If the weather had even been fine, so that we could have looked about us, we should not have minded it so much, but in this vile weather it was, indeed, no pleasure. Our time was also a good deal taken up with thawing noses and cheeks as they froze — not that we stopped; we had no time for that. We simply took off a mit, and laid the warm hand on the frozen spot as we went; when we thought we had restored sensation, we put the hand back into the mit. By this time it would want warming. One does not keep one's hands bare for long with the thermometer several degrees below zero and a storm blowing. In spite of the unfavourable conditions we had been working in, the sledge-meters that evening showed a distance of fifteen and a half miles. We were well satisfied with the day's work when we camped.
Let us cast a glance into the tent this evening. It looks cosy enough. The inner half of the tent is occupied by three sleeping-bags, whose respective owners have found it both comfortable and expedient to turn in, and may now be seen engaged with their diaries. The outer half — that nearest the door — has only two sleeping-bags, but the rest of the space is taken up with the whole cooking apparatus of the expedition. The owners of these two bags are still sitting up. Hanssen is cook, and will not turn in until the food is ready and served. Wisting is his sworn comrade and assistant, and is ready to lend him any aid that may be required. Hanssen appears to be a careful cook; he evidently does not like to burn the food, and his spoon stirs the contents of the pot incessantly. "Soup!" The effect of the word is instantaneous. Everyone sits up at once with a cup in one hand and a spoon in the other. Each one in his turn has his cup filled with what looks like the most tasty vegetable soup. Scalding hot it is, as one can see by the faces, but for all that it disappears with surprising rapidity. Again the cups are filled, this time with more solid stuff pemmican. With praiseworthy despatch their contents are once more demolished, and they are filled for the third time. There is nothing the matter with these men's appetites. The cups are carefully scraped, and the enjoyment of bread and water begins. It is easy to see, too, that it is an enjoyment — greater, to judge by the pleasure on their faces, than the most skilfully devised menu could afford. They positively caress the biscuits before they eat them. And the water — ice-cold water they all call for — this also disappears in great quantities, and procures, I feel certain from their expression, a far greater pleasure and satisfaction than the finest wine that was ever produced. The Primus hums softly during the whole meal, and the temperature in the tent is quite pleasant.
When the meal is over, one of them calls for scissors and looking-glass, and then one may see the Polar explorers dressing their hair for the approaching Sunday. The beard is cut quite short with the clipper every Saturday evening; this is done not so much from motives of vanity as from considerations of utility and comfort. The beard invites an accumulation of ice, which may often be very embarrassing. A beard in the Polar regions seems to me to be just as awkward and unpractical as — well, let us say, walking with a tall hat on each foot. As the beard-clipper and the mirror make their round, one after the other disappears into his bag, and with five "Good-nights," silence falls upon the tent. The regular breathing soon announces that the day's work demands its tribute. Meanwhile the south-easter howls, and the snow beats against the tent. The dogs have curled themselves up, and do not seem to trouble themselves about the weather.
The storm continued unabated on the following day, and on account of the dangerous nature of the ground we decided to wait awhile. In the course of the morning — towards noon, perhaps — the wind dropped a little, and out we went. The sun peeped through at times, and we took the welcome opportunity of getting an altitude — 86deg. 47' S. was the result.
At this camp we left behind all our delightful reindeer-skin clothing, as we could see that we should have no use for it, the temperature being far too high. We kept the hoods of our reindeer coats, however; we might be glad of them in going against the wind. Our day's march was not to be a long one; the little slackening of the wind about midday was only a joke. It soon came on again in earnest, with a sweeping blizzard from the same quarter — the south-east. If we had known the ground, we should possibly have gone on; but in this storm and driving snow, which prevented our keeping our eyes open, it was no use. A serious accident might happen and ruin all. Two and half miles was therefore our whole distance. The temperature when we camped was -5.8deg. F. Height above the sea, 9,780 feet.
In the course of the night the wind veered from south-east to north, falling light, and the weather cleared. This was a good chance for us, and we were not slow to avail ourselves of it. A gradually rising ice surface lay before us, bright as a mirror. As on the preceding days, I stumbled along in front on ski, while the others, without their ski, had to follow and support the sledges. The surface still offered filled crevasses, though perhaps less frequently than before. Meanwhile small patches of snow began to show themselves on the polished surface, and soon increased in number and size, until before very long they united and covered the unpleasant ice with a good and even layer of snow. Then ski were put on again, and we continued our way to the south with satisfaction.
We were all rejoicing that we had now conquered this treacherous glacier, and congratulating ourselves on having at last arrived on the actual plateau. As we were going along, feeling pleased about this, a ridge suddenly appeared right ahead, telling us plainly that perhaps all our sorrows were not yet ended. The ground had begun to sink a little, and as we came nearer we could see that we had to cross a rather wide, but not deep, valley before we arrived under the ridge. Great lines of hummocks and haycock-shaped pieces of ice came in view on every side; we could see that we should have to keep our eyes open.
And now we came to the formation in the glacier that we called the Devil's Ballroom. Little by little the covering of snow that we had praised in such high terms disappeared, and before us lay this wide valley, bare and gleaming. At first it went well enough; as it was downhill, we were going at a good pace on the smooth ice. Suddenly Wisting's sledge cut into the surface, and turned over on its side. We all knew what had happened — one of the runners was in a crevasse. Wisting set to work, with the assistance of Hassel, to raise the sledge, and take it out of its dangerous position; meanwhile Bjaaland had got out his camera and was setting it up. Accustomed as we were to such incidents, Hanssen and I were watching the scene from a point a little way in advance, where we had arrived when it happened. As the photography took rather a long time, I assumed that the crevasse was one of the filled ones and presented no particular danger, but that Bjaaland wanted to have a souvenir among his photographs of the numerous crevasses and ticklish situations we had been exposed to. As to the crack being filled up, there was of course no need to inquire. I hailed them, and asked how they were getting on. "Oh, all right," was the answer; "we've just finished." — "What does the crevasse look like?" — "Oh, as usual," they shouted back; "no bottom." I mention this little incident just to show how one can grow accustomed to anything in this world. There were these two — Wisting and Hassel — lying over a yawning, bottomless abyss, and having their photograph taken; neither of them gave a thought to the serious side of the situation. To judge from the laughter and jokes we heard, one would have thought their position was something quite different.
When the photographer had quietly and leisurely finished his work — he got a remarkably good picture of the scene — the other two together raised the sledge, and the journey was continued. It was at this crevasse that we entered his Majesty's Ballroom. The surface did not really look bad. True, the snow was blown away, which made it difficult to advance, but we did not see many cracks. There were a good many pressure-masses, as already mentioned, but even in the neighbourhood of these we could not see any marked disturbance. The first sign that the surface was more treacherous than it appeared to be was when Hanssen's leading dogs went right through the apparently solid floor. They remained hanging by their harness, and were easily pulled up again. When we looked through the hole they had made in the crust, it did not give us the impression of being very dangerous, as, 2 or 3 feet below the outer crust, there lay another surface, which appeared to consist of pulverized ice. We assumed that this lower surface was the solid one, and that therefore there was no danger in falling through the upper one. But Bjaaland was able to tell us a different story. He had, in fact, fallen through the outer crust, and was well on his way through the inner one as well, when he got hold of a loop of rope on his sledge and saved himself in the nick of time. Time after time the dogs now fell through, and time after time the men went in. The effect of the open space between the two crusts was that the ground under our feet sounded unpleasantly hollow as we went over it. The drivers whipped up their dogs as much as they could, and with shouts and brisk encouragement they went rapidly over the treacherous floor. Fortunately this curious formation was not of great extent, and we soon began to observe a change for the better as we came up the ridge. It soon appeared that the Ballroom was the glacier's last farewell to us. With it all irregularities ceased, and both surface and going improved by leaps and bounds, so that before very long we had the satisfaction of seeing that at last we had really conquered all these unpleasant difficulties. The surface at once became fine and even, with a splendid covering of snow everywhere, and we went rapidly on our way to the south with a feeling of security and safety.
At the Pole
In lat. 87deg. S. — according to dead reckoning — we saw the last of the land to the north-east. The atmosphere was then apparently as clear as could be, and we felt certain that our view covered all the land there was to be seen from that spot. We were deceived again on this occasion, as will be seen later. Our distance that day (December 4) was close upon twenty-five miles; height above the sea, 10,100 feet.
The weather did not continue fine for long. Next day (December 5) there was a gale from the north, and once more the whole plain was a mass of drifting snow. In addition to this there was thick falling snow, which blinded us and made things worse, but a feeling of security had come over us and helped us to advance rapidly and without hesitation, although we could see nothing. That day we encountered new surface conditions — big, hard snow-waves (sastrugi). These were anything but pleasant to work among, especially when one could not see them. It was of no use for us "forerunners" to think of going in advance under these circumstances, as it was impossible to keep on one's feet. Three or four paces was often the most we managed to do before falling down. The sastrugi were very high, and often abrupt; if one came on them unexpectedly, one required to be more than an acrobat to keep on one's feet. The plan we found to work best in these conditions was to let Hanssen's dogs go first; this was an unpleasant job for Hanssen, and for his dogs too, but it succeeded, and succeeded well. An upset here and there was, of course, unavoidable, but with a little patience the sledge was always righted again. The drivers had as much as they could do to support their sledges among these sastrugi, but while supporting the sledges, they had at the same time a support for themselves. It was worse for us who had no sledges, but by keeping in the wake of them we could see where the irregularities lay, and thus get over them. Hanssen deserves a special word of praise for his driving on this surface in such weather. It is a difficult matter to drive Eskimo dogs forward when they cannot see; but Hanssen managed it well, both getting the dogs on and steering his course by compass. One would not think it possible to keep an approximately right course when the uneven ground gives such violent shocks that the needle flies several times round the compass, and is no sooner still again than it recommences the same dance; but when at last we got an observation, it turned out that Hanssen had steered to a hair, for the observations and dead reckoning agreed to a mile. In spite of all hindrances, and of being able to see nothing, the sledge-meters showed nearly twenty-five miles. The hypsometer showed 11,070 feet above the sea; we had therefore reached a greater altitude than the Butcher's.
December 6 brought the same weather: thick snow, sky and plain all one, nothing to be seen. Nevertheless we made splendid progress. The sastrugi gradually became levelled out, until the surface was perfectly smooth; it was a relief to have even ground to go upon once more. These irregularities that one was constantly falling over were a nuisance; if we had met with them in our usual surroundings it would not have mattered so much; but up here on the high ground, where we had to stand and gasp for breath every time we rolled over, it was certainly not pleasant.
That day we passed 88deg. S., and camped in 88deg. 9' S. A great surprise awaited us in the tent that evening. I expected to find, as on the previous evening, that the boiling-point had fallen somewhat; in other words, that it would show a continued rise of the ground, but to our astonishment this was not so. The water boiled at exactly the same temperature as on the preceding day. I tried it several times, to convince myself that there was nothing wrong, each time with the same result. There was great rejoicing among us all when I was able to announce that we had arrived on the top of the plateau.
December 7 began like the 6th, with absolutely thick weather, but, as they say, you never know what the day is like before sunset. Possibly I might have chosen a better expression than this last — one more in agreement with the natural conditions — but I will let it stand. Though for several weeks now the sun had not set, my readers will not be so critical as to reproach me with inaccuracy. With a light wind from the north-east, we now went southward at a good speed over the perfectly level plain, with excellent going. The uphill work had taken it out of our dogs, though not to any serious extent. They had turned greedy — there is no denying that — and the half kilo of pemmican they got each day was not enough to fill their stomachs. Early and late they were looking for something — no matter what — to devour. To begin with they contented themselves with such loose objects as ski-bindings, whips, boots, and the like; but as we came to know their proclivities, we took such care of everything that they found no extra meals lying about. But that was not the end of the matter. They then went for the fixed lashings of the sledges, and — if we had allowed it — would very quickly have resolved the various sledges into their component parts. But we found a way of stopping that: every evening, on halting, the sledges were buried in the snow, so as to hide all the lashings. That was successful; curiously enough, they never tried to force the "snow rampart." I may mention as a curious thing that these ravenous animals, that devoured everything they came across, even to the ebonite points of our ski-sticks, never made any attempt to break into the provision cases. They lay there and went about among the sledges with their noses just on a level with the split cases, seeing and scenting the pemmican, without once making a sign of taking any. But if one raised a lid, they were not long in showing themselves. Then they all came in a great hurry and flocked about the sledges in the hope of getting a little extra bit. I am at a loss to explain this behaviour; that bashfulness was not at the root of it, I am tolerably certain.
During the forenoon the thick, grey curtain of cloud began to grow thinner on the horizon, and for the first time for three days we could see a few miles about us. The feeling was something like that one has on waking from a good nap, rubbing one's eyes and looking around. We had become so accustomed to the grey twilight that this positively dazzled us. Meanwhile, the upper layer of air seemed obstinately to remain the same and to be doing its best to prevent the sun from showing itself. We badly wanted to get a meridian altitude, so that we could determine our latitude. Since 86deg. 47' S. we had had no observation, and it was not easy to say when we should get one. Hitherto, the weather conditions on the high ground had not been particularly favourable. Although the prospects were not very promising, we halted at 11 a.m. and made ready to catch the sun if it should be kind enough to look out. Hassel and Wisting used one sextant and artificial horizon, Hanssen and I the other set.
I don't know that I have ever stood and absolutely pulled at the sun to get it out as I did that time. If we got an observation here which agreed with our reckoning, then it would be possible, if the worst came to the worst, to go to the Pole on dead reckoning; but if we got none now, it was a question whether our claim to the Pole would be admitted on the dead reckoning we should be able to produce. Whether my pulling helped or not, it is certain that the sun appeared. It was not very brilliant to begin with, but, practised as we now were in availing ourselves of even the poorest chances, it was good enough. Down it came, was checked by all, and the altitude written down. The curtain of cloud was rent more and more, and before we had finished our work — that is to say, caught the sun at its highest, and convinced ourselves that it was descending again — it was shining in all its glory. We had put away our instruments and were sitting on the sledges, engaged in the calculations. I can safely say that we were excited. What would the result be, after marching blindly for so long and over such impossible ground, as we had been doing? We added and subtracted, and at last there was the result. We looked at each other in sheer incredulity: the result was as astonishing as the most consummate conjuring trick — 88deg. 16' S., precisely to a minute the same as our reckoning, 88deg. 16' S. If we were forced to go to the Pole on dead reckoning, then surely the most exacting would admit our right to do so. We put away our observation books, ate one or two biscuits, and went at it again.
We had a great piece of work before us that day nothing less than carrying our flag farther south than the foot of man had trod. We had our silk flag ready; it was made fast to two ski-sticks and laid on Hanssen's sledge. I had given him orders that as soon as we had covered the distance to 88deg.S., which was Shackleton's farthest south, the flag was to be hoisted on his sledge. It was my turn as forerunner, and I pushed on. There was no longer any difficulty in holding one's course; I had the grandest cloud-formations to steer by, and everything now went like a machine. First came the forerunner for the time being, then Hanssen, then Wisting, and finally Bjaaland. The forerunner who was not on duty went where he liked; as a rule he accompanied one or other of the sledges. I had long ago fallen into a reverie — far removed from the scene in which I was moving; what I thought about I do not remember now, but I was so preoccupied that I had entirely forgotten my surroundings. Then suddenly I was roused from my dreaming by a jubilant shout, followed by ringing cheers. I turned round quickly to discover the reason of this unwonted occurrence, and stood speechless and overcome.
I find it impossible to express the feelings that possessed me at this moment. All the sledges had stopped, and from the foremost of them the Norwegian flag was flying. It shook itself out, waved and flapped so that the silk rustled; it looked wonderfully well in the pure, clear air and the shining white surroundings. 88deg. 23' was past; we were farther south than any human being had been. No other moment of the whole trip affected me like this. The tears forced their way to my eyes; by no effort of will could I keep them back. It was the flag yonder that conquered me and my will. Luckily I was some way in advance of the others, so that I had time to pull myself together and master my feelings before reaching my comrades. We all shook hands, with mutual congratulations; we had won our way far by holding together, and we would go farther yet — to the end.
We did not pass that spot without according our highest tribute of admiration to the man, who — together with his gallant companions — had planted his country's flag so infinitely nearer to the goal than any of his precursors. Sir Ernest Shackleton's name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire. Pluck and grit can work wonders, and I know of no better example of this than what that man has accomplished.
The cameras of course had to come out, and we got an excellent photograph of the scene which none of us will ever forget. We went on a couple of miles more, to 88deg. 25', and then camped. The weather had improved, and kept on improving all the time. It was now almost perfectly calm, radiantly clear, and, under the circumstances, quite summer-like: -0.4deg. F. Inside the tent it was quite sultry. This was more than we had expected.
After much consideration and discussion we had come to the conclusion that we ought to lay down a depot — the last one — at this spot. The advantages of lightening our sledges were so great that we should have to risk it. Nor would there be any great risk attached to it, after all, since we should adopt a system of marks that would lead even a blind man back to the place. We had determined to mark it not only at right angles to our course — that is, from east to west — but by snow beacons at every two geographical miles to the south.
We stayed here on the following day to arrange this depot. Hanssen's dogs were real marvels, all of them; nothing seemed to have any effect on them. They had grown rather thinner, of course, but they were still as strong as ever. It was therefore decided not to lighten Hanssen's sledge, but only the two others; both Wisting's and Bjaaland's teams had suffered, especially the latter's. The reduction in weight that was effected was considerable — nearly 110 pounds on each of the two sledges; there was thus about 220 pounds in the depot. The snow here was ill-adapted for building, but we put up quite a respectable monument all the same. It was dogs' pemmican and biscuits that were left behind; we carried with us on the sledges provisions for about a month. If, therefore, contrary to expectation, we should be so unlucky as to miss this depot, we should nevertheless be fairly sure of reaching our depot in 86deg. 21' before supplies ran short. The cross-marking of the depot was done with sixty splinters of black packing-case on each side, with 100 paces between each. Every other one had a shred of black cloth on the top. The splinters on the east side were all marked, so that on seeing them we should know instantly that we were to the east of the depot. Those on the west had no marks.
The warmth of the past few days seemed to have matured our frost-sores, and we presented an awful appearance. It was Wisting, Hanssen, and I who had suffered the worst damage in the last south-east blizzard; the left side of our faces was one mass of sore, bathed in matter and serum. We looked like the worst type of tramps and ruffians, and would probably not have been recognized by our nearest relations. These sores were a great trouble to us during the latter part of the journey. The slightest gust of wind produced a sensation as if one's face were being cut backwards and forwards with a blunt knife. They lasted a long time, too; I can remember Hanssen removing the last scab when we were coming into Hobart — three months later. We were very lucky in the weather during this depot work; the sun came out all at once, and we had an excellent opportunity of taking some good azimuth observations, the last of any use that we got on the journey.
December 9 arrived with the same fine weather and sunshine. True, we felt our frost-sores rather sharply that day, with -18.4deg. F. and a little breeze dead against us, but that could not be helped. We at once began to put up beacons — a work which was continued with great regularity right up to the Pole. These beacons were not so big as those we had built down on the Barrier; we could see that they would be quite large enough with a height of about 3 feet, as it was, very easy to see the slightest irregularity on this perfectly flat surface. While thus engaged we had an opportunity of becoming thoroughly acquainted with the nature of the snow. Often — very often indeed — on this part of the plateau, to the south of 88deg. 25', we had difficulty in getting snow good enough — that is, solid enough for cutting blocks. The snow up here seemed to have fallen very quietly, in light breezes or calms. We could thrust the tent-pole, which was 6 feet long, right down without meeting resistance, which showed that there was no hard layer of snow. The surface was also perfectly level; there was not a sign of sastrugi in any direction.
Every step we now took in advance brought us rapidly nearer the goal; we could feel fairly certain of reaching it on the afternoon of the 14th. It was very natural that our conversation should be chiefly concerned with the time of arrival. None of us would admit that he was nervous, but I am inclined to think that we all had a little touch of that malady. What should we see when we got there? A vast, endless plain, that no eye had yet seen and no foot yet trodden; or — No, it was an impossibility; with the speed at which we had travelled, we must reach the goal first, there could be no doubt about that. And yet — and yet — Wherever there is the smallest loophole, doubt creeps in and gnaws and gnaws and never leaves a poor wretch in peace. "What on earth is Uroa scenting?" It was Bjaaland who made this remark, on one of these last days, when I was going by the side of his sledge and talking to him. "And the strange thing is that he's scenting to the south. It can never be — " Mylius, Ring, and Suggen, showed the same interest in the southerly direction; it was quite extraordinary to see how they raised their heads, with every sign of curiosity, put their noses in the air, and sniffed due south. One would really have thought there was something remarkable to be found there.
From 88deg. 25' S. the barometer and hypsometer indicated slowly but surely that the plateau was beginning to descend towards the other side. This was a pleasant surprise to us; we had thus not only found the very summit of the plateau, but also the slope down on the far side. This would have a very important bearing for obtaining an idea of the construction of the whole plateau. On December 9 observations and dead reckoning agreed within a mile. The same result again on the 10th: observation 2 kilometres behind reckoning. The weather and going remained about the same as on the preceding days: light south-easterly breeze, temperature -18.4deg. F. The snow surface was loose, but ski and sledges glided over it well. On the 11th, the same weather conditions. Temperature -13deg. F. Observation and reckoning again agreed exactly. Our latitude was 89deg. 15' S. On the 12th we reached 89deg. 30', reckoning 1 kilometre behind observation. Going and surface as good as ever. Weather splendid — calm with sunshine. The noon observation on the 13th gave 89deg. 37' S. Reckoning 89deg. 38.5' S. We halted in the afternoon, after going eight geographical miles, and camped in 89deg. 45', according to reckoning.
The weather during the forenoon had been just as fine as before; in the afternoon we had some snow-showers from the south-east. It was like the eve of some great festival that night in the tent. One could feel that a great event was at hand. Our flag was taken out again and lashed to the same two ski-sticks as before. Then it was rolled up and laid aside, to be ready when the time came. I was awake several times during the night, and had the same feeling that I can remember as a little boy on the night before Christmas Eve — an intense expectation of what was going to happen. Otherwise I think we slept just as well that night as any other.
On the morning of December 14 the weather was of the finest, just as if it had been made for arriving at the Pole. I am not quite sure, but I believe we despatched our breakfast rather more quickly than usual and were out of the tent sooner, though I must admit that we always accomplished this with all reasonable haste. We went in the usual order — the forerunner, Hanssen, Wisting, Bjaaland, and the reserve forerunner. By noon we had reached 89deg. 53' by dead reckoning, and made ready to take the rest in one stage. At 10 a.m. a light breeze had sprung up from the south-east, and it had clouded over, so that we got no noon altitude; but the clouds were not thick, and from time to time we had a glimpse of the sun through them. The going on that day was rather different from what it had been; sometimes the ski went over it well, but at others it was pretty bad. We advanced that day in the same mechanical way as before; not much was said, but eyes were used all the more. Hanssen's neck grew twice as long as before in his endeavour to see a few inches farther. I had asked him before we started to spy out ahead for all he was worth, and he did so with a vengeance. But, however keenly he stared, he could not descry anything but the endless flat plain ahead of us. The dogs had dropped their scenting, and appeared to have lost their interest in the regions about the earth's axis.
At three in the afternoon a simultaneous "Halt!" rang out from the drivers. They had carefully examined their sledge-meters, and they all showed the full distance — our Pole by reckoning. The goal was reached, the journey ended. 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?
We reckoned now that we were at the Pole. Of course, every one of us knew that we were not standing on the absolute spot; it would be an impossibility with the time and the instruments at our disposal to ascertain that exact spot. But we were so near it that the few miles which possibly separated us from it could not be of the slightest importance. It was our intention to make a circle round this camp, with a radius of twelve and a half miles (20 kilometres), and to be satisfied with that. After we had halted we collected and congratulated each other. We had good grounds for mutual respect in what had been achieved, and I think that was just the feeling that was expressed in the firm and powerful grasps of the fist that were exchanged. After this we proceeded to the greatest and most solemn act of the whole journey — the planting of our flag. 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.
One gets out of the way of protracted ceremonies in those regions — the shorter they are the better. Everyday life began again at once. When we had got the tent up, Hanssen set about slaughtering Helge, and it was hard for him to have to part from his best friend. Helge had been an uncommonly useful and good-natured dog; without making any fuss he had pulled from morning to night, and had been a shining example to the team. But during the last week he had quite fallen away, and on our arrival at the Pole there was only a shadow of the old Helge left. He was only a drag on the others, and did absolutely no work. One blow on the skull, and Helge had ceased to live. "What is death to one is food to another," is a saying that can scarcely find a better application than these dog meals. Helge was portioned out on the spot, and within a couple of hours there was nothing left of him but his teeth and the tuft at the end of his tail. This was the second of our eighteen dogs that we had lost. The Major, one of Wisting's fine dogs, left us in 88)deg) 25' S., and never returned. He was fearfully worn out, and must have gone away to die. We now had sixteen dogs left, and these we intended to divide into two equal teams, leaving Bjaaland's sledge behind.
Of course, there was a festivity in the tent that evening — not that champagne corks were popping and wine flowing — no, we contented ourselves with a little piece of seal meat each, and it tasted well and did us good. There was no other sign of festival indoors. Outside we heard the flag flapping in the breeze. Conversation was lively in the tent that evening, and we talked of many things. Perhaps, too, our thoughts sent messages home of what we had done.
Everything we had with us had now to be marked with the words "South Pole" and the date, to serve afterwards as souvenirs. Wisting proved to be a first-class engraver, and many were the articles he had to mark. Tobacco — in the form of smoke — had hitherto never made its appearance in the tent. From time to time I had seen one or two of the others take a quid, but now these things were to be altered. I had brought with me an old briar pipe, which bore inscriptions from many places in the Arctic regions, and now I wanted it marked "South Pole." When I produced my pipe and was about to mark it, I received an unexpected gift Wisting offered me tobacco for the rest of the journey. He had some cakes of plug in his kit-bag, which he would prefer to see me smoke. Can anyone grasp what such an offer meant at such a spot, made to a man who, to tell the truth, is very fond of a smoke after meals? There are not many who can understand it fully. I accepted the offer, jumping with joy, and on the way home I had a pipe of fresh, fine-cut plug every evening. Ah! that Wisting, he spoiled me entirely. Not only did he give me tobacco, but every evening — and I must confess I yielded to the temptation after a while, and had a morning smoke as well — he undertook the disagreeable work of cutting the plug and filling my pipe in all kinds of weather.
But we did not let our talk make us forget other things. As we had got no noon altitude, we should have to try and take one at midnight. The weather had brightened again, and it looked as if midnight would be a good time for the observation. We therefore crept into our bags to get a little nap in the intervening hours. In good time — soon after 11 p.m. — we were out again, and ready to catch the sun; the weather was of the best, and the opportunity excellent. We four navigators all had a share in it, as usual, and stood watching the course of the sun. This was a labour of patience, as the difference of altitude was now very slight. The result at which we finally arrived was of great interest, as it clearly shows how unreliable and valueless a single observation like this is in these regions. At 12.30 a.m. we put our instruments away, well satisfied with our work, and quite convinced that it was the midnight altitude that we had observed. The calculations which were carried out immediately afterwards gave us 89deg. 56' S. We were all well pleased with this result.
The arrangement now was that we should encircle this camp with a radius of about twelve and a half miles. By encircling I do not, of course, mean that we should go round in a circle with this radius; that would have taken us days, and was not to be thought of. The encircling was accomplished in this way: Three men went out in three different directions, two at right angles to the course we had been steering, and one in continuation of that course. To carry out this work I had chosen Wisting, Hassel, and Bjaaland. Having concluded our observations, we put the kettle on to give ourselves a drop of chocolate; the pleasure of standing out there in rather light attire had not exactly put warmth into our bodies. As we were engaged in swallowing the scalding drink, Bjaaland suddenly observed: "I'd like to tackle this encircling straight away. We shall have lots of time to sleep when we get back." Hassel and Wisting were quite of the same opinion, and it was agreed that they should start the work immediately. Here we have yet another example of the good spirit that prevailed in our little community. We had only lately come in from our day's work — a march of about eighteen and a half miles — and now they were asking to be allowed to go on another twenty-five miles. It seemed as if these fellows could never be tired. We therefore turned this meal into a little breakfast — that is to say, each man ate what he wanted of his bread ration, and then they began to get ready for the work. First, three small bags of light windproof stuff were made, and in each of these was placed a paper, giving the position of our camp. In addition, each of them carried a large square flag of the same dark brown material, which could be easily seen at a distance. As flag-poles we elected to use our spare sledge-runners, which were both long — 12 feet — and strong, and which we were going to take off here in any case, to lighten the sledges as much as possible for the return journey.
Thus equipped, and with thirty biscuits as an extra ration, the three men started off in the directions laid down. Their march was by no means free from danger, and does great honour to those who undertook it, not merely without raising the smallest objection, but with the greatest keenness. Let us consider for a moment the risk they ran. Our tent on the boundless plain, without marks of any kind, may very well be compared with a needle in a haystack. From this the three men were to steer out for a distance of twelve and a half miles. Compasses would have been good things to take on such a walk, but our sledge-compasses were too heavy and unsuitable for carrying. They therefore had to go without. They had the sun to go by, certainly, when they started, but who could say how long it would last? The weather was then fine enough, but it was impossible to guarantee that no sudden change would take place. If by bad luck the sun should be hidden, then their own tracks might help them. But to trust to tracks in these regions is a dangerous thing. Before you know where you are the whole plain may be one mass of driving snow, obliterating all tracks as soon as they are made. With the rapid changes of weather we had so often experienced, such a thing was not impossible. That these three risked their lives that morning, when they left the tent at 2.30, there can be no doubt at all, and they all three knew it very well. But if anyone thinks that on this account they took a solemn farewell of us who stayed behind, he is much mistaken. Not a bit; they all vanished in their different directions amid laughter and chaff.
The first thing we did — Hanssen and I — was to set about arranging a lot of trifling matters; there was something to be done here, something there, and above all we had to be ready for the series of observations we were to carry out together, so as to get as accurate a determination of our position as possible. The first observation told us at once how necessary this was. For it turned out that this, instead of giving us a greater altitude than the midnight observation, gave us a smaller one, and it was then clear that we had gone out of the meridian we thought we were following. Now the first thing to be done was to get our north and south line and latitude determined, so that we could find our position once more. Luckily for us, the weather looked as if it would hold. We measured the sun's altitude at every hour from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from these observations found, with some degree of certainty, our latitude and the direction of the meridian.
By nine in the morning we began to expect the return of our comrades; according to our calculation they should then have covered the distance — twenty-five miles. It was not till ten o'clock that Hanssen made out the first black dot on the horizon, and not long after the second and third appeared. We both gave a sigh of relief as they came on; almost simultaneously the three arrived at the tent. We told them the result of our observations up to that time; it looked as if our camp was in about 89deg. 54' 30'' S., and that with our encircling we had therefore included the actual Pole. With this result we might very well have been content, but as the weather was so good and gave the impression that it would continue so, and our store of provisions proved on examination to be very ample, we decided to go on for the remaining ten kilometres (five and a half geographical miles), and get our position determined as near to the Pole as possible. Meanwhile the three wanderers turned in — not so much because they were tired, as because it was the right thing to do — and Hanssen and I continued the series of observations.
In the afternoon we again went very carefully through our provision supply before discussing the future. The result was that we had food enough for ourselves and the dogs for eighteen days. The surviving sixteen dogs were divided into two teams of eight each, and the contents of Bjaaland's sledge were shared between Hanssen's and Wisting's. The abandoned sledge was set upright in the snow, and proved to be a splendid mark. The sledge-meter was screwed to the sledge, and we left it there; our other two were quite sufficient for the return journey; they had all shown themselves very accurate. A couple of empty provision cases were also left behind. I wrote in pencil on a piece of case the information that our tent — "Polheim" — would be found five and a half geographical miles north-west quarter west by compass from the sledge. Having put all these things in order the same day, we turned in, very well satisfied.
Early next morning, December 16, we were on our feet again. Bjaaland, who had now left the company of the drivers and been received with jubilation into that of the forerunners, was immediately entrusted with the honourable task of leading the expedition forward to the Pole itself. I assigned this duty, which we all regarded as a distinction, to him as a mark of gratitude to the gallant Telemarkers for their pre-eminent work in the advancement of ski spot. The leader that day had to keep as straight as a line, and if possible to follow the direction of our meridian. A little way after Bjaaland came Hassel, then Hanssen, then Wisting, and I followed a good way behind. I could thus check the direction of the march very accurately, and see that no great deviation was made. Bjaaland on this occasion showed himself a matchless forerunner; he went perfectly straight the whole time. Not once did he incline to one side or the other, and when we arrived at the end of the distance, we could still clearly see the sledge we had set up and take its bearing. This showed it to be absolutely in the right direction.
It was 11 a.m. when we reached our destination. While some of us were putting up the tent, others began to get everything ready for the coming observations. A solid snow pedestal was put up, on which the artificial horizon was to be placed, and a smaller one to rest the sextant on when it was not in use. At 11.30 a.m. the first observation was taken. We divided ourselves into two parties — Hanssen and I in one, Hassel and Wisting in the other. While one party slept, the other took the observations, and the watches were of six hours each. The weather was altogether grand, though the sky was not perfectly bright the whole time. A very light, fine, vaporous curtain would spread across the sky from time to time, and then quickly disappear again. This film of cloud was not thick enough to hide the sun, which we could see the whole time, but the atmosphere seemed to be disturbed. The effect of this was that the sun appeared not to change its altitude for several hours, until it suddenly made a jump.
Observations were now taken every hour through the whole twenty-four. It was very strange to turn in at 6 p.m., and then on turning out again at midnight to find the sun apparently still at the same altitude, and then once more at 6 a.m. to see it still no higher. The altitude had changed, of course, but so slightly that it was imperceptible with the naked eye. To us it appeared as though the sun made the circuit of the heavens at exactly the same altitude. The times of day that I have given here are calculated according to the meridian of Framheim; we continued to reckon our time from this. The observations soon told us that we were not on the absolute Pole, but as close to it as we could hope to get with our instruments. The observations, which have been submitted to Mr. Anton Alexander, will be published, and the result given later in this book.
On December 17 at noon we had completed our observations, and it is certain that we had done all that could be done. In order if possible to come a few inches nearer to the actual Pole, Hanssen and Bjaaland went out four geographical miles (seven kilometres) in the direction of the newly found meridian.
Bjaaland astonished me at dinner that day. Speeches had not hitherto been a feature of this journey, but now Bjaaland evidently thought the time had come, and surprised us all with a really fine oration. My amazement reached its culmination when, at the conclusion of his speech, he produced a cigar-case full of cigars and offered it round. A cigar at the Pole! What do you say to that? But it did not end there. When the cigars had gone round, there were still four left. I was quite touched when he handed the case and cigars to me with the words: "Keep this to remind you of the Pole." I have taken good care of the case, and shall preserve it as one of the many happy signs of my comrades' devotion on this journey. The cigars I shared out afterwards, on Christmas Eve, and they gave us a visible mark of that occasion.
When this festival dinner at the Pole was ended, we began our preparations for departure. First we set up the little tent we had brought with us in case we should be compelled to divide into two parties. It had been made by our able sailmaker, Rionne, and was of very thin windproof gabardine. Its drab colour made it easily visible against the white surface. Another pole was lashed to the tent-pole, making its total height about 13 feet. On the top of this a little Norwegian flag was lashed fast, and underneath it a pennant, on which "Fram" was painted. The tent was well secured with guy-ropes on all sides. Inside the tent, in a little bag, I left a letter, addressed to H.M. the King, giving information of what we had accomplished. The way home was a long one, and so many things might happen to make it impossible for us to give an account of our expedition. Besides this letter, I wrote a short epistle to Captain Scott, who, I assumed, would be the first to find the tent. Other things we left there were a sextant with a glass horizon, a hypsometer case, three reindeer-skin foot-bags, some kamiks and mits.
When everything had been laid inside, we went into the tent, one by one, to write our names on a tablet we had fastened to the tent-pole. On this occasion we received the congratulations of our companions on the successful result, for the following messages were written on a couple of strips of leather, sewed to the tent
"Good luck," and "Welcome to 90deg.." These good wishes, which we suddenly discovered, put us in very good spirits. They were signed by Beck and Ronne. They had good faith in us. When we had finished this we came out, and the tent-door was securely laced together, so that there was no danger of the wind getting a hold on that side.
And so good-bye to Polheim. It was a solemn moment when we bared our heads and bade farewell to our home and our flag. And then the travelling tent was taken down and the sledges packed. Now the homeward journey was to begin — homeward, step by step, mile after mile, until the whole distance was accomplished. We drove at once into our old tracks and followed them. Many were the times we turned to send a last look to Polheim. The vaporous, white air set in again, and it was not long before the last of Polheim, our little flag, disappeared from view.
The Return to Framheim
The going was splendid and all were in good spirits, so we went along at a great pace. One would almost have thought the dogs knew they were homeward bound. A mild, summer-like wind, with a temperature of -22deg. F., was our last greeting from the Pole.
When we came to our last camp, where the sledge was left, we stopped and took a few things with us. From this point we came into the line of beacons. Our tracks had already become very indistinct, but, thanks to his excellent sight, Bjaaland kept in them quite well. The beacons, however, served their purpose so satisfactorily that the tracks were almost superfluous. Although these beacons were not more than about 3 feet high, they were extremely conspicuous on the level surface. When the sun was on them, they shone like electric lighthouses; and when the sun was on the other side, they looked so dark in the shadow that one would have taken them for black rocks. We intended in future to travel at night; the advantages of this were many and great. In the first place, we should have the sun behind us, which meant a good deal to our eyes. Going against the sun on a snow surface like this tells fearfully on the eyes, even if one has good snow-goggles; but with the sun at one's back it is only play. Another great advantage — which we did not reap till later — was that it gave us the warmest part of the twenty-four hours in the tent, during which time we had an opportunity of drying wet clothes, and so on. This last advantage was, however, a doubtful one, as we shall see in due course.
It was a great comfort to turn our backs to the south. The wind, which had nearly always been in this quarter, had often been very painful to our cracked faces; now we should always have it at our backs, and it would help us on our way, besides giving our faces time to heal. Another thing we were longing for was to come down to the Barrier again, so that we could breathe freely. Up here we were seldom able to draw a good long breath; if we only had to say "Yes," we had to do it in two instalments. The asthmatic condition in which we found ourselves during our six weeks' stay on the plateau was anything but pleasant. We had fixed fifteen geographical miles (seventeen and three-eighths statute miles) as a suitable day's march on the homeward journey. We had, of course, many advantages now as compared with the southward journey, which would have enabled us to do longer marches than this; but we were afraid of overworking the dogs, and possibly using them up before we had gone very far, if we attempted too great a distance daily. It soon proved, however, that we had underestimated our dogs' powers; it only took us five hours to cover the appointed distance, and our rest was therefore a long one.
On December 19 we killed the first dog on the homeward trip. This was Lasse, my own favourite dog. He had worn himself out completely, and was no longer worth anything. He was divided into fifteen portions, as nearly equal as possible, and given to his companions. They had now learnt to set great store by fresh meat, and it is certain that the extra feeds, like this one, that took place from time to time on the way home, had no small share in the remarkably successful result. They seemed to benefit by these meals of fresh meat for several days afterwards, and worked much more easily.
December 20 began with bitter weather, a breeze from the south-east, grey and thick. We lost the trail, and for some time had to go by compass. But as usual it suddenly cleared, and once more the plain lay before us, light and warm. Yes, too warm it was. We had to take off everything — nearly — and still the sweat poured off us. It was not for long that we were uncertain of the way: our excellent beacons did us brilliant service, and one after another they came up on the horizon, flashed and shone, and drew us on to our all-important depot in 88deg. 25' S. We were now going slightly uphill, but so slightly that it was unnoticeable. The hypsometer and barometer, however, were not to be deceived, and both fell in precisely the same degree as they had risen before. Even if we had not exactly noticed the rise, the feeling of it was present. It may perhaps be called imagination, but I certainly thought I could notice the rise by my breathing.
Our appetite had increased alarmingly during the last few days. It appeared that we ski-runners evinced a far greater voracity than the drivers. There were days — only a few days, be it said — when I believe any of us three — Bjaaland, Hassel, and myself — would have swallowed pebbles without winking. The drivers never showed such signs of starvation. It has occurred to me that this may possibly have been due to their being able to lean on the sledges as they went along, and thus have a rest and support which we had to do without. It seems little enough simply to rest one's hand on a sledge on the march, but in the long run, day after day, it may perhaps make itself felt. Fortunately we were so well supplied that when this sensation of hunger came over us, we could increase our daily rations. On leaving the Pole we added to our pemmican ration, with the result that our wild-beast appetites soon gave way and shrank to an ordinary good, everyday twist. Our daily programme on entering upon the return journey was so arranged that we began to get breakfast ready at 6 p.m., and by 8 p.m. we were usually quite ready to start the day's march. An hour or so after midnight the fifteen geographical miles were accomplished, and we could once more put up our tent, cook our food, and seek our rest. But this rest soon became so insufferably long. And then there was the fearful heat — considering the circumstances — which often made us get out of our sleeping-bags and lie with nothing over us. These rests of twelve, fourteen, sometimes as much as sixteen hours, were what most tried our patience during the early part of the return journey. We could see so well that all this rest was unnecessary, but still we kept it up as long as we were on the high ground. Our conversation at this time used to turn very often on the best way of filling up these long, unnecessary waits.
That day — December 20 — Per — good, faithful, conscientious Per — broke down utterly and had to be taken on the sledge the last part of the way. On arrival at the camping-ground he had his reward. A little blow of the back of the axe was enough for him; without making a sound the worn-out animal collapsed. In him Wisting lost one of his best dogs. He was a curious animal — always went about quietly and peaceably, and never took part in the others' battles; from his looks and behaviour one would have judged him, quite mistakenly, to be a queer sort of beast who was good for nothing. But when he was in harness he showed what he could do. Without needing any shouts or cuts of the whip, he put himself into it from morning to night, and was priceless as a draught dog. But, like others of the same character, he could not keep it going any longer; he collapsed, was killed and eaten.
Christmas Eve was rapidly approaching. For us it could not be particularly festive, but we should have to try to make as much of it as circumstances would permit. We ought, therefore, to reach our depot that evening, so as to keep Christmas with a dish of porridge. The night before Christmas Eve we slaughtered Svartflekken. There was no mourning on this occasion Svartflekken was one of Hassel's dogs, and had always been a reprobate. I find the following in my diary, written the same evening: "Slaughtered Svartflekken this evening. He would not do any more, although there was not much wrong with his looks. Bad character. If a man, he would have ended in penal servitude." He was comparatively fat, and was consumed with evident satisfaction.
Christmas Eve came; the weather was rather changeable — now overcast, now clear — when we set out at 8 p.m. the night before. We had not far to go before reaching our depot. At 12 midnight we arrived there in the most glorious weather, calm and warm. Now we had the whole of Christmas Eve before us, and could enjoy it at our ease. Our depot was at once taken down and divided between the two sledges. All crumbs of biscuit were carefully collected by Wisting, the cook for the day, and put into a bag. This was taken into the tent and vigorously beaten and kneaded; the result was pulverized biscuit. With this product and a sausage of dried milk, Wisting succeeded in making a capital dish of Christmas porridge. I doubt whether anyone at home enjoyed his Christmas dinner so much as we did that morning in the tent. One of Bjaaland's cigars to follow brought a festival spirit over the whole camp.
Another thing we had to rejoice about that day was that we had again reached the summit of the plateau, and after two or three more days' march would begin to go downhill, finally reaching the Barrier and our old haunts. Our daily march had hitherto been interrupted by one or two halts; we stopped to rest both the dogs and ourselves. On Christmas Eve we instituted a new order of things, and did the whole distance — fifteen geographical miles — without a stop. We liked this arrangement best, after all, and it seemed as if the dogs did the same. As a rule it was hard to begin the march again after the rest; one got rather stiff lazy, too, perhaps — and had to become supple again.
On the 26th we passed 88deg. S., going well. The surface appeared to have been exposed to powerful sunshine since we left it, as it had become quite polished. Going over these polished levels was like crossing smooth ice, but with the important difference that here the dogs had a good foothold. This time we sighted high land even in 88deg., and it had great surprises in store for us. It was clear that this was the same mighty range running to the south-east as we had seen before, but this time it stretched considerably farther to the south. The weather was radiantly clear, and we could see by the land that the range of vision was very great. Summit after summit the range extended to the south-east, until it gradually disappeared; but to judge from the atmosphere, it was continued beyond our range of vision in the same direction. That this chain traverses the Antarctic continent I therefore consider beyond a doubt. Here we had a very good example of how deceptive the atmosphere is in these regions. On a day that appeared perfectly clear we had lost sight of the mountains in 87deg., and now we saw them as far as the eye could reach in 88deg.. That we were astonished is a mild expression. We looked and looked, entirely unable to recognize our position; little did we guess that the huge mountain-mass that stood up so high and clear on the horizon was Mount Thorvald Nilsen. How utterly different it had looked in the misty air when we said good-bye to it. It is amusing to read my diary of this time and see how persistently we took the bearings of land every day, and thought it was new. We did not recognize that vast mountain until Mount Helmer Hanssen began to stick up out of the plain.
On December 28 we left the summit of the plateau, and began the descent. Although the incline was not perceptible to the naked eye, its effect could easily be seen in the dogs. Wisting now used a sail on his sledge, and was thus able to keep up with Hanssen. If anyone had seen the procession that came marching over the plateau at that time, he would hardly have thought we had been out for seventy days at a stretch, for we came at a swinging pace. We always had the wind at our backs, with sunshine and warmth the whole time. There was never a thought of using the whip now; the dogs were bursting with health, and tugged at their harness to get away. It was a hard time for our worthy forerunner; he often had to spurt as much as he could to keep clear of Hanssen's dogs. Wisting in full sail, with his dogs howling for joy, came close behind. Hassel had his work cut out to follow, and, indeed, I had the same. The surface was absolutely polished, and for long stretches at a time we could push ourselves along with our sticks. The dogs were completely changed since we had left the Pole; strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that they were putting on flesh day by day, and getting quite fat. I believe it must have been feeding them on fresh meat and pemmican together that did this. We were again able to increase our ration of pemmican from December 28; the daily ration was 1 pound (450 grams) per man, and we could not manage more — at least, I think not.
On December 29 we went downhill more and more, and it was indeed tough work being a ski-runner. The drivers stood so jauntily by the side of their sledges, letting themselves be carried over the plain at a phenomenal pace. The surface consisted of sastrugi, alternating with smooth stretches like ice. Heaven help me, how we ski-runners had to struggle to keep up! It was all very well for Bjaaland; he had flown faster on even worse ground. But for Hassel and me it was different. I saw Hassel put out, now an arm; now a leg, and make the most desperate efforts to keep on his feet. Fortunately I could not see myself; if I had been able to, I am sure I should have been in fits of laughter. Early that day Mount Helmer Hanssen appeared. The ground now went in great undulations — a thing we had not noticed in the mist when we were going south. So high were these undulations that they suddenly hid the view from us. The first we saw of Mount Hanssen was from the top of one of these big waves; it then looked like the top of a pressure hummock that was just sticking up above the surface. At first we did not understand at all what it was; it was not till the next day that we really grasped it, when the pointed blocks of ice covering the top of the mountain came into view. As I have said, it was only then that we made sure of being on the right course; all the rest of the land that we saw was so entirely strange to us. We recognized absolutely nothing.
On the 30th we passed 87deg. S., and were thus rapidly nearing the Devil's Ballroom and Glacier. The next day was brilliantly fine-temperature -2.2deg. F. — with a good breeze right aft. To our great joy, we got sight of the land around the Butcher's Shop. It was still a long way off, of course, but was miraged up in the warm, sunny air. We were extraordinarily lucky on our homeward trip; we escaped the Devil's Ballroom altogether.
On January 1 we ought, according to our reckoning, to reach the Devil's Glacier, and this held good. We could see it at a great distance; huge hummocks and ice-waves towered into the sky. But what astonished us was that between these disturbances and on the far side of them, we seemed to see an even, unbroken plain, entirely unaffected by the broken surface. Mounts Hassel, Wisting, and Bjaaland, lay as we had left them; they were easy to recognize when we came a little nearer to them. Now Mount Helmer Hanssen again towered high into the air; it flashed and sparkled like diamonds as it lay bathed in the rays of the morning sun. We assumed that we had come nearer to this range than when we were going south, and that this was the reason of our finding the ground so changed. When we were going south, it certainly looked impassable between us and the mountains; but who could tell? Perhaps in the middle of all the broken ground that we then saw there was a good even stretch, and that we had now been lucky enough to stumble upon it. But it was once more the atmosphere that deceived us, as we found out on the following day, for instead of being nearer the range we had come farther out from it, and this was the reason of our only getting a little strip of this undesirable glacier.
We had our camp that evening in the middle of a big, filled-up crevasse. We were a trifle anxious as to what kind of surface we should find farther on; that these few hummocks and old crevasses were all the glacier had to offer us this time, was more than we dared to hope. But the 2nd came, and brought — thank God! — no disappointment. With incredible luck we had slipped past all those ugly and dangerous places, and now, before we knew where we were, we found ourselves safe and sound on the plain below the glacier. The weather was not first-rate when we started at seven in the evening. It was fairly thick, and we could only just distinguish the top of Mount Bjaaland. This was bad, as we were now in the neighbourhood of our depot, and would have liked clear weather to find out where it lay; but instead of clearing, as we hoped, it grew thicker and thicker, and when we had gone about six and three-quarter miles, it was so bad that we thought it best to stop and wait for a while. We had all the time been going on the erroneous assumption that we had come too far to the east-that is, too near the mountains — and under the circumstances — in the short gleams that had come from time to time — we had not been able to recognize the ground below the glacier. According to our idea, we were on the east of the depot. The bearings, which had been taken in thick air, and were now to guide us in this heavy mist, gave no result whatever. There was no depot to be seen.
We had just swallowed the grateful warm pemmican when the sun suddenly showed itself. I don't think the camp was ever broken and the sledges packed in such a short time. From the moment we jumped out of our bags till the sledges were ready, it only took us fifteen minutes, which is incredibly quick. "What on earth is that shining over there through the fog?" The question came from one of the lads. The mist had divided, and was rolling away on both sides; in the western bank something big and white peeped through — along ridge running north and south. Hurrah! it's Helland Hansen. Can't possibly be anything else. Our only landmark on the west. We all shouted with joy on meeting this old acquaintance. But in the direction of the depot the fog hung thick. We held a brief consultation, and agreed to let it go, to steer for the Butcher's and put on the pace. We had food enough, anyhow. No sooner said than done, and we started off. It rapidly cleared, and then, on our way towards Helland Hansen, we found out that we had come, not too far to the east, but too far to the west. But to turn round and begin to search for our depot was not to our liking. Below Mount Helland Hansen we came up on a fairly high ridge. We had now gone our fixed distance, and so halted.
Behind us, in the brightest, clearest weather, lay the glacier, as we had seen it for the first time on our way to the south: break after break, crevasse after crevasse. But in among all this nastiness there ran a white, unbroken line, the very path we had stood and looked at a few weeks back. And directly below that white stripe we knew, as sure as anything could be, that our depot lay. We stood there expressing our annoyance rather forcibly at the depot having escaped us so easily, and talking of how jolly it would have been to have picked up all our depots from the plain we had strewed them over. Dead tired as I felt that evening, I had not the least desire to go back the fifteen miles that separated us from it. "If anybody would like to make the trip, he shall have many thanks." They all wanted to make it — all as one man. There was no lack of volunteers in that company. I chose Hanssen and Bjaaland. They took nearly everything off the sledge, and went away with it empty.
It was then five in the morning. At three in the afternoon they came back to the tent, Bjaaland running in front, Hanssen driving the sedge. That was a notable feat, both for men and dogs. Hanssen, Bjaaland, and that team had covered about fifty miles that day, at an average rate of three to three and a half miles an hour. They had found the depot without much search. Their greatest difficulty had been in the undulating surface; for long stretches at a time they were in the hollows between the waves, which shut in their view entirely. Ridge succeeded ridge, endlessly. We had taken care that everything was ready for their return — above all great quantities of water. Water, water was the first thing, and generally the last, that was in request. When their thirst was a little quenched, great interest was shown in the pemmican. While these two were being well looked after, the depot they had brought in was divided between the two sledges, and in a short time all was ready for our departure. Meanwhile, the weather had been getting finer and finer, and before us lay the mountains, sharp and clear. We thought we recognized Fridtjof Nansen and Don Pedro Christophersen, and took good bearings of them in case the fog should return. With most of us the ideas of day and night began to get rather mixed. "Six o'clock," someone would answer, when asked the time. "Yes, in the morning," remarks the other. "No; what are you talking about?" answers the first one again; "it's evening, of course." The date was hopeless; it was a good thing if we remembered the year. Only when writing in our diaries and observation books did we come across such things as dates; while at work we had not the remotest idea of them.
Splendid weather it was when we turned out on the morning of January 3. We had now agreed to go as it suited us, and take no notice of day or night; for some time past we had all been sick of the long hours of rest, and wanted to break them up at any price. As I have said, the weather could not have been finer brilliantly clear and a dead calm. The temperature of -2.2deg. F. felt altogether like summer in this bright, still air. Before we began our march all unnecessary clothes were taken off and put on the sledges. It almost looked as if everything would be considered superfluous, and the costume in which we finally started would no doubt have been regarded as somewhat unseemly in our latitudes. We smiled and congratulated ourselves that at present no ladies had reached the Antarctic regions, or they might have objected to our extremely comfortable and serviceable costume. The high land now stood out still more sharply. It was very interesting to see in these conditions the country we had gone through on, the southward trip in the thickest blizzard. We had then been going along the foot of this immense mountain chain without a suspicion of how near we were to it, or how colossal it was. The ground was fortunately quite undisturbed in this part. I say fortunately, as Heaven knows what would have happened to us if we had been obliged to cross a crevassed surface in such weather as we then had. Perhaps we should have managed it — perhaps not.
The journey before us was a stiff one, as the Butcher's lay 2,680 feet higher than the place where we were. We had been expecting to stumble upon one of our beacons before long, but this did not happen until we had gone twelve and a half miles. Then one of them suddenly came in sight, and was greeted with joy. We knew well enough that we were on the right track, but an old acquaintance like this was very welcome all the same. The sun had evidently been at work up here while we were in the south, as some of the beacons were quite bent over, and great icicles told us clearly enough how powerful the sunshine had been. After a march of about twenty-five miles we halted at the beacon we had built right under the hill, where we had been forced to stop by thick weather on November 25.
January 4 was one of the days to which we looked forward with anxiety, as we were then due at our depot at the Butcher's, and had to find it. This depot, which consisted of the finest, fresh dogs' flesh, was of immense importance to us. Not only had our animals got into the way of preferring this food to pemmican, but, what was of still greater importance, it had an extremely good effect on the dogs' state of health. No doubt our pemmican was good enough — indeed, it could not have been better — but a variation of diet is a great consideration, and seems, according to my experience, to mean even more to the dogs than to the men on a long journey like this. On former occasions I have seen dogs refuse pemmican, presumably because they were tired of it, having no variety; the result was that the dogs grew thin and weak, although we had food enough. The pemmican I am referring to on that occasion was made for human use, so that their distaste cannot have been due to the quality.