antarctica-present-future-past

Roald Amundsen’s journal: november–december 1911

Excerpted from The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the “Fram,” 1910–1912 by Roald Amundsen. Translated by A. G. Chater, 1912

December 6, 1911

December 6 brought the same weather: thick snow, sky and plain all one, nothing to be seen.… 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 88°S, and camped in 88° 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.… There was great rejoicing among us all when I was able to announce that we had arrived on the top of the plateau.

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. 88° 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.

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.… 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 traveled, we must reach the goal first, there could be no doubt about that. And yet—wherever there is the smallest loophole, doubt creeps in and gnaws and gnaws and never leaves a poor wretch in peace.… It was quite extraordinary to see how [the dogs] 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.