Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias

Author: Roald Amundsen  | Date: November, 1912

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Hearst’s Magazine November, 1912

Triumph and Tragedy at the South Pole


I. How I Found the South Pole

By Roald Amundsen

On April 21 the sun disappeared. The longest night any man had known in the Antarctic regions had begun. Old campaigners as we were, everything was well prepared for it. There was the hut, stout and strong. No storm, no matter how it blew, could hurt it. Light and warm it was inside, dry and airy. The large roomy caverns we had excavated in the ice barrier and connected directly with the hut, gave us space sufficient for our workshops; we did not need to use our hut to work in.

We were amply supplied with provisions. Seven hundred yards from the hut was our chief store, contain-Jug enough for several years. We had killed and laid by 120,000 lbs. of seal meat, enough for ourselves and our dogs for our whole stay. Fuel and light we had in abundance, the best Welsh coal and dryest Norwegian birchwood. Barrel upon barrel of petroleum lay in our cellars.

All was thoroughly provided for, and we could apply ourselves to our winter work without a care.

The winter work consisted in pre-Faring our outfit and getting everything ready for our march to the South. Our tours in the months of February, March and April, to form depots in latitude 80, 81 and 82 degrees, had taught us that we must make many alterations in our outfit.

At length the 20th of October arrived—time seems long to those who wait. The weather was a little uncertain in the morning—squally. But at 8:30 o’clock it cleared from the east with a light breeze, and off we went. There were five of us: Hanssen, Wisting, Hassel, Bjaaland, and myself, with four sledges and fifty-two dogs—thirteen to each sledge. As we had all our provisions at 80 degrees, the sledges were very light and we went along at a gallop. We did twenty miles a day those days, reaching our depot at 80 degrees at 1:30 P.M., on the 23rd of October, in the densest fog. This gave us convincing proof of the accuracy of our compasses and of our distance meters.

After leaving the depot of October, we made fifteen miles a day, giving the dogs a chance to eat their fill at the depots. Soon we began erecting snow beacons to serve to guide us on returning. Such a beacon was somewhat more than a man’s height, built of about sixty blocks of hard snow cut from the surface. We put up about 150, necessitating 9000 blocks. At first one was built every seventh and eighth mile—subsequently every fifth—and at last, near the Pole, every second mile. In each of these beacons a note was left stating the number of the beacon, its Position, the direction and distance of the nearest beacon. In this manner we always kept a control of our march.

On the morning of the 9th of November, when we got outside our tent, we found the air dear, and on examining the patches of cloud, we saw that they were the tops of huge mountains. This sight wrought in us quite a curious sensation. There we had, before us, the mighty continent covered with ice and snow and barring our way to the Pole.

It must be the southern portion of the chain of mountains Shackleton has marked on his chart, which runs in a southeasterly direction from Beardmore Glacier . . .

We established depots built of hard snow at 83, 84 and 85 degrees and left provisions at each. The land unfolded itself more and more as we advanced, and displayed the most magnificent scenery.

The 17th of November was a red-letter day. We climbed an undulating ridge of ice 300 feet high and then descended to the "beach." We en-camped here at 85.5 degrees and prepared for the next stage. We five pedestrians were about to be transformed into Alpine climbers.

The story of the ascent to the plateau is one of almost constant adventure, of narrow escapes from death, from failings into crevices in the glaciers or off of bleak, slippery precipices. At times the faces of the men were swollen almost beyond recognition in the merciless Antarctic gales. Once men and dogs suffered from the heat with a blazing sun and the temperature at 15 degrees above zero. We were constantly sacrificing the dogs—once we had to despatch twenty-four of our brave, four-footed comrades at one time. Several times we camped over 9000 feet above the sea. At times we traversed snow bridges, eerie and dangerous, at others polished, windswept ice. But at last we forced our way and reached the level plateau.

I shall never forget the day we reached Shackleton’s Farthest South. It was my turn to be pioneer. Hassel and I took turns. It is tiresome work thus going on in front. No one to talk to, nothing to see. The plain spreads out in all directions till it loses itself in the horizon. I had now gone on for a couple of hours and was deeply immersed in my own thoughts, when I was aroused by ringing cheers.

I turned sharp around and remained still. The scene was so engrossing that all description fails. The Norwegian flag—my own dear country’s flag—unfolded itself from the foremost sledge and fluttered in the gently southerly breeze—88.23 degrees had been passed.

We gathered round the flag and pressed one another’s hands. It was a wonderfully solemn moment. It may well be believed that we sent him who had reached thus far, and his faithful, brave companions, a thought full of admiration and respect for their manly courage and the perseverance they displayed during their long, severe struggle. There will ever be honor and renown for what Sir Ernest Shackleton has accomplished.

The rest of the journey was exhausting because of the altitude, but we made good speed.

On the 11th of December we were at 89.15 degrees. Dead reckoning and observation again agreed exactly. We were nearing our goal with rapid strides. The next three days were spent under precisely the same conditions as the previous ones. Temperature con-tinned even, at about — 15 degrees, and the sun was out the whole time. On the 12th, by reckoning and observation, 89.30 degrees. On the 13th, the observation at noon gave 89.37 degrees. That evening we pitched our tent at 89.45 degrees by reckoning.

And then came the Great Day. Personally, perhaps, I slept less soundly that night and was more eager to get off in the morning than usual, but otherwise we felt much the same as we generally did. We had now seen so much of this high plateau, that we were sure its appearance would not alter. The only thing that brought our blood to circulate a little more rapidly than it was wont, was the thought which often occurred to us and made us strain our eyes southward across the endless plain: "Are we the first to get here, or not?"

After ten o’clock there came a change in the sky, and it blew a little from the southeast, so that we did not get the meridian that day. At 3 P.M., the distance meters announced that our goal was reached.

We had got our silk flag ready in the morning. We gathered around it now, each man took hold, and together we planted it there—at the same time naming the plateau, on which the Pole is situated, "King Haakon of the Seventh’s Wilds."

We had reached the Pole with three sledges and seventeen dogs . . .

For safety’s sake, we went yet another four and a half miles in the direction of the meridian. Here we erected a small tent we had brought with us, with a flag and a Pennant on top. "Polheim" it was christened, and it will, probably, if the weather is always as we found it, remain there long.

1 Dr. Cook stuck to his guns for a year and a half. Then, with too much doubt present in the world, he made a public statement: "After mature thought, I confess that I do not know absolutely whether I reached the pole or not. This may come as an amazing statement, but I am willing to startle the world, if, by so doing, I can get an opportunity to state my case." The New York Times editorially branded his confession "a contribution to psychiatrical literature" and commented that it should be followed by an apology.


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Chicago: Roald Amundsen, "Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—I. How I Found the South Pole," Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZHERUMTNARR9641.

MLA: Amundsen, Roald. "Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—I. How I Found the South Pole." Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZHERUMTNARR9641.

Harvard: Amundsen, R, 'Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—I. How I Found the South Pole' in Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZHERUMTNARR9641.