Amundsen Reaches South Pole; Scott Starts up Beardmore Glacier

December 14, 1911, 100 years ago this week, the Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen arrived at the South Pole. Their apprehension that the British team had beaten them to their goal evaporated like breath in the cold air. Here at Earth’s still turning with the sun inscribing a perfect circle in the sky, Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting posed, heads bare, before their nation’s flag. Olav Bjaaland, operating the camera, missed out on the heros’ shot.

Norwegian party at the South Pole. (From "The South Pole" by Roald Amundsen, 1913.)

Meanwhile, the British party, led by Robert Falcon Scott, was toiling its way on the lower Beardmore Glacier, still more than a month out from the end point of their march. On December 9, two miles short of The Gateway, they had shot their five ponies. The next day the 12 men (combined polar and support parties) man-hauled through the pass that Shackleton had discovered three years before in his own, failed bid for the Pole. Where the mighty, outlet glaciers of the Transantarctic Mountains enter the Ross Ice Shelf, they tear great chasms of crevasses. Such features had stopped Scott, Shackleton, and Wilson in 1902 from reaching land at the mouths of both Byrd Glacier and Nimrod Glacier. However, at the mouth of Beardmore Glacier the land head on the north side is an isolated mountain (Mt. Hope) with a narrow passage of smooth ice between it and the main portion of the mountains.

The route through The Gateway shielded Scott's party, and Shackleton's before them, from the savage crevasses where Beardmore Glacier enters the Ross Ice Shelf.

On December 13, the day before the Norwegians reached the Pole, Scott had written that the day was “most damnably dismal,” and that he had had trouble sleeping because of indigestion and his soggy condition. On the 14th, conditions improved as deep, soft snow gave way to harder snow and easier pulling, but the race had already been lost. (The following figures are from "The Roof at the Bottom of the World.")

Shaded-relief, topographic map showing route taken by Scott's party enroute to the South Pole.

By December 17 Scott's party was rounding The Cloudmaker, the broad ridge midway up Beardmore Glacier, and heading south along the snowy, less-crevassed margin of the glacier.

By December 20, Scott's party had reached Mt. Darwin, the last outcrop of rock at the head of Beardmore Glacier. What lay ahead was the polar plateau and uncertainty.

Gallery – Transantarctic Mountiains (TAM) 1.0

This week's gallery features four photos of the Transantarctic Mountains that were to appear in an App that never materialized..