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 — 22° 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 88° 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 88° 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 88°, 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 87°, and now we saw them as far as the eye could reach in 88°. 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 87° S., and were thus rapidly nearing the Devil’s Ballroom and Glacier. The next day was brilliantly fine-temperature -2.2° 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 — 2.2° 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.
It was 1.15 a.m. when we set out. We had not had a long sleep, but it was very important to avail ourselves of this fine, clear weather while it lasted; we knew by experience that up here in the neighbourhood of the Butcher’s the weather was not to be depended upon. From the outward journey we knew that the distance from the beacon where our camp was to the depot at the Butcher’s was thirteen and a half miles. We had not put up more than two beacons on this stretch, but the ground was of such a nature that we thought we could not go wrong. That it was not so easy to find the way, in spite of the beacons, we were soon to discover. In the fine, clear weather, and with Hanssen’s sharp eyes, we picked up both our beacons. Meanwhile we were astonished at the appearance of the mountains. As I have already mentioned, we thought the weather was perfectly clear when we reached the Butcher’s for the first time, on November 20. I then took a bearing from the tent of the way we had come up on to the plateau between the mountains, and carefully recorded it. After passing our last beacon, when we were beginning to approach the Butcher’s — as we reckoned — we were greatly surprised at the aspect of our surroundings. Last time — on November 20 — we had seen mountains on the west and north, but a long way off: Now the whole of that part of the horizon seemed to be filled with colossal mountain masses, which were right over us. What in the world was the meaning of this? Was it witchcraft? I am sure I began to think so for a moment. I would readily have taken my most solemn oath that I had never seen that landscape before in my life. We had now gone the full distance, and according to the beacons we had passed, we ought to be on the spot. This was very strange; in the direction in which I had taken the bearing of our ascent, we now only saw the side of a perfectly unknown mountain, sticking up from the plain. There could be absolutely no way down in that precipitous wall. Only on the north-west did the ground give the impression of allowing a descent; there a natural depression seemed to be formed, running down towards the Barrier, which we could see far, far away.
We halted and discussed the situation. “Hullo!” Hanssen suddenly exclaimed, “somebody has been here before.” — “Yes,” broke in Wisting; “I’m hanged if that isn’t my broken ski that I stuck up by the depot.” So it was Wisting’s broken ski that brought us out of this unpleasant situation. It was a good thing he put it there — very thoughtful, in any case. I now examined the place with the glasses, and by the side of a snow mound, which proved to be our depot, but might easily have escaped our notice, we could see the ski sticking up out of the snow. We cheerfully set our course for the spot, but did not reach it until we had gone three miles.
There was rejoicing in our little band when we arrived and saw that what we had considered the most important point of our homeward journey had been reached. It was not so much for the sake of the food it contained that we considered it so necessary to find this spot, as for discovering the way down to the Barrier again. And now that we stood there, we recognized this necessity more than ever. For although we now knew, from our bearings, exactly where the descent lay, we could see nothing of it at all. The plateau there seemed to go right up to the mountain, without any opening towards the lower ground beyond; and yet the compass told us that such an opening must exist, and would take us down. The mountain, on which we had thus walked all day on the outward journey, without knowing anything of it, was Mount Fridtjof Nansen. Yes, the difference in the light made a surprising alteration in the appearance of things.
The first thing we did on reaching the depot was to take out the dogs’ carcasses that lay there and cut them into big lumps, that were divided among the dogs. They looked rather surprised; they had not been accustomed to such rations. We threw three carcasses on to the sledges, so as to have a little extra food for them on the way down. The Butcher’s was not a very friendly spot this time, either. True, it was not the same awful weather as on our first visit, but it was blowing a fresh breeze with a temperature of — 9.4° F., which, after the heat of the last few days, seemed to go to one’s marrow, and did not invite us to stay longer than was absolutely necessary. Therefore, as soon as we had finished feeding the dogs and putting our sledges in order, we set out.
Although the ground had not given us the impression of sloping, we soon found out that it did so when we got under way. It was not only downhill, but the pace became so great that we had to stop and put brakes under the sledges. As we advanced, the apparently unbroken wall opened more and more, and showed us at last our old familiar ascent. There lay Mount Ole Engelstad, snowclad and cold, as we saw it the first time. As we rounded it we came on to the severe, steep slope, where, on the way south, I had so much admired the work done by my companions and the dogs that day. But now I had an even better opportunity of seeing how steep this ascent really had been. Many were the brakes we had to put on before we could reduce the speed to a moderate pace, but even so we came down rapidly, and soon the first part of the descent lay behind us. So as not to be exposed to possible gusts from the plain, we went round Mount Engelstad and camped under the lee of it, well content with the day’s work. The snow lay here as on our first visit, deep and loose, and it was difficult to find anything like a good place for the tent. We could soon feel that we had descended a couple of thousand feet and come down among the mountains. It was still, absolutely still, and the sun broiled us as on a day of high summer at home. I thought, too, that I could notice a difference in my breathing; it seemed to work much more easily and pleasantly — perhaps it was only imagination.
At one o’clock on the following morning we were out again. The sight that met our eyes that morning, when we came out of the tent, was one of those that will always live in our memories. The tent stood in the narrow gap between Fridtjof Nansen and Ole Engelstad. The sun, which now stood in the south, was completely hidden by the latter mountain, and our camp was thus in the deepest shadow; but right against us on the other side the Nansen mountain raised its splendid ice-clad summit high towards heaven, gleaming and sparkling in the rays of the midnight sun. The shining white passed gradually, very gradually, into pale blue, then deeper and deeper blue, until the shadow swallowed it up. But down below, right on the Heiberg Glacier, its ice-covered side was exposed — dark and solemn the mountain mass stood out. Mount Engelstad lay in shadow, but on its summit rested a beautiful light little cirrus cloud, red with an edge of gold. Down over its side the blocks of ice lay scattered pell-mell. And farther down on the east rose Don Pedro Christophersen, partly in shadow, partly gleaming in the sun — a marvellously beautiful sight. And all was so still; one almost feared to disturb the incomparable splendour of the scene.
We now knew the ground well enough to be able to go straight ahead without any detours. The huge avalanches were more frequent than on the outward journey. One mass of snow after another plunged down; Don Pedro was getting rid of his winter coat. The going was precisely the same — loose, fairly deep snow. We went quite easily over it, however, and it was all downhill. On the ridge where the descent to the glacier began we halted to make our preparations. Brakes were put under the sledges, and our two ski-sticks were fastened together to make one strong one; we should have to be able to stop instantly if surprised by a crevasse as we were going. We ski-runners went in front. The going was ideal here on the steep slope, just enough loose snow to give one good steering on ski. We went whizzing down, and it was not many minutes before we were on the Heiberg Glacier. For the drivers it was not quite such plain sailing: they followed our tracks, but had to be extremely careful on the steep fall.
We camped that evening on the selfsame spot where we had had our tent on November 18, at about 3,100 feet above the sea. From here one could see the course of the Axel Heiberg Glacier right down to its junction with the Barrier. It looked fine and even, and we decided to follow it instead of climbing over the mountain, as we had done on the way south. Perhaps the distance would be somewhat longer, but probably we should make a considerable saving of time. We had now agreed upon a new arrangement of our time; the long spells of rest were becoming almost unbearable. Another very important side of the question was that, by a reasonable arrangement, we should be able to save a lot of time, and reach home several days sooner than we had reckoned. After a great deal of talk on one side and on the other, we agreed to arrange matters thus: we were to do our fifteen geographical miles, or twenty-eight kilometres, and then have a sleep of six hours, turn out again and do fifteen miles more, and so on. In this way we should accomplish a very good average distance on our day’s march. We kept to this arrangement for the rest of the journey, and thus saved a good many days.
Our progress down the Heiberg Glacier did not encounter any obstructions; only at the transition from the glacier to the Barrier were there a few crevasses that had to be circumvented. At 7 a.m. on January 6 we halted at the angle of land that forms the entrance to the Heiberg Glacier, and thence extends northward. We had not yet recognized any of the land we lay under, but that was quite natural, as we now saw it from the opposite side. We knew, though, that we were not far away from our main depot in 85° 5’ S. On the afternoon of the same day we were off again.
From a little ridge we crossed immediately after starting, Bjaaland thought he could see the depot down on the Barrier, and it was not very long before we came in sight of Mount Betty and our way up. And now we could make sure with the glasses that it really was our depot that we saw — the same that Bjaaland thought he had seen before. We therefore set our course straight for it, and in a few minutes we were once more on the Barrier — January 6, 11 p.m. — after a stay of fifty-one days on land. It was on November 17 that we had begun the ascent.
We reached the depot, and found everything in order. The heat here must have been very powerful; our lofty, solid depot was melted by the sun into a rather low mound of snow. The pemmican rations that had been exposed to the direct action of the sun’s rays had assumed the strangest forms, and, of course, they had become rancid. We got the sledges ready at once, taking all the provisions out of the depot and loading them. We left behind some of the old clothes we had been wearing all the way from here to the Pole and back. When we had completed all this repacking and had everything ready, two of us went over to Mount Betty, and collected as many different specimens of rock as we could lay our hands on. At the same time we built a great cairn, and left there a can of 17 litres of paraffin, two packets of matches — containing twenty boxes — and an account of our expedition. Possibly someone may find a use for these things in the future.
We had to kill Frithjof, one of Bjaaland’s dogs, at this camp. He had latterly been showing marked signs of shortness of breath, and finally this became so painful to the animal that we decided to put an end to him. Thus brave Frithjof ended his career. On cutting him open it appeared that his lungs were quite shrivelled up; nevertheless, the remains disappeared pretty quickly into his companions’ stomachs. What they had lost in quantity did not apparently affect their quality. Nigger, one of Hassel’s dogs, had been destroyed on the way down from the plateau. We thus reached this point again with twelve dogs, as we had reckoned on doing, and left it with eleven. I see in my diary the following remark: “The dogs look just as well as when we left Framheim.” On leaving the place a few hours later we had provisions for thirty-five days on the sledges. Besides this, of course, we had a depot at every degree of latitude up to 80°.
It looked as though we had found our depot at the right moment, for when we came out to continue our journey the whole Barrier was in a blizzard. A gale was blowing from the south, with a sky completely clouded over; falling snow and drift united in a delightful dance, and made it difficult to see. The lucky thing was that now we had the wind with us, and thus escaped getting it all in our eyes, as, we had been accustomed to. The big crevasse, which, as we knew, lay right across the line of our route, made us go very carefully. To avoid any risk, Bjaaland and Hassel, who went in advance, fastened an alpine rope between them. The snow was very deep and loose, and the going very heavy. Fortunately, we were warned in time of our approach to the expected cracks by the appearance of some bare ice ridges. These told us clearly enough that disturbances had taken place here, and that even greater ones might be expected, probably near at hand. At that moment the thick curtain of cloud was torn asunder, and the sun pierced the whirling mass of snow. Instantly Hanssen shouted: “Stop, Bjaaland!” He was just on the edge of the yawning crevasse. Bjaaland himself has splendid sight, but his excellent snow-goggles — his own patent — entirely prevented his seeing. Well, Bjaaland would not have been in any serious danger if he had fallen into the crevasse, as he was roped to Hassel, but it would have been confoundedly unpleasant all the same.
As I have said before, I assume that these great disturbances here mark the boundary between the Barrier and the land. This time, curiously enough, they seemed also to form a boundary between good and bad weather, for on the far side of them — to the north — the Barrier lay bathed in sunshine. On the south the blizzard raged worse than ever. Mount Betty was the last to send us its farewell. South Victoria Land had gone into hiding, and did not show itself again. As soon as we came into the sunshine, we ran upon one of our beacons; our course lay straight towards it. That was not bad steering in the dark. At 9 p.m. we reached the depot in 85° S. Now we could begin to be liberal with the dogs’ food, too; they had double pemmican rations, besides as many oatmeal biscuits as they would eat. We had such masses of biscuits now that we could positively throw them about. Of course, we might have left a large part of these provisions behind; but there was a great satisfaction in being so well supplied with food, and the dogs did not seem to mind the little extra weight in the least. As long as things went so capitally as they were going — that is, with men and dogs exactly keeping pace with one another — we could ask for nothing better. But the weather that had cheered us was not of long duration. “Same beastly weather,” my diary says of the next stage. The wind had shifted to the north-west, with overcast, thick weather, and very troublesome drifting snow. In spite of these unfavourable conditions, we passed beacon after beacon, and at the end of our march had picked up all the beacons we had erected on this distance of seventeen miles and three-eighths. But, as before, we owed this to Hanssen’s good eyes.
On our way southward we had taken a good deal of seal meat and had divided it among the depots we built on the Barrier in such a way that we were now able to eat fresh meat every day. This had not been done without an object; if we should be visited with scurvy, this fresh meat would be invaluable. As we were — sound and healthy as we had never been before — the seal-beef was a pleasant distraction in our menu, nothing more. The temperature had risen greatly since we came down on to the Barrier, and kept steady at about + 14° F. We were so warm in our sleeping-bags that we had to turn them with the hair out. That was better; we breathed more freely and felt happier. “Just like going into an ice-cellar,” somebody remarked. The same feeling as when on a really warm summer day one comes out of the hot sun into cool shade.
January 9. — “Same beastly weather; snow, snow, snow, nothing but snow. Is there no end to it? Thick too, so that we have not been able to see ten yards ahead. Temperature + 17.6° F. Thawing everywhere on the sledges. Everything getting wet. Have not found a single beacon in this blind man’s weather. The snow was very deep to begin with and the going exceedingly heavy, but in spite of this the dogs managed their sledges very well.” That evening the weather improved, fortunately, and became comparatively clear by the time we resumed our journey at 10 p.m. Not long after we sighted one of our beacons. It lay to the west, about 200 yards away. We were thus not far out of our course; we turned aside and went up to it, as it was interesting to see whether our reckoning was in order. The beacon was somewhat damaged by sunshine and storms, but we found the paper left in it, which told us that this beacon was erected on November 14, in 84° 26’ S. It also told us what course to steer by compass to reach the next beacon, which lay five kilometres from this one.
As we were leaving this old friend and setting our course as it advised, to our unspeakable astonishment two great birds — skua gulls — suddenly came flying straight towards us. They circled round us once or twice and then settled on the beacon. Can anyone who reads these lines form an idea of the effect this had upon us? It is hardly likely. They brought us a message from the living world into this realm of death — a message of all that was dear to us. I think the same thoughts filled us all. They did not allow themselves a long rest, these first messengers from another world; they sat still a while, no doubt wondering who we were, then rose aloft and flew on to the south. Mysterious creatures! they were now exactly half-way between Framheim and the Pole, and yet they were going farther inland. Were they going over to the other side?
Our march ended this time at one of our beacons, in 84° 15’. It felt so good and safe to lie beside one of these; it always gave us a sure starting-point for the following stage. We were up at 4 a.m. and left the place a few hours later, with the result that the day’s march brought us thirty-four miles nearer Framheim. With our present arrangement, we had these long-day marches every other day. Our dogs need no better testimonial than this — one day seventeen miles, the next day thirty-four, and fresh all the way home. The two birds, agreeably as their first appearance had affected me, led my thoughts after a while in another direction, which was anything but agreeable. It occurred to me that these two might only be representatives of a larger collection of these voracious birds, and that the remainder might now be occupied in consuming all the fresh meat we had so laboriously transported with us and spread all over the plain in our depots. It is incredible what a flock of these birds of prey can get rid of; it would not matter if the meat were frozen as hard as iron, they would have managed it, even if it had been a good deal harder than iron. Of the seals’ carcasses we had lying in 80°, I saw in my thoughts nothing but the bones. Of the various dogs we had killed on our way south and laid on the tops of beacons I did not see even so much as that. Well, it was possible that my thoughts had begun to assume too dark a hue; perhaps the reality would be brighter.
Weather and going began by degrees to right themselves; it looked as if things would improve in proportion to our distance from land. Finally, both became perfect; the sun shone from a cloudless sky, and the sledges ran on the fine, even surface with all the ease and speed that could be desired. Bjaaland, who had occupied the position of forerunner all the way from the Pole, performed his duties admirably; but the old saying that nobody is perfect applied even to him. None of us — no matter who it may be — can keep in a straight line, when he has no marks to follow. All the more difficult is this when, as so often happened with us, one has to go blindly. Most of us, I suppose, would swerve now to one side, now to the other, and possibly end, after all this groping, by keeping pretty well to the line. Not so with Bjaaland; he was a right-hand man. I can see him now; Hanssen has given him the direction by compass, and Bjaaland turns round, points his ski in the line indicated and sets of with decision. His movements clearly show that he has made up his mind, cost what it may, to keep in the right direction. He sends his ski firmly along, so that the snow spurts from them, and looks straight before him. But the result is the same; if Hanssen had let Bjaaland go on without any correction, in the course of an hour or so the latter would probably have described a beautiful circle and brought himself back to the spot from which he had started. Perhaps. after all, this was not a fault to complain of, since we always knew with absolute certainty that, when we had got out of the line of beacons, we were to the right of it and had to search for the beacons to the west. This conclusion proved very useful to us more than once, and we gradually became so familiar with Bjaaland’s right-handed tendencies that we actually counted on them.
On January 13, according to our reckoning, we ought to reach the depot in 83° S. This was the last of our depots that was not marked at right angles to the route, and therefore the last critical point. The day was not altogether suited for finding the needle in the haystack. It was calm with a thick fog, so thick that we could only see a few yards in front of us. We did not see a single beacon on the whole march. At 4 p.m. we had completed the distance, according to the sledge-meters, and reckoned that we ought to be in 83° S., by the depot; but there was nothing to be seen. We decided, therefore, to set our tent and wait till it cleared. While we were at work with this, there was a rift in the thick mass of fog, and there, not many yards away — to the west, of course — lay our depot. We quickly took the tent down again, packed it on the sledge, and drove up to our food mound, which proved to be quite in order. There was no sign of the birds having paid it a visit. But what was that? Fresh, well-marked dog-tracks in the newly-fallen snow. We soon saw that they must be the tracks of the runaways that we had lost here on the way south. Judging by appearances, they must have lain under the lee of the depot for a considerable time; two deep hollows in the snow told us that plainly. And evidently they must have had enough food, but where on earth had they got it from? The depot was absolutely untouched, in spite of the fact that the lumps of pemmican lay exposed to the light of day and were very easy to get at; besides which, the snow on the depot was not so hard as to prevent the dogs pulling it down and eating up all the food. Meanwhile the dogs had left the place again, as shown by the fresh trail, which pointed to the north. We examined the tracks very closely, and agreed that they were not more than two days old. They went northward, and we followed them from time to time on our next stage. At the beacon in 82° 45’, where we halted, we saw them still going to the north. In 82° 24’ the trail began to be much confused, and ended by pointing due west. That was the last we saw of the tracks; but we had not done with these dogs, or rather with their deeds. We stopped at the beacon in 82° 20’. Else, who had been laid on the top of it, had fallen down and lay by the side; the sun had thawed away the lower part of the beacon. So the roving dogs had not been here; so much was certain, for otherwise we should not have found Else as we did. We camped at the end of that stage by the beacon in 82° 15’, and shared out Else’s body. Although she had been lying in the strong sunshine, the flesh was quite good, when we had scraped away a little mouldiness. It smelt rather old, perhaps, but our dogs were not fastidious when it was a question of meat.
On January 16 we arrived at the depot in 82° S. We could see from a long way off that the order in which we had left it no longer prevailed. When we came up to it, we saw at once what had happened. The innumerable dog-tracks that had trampled the snow quite hard round the depot declared plainly enough that the runaways had spent a good deal of time here. Several of the cases belonging to the depot had fallen down, presumably from the same cause as Else, and the rascals had succeeded in breaking into one of them. Of the biscuits and pemmican which it had contained, nothing, of course, was left; but that made no difference to us now, as we had food in abundance. The two dogs’ carcasses that we had placed on the top of the depot — Uranus and Jaala — were gone, not even the teeth were to be seen. Yet they had left the teeth of Lucy, whom they had eaten in 82° 3’. Jaala’s eight puppies were still lying on the top of a case; curiously enough, they had not fallen down. In addition to all the rest, the beasts had devoured some ski-bindings and things of that sort. It was no loss to us, as it happened; but who could tell which way these creatures had gone? If they had succeeded in finding the depot in 80° S., they would probably by this time have finished our supply of seal meat there. Of course it would be regrettable if this had happened, although it would entail no danger either to ourselves or our animals. If we got as far as 80°, we should come through all right. For the time being, we had to console ourselves with the fact that we could see no continuation of the trail northward.
We permitted ourselves a little feast here in 82°. The “chocolate pudding” that Wisting served as dessert is still fresh in my memory; we all agreed that it came nearer perfection than anything it had hitherto fallen to our lot to taste. I may disclose the receipt: biscuit-crumbs, dried milk and chocolate are put into a kettle of boiling water. What happens afterwards, I don’t know; for further information apply to Wisting. Between 82° and 81° we came into our old marks of the second depot journey; on that trip we had marked this distance with splinters of packing-case at every geographical mile. That was in March, 1911, and now we were following these splinters in the second half of January, 1912. Apparently they stood exactly as they had been put in. This marking stopped in 81° 33’ S., with two pieces of case on a snow pedestal. The pedestal was still intact and good.
I shall let my diary describe what we saw on January 18: “Unusually fine weather to-day. Light south-south-west breeze, which in the course of our march cleared the whole sky. In 81° 20’ we came abreast of our old big pressure ridges. We now saw far more of them than ever before. They extended as far as the eye could see, running north-east to south-west, in ridges and peaks. Great was our surprise when, a short time after, we made out high, bare land in the same direction, and not long after that two lofty, white summits to the south-east, probably in about 82° S. It could be seen by the look of the sky that the land extended from north-east to south-west. This must be the same land that we saw lose itself in the horizon in about 84°S., when we stood at a height of about 4,000 feet and looked out over the Barrier, during our ascent. We now have sufficient indications to enable us without hesitation to draw this land as continuous — Carmen Land. The surface against the land is violently disturbed — crevasses and pressure ridges, waves and valleys, in all directions. We shall no doubt feel the effect of it to-morrow.” Although what we have seen apparently justifies us in concluding that Carmen Land extends from 86° S. to this position — about 81° 30’ S. — and possibly farther to the north-east, I have not ventured to lay it down thus on the map. I have contented myself with giving the name of Carmen Land to the land between 86° and 84°, and have called the rest “Appearance of Land.” It will be a profitable task for an explorer to investigate this district more closely.
As we had expected, on our next stage we were made to feel the effect of the disturbances. Three times we had now gone over this stretch of the Barrier without having really clear weather. This time we had it, and were able to see what it actually looked like. The irregularities began in 81° 12’ S., and did not extend very far from north to south-possibly about five kilometres (three and a quarter miles). How far they extended from east to west it is difficult to say, but at any rate as far as the eye could reach. Immense pieces of the surface had fallen away and opened up the most horrible yawning gulfs, big enough to swallow many caravans of the size of ours. From these open holes, ugly wide cracks ran out in all directions; besides which, mounds and haycocks were everywhere to be seen. Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all was that we had passed over here unharmed. We went across as light-footedly as possible, and at top speed. Hanssen went halfway into a crevasse, but luckily got out of it again without difficulty.
The depot in 81° S. was in perfect order; no dog-tracks to be seen there. Our hopes that the depot in 80° S. would be intact rose considerably. In 80° 45’ S. lay the first dog we had killed — Bone. He was particularly fat, and was immensely appreciated. The dogs no longer cared very much for pemmican. On January 21 we passed our last beacon, which stood in 80° 23’ S. Glad as we were to leave it behind, I cannot deny that it was with a certain feeling of melancholy that we saw it vanish. We had grown so fond of our beacons, and whenever we met them we greeted them as old friends. Many and great were the services these silent watchers did us on our long and lonely way.
On the same day we reached our big depot in 80° S., and now we considered that we were back. We could see at once that others had been at the depot since we had left it, and we found a message from Lieutenant Prestrud, the leader of the eastern party, saying that he, with Stubberud and Johansen, had passed here on November 12, with two sledges, sixteen dogs, and supplies for thirty days. Everything thus appeared to be in the best of order. Immediately on arriving at the depot we let the dogs loose, and they made a dash for the heap of seal’s flesh, which had been attacked neither by birds nor dogs in our absence. It was not so much for the sake of eating that our dogs made their way to the meat mound, as for the sake of fighting. Now they really had something to fight about. They went round the seals’ carcasses a few times, looked askance at the food and at each other, and then flung themselves into the wildest scrimmage. When this had been duly brought to a conclusion, they went away and lay round their sledges. The depot in 80° S. is still large, well supplied and well marked, so it is not impossible that it may be found useful later.
The journey from 80° S. to Framheim has been so often described that there is nothing new to say about it. On January 25, at 4 a.m., we reached our good little house again, with two sledges and eleven dogs; men and animals all hale and hearty. We stood and waited for each other outside the door in the early morning; our appearance must be made all together. It was so still and quiet — they must be all asleep. We came in. Stubberud started up in his bunk and glared at us; no doubt he took us for ghosts. One after another they woke up — not grasping what was happening. Then there was a hearty welcome home on all sides “Where’s the Fram?” was of course our first question Our joy was great when we heard all was well. “And what about the Pole? Have you been there?” — “Yes, of course; otherwise you would hardly have seen us again.” Then the coffee kettle was put on, and the perfume of “hot cakes” rose as in old days. We agreed that it was good outside, but still better at home. Ninety-nine days the trip had taken. Distance about 1,860 miles.
The Franz had come in to the Barrier on January 8, after a three months’ voyage from Buenos Aires; all were well on board. Meanwhile, bad weather had forced her to put out again. On the following day the lookout man reported that the Fram was approaching There was life in the camp; on with furs and out with the dogs. They should see that our dogs were not worn out yet. We heard the engine panting and grunting, saw the crow’s-nest appear over the edge of the Barrier, and at last she glided in, sure and steady. It was with a joyful heart I went on board and greeted all these gallant men, who had brought the Franz to her destination through so many fatigues and perils, and had accomplished so much excellent work on the way. They all looked pleased and happy, but nobody asked about the Pole. At last it slipped out of Gjertsen: “Have you been there?” Joy is a poor name for the feeling that beamed in my comrades’ faces; it was something more.
I shut myself up in the chart-house with Captain Nilsen, who gave me my mail and all the news. Three names stood high above the rest, when I was able to understand all that had happened — the names of the three who gave me their support when it was most needed. I shall always remember them in respectful gratitude —
H. M. The King, Professor Fridtjof Nansen, Don Pedro Christophersen.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47