The September Journey


A False Start Leads To A Rift Among The Norwegians

Plummeting September Temps Send Amundsen And Team Back To Camp

On September 8, 1911, after several days of improving temperatures, an impatient Amundsen decided he could wait no more. A caravan of sledges and ninety barking, rambunctious dogs burst forth from Framheim, intent on winning the last great polar prize.

But the improvement in temperature did not last. By September 11, it was dropping overnight toward -70°F (-57°C) and the dogs were struggling. They lay huddled together and had to be helped into their harnesses. The dogs' paws were frostbitten, and some of the men were having great difficulties with blistering, frostbitten heels. The fluid in their compasses had frozen, the weather became very thick with fog, and they couldn't accurately guess the position of the sun to guide them.

Amundsen knew he had no alternative. "To risk men and animals out of sheer obstinacy and continue, just because we have started on our way--that would never occur to me," he wrote. "If we are to win this game, the pieces must be moved carefully--one false move, and everything can be lost." There was nothing for it but to return to Framheim. The supplies they carried were left at the 80°S depot on September 12.

Amundsen's Quick Departure Riles Crew Member

The decision to head back to camp started a rift between some of the team and its leader. Amundsen uncharacteristically sped off with Hanssen and Wisting, leaving the other men to make their way as best they could. Some barely made it back to camp.

Johansen, who had come in last with the inexperienced Prestrud, was livid that men had been abruptly left behind without food or fuel. At breakfast the following day he confronted Amundsen in front of the others, stating that a leader should not willingly leave his men to fend for themselves. "I don't call it an expedition," Johansen said. "It's panic."

Amundsen's response to Johansen's insubordination was to take him off the pole party and put him on a team with Stubberud and Prestrud that would explore King Edward VII Land while the other five men went to the pole. But first, Amundsen had to wait for the men to recover from their frostbite.