December 14, 1911 main content.

December 14, 1911

Part of the Race to the End of the Earth exhibition.

Led By Amundsen, The Norwegians Achieve The Pole

First To Reach The South Pole, Amundsen Leaves Letters For Scott: December 14, 1911

Although the Norwegian team had reached the plateau, travel remained very difficult with many crevasses to cross. On December 7, 1912, they passed Shackleton's farthest point south, prompting Amundsen to mark the occasion: "Now 88°23' was past; we were further south than any human being had been. No other moment of the whole trip affected me like this."

The Norwegians raced toward their goal; all the while they dreaded sighting some indication of Scott's presence. What would it be?

"Shall we see the English flag--God have mercy on us, I don't believe it," Bjaaland wrote the evening before the final push.

Finally, on the afternoon of December 14, 1911, it was over. The race had been won. Roald Amundsen had reached the geographical South Pole.

Wisting, Hassel, Hanssen, and Bjaaland joined Amundsen in holding up a pole with the Norwegian colors. They looked around them, but could see nothing from horizon to horizon - just snow and ice. There was nothing other than their eyes and their instruments to tell them that, yes, they were at the bottom of the planet. And that they were first.

Searching For The Precise South Pole

For the next three days Amundsen fussed. They had reached the area of the pole, but his instruments were not capable of giving an absolutely precise position.

True to his character, Amundsen wanted to leave nothing to chance or later criticism. He got the men up at 11 pm to take sextant readings. Because the sun hardly varied in altitude during its course during this time of year, it is not surprising that their calculations were not in agreement: "It clearly shows how unreliable and valueless a single observation like this is in these regions."

Amundsen sent out Bjaaland, Wisting, and Hassel 12 miles (20 km) in three different directions, thinking that one of them at least would cross the invisible point of approximation of all meridians. Then, Amundsen checked his observations once more and pitched a tent--Polheim--"as near to the Pole as humanly possible with the instruments at our disposal" and named the local part of the polar plateau for his king, Haakon VII.

Inside the tent he placed some letters and other things that Scott would discover nearly five weeks later.