November 1911 main content.

November 1911

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

Worsening Conditions Slow Travel; Amundsen And Crew Still 300 Miles From Pole By Late November

Crew Ordered To Butcher Two-Dozen Unneeded Dogs

At the start of their journey south, the Norwegians paced themselves, sledging just five or six hours per day, saving strength for later. The Norwegians were driving their dogs expertly, resting them at hourly intervals to maximize their efficiency. "We had reason to be satisfied that we had come off so easily," Amundsen wrote. "Thus far the trip had been a good one for the animals," he continued. "We never had to move a foot; all we had to do was to let ourselves be towed." And still they were traveling twice as fast as Scott.

Thanks to their fall depot-laying trips, they had managed to cache, on a per man basis, ten times the food and fuel that the British had. Amundsen had built a safety net, allowing for a missed depot or a prolonged storm.

By contrast, Scott was always skirting the edges of his possibilities. Any grave mishap or miscalculation would have placed him and his men in serious danger.

Even Amundsen could only manage his circumstances up to a point. On November 1, coasting into pea-soup thick fog that restricted visibility to a few sledge lengths, Amundsen pressed on despite being hampered by crevasse after crevasse. At one point, Hanssen, who had been leading the sledge train, fell into a crevasse and soon after his rescue, Hassel did the same. But, at least according to Amundsen's account, the Norwegians simply laughed off these brushes with disaster. Once out of immediate danger, they went back into position and carried on with their journey.

Searching For A Way Onto The Plateau

On November 17, the Norwegians reached the Transantarctic Mountains, which line the continental edge of East Antarctica. They left provisions in a depot, carrying enough for sixty days, and then began a laborious search for a passage up and onto the plateau (now named the East Antarctic Ice Sheet) beyond. For Shackleton in 1909, the route to the plateau had been up the massive feature that he named the Beardmore Glacier, a frozen torrent of plateau ice 125 miles (200 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide.

Amundsen needed the same brand of luck to find his highway. After three days' search he saw what he was looking for, a great glacier 30 miles (48 km) long leading up to the plateau. He named it for Axel Heiberg, a venture capitalist who was one of his major financiers.

Amundsen discussed strategy with his men. They would use all the dogs for the climb, then slaughter twenty-four of them, leaving eighteen for crossing the plateau beyond the mountains. To the sound of ice avalanches crashing in the distance, the Norwegians and their forty-two dogs fought their way up the middle of the glacier for 20 miles (31.5 km), reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,050 m). "Come and say dogs cannot be used here," Amundsen wrote defiantly.

Reluctant Crew Butchers Dogs On Amundsen's Orders

Having achieved the edge, if not the actual top, of the plateau, according to plan Amundsen ordered the dogs that would not continue on to the pole to be shot and butchered to feed those that would. This was a very difficult task for these very tough men to do. They had grown fond of their animals and hated putting them down. But they did what was required and this camp became the Slakteri, or "The Butchery," for its blood-stained snows. "There was depression and sadness in the air," and the men were glad to leave this now-haunted place.

They were still more than 300 miles (480 km) away from the South Pole.