March 7, 1912: The Discovery of the South Pole

On March 7, 1912, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen announced to the world that he had discovered the South Pole.
Edward Adrian Wilson, Robert Falcon Scott, Lawrence Oates, Henry Robertson Bowers and Edgar Evans at the South Pole

On March 7, 1912, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen announced to the world that he had discovered the South Pole. Today, we reconstruct the moment when Amundsen’s expedition arrived at the South Pole, and its members became the first known men to set foot at those latitudes. This text is a fictional account developed from documents and other historical sources.

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December 14, South Pole. Never before has anyone achieved such success in a place so diametrically remote from their origin as I have now. Three years ago, the explorer Robert Peary snatched away the dream I had harbored since childhood, that of being the first to reach the North Pole, and here I am at the South Pole. After all the calculations and measurements with our devices, I can assert that we are (with minimal margin of error) in the last corner of the Earth yet to be trodden by man.

It’s been a long and intense day, and now it’s time to enjoy some well-deserved rest in the tent we’ve set up on the plain we’ve named Haakon VII in honor of the King of Norway. It’s the same boundless white plain we’ve been crossing for days, desolate and covered in snow, at an altitude of 3,000 meters. Even so, it seems to me the most extraordinary landscape I’ve ever seen in my life. Finding a different view here – the British flag of the expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, competing with us in this icy and snowy race to the pole – would have been a real disappointment.

When we woke up this morning, at 89°45′ south latitude, we knew that today would be the day. Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, Olav Bjaaland, and I had breakfast even faster than usual. We were eager to meet our destiny.

The day was splendid, but at ten o’clock in the morning, a light breeze arose, covering everything in clouds that made visibility difficult. But perhaps this was better than the scorching sun reflecting off the perpetual white expanse of the Antarctic plateau, making it difficult to distinguish terrain features and causing snow blindness. We proceeded mechanically, sometimes slipping on the fresh snow. By noon, we were at 89°53′ south latitude. Just eight kilometers from our goal, Hansen, who was leading the expedition, gave me his place and the honor of being the first to set foot on the pole.

Nervous and excited like never before, we scrutinized what little the clouds allowed us to see in search of signs of the Englishmen’s passage. I knew that, given the date, it was materially impossible for Scott and his men to have been ahead of us, but the concern of seeing his flag fluttering so close to our goal was always present. Yet, no matter how hard we strained, all we saw was an endless white plain stretching out before us. Even the tireless dogs that had brought us here ceased their curiosity in exploring the surroundings, aware that they would find nothing different from the bland landscape they had moved through in recent days.

At three in the afternoon, the sled guides shouted “stop!” According to their calculations, we had covered the 1,400 kilometers separating our base in Antarctica, Framheim, on the Ross Ice Shelf, from the South Pole. The emotion of that moment is indescribable. Obviously, it is impossible to determine that this is the exact South Pole, but according to the meticulous calculations Helmer Hansen has made in these weeks, we are so close to it that no one will doubt that we have trodden the point where the four cardinal points become one.

There we conducted the most solemn ceremony of all: the raising of the Norwegian flag, an act that, as a just reward, the men who accompanied me on this journey performed by my side, risking their own lives. Five frozen hands nailed the flagpole that now proudly flies the flag, cradled by the Antarctic wind.

Only then did we allow ourselves a few minutes to remember the hardships overcome during this journey, watching the hypnotic movement of the Norwegian flag with its brilliant red and blue colors contrasting with the white Antarctic background. We immediately set up the tent in which we now take refuge. Wisting is engraving “South Pole” and today’s date on all our objects to have a souvenir of this unforgettable day. Now all that’s left is to take a nap and wait for midnight to perform a final measurement of the sun, which will allow us to determine our position more accurately. Meanwhile, the sun shines brilliantly; it’s an indescribable and disconcerting spectacle. At this latitude, the sun shines practically in the same position for all twenty-four hours of the day.

The South Pole has been conquered by Norway! It is our flag that flutters over the earth’s axis, not the British one. Where are Scott and his men now? Will they arrive while we are still here? Will we cross paths on the return journey? I hope that when they reach this point, the disappointment of spotting our flag does not prevent them from acknowledging the value of the endeavor they have managed to achieve, and I wish them a smooth and straightforward journey back. In our tent, I will leave a letter for King Haakon VII, so they may deliver it should we, God forbid, encounter misfortune and not make it back home.

This narrative, blending the icy starkness of the Antarctic with the fiery spirit of human ambition, captures not just a geographical conquest but a moment of profound human achievement. Amundsen’s expedition, marked by meticulous planning, daring, and endurance, symbolizes the indomitable will to explore the unknown. The South Pole, once a mere point on the map, veiled in mystery and danger, became a stage for one of the most remarkable chapters in the annals of exploration. The Norwegian flag, standing alone in the vast white emptiness, is not just a symbol of national pride, but a testament to the courage, teamwork, and perseverance that define the human spirit.

As we commemorate this century-old achievement, the story of Amundsen and his team continues to inspire. Their journey reminds us of the extraordinary lengths to which curiosity and the quest for knowledge can take us. It speaks to the enduring allure of the unexplored, the beauty of discovery, and the timeless urge to venture beyond the horizon. In the podcast that accompanies this text, we dive deeper into the adventure, exploring not just the physical journey across the ice, but the inner journey of the men who dared to dream and, through their daring, expanded the boundaries of the possible.

This reimagining of Amundsen’s triumph at the South Pole, drawn from historical documents and embellished with the spirit of adventure, celebrates not only a pivotal moment in exploration history but also the enduring human quest for discovery. It’s a story of reaching the ends of the Earth and, in doing so, finding something profound within ourselves.

Alex Sala

Storica National Geographic, March 2024


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