Mount Betty

Harald Dag JølleA Nansen biographer with Mount Fridtjof Nansen in the background. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

They hadn’t had bare earth under their feet since leaving Madeira in 1910, but now Amundsen and Bjaaland were standing on a little hump of rock at over 85 degrees south. Amundsen named this hill Mount Betty after the nanny who had looked after him throughout his childhood. Behind them, Mount Fridtjof Nansen towered to 4000 metres. And there were plenty of peaks, glaciers, ridges and valley to choose from. The royal family, sponsors, friends and colleagues were among the many individuals whose names would be made immortal here in Antarctica.

On his way home, on 6 January 1912, Amundsen raised a cairn on Mount Betty, and placed a can of paraffin and two boxes of matches inside it. “Maybe these things will be of use at some time.” And most important of all, he left a narrative about his expedition. That was typical of polar communication back then. If the travellers perished on their way to Framheim, search parties would have clues, something to go on. Amundsen’s men also gathered samples of as many different rocks as they could find, here on Mount Betty.

The letter in the cairn was found by Gould during Byrd’s aerial expedition in 1928, and it is now in an American archive (we didn’t bring any reference books so we must add the caveat that we may not have our facts perfectly straight). But the sealed paraffin can is still in the cairn. It is she only known keepsake of Amundsen that remains in all of Antarctica. The only one that was placed on solid ground.

On 18 November 1911, everything was in readiness for the ascent to the South Polar Plateau. They changed their underwear, hung them up, and assumed that their dirty garments would be thoroughly aired by the time they returned. They packed provisions for five men for sixty days. They believed they had enough dog food for the ascent. After the climb, most of their four-legged comrades would pay with their lives. Amundsen and his men pulled on their clothing of reindeer skin. Their gaze was fixed on the inland plateau.

We have a fantastic campsite right beside Mount Betty. The weather is fantastic. We look at the mountains and echo Amundsen’s words: “Shining white, glowing blue, black crevices lit up by the sun; this land looks like a fairy tale.” Tomorrow it will be our turn to meet the legendary Axel Heiberg Glacier and tread the path to the Polar Plateau.

Position: S 85 13.458, W 162 48.926
Temperature: -10°C
Wind: 2-4 m/s fra the southeast
Distance traversed: 34 km
Distance behind Amundsen: 99 km
Total distance traversed: 708 km
Distance remaining to the South Pole: 603 km