Vivian Fuchs made the first surface crossing of the Antarctic in 1957 58 leading the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Fuchs set out on 24 November 1957 from Shackleton Base on the Weddell Sea, planning to reach the South Pole and then afterwards meet up with a team led by Sir Edmund Hillary (the first Everest summiteer), who had set out from the Ross Sea to provide supply dumps and guide Fuchs back to Scott Base. Hillary’s team, however, made such good time that they decided to push on rather than wait and themselves reached the Pole on 4 January 1958, the first overland crossing after Scott’s. Fuchs was still some 650 km away and there was an argument as to whether Hillary should wait or return, to avoid the dangers of the imminent onset of winter and whether Fuchs should try again next season. Fuchs’ answer was short and very much to the point, ‘We will find our own way out.
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? This forthright statement was enough to persuade Hillary to stick to the original plan. Fuchs then reached the Pole and left on 24 January, fortunately the second leg proved much easier. Fuchs and his team finally completed their epic 3,472 km journey after 99 days.
As an indication of the tremendous difficulties faced by anyone contemplating an Antarctic crossing, it is worth noting that the second land traverse only took place in 1980 81 when Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Charles Burton and Oliver Shepard crossed in sixty-seven days as part of their Transglobe Expedition. The third crossing was then in 1989 90, in part a celebration of Amundsen’s journey, this time using forty dogs, travelling the longest route from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to the Russian base Mirnyi via the Pole. It took seven months and all the dogs survived.
One of Antarctica’s most famous explorers is undoubtedly Richard Byrd. He was the person most responsible for introducing the use of light aircraft into the Antarctic region. Byrd led five successive expeditions to Antarctica, beginning with the historic one of 1928 30. He also discovered the Rockefeller Mountains and the Edsel Ford Mountains (now called the Ford Ranges). Initially thwarted by blizzards, on 28 November 1929, Richard Byrd as navigator and three companions became the first to fly over the South Pole, after a 10-hour flight from their base at the Bay of Whales. I decide to take it as a good omen that his radio operator was called Harry Neville Shrimpton. Subsequently, on another solo expedition, Byrd decided to test and measure the winter weather far inland. He then became trapped in his tiny hut, the first built in the interior, and suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty engine used to power the radio as well as from the oil-burning stove. Byrd hid his plight from the outside world for many weeks in order to prevent a rescue operation, as he knew, in those present weather conditions, this would end in tragedy. As his radio reports and messages became stranger and stranger it was eventually realised that Byrd was unwell and a successful rescue was finally staged. Byrd was the first real user of the radio in the Antarctic. His own words are a statement of pure Zen, ‘A man doesn’t begin to attain wisdom until he recognises that he is no longer indispensable. ?
The first full length flight over Antarctica was commenced in November 1935 by an American, Lincoln Ellsworth, who discovered and named the Ellsworth Mountains, situated close to where the Adventure Network Camp was to be sited at Patriot Hills over 50 years later. Together with his British pilot, Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, they flew a metal monoplane, appropriately named the Polar Star, from Dundee Island next to the Antarctic Peninsula, to Ross Sea (totalling close to 3,700 km). They had to land four times during the flights and they set up Camps I, II, III and IV directly on the snow. Not unexpectedly after the final take-off they ran out of fuel and from then on had to man-haul a sledge carrying their survival rations. Against all the odds they made it through and were eventually rescued on 14 January 1936.
This successful flying adventure of course changed things forever. Now airdrops of vital supplies, medicines, replacement equipment can be flown in to assist explorers and supplement their expedition needs. If someone is in grave difficulties it now means that there are more chances of being rescued and saved. Those who have gone before, with no chance of help, have really risked all and the heights of their heroism can never really be achieved again. There are, as always, those who have tried to use the power of polar flight for less scrupulous ends. During the Second World War, Hitler and Goering even arranged to send Dornier flying boats to Antarctica to try and claim it for Germany. Marker poles with swastikas were thrown on to the ice in the name of the Third Reich. If only Hitler and Goering had been thrown out instead! Perhaps Goebbels had once been to the Antarctic, which might account for the popular army song which rhymed his name with the supposedly lack of certain manly parts.