Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumbFew accomplishments capture the imagination more than that of the New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, when he successfully reached the summit of Mt. Everest, the tallest point on earth in 1953. He and his Nepali sherpa climbing companion, Tenzing Norgay, successfully reached that fabled summit and were at the top of the world! The next most famous event was the discovery of both the North and South Poles earlier in the 20th century.


The race to the South Pole by was ultimately won in December of 1911 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, but another team, lead by Robert Falcon Scott would reach it in January of 1912. Neither of these men would make the return trip alive. During the International Geophysical Year of 1958, Sir Edmund Hillary led a group of explorers on the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition on a trek across Antarctica in commemoration of the feat of those two earlier heroes. Ironically, this was the same year that saw the Russians launch the first man-made satellite. Sputnik I, into space, heating up the cold war and challenging America’s technology leadership in the world.

The Commonwealth represented a coalition of western nations to commemorate mankind’s challenge to nature while the latter event (Sputnik) put the world’s two superpowers on a collision course toward nuclear war. It is interesting to note that the trans-Antarctic expedition was almost as challenging to man in 1958 as it had been to the original explorers in 1911-12. The launch of Sputnik triggered events that eventually led, in 1969, to man taking his first steps on another frontier, the Moon. We are now peacefully sharing the frontiers of space with a joint effort of the international community, not using it for the destruction of mankind.

But, let us now get into an examination of the events that led to man’s search and discovery of the South Pole, as commemorated by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4063 Words ]


Quotations Related to Sir Edmund Hillary (Antarctica):


“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
— Edmund Hillary

“There is precious little in civilization to appeal to a Yeti.”
— Edmund Hillary

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
— Edmund Hillary

“Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.”
— Edmund Hillary

“Sea ice conditions have remained stable in Antarctica generally.”
— Ian Allison

“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.”
— Andrew Denton

“As a scientist, my attention became totally focused on global warming some 15 years ago by the elegant and powerful measurements of carbon dioxide trapped in ice cores taken as much as 2 miles deep from the great East Antarctica ice sheet.”
— John Olver

“Ten percent of the big fish still remain. There are still some blue whales. There are still some krill in Antarctica. There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet. There’s still time, but not a lot, to turn things around.”
— Sylvia Earle


Sir Edmund Hillary: Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition…


The_Fram_Under_SailThe 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE) was a Commonwealth-sponsored expedition that successfully completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica, via the South Pole. It was the first expedition to reach the South Pole overland for 46 years, preceded only by Amundsen’s and Scott’s respective parties in 1911 and 1912.

In keeping with the tradition of polar expeditions of the ‘heroic age’ the CTAE was a private venture, though it was supported by the governments of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States, Australia and South Africa, as well as many corporate and individual donations, under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II. It was headed by British explorer Dr Vivian Fuchs, with New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary leading the New Zealand Ross Sea Support team. The New Zealand party included scientists participating in International Geophysical Year (IGY) research while the UK IGY team were separately based at Halley Bay.

Fuchs was knighted for his accomplishment. The second crossing of the continent did not happen until 1981, during the Transglobe Expedition led by Ranulph Fiennes.

Edmund Hillary croppedSir Edmund Percival Hillary, KG, ONZ, KBE (20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008), was a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953 at the age of 33, he and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest – see Timeline of climbing Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. He was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Hillary became interested in mountaineering while in secondary school, making his first major climb in 1939, reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier. He served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II. Before the successful expedition in 1953 to Everest, he had been part of a reconnaissance expedition to the mountain in 1951 and an unsuccessful attempt to climb Cho Oyu in 1952. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition he reached the South Pole overland in 1958. He would later also travel to the North Pole.


Kaspersky ONE Transantarctic Expedition 2011…  (2:34)




Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition (1910-11)

Nlc_amundsenThe first expedition to reach the geographic South Pole was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He and four others arrived at the pole on 14 December 1911, five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base, and later learned that Scott and his four companions had died on their return journey.

Amundsen’s initial plans had focused on the Arctic and the conquest of the North Pole by means of an extended drift in an icebound ship. He obtained the use of Fridtjof Nansen’s polar exploration ship Fram, and undertook extensive fundraising. Preparations for this expedition were disrupted when, in 1909, the rival American explorers Frederick Cook and Robert E. Peary each claimed to have reached the North Pole. Amundsen then changed his plan and began to prepare for a conquest of the South Pole; uncertain of the extent to which the public and his backers would support him, he kept this revised objective secret. When he set out in June 1910, even most of his crew believed they were embarking on an Arctic drift.

Amundsen made his Antarctic base, "Framheim", in the Bay of Whales on the Great Ice Barrier. After months of preparation, depot-laying and a false start that ended in near-disaster, he and his party set out for the pole in October 1911. In the course of their journey they discovered the Axel Heiberg Glacier, which provided their route to the polar plateau and ultimately to the South Pole. The party’s mastery of the use of skis and their expertise with sledge dogs ensured rapid and relatively trouble-free travel. Other achievements of the expedition included the first exploration of King Edward VII Land and an extensive oceanographic cruise.

AmundsenSouthPoleParty1911Men and dogs at the 85° South depot, on the way to the pole,
15 November 1911

Although the expedition’s success was widely applauded, the story of Scott’s heroic failure overshadowed its achievement. Also, Amundsen’s decision to keep his true plans secret until the last moment was criticized by some. Recent polar historians have more fully recognized the skill and courage of Amundsen’s party; the permanent scientific base at the pole bears his name, together with that of Scott.

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Terra Nova Expedition (1910–1912)

Robert_falcon_scottThe Terra Nova Expedition (1910–1912), officially the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, was led by Robert Falcon Scott with the objective of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Scott and four companions attained the pole on 17 January 1912, to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had preceded them by 33 days. Scott’s entire party died on the return journey from the pole; some of their bodies, journals, and photographs were discovered by a search party eight months later.

Scott was an experienced polar commander, having previously led the Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic in 1901–04. The Terra Nova Expedition, named after its supply ship, was a private venture, financed by public contributions augmented by a government grant. It had further backing from the Admiralty, which released experienced seamen to the expedition, and from the Royal Geographical Society. As well as its polar attempt, the expedition carried out a comprehensive scientific program, and explored Victoria Land and the Western Mountains. An attempted landing and exploration of King Edward VII Land was unsuccessful. A journey to Cape Crozier in June and July 1911 was the first extended sledging journey in the depths of the Antarctic winter.

For many years after his death, Scott’s status as tragic hero was unchallenged, and few questions were asked about the causes of the disaster which overcame his polar party. In the final quarter of the 20th century the expedition came under closer scrutiny, and more critical views were expressed about its organization and management. The degree of Scott’s personal culpability remains a matter of controversy among commentators.

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ScottgroupScott’s party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing)
Oates, Scott, Wilson; (seated) Bowers, Edgar Evans


Exploration of the South Pole (Antarctica)



Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting (l–r)
at "Polheim", the tent erected at the South Pole on 16 December 1911.
The top flag is the Flag of Norway; the bottom is marked "Fram".
Photograph by Olav Bjaaland.

The first attempt to find a route from the Antarctic coastline to the South Pole was made by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on the Discovery Expedition of 1901–04. Scott, accompanied by Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, set out with the aim of travelling as far south as possible, and on 31 December 1902, reached 82°16′ S. Shackleton later returned to Antarctica as leader of the British Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod Expedition) in a bid to reach the Pole. On 9 January 1909, with three companions, he reached 88°23′ S – 112 statute miles from the Pole – before being forced to turn back.

The first humans to reach the Geographic South Pole were Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his party on December 14, 1911. Amundsen named his camp Polheim and the entire plateau surrounding the Pole King Haakon VII Vidde in honor of King Haakon VII of Norway. Robert Falcon Scott had also returned to Antarctica with his second expedition, the Terra Nova Expedition, in a race against Amundsen to the Pole. Scott and four other men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen. On the return trip, Scott and his four companions all died of starvation and extreme cold.

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out with the goal of crossing Antarctica via the South Pole, but his ship, the Endurance, was frozen in pack-ice and sank 11 months later. The overland journey was never made.

US Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, with the assistance of his first pilot Bernt Balchen, became the first person to fly over the South Pole on November 29, 1928.


SPSM_05Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The ceremonial pole and flags can be seen in the
background, slightly to the left of center, below
the tracks behind the buildings. The actual
geographic pole is a few more metres to the left.
The buildings are raised on stilts to prevent
snow build up.

It was not until 31 October 1956 that humans once again set foot at the South Pole, when a party led by Admiral George J. Dufek of the US Navy landed there in an R4D-5L Skytrain (C-47 Skytrain) aircraft. The US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was established by air over 1956–1957 for the International Geophysical Year and has been continuously staffed since then by research and support personnel.

After Amundsen and Scott, the next people to reach the South Pole overland (albeit with some air support) were Edmund Hillary (January 4, 1958) and Vivian Fuchs (January 19, 1958) and their respective parties, during the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. There have been many subsequent expeditions to arrive at the South Pole by surface transportation, including those by Havola, Crary and Fiennes.

Subsequent to the establishment, in 1987, of the logistic support base at Patriot Hills, the South Pole became more accessible to non government expeditions.

On December 30, 1989, Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner were the first to traverse Antarctica via the South Pole without animal or motorized help, using only skis and the help of wind.

The fastest unsupported journey to the Geographic South Pole from the ocean is 24 days and one hour from Hercules Inlet and was set in 2011 by Norwegian adventurer Christian Eide, who beat the previous solo record set in 2009 by American Todd Carmichael of 39 days and seven hours, and the previous group record also set in 2009 of 33 days and 23 hours.

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Preparations for the Commonwealth Expedition


Preparations began in London in 1955. Over the southern summer of 1955–56 Fuchs sailed with an advance party from London to Antarctica in the Canadian sealer Theron, with the purpose of establishing Shackleton Base near Vahsel Bay on the Weddell Sea, from which the trans-Antarctic expedition would begin. The Theron, like its immediate forbears, the Endurance (1914 Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition) and the Deutschland (Filchner’s German Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1911), was trapped in the ice. Fortunately, despite sustaining considerable damage, she was able to free herself with the help of the Auster Antarctic floatplane that scouted a way out. In early 1956 Fuchs sailed back to London, leaving eight men to over-winter at Shackleton.

The eight men of the advance party, led by Kenneth Blaiklock, were left on the ice, having only tents and a packing crate as shelter. Most of the stores were left on the bay ice, some two miles (3 km) from the site of where the base was to be set up. Their first task was to get all these stores from the bay ice to the base and to try to build some permanent shelter for the oncoming winter. Once a modicum of food and a little fuel (paraffin) had been brought up and the dogs safely tethered by the base, the men started to build their hut. This proved to be far more difficult than had been envisaged – not only were the eight men insufficient in number to carry out the heavy tasks easily but the weather at Shackleton proved to be colder and much windier than had been anticipated. When the skeleton of the hut was complete, it was decided to position the crates containing the wall and roof panels around the building site. Then disaster struck. A blizzard blew up; it lasted for more than a week, the temperature dropped to −20 °C and the drift around the base made it impossible to do any work outside. The men sheltered in their crate and slept in their tents which were constantly in danger of getting buried by the drift. When finally the wind subsided the scene had changed out of all recognition. The giant crates of wall panels had all disappeared under many feet of drift and the unfinished hut itself was full of snow. But worse still, when the men went to look for the remaining stores on the bay ice, they found nothing but water. The bay ice had broken off taking all the remaining stores with it. Much food and fuel a couple of huts and a tractor had all gone to sea.

This major set-back condemned the men to a lot of hard work, trying to retrieve the crates which they did by tunneling under the snow; incidentally the tunnels proved to be useful kennels for the dogs protecting them from the unexpectedly severe winter conditions at Shackleton. The party of eight survived the winter with some difficulty living by day in the tractor crate and sleeping in their tents, two men to each tent. The winter temperatures often fell well below −30 °C but worse than this was the wind. Shackleton proved to be a very windy place, this made work outdoors unpleasant, all stores lying in the snow tended to get buried and there was a constant danger of their getting lost.

Despite all these vicissitudes, the eight survived the winter in reasonably good health and finally completed the building of the hut save for one hole in the roof the panel for which was never recovered from its icy resting place.

They managed to take a number of journeys to collect seals for the dogs and to scout a route to the south. They used dogs and the Weasel tractor, while the one Snocat that they had never functioned properly as it seemed that someone had dropped a nut into one of its eight cylinders.


The Commonwealth Expedition


In December 1956 Fuchs returned on Danish Polar vessel Magga Dan with additional supplies, and the southern summer of 1956–1957 was spent consolidating Shackleton Base and establishing the smaller South Ice Base about 300 miles (480 km) inland to the south.

After spending the winter of 1957 at Shackleton Base, Fuchs finally set out on the trans-continental journey in November 1957, with a twelve-man team travelling in six vehicles; three Snocats, two Weasels and one specially adapted Muskeg tractor. En route, the team were also tasked with carrying out scientific research including seismic soundings and gravimetric readings.

In parallel Hillary’s team had set up Scott Base – which was to be Fuchs’ final destination – on the opposite side of the continent at McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea. Using three converted Massey Ferguson TE20 tractor and one Weasel (abandoned part-way), Hillary and his three men (Ron Balham, Peter Mulgrew and Murray Ellis), were responsible for route-finding and laying a line of supply depots up the Skelton Glacier and across the Polar Plateau on towards the South Pole, for the use of Fuchs on the final leg of his journey. Other members of Hillary’s team carried out geological surveys around the Ross Sea and Victoria Land areas.

RNZAF Transantarctic DHC BeaverRNZAF DHC-2 Beaver
aircraft that supported Hillary’s team.

It was not originally intended that Hillary would travel as far as the South Pole, but when he had completed laying supply depots he saw the opportunity to beat the British and continued south, reaching the Pole – where the US Amundsen-Scott Station had recently been established by air – on January 3, 1958. Hillary’s party was just the third (preceded by Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912) to reach the Pole overland. Hillary’s arrival also marked the first time that land vehicles had ever reached the Pole.

Fuchs’ team reached the Pole from the opposite direction on 19 January 1958, where they met up with Hillary. Fuchs then continued overland, following the route that Hillary had laid, while Hillary flew back to Scott Base in a US plane (he would later rejoin Fuchs by plane for part of the remaining overland journey). The overland party finally arrived at Scott Base on March 2, 1958, having completed the historic crossing of 3,473 km (2,158 miles) of previously unexplored snow and ice in 99 days. A few days later the expedition members left Antarctica for New Zealand on the New Zealand naval ship, Endeavour. The ship was captained by Harry Kirkwood.

Although large quantities of supplies were hauled overland, both parties were also equipped with light aircraft and made extensive use of air support for reconnaissance and supply depoting. Additional logistical help was provided by US personnel who were working in Antarctica at that time. Both parties also took dog teams which were used for field work trips and backup in case of failure of the mechanical transportation – though the dogs were not taken all the way to the Pole. In December 1957 four men from the expedition flew one of the planes – a de Havilland Canada Otter – on an eleven hour, 1,430-mile (2,300 km) non-stop trans-polar flight across the Antarctic continent from Shackleton Base via the Pole to Scott Base, following roughly the same route as Fuchs’ overland party.

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Death of Sir Edmund Hillary


New_Zealand_flag_half_mastNew Zealand flag at half-mast to mark the death of Hillary

On 11 January 2008, Hillary died of heart failure at the Auckland City Hospital at around 9 am NZDT (10 January at 20:00 UTC) at the age of 88. Hillary’s death was announced by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark at around 11:20 am. She stated that his passing was a "profound loss to New Zealand". His death was recognized by the lowering of flags to half-mast on all Government and public buildings and at Scott Base in Antarctica. Actor and adventurer Brian Blessed, who attempted to climb Everest three times, described Sir Edmund as a "kind of titan". He was in hospital at the time of his death but was expected to come home that day according to his family.    

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The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition – Part 1 of 5…  (9:50)



Please take time to further explore more about Sir Edmund Hillary, Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, South Pole, Antarctica, Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition, Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Roald Amundsen. Robert Falcon Scott, Mountaineering, Mount Everest by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…





Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1821…
    Elizabeth Ann Seton, First American Catholic Saint, dies in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

  • In 1885…
    Physician William W. Grant performs the first recorded appendectomy in the United States, successfully removing Mary Gartside’s appendix in Davenport, Iowa, allowing the 22-year-old patient to make a full recovery.

  • In 1896…
    Utah becomes the forty-fifth state.

  • In 1936…
    Jazz violinist Joe Venuti’s "Stop, Look, and Listen" is the first track to top Hit Parade, Billboard magazine’s inaugural pop music chart based on national album sales.

  • In 1958:
    Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand explorer best known for having reached the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953, successfully leads the first overland expedition to arrive at the South Pole since the expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott in 1911-1912.

  • In 1965…
    President Lyndon B. Johnson presents his plan for the “Great Society” in his state of the Union address, leading to the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as part of his “War on Poverty.”

  • In 1994…
    Newt Gingrich becomes speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, ending four decades of Democratic majority in the House. Gingrich is currently campaigning for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

  • In 2004…
    Spirit, a robotic rover, lands on Mars to explore the planet.

  • In 2007…
    Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman to hold the office of speaker of the House as the 110th Congress convenes.


Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Sir Edmund Hillary…

Wikipedia: Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition…

Wikipedia: South Pole (Antarctica)…

Wikipedia: Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition…

Wikipedia: Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition…

Wikipedia: Mountaineering…

Wikipedia: Mount Everest…

Brainy Quote: Sir Edmund Hillary Quotes

Brainy Quote: Antarctica Quotes…


Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Frank Hurley: Australian Photographer and Adventurer…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Captain Nathaniel Palmer: First American to See Antarctica…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Lewis and Clark Expedition: The Return to St. Lewis…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Admiral Richard Byrd: Arctic Explorer Flies over South Pole…