Sir Edmund Hillary – the Ultimate Inspirational Explorer
Sir Ed – as he is affectionately referred to in New Zealand – is one of the world’s most famous mountaineers. On 29 May 1953, he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain.
The Next Big Adventure
Following his success reaching the summit of Everest, Ed Hillary was asked to lead New Zealand’s team of 23 explorers and scientists as part of ‘TAE’ – the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955–58), which was to be led by Englishman Dr Vivian Fuchs, and the ‘IGY’ – the International Geophysical Year (1957–58), a collaborative scientific project involving 67 countries.
Throwing blocks of snow on board HMNZS ‘Endeavour’ to replenish the water supply.
Tractor train about to move off on main journey south, October 1957.
Hot Competition to be Part of the Team
The team of 23 men were the first New Zealanders ever to spend the winter months at Scott Base.
When the call for applications went out, 665 men replied! These included ages 15 to 59; thirteen nationalities; and over 50 occupations.
That they would have to spend a year in Antarctica, and be part of the small team that would be there during the long, dark winter, obviously didn’t put these men off. The skills that were needed ranged from mechanics to mountaineers, doctors to dog experts, surveyors to scientists. And let’s not forgot the importance of the cook!
The New Zealand party also needed nearly another 30 men to carry out the initial base construction, and set up the IGY programme. This included those with media reporting and filming skills. This summer crew, who were vital to setting up the expedition base, would leave Antarctica on 22 February 1957.
It was a huge planning exercise to make sure there were accommodation and supplies for all, including the 60 dogs that had to be housed and fed; and making sure there was sufficient fuel and food to stock the depots for Fuchs’ TAE crossing party.
Heading Away on the Great Adventure
In December 1956, with all the preparation done, the New Zealand party headed for Antarctica by sea. Most were on HMNZS Endeavour. Some sailed on two American vessels. The Americans were hugely helpful to the Kiwis, which Hillary greatly appreciated.
“… their kindness and generosity were to be defining factors in the success of the expedition.” (Hillary’s Antarctica, Nigel Watson)
Setting off, Ed Hillary thought about the wives and young children of the wintering over party.
“In many ways the tasks our wives faced were more difficult than ours – they had all the work and the worry without the compensations of excitement and adventure.”