Fresh from his Everest conquest, Sir Ed Hillary was chosen to help lead the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) - an ambitious coast to coast crossing of Antarctica.

The TAE consisted of two teams - the crossing party led by British explorer Dr Vivian Fuchs, and the New Zealand Ross Sea Support Party led by Sir Ed.

The base on the Ross Sea side of the continent (Scott Base) was to be established by the New Zealand contingent. From there, a field party would lay supply depots on the Polar Plateau and towards the South Pole to support the crossing party.

It was following the successful completion of the depot-laying mission that Sir Ed made the controversial ‘dash to the pole’, without the express permission of the TAE and against the instructions of the committee co-ordinating New Zealand's contribution. In doing so, his party became the first to reach the South Pole overland since Scott’s ill-fated expedition in 1912.

We are heading hell-bent for the Pole - God willing and crevasses permitting.
— Sir Edmund Hillary

Fuchs’ party reached the South Pole from the opposite direction some two weeks later, and continued on towards the Ross Sea along the route that Sir Ed’s team had laid out for them.

Fuchs' snowcat on the move. Photo: Canterbury Museum

Fuchs' snowcat on the move. Photo: Canterbury Museum

At the same time, the International Geophysical Year (1957-58) saw the establishment of numerous scientific bases in the Antarctic continent in a new wave of scientific collaboration between countries that had formerly been rivals. New Zealand scientists conducting geological research for the IGY were also part of the team who established the base.

In a just over a year on the Ice, Sir Ed's’s TAE/IGY party had established Scott Base, supported Fuchs and explored and mapped considerable areas of the Ross Sea region and the Transantarctic Mountains, laying the foundations for the more detailed mapping and geology that was to follow. The remaining original building ‘Hillary’s Hut’ represents the beginning of the modern era of the study of the continent from the Ross Sea region and marks the foundation of New Zealand’s Scott Base.

 

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Raising the New Zealand flag at Scott Base, 20 January 1957. Standing at the flagpole are Ramon Tito AB and Jim Hadfield AB. In line from the left are Captain Kirkwood RNZN, Sir Edmund Hillary, Rear Admiral George Dufek USN, a USN Office, Captain H Ruegg (Administrator of Ross Dependency), AS Helm (Secretary of the Ross Sea Committee), LW Tarr RNZAF, Commander Flynn USN, and in a group on the far right, other members of the New Zealand and US expeditions. Photo: John Claydon.