National Geographic : 1959 Jan
Commonwealth explorers conquer the last untraversed continent in a history-making trek from sea to sea across the South Pole The Crossing of Antarctica By SIR VIVIAN FUCHS Leader of the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition* With Photographs by George Lowe and Other Expedition Members AS if determined to break our will at the outset, Antarctica threw some of her worst pitfalls in our way at the very start of our two-thousand-mile journey across the continent. Before our clanking, roaring caravan of six tracked vehicles had traveled 30 miles, we found ourselves in a maze of crevasses that could not have been more diabolical if they had been traps deliberately set. Some 300 miles south of our starting point Shackleton Base on an arm of the Weddell Sea-lay our first objective, South Ice, the advance base we had established by air at 4,430 feet on the great polar ice sheet. Spring Thaws Set Death Traps Even though we had just spent more than a month in painfully pioneering an overland route, the sun meanwhile had seriously weak ened the crevasse bridges, and often danger lurked where before we had passed in safety. "It reminds me of driving a tank over a mine field," David Pratt had said during the reconnaissance, "except that in this case you are waiting for something to go down!" We did not have long to wait. On the second day out, a snow bridge fell away beneath the Sno-Cat we called Rock 'n Roll, leaving David Stratton and myself suspended in mid-air over an impressive chasm (page 26). Peering out of the right-hand side, I thought the situation looked distinctly uncomfortable; it was impossible to tell how firmly we were wedged against the sides, and in any case there was nothing to step out onto. Mean while David, my second in command, had found that on his side he could reach the rear pontoon, and I followed him out, crawling over the ladderlike track as it hung in space. At first sight, recovery seemed almost an impossibility, but after careful prospecting along the length of the crevasse, we found a point where the two Weasel snow vehicles could be brought round in front. There they were attached by steel cable to Rock 'n Roll's front axle, preventing the vehicle's front end from falling vertically into the crevasse when the two other Sno-Cats, side by side, attempted to pull it out backwards. One of Rock 'n Roll's pontoons failed to clear the edge, and we had to use our Muskeg tractor to free it. Success depended upon teamwork involving all five recovery vehicles and also upon the immense power of the other two Tucker Sno Cats, using their emergency low gear known to us as "Grandma." Grandma showed what she could do against odds, because after the recovery we discovered that Rock 'n Roll had been left in forward gear the whole time! Several times, as we pressed on, it seemed we were leaving the crevasses behind. But just as we began to feel happier, a new batch of monstrous black caverns would be found be neath innocent-seeming snow. Some of them would have accepted a double-decker bus. In a Blizzard a Plan Is Born But the story of our crossing of the con tinent really begins about eight years earlier, in a tent in an Antarctic blizzard. On a thou sand-mile exploring trip by dog sled for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, my South African friend Ray Adie and I had been confined to our sleeping bags for three days, except for brief trips outside to feed the dogs and keep them from being buried. Idly we talked of ways of making longer journeys. * In recognition of this epic achievement and its contribution to knowledge of the Antarctic, the Na tional Geographic Society has awarded Sir Vivian its Hubbard Medal, to be presented February 6 at Washington, D. C. Dr. Fuchs, knighted upon completion of the jour ney, was born in England on February 11, 1908, and educated at Brighton College and Cambridge. A geologist, he has led expeditions to Africa and has explored in the Arctic and Antarctic. With Sir Edmund Hillary, he is author of the book The Cross ing of Antarctica (Cassell & Co. Ltd., London), soon to be issued in the United States by Little, Brown & Co. Article and photographs are copyright, 1958, by the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.- The Editor.