As the man who conquered the world’s highest mountain, Sir Edmund Hillary clearly relished a challenge. So when the opportunity arose to travel to Antarctica as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955–58, the gritty New Zealander leapt at the chance.
Led by Britain’s Dr. Vivian Fuchs, the expedition’s objective was to be the first to cross the entire Antarctic continent, overland, in mechanised vehicles. For his part, Hillary was to set out from Scott Base on McMurdo Sound, laying a line of fuel and food depots as he went, but stopping some 500 miles short of the Pole itself. Fuchs would then use these depots to complete his journey from Shackleton Base, on the other side of the continent.
Using three modified Massey Ferguson TE20 tractors, Hillary’s team made good progress, reaching the final depot on December 15th 1957. But for Fuchs and his party, it was a different story. Despite using Sno-cats and other supposedly more sophisticated vehicles, they were still some 1,200 miles away.
Now Hillary faced a dilemma: wait around at the depot or press on to the Pole? For an adventurer like him, it was no contest. He and his team made a dash for glory, and on January 4th 1958 they became the first people to reach the South Pole overland since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912.