The Trans-Antarctic Expedition
Although the two terms TAE (Trans-Antarctic Expedition) and IGY (International Geophysical Year) are used together, they are in fact, two independent events that occurred at the same time.
The TAE – also known as the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE) – aimed to complete the first overland crossing of the Antarctic Continent – a frigid 3473 km journey from the Weddell Sea, via the South Pole, to McMurdo Sound. It was timed to capitalise on the global interest already generated by the IPY programme of 1957-58.
The TAE consisted of two
The Ross Sea Party was charged with supporting the Crossing Party’s endeavour, by building a base at McMurdo Sound, laying supply depots and establishing a vehicle route from the Polar Plateau through the Western mountains and back to Ross Island.
Pre-Antarctic training for this epic journey began in August 1956. On 21 December 1956 the HMNZS Endeavour set sail from Wellington, New Zealand, carrying the men and a variety of transport to support their Antarctic attempt, including dogs, sno-cats, the famed Ferguson tractors and Auster and Beaver aircraft.
Upon arrival in McMurdo Sound, Hilary’s team began the onerous task of constructing the base, from which reconnaissance flights and dog teams explored possible routes for Fuchs’ Crossing Party until March 1957. In September of that year, expedition equipment was tested during coastal explorations around the Dry Valleys and Ferrar Glacier.
The Crossing Party departed from the Weddell Sea on 24 November 1957. By 19 January 1958 they had reached the South Pole and on 2 March they reached their final destination, Scott base – they had conquered the often-featureless expanse of Antarctica in just 99 days.
The Ross Sea Party support team, along with the Southern Tractor Party – Edmund Hillary, Murray Ellis, Jim Bates, Peter Mulgrew and Derrick Wright – left Scott Base on 14 October 1957 with 10 tonnes of cargo, three Ferguson tractors and a Weasel (tracked vehicle) in tow. They charted a route from Scott Base to the South Pole and cached supplies and food en-route, reaching the South Pole on 4 January 1958.
There was more to the TAE than human exploration and triumph over adversity. One of the driving forces behind the expedition was the ongoing pursuit of scientific knowledge. Geological surveys were executed along the polar route by three aircraft-assisted field parties.
The Northern Survey Party (Richard Brooke, Bernie Gunn, Guyon Warren and Murray Douglas) departed Scott Base on 4 October 1957 on a four-month exploration of the Mawson and Skelton glaciers.
The Southern Survey Party (Bob Miller and George Marsh) explored the Nimrod and Beardmore glaciers. They flew to Skelton Depot on 20 October 1957, sledging back to Scott Base and arriving on 23 February 1958.
The Darwin Glacier Survey Party (Harry Ayres and Roy Carlyon) explored the Mulock and Barne glaciers. They were joined by Selwyn Bucknell and Bill Cranfield, and together they established a route down the Darwin Glacier, before returning to Scott Base on 22 January 1958.
In total, the three scientific parties explored 103,600 km2 of uncharted continent. The Otter aircraft flew non-stop from the Weddell Sea to Scott Base (via the South Pole) on 6 January 1958, the first single engine aircraft ever to fly non-stop across Antarctica.