THE FIRST CROSSING OF ANTARCTICA

FUCHS, Sir Vivian Ernest and Sir Edmund HILLARY. The Crossing of Antarctica. The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955-58. London: Hazell Watson and Viney Ltd for Cassell & Company Limited, 1958.

Octavo (222 x 140mm), pp. [2 (blank l.)], xv, [2 (maps)], [1 (blank)], 338, [2 (blank l.)]. One double-page colour-printed plate bearing title, 16 colour-printed plates with photographic illustrations recto-and-verso after George Lowe et al., 2 double-page, 16 half-tone plates with photographic illustrations recto-and-verso Lowe et al., and 9 full-page maps in the text. (A few unobtrusive small marks.) Original light-blue cloth, spine lettered and decorated in silver, map endpapers, dustwrapper, retaining price. (Extremities very lightly rubbed and bumped, spine-ends slightly faded, dustwrapper slightly faded and marked on spine, a few light marks on panels, edges slightly creased and chipped.) A very good, internally fresh copy.

First edition. Fuchs (1908-1999) read natural sciences at St John’s College, Cambridge, where his tutor was James Wordie, ‘the geologist and senior scientist on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition (1914-17). Wordietook Fuchs on an expedition to Greenland in 1929, an experience that proved a major influence on his life’ (ODNB). After graduating in 1930 Fuchs participated in the Cambridge University expedition to the East African lakes in 1930-1931 and Louis Leakey’s expedition to Olduvai Gorge in 1931-1932, before returning to Africa in 1933 to lead his own expedition to Lake Rudolf and the Rift Valley, which ended in September 1934. Fuchs then settled in Cambridge with his wife and continued his researches, completing his doctorate in 1936. A further expedition to Tanganyika followed in 1938 and Fuchs was commissioned into the army in 1939, serving until 1946 when he was demobilised. 

In 1947 Fuchs was appointed Field Commander in overall charge of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey field operations in Antarctica, and he sailed to the continent in 1947. After three years he returned to establish and direct the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey Scientific Bureau in 1950. In Antarctica Fuchs had begun to plan a crossing of Antarctica (which Wilhelm Filchner and Sir Ernest Shackleton had both attempted), using vehicles. Fuchs ‘discussed the proposal with James Wordie and in 1953 the detailed planning for the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic expedition began. In April 1955 an expedition office was established and Fuchs took three years’ leave of absence. The central plan for the expedition was to cross Antarctica in 100 days from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole using Sno-Cat tractors. A full scientific programme would run alongside, including survey and geological exploration of new mountain ranges. […] The advance party sailed in November 1955 and reached the Filchner ice shelf at the head of the Weddell Sea. Stores were unloaded and hut construction began but bad weather forced the ship from her mooring and many stores were lost on the sea ice. The base hut, Shackleton, was not completed and during the winter the eight men slept in tents and lived in a Sno-Cat crate. The hut was completed in the following spring, before the arrival of Fuchs and the main party in January 1957. Unloading began immediately and proceeded according to plan. Reconnaissance flights were made into the hinterland and an advance base, South Ice, 275 miles inland, was constructed and manned. After the winter, survey and geological parties with dog teams explored the newly discovered Theron Mountains, Shackleton Range, and Whichaway Nunataks. The main crossing party departed on 24 November 1957, hampered by numerous crevasses and then by large fields of sastrugi (ridges in the snow). Meanwhile the New Zealand support party under Sir Edmund Hillary was making good progress from the Ross Sea with modified Ferguson farm tractors towing loads from the Ross ice shelf onto the polar plateau, supported by aircraft. Hillary then, contrary to agreed plans, made a dash for the pole, arriving one month before Fuchs. The two men publicly denied that there was any disagreement between them, though this did not stop press speculation to the contrary. At the pole Hillary suggested that, as the main party was so far behind schedule, Fuchs should stop at the pole, winter his vehicles there, and fly out, returning in the spring to complete the journey. Fuchs would have none of it and continued across the continent following Hillary’s outward route, and completed the crossing in 99 days on 2 March 1958, one day ahead of schedule. This was the first land crossing of the continent and its main scientific result was to establish the thickness of ice at the pole and the presence of a land mass beneath. On arrival at the New Zealand Scott Base, Fuchs received a congratulatory telegram from the queen, the expedition’s patron, and was told of his knighthood’ (op. cit.).

The Crossing of Antarctica, the account of the expedition, was published shortly after the expedition’s conclusion and, although the names of both Fuchs and Hillary appear as authors, the ‘Author’s Acknowledgements’ on p. vi are signed by Fuchs alone. Conrad p. 394; Spence 490.

£29.50

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