Scott Base staff toast Sir Ed

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 14:50 04/01/2013
Sir Edmund Hillary
Antarctica New Zealand

SCOTT BASE: Sir Edmund Hillary during his final visit to Antarctica in 2007

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Scott Base staff will toast the late Sir Edmund Hillary tonight with a dram of whisky.

Hillary reached the South Pole on this day 55 years ago, becoming the first overland explorer to do so since Captain Robert Scott's expedition team arrived there in 1912.

He and the rest of his Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) crew travelled nearly 2000 kilometres with converted tractors and sledges.

They had only one drum of petrol left when they sighted the polar base, which they reached on January 4, 1958, ahead of the British cross-continent expedition they were supporting.

Hillary's final visit to Antarctica was for the 50th anniversary of Scott Base in 2007, before he died of heart failure aged 88 in January the next year.

Antarctica New Zealand programme support supervisor Simon Trotter said having Hillary at the base, along with Bill Cranfield, one of the expedition's Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots, was "absolutely delightful".

"He [Hillary] came down multiple times, but his last trip was particularly poignant,'' Trotter said.

''He was not only an ageing man, but he became more energised the longer he was at Scott Base. You could just see that he was very happy to be here."

Trotter said a highlight was taking the pair on an overnight trip to the A-frame hut on the Ross Ice Shelf near Scott Base, which burnt down in 2009, and hearing their stories about being in Antarctica as young men.

Hillary had asked to spend his last night in Antarctica with a few friends and a bottle of Scotch after the official Scott Base 50th birthday celebrations.

Trotter said it was a "beautiful calm evening" and "an absolutely magical night".

They sat under the shadows of Mt Erebus, "and Ed and Bill were telling stories about the days of the TAE and Scott Base operations".

Trotter said coming to Antarctica was always exciting for anyone visiting Scott Base for the first time, "but for these guys it must have been an incredible experience".

The still-standing TAE hut at Scott Base has been converted into a recent-history museum, which people are able to visit and spend time in. It also doubles as a fire muster point.

Trotter said staff would have a toast in Hillary's honour outside the TAE hut tonight, and whisky seemed an appropriate choice.

"It's important to acknowledge those who have gone before us and given us the opportunity to be part of this programme," he said.

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- The Press

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