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Dogs versus tractors on Antarctica

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Audio file

Listen to this 1958 clip of Edmund Hillary and Vivian Fuchs discussing the benefits of dogs over vehicles for transport in Antarctica.

Transcript

Sir Edmund Hillary:

We had six dog teams out. Most of the chaps, of course, had never used dog teams before they went down south. But we did have two chaps from the UK with us: Dr George Marsh and Richard Brook, who Bunny [Fuchs] had recommended to us. They were experienced dog drivers, and they proved an absolute tower of strength to us. They formed the backbone really of our dog teams, and the other boys were extremely keen and soon picked up the rudiments. They were experienced chaps, of course, at living and camping in unpleasant places. And before long they were really romping around the place in great style.

I always remember that Bob Miller was ahead of us at one occasion with two dog teams, and they sent back a message to us saying: ‘there is a line of crevasses ten miles ahead, but they are quite harmless.' I always remember those words, ‘quite harmless'. Because we spent about, I think, twelve hours getting through these crevasses, and punched holes in about fifteen of them, and had a really torrid time.

George Lowe:

I must say that on that crevasse business frankly, I couldn't believe when your messages were coming back on your first journey to the South Ice, that you were having quite so much trouble, and as a mountaineer and so on and having sledged over some of it with the dogs, I couldn't understand how these, the amazing and wonderful Sno-Cat was punching holes, and the Weasels, punching holes, in these, in what appeared to be a perfectly good area. And there is no doubt that the technique of taking vehicles over snow, and over crevasses, is quite different from a man on foot, or on skis, or dogs with sledges and so on, and that was something quite new for us.

Interviewer:

Did the altitude affect the working of the dogs very much?

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

We were surprised to find how well they went at altitude. In actual fact, like the men, they were acclimatised. But I believe it was found, on your side, we flew them to some nine or ten thousand feet, they began to work straight away, didn't they Ed? Quite without trouble?

Sir Edmund Hillary:

Well they did, but we definitely think there was a considerable effect, Bunny. We had really, two sets of teams, two of them travelled up the glacier, and two we actually flew in, and these four travelled on together. Well from the plateau depot we had very low temperatures and very bad weather, and deep soft snow. Well this combined with heavy loads and, I think, the definite effects of altitude, there is no question that the dogs' performance dropped right off. I particularly remember this because, with the tractors, we were following along behind and we were eternally having to pick up more load for them in the cab because they really were having considerable difficulty. However by the time we had all got to Depot 480, the dogs were absolutely transformed. They had sort of got acclimatised and used to it, and from then on they were doing amazing mileages and they really were fit. I think they're just the same as us really, I think they have to get used to it.

Interviewer:

Well there is no doubt that there is still a place for dogs in the Antarctic.

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

Well certainly that's my opinion, in the face of quite a lot of opposition from various people.

Sir Edmund Hillary:

I certainly think that in crevasse areas and mountain country, where it is a very dicey business taking vehicles, that the use of dogs closely supported by aircraft is still [inaudible].

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

That's the idea, you can support them with aircraft and they'll do more than the aircraft on their own can do.

George Lowe:

You can fly them in to a starting point.

Interviewer:

Why didn't you take them, on to the Pole?

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

Well one thing, the dogs themselves were getting very tired, as I said, having run such long distances. And another, we wanted to speed our travels up so we moved more quickly. But because we could quite well maintain 40 miles a day, but if you're going to do that you have got to sometimes travel about 60 or 70 miles in order to make up for those days were you do 20. But you can't expect the dog team to do that, it'll go with you the 20 quite happily you see, then the next day when you want to make up your mileage, the dog team can't make the 60 for instance. And so knowing that we had still a long way to go, in fact further than we had come, to get to the Pole, it was wise to fly the dogs out. And in fact, later on we abandoned our last Weasel for the same reason, because the Weasel couldn't keep up.

Sir Edmund Hillary:

Big advantage of a vehicle is that it doesn't get tired.

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

No, but it has other little troubles.

[Laughs]

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Dogs en route Antarctica

A dog being loaded onto a plane in Antarctica. Still shot from the film Antarctic Adventure.

Credit

Sound file from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Reference: D1113.3a sa d-01113-03-s01-pm H.O. Archives Section. Antarctica Summing Up 18.8.58 Pt3

How to cite this page

Dogs versus tractors on Antarctica, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/sound/dogs-versus-tractors-antarctica, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated