Into the Teeth of the Blizzard

The incredible journey of three men who set out to walk across Antarctica to the South Pole and back, following in Captain Scott’s ill-fated footsteps.

Produced by NHNZ

In January 1999 three men flew out of Antarctica after completing an arduous 84 day trek on foot across one of the longest, most difficult routes to the South Pole.

For the renowned adventurers, Peter Hillary, Eric Philips and Jon Muir, it was the culmination of decades of dreaming and years of planning ¾ a journey that echoed the courage and endurance of a handful of polar explorers who had matched their strength against some of the world’s toughest terrain.

Yet the expedition’s conclusion yielded a mix of celebration and regret. For while the men had pioneered a new overland route to the pole, overcome immense physical and psychological hurdles and battled through climatic extremes, they were unable to achieve the ambitious vision that they had set out to accomplish ¾ to reach the South Pole and make the return journey, without outside assistance.

What motivates adventurers to subject themselves to the ultimate physical test? What is it like crossing a continent of ice, while man-hauling a sled weighing as much as three adults, 30 kilometres each day? How do people respond when illness and appalling weather threaten to sabotage the dream they have spent nearly three months battling to achieve?

Into the Teeth of the Blizzard takes viewers with Peter Hillary, Eric Philips and Jon Muir as they journey to one of the most famous but least-understood expedition destinations. Their Iridium Ice Trek parallels other famous Antarctic overland crossings, and they set off with humility and hope, mindful of the bravery and sacrifice of the early pioneers.

The men visit Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s hut to pay homage to the famous explorer who perished in pursuit of his goal. Still photographs and archival film clips of famous expeditions such as those of Scott and Sir Edmund Hillary serve as a reminder of how few have attempted the challenging route ¾ with even fewer succeeding in their quest.

Unlike their predecessors, who all built huts and wintered over in the Antarctic before setting out, the Iridium Ice Trekkers spend just five days preparing for the event. They pack their gear, including energy-rich foods, lightweight tents and cookers, hi-tech skis, clothing, kites and the sophisticated communications equipment that will keep them in touch with a watching world. Also on board the sleds are two digital cameras to record the gritty realities they face en route.

The men must cross an ice shelf the size of France to reach the Transantarctic Mountains. Frustrations soon begin to surface. Then, less than quarter of the way to the pole, equipment begins to break ¾ including Hillary’s boot. Jon has contracted a virus, and is struggling to keep up. Spirits lift at the base of the mountains. Here the men attach crampons and manhandle their sleds 110 kilometers up the previously unexplored Shackleton Glacier to the polar plateau, where temperatures plummet to minus 30 degrees celsius.

Despite weather predictions in their favour, the team are beset by a series of blizzards which confine them to their tent for days at a stretch. The temperatures are so cold that their breath condensation freezes on the inside of the tent fly, becoming one centimeter thick over four days. Time and supplies are running out. The men must do their calculations and make what is the toughest decision of their lives: to abandon their hopes of making the return journey and leave the Pole by other means, to return safely ¾ unlike Scott did ¾ to their homes and families.

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