The Walter Pederson Expedition

Pederson expedition cover

The Pederson South Pole expedition never happened, but it is an interesting historical sidelight when one considers all of the folks who have been showing up at Pole over the years with balloons, snow buggies, parasails, skis and running shoes...

This venture originated with the successful Plaisted North Polar Expedition, which, after an abortive try in 1967, successfully traveled from Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole in the spring of 1968 using Ski-Doo Olympic model 300 snowmobiles. The group consisted of Ralph Plaisted, Walter Pederson, Jean-Luc Bombardier (nephew of Joseph-Armand Bombardier, the developer of the modern snowmobile), and Jerry Pitzel (Wes Thorn's description of this expedition). The men were amateurs at polar exploration before this trip, but they had learned from the Cook-Peary controversy and had their position at the North Pole verified by an Air Force pilot.

The group then turned their attention to Antarctica. In 1969 they announced a planned 4-man snowmobile trip from McMurdo to Pole, scheduled to begin that November. After Plaisted withdrew, the group was to be co-led by Jean-Luc Bombardier along with Norman Vaughan, the Byrd expedition veteran. The other two members of the team were to be Ralph Lenton of Washington, DC, and Jack Willey from Tilton, NH. The venture was delayed, and at some point the leadership was assumed by Pederson.

Walter turned up with the rest of his team in Christchurch in January 1971 aboard a C-121 Super Constellation, loaded with supplies and five snowmobiles. At this point the venture had a new mission--the recovery of the crashed Piper Aztec aircraft that Max Conrad had left at Pole a year earlier. The group met with Rear Admiral Kelly Welch--due to the lateness of the season the wheeled Connie would be unable to land on the deteriorated ice runway at McMurdo. They were denied support by the U. S. Antarctic Policy Group. And given the fact that it was late January, the group was facing an 1800-mile round trip, and "Scott died in March..." (Welch), they left their snowmobiles and other equipment in storage in Christchurch and flew home.

Pederson returned to Christchurch in November 1971 to present his revised plans to the U. S. Antarctic program authorities. This time the proposal was to use a chartered C-130 to fly the equipment to the ice, and have a light aircraft, probably a Twin Otter, fly down via South America to provide close support. Pederson's 3 team members would include deputy Ralph Lenton (who had been Fuchs' radio operator on his 1957-58 crossing), along with professor G. Johnson (navigator) and R. Mickelson (cameraman). This time the Antarctic Policy Group agreed to support the expedition, and the start date was scheduled for 15 December 1971.

And that is all. The venture never took place, and all that there is to show for it are the cachets on the envelope at the top of this page, and this patch:

Pederson expedition patch

I later saw a note that Walter Pederson had planned a 1990 Pole round trip using Arctic Cat AFS Jag snowmachines, but this didn't happen either.

References for the above include several brief notes in the Ice Cap News, Volumes 14 (1969) and 16 (1971), along with this December 1970 New Zealand newspaper article, and a December 1971 article from the New Zealand Antarctic Journal. Cover and news article images courtesy Billy-Ace Baker, and the patch image is from an old Alex Jung eBay sale site.

Walter Pederson was around for awhile; in the fall of 2004 he was to give at least one lecture in Minnesota, discussing his North Pole trip. He passed away in Princeton, MN in April 2016.