W i d e

Bearing our banners across Antarctica

The First Expedition

Mount Rosenwald

-128.56° F

-89.2° C

Lowest recorded temperature July 21, 1983.
(Antarctica’s Vostok station)

The Dry Valleys of Antarctica are the driest place on Earth, with low humidity and almost no snow or ice cover. Antarctica is one of the largest desserts in the world.


Winds in some places of the continent can reach 200 mph (320 km/h).

5,280 ft.

1600 M

The average thickness of Antarctic ice is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).

Ross Ice Shelf

99% Coverage

Ninety-nine percent of Antarctica is covered by ice.


Watch cap


Snow goggles


Nylon anorak


Ice axe


Heavy gloves


Nylon windbreaker pants


Bunny boots


Motor Toboggan

The Gear &

& Living

The First Expedition

Into the Cold

By Glenys Young

In the spring of 1930, Texas Technological College adopted "The Matador Song" as its official school anthem. It contained the iconic line, "Bear our banners far and wide, ever to be our pride," which would go down in university history.

Nearly 1,700 miles away, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University was preparing to make that line his legacy - a legacy that would involve decades of work and change the lives of the people around him.

He just didn't know it yet.

Alton Wade

F. Alton Wade - "Al" to his friends - was studying chemistry there in Baltimore while teaching chemistry and geology at the University of Delaware to pay the bills. He had minored in geology as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio, but it wasn't until he began teaching that his interest in geology really took off. Upon deciding he liked it better than chemistry, he changed the focus of his doctorate.

As his future colleague Richard Mattox would later write, "His extensive academic and professional background in chemistry provided an excellent basis for his studies in mineralogy and petrology. But his broad and intense interests in geology, which were expanded by field work and teaching assignments, led to professional competence in many other fields of geological specialization. He preferred not to be introduced as a specialist; he considered himself to be, simply, a geologist."

In 1933, Wade interrupted his studies to join famed Admiral Richard E. Byrd as a geologist on the explorer's second Antarctic expedition, which studied Marie Byrd Land, part of West Antarctica that Byrd named for his wife.

"Even though he always told me he had only been a dog driver for the expedition, the field work he did while in Antarctica served as the basis for his doctoral dissertation," Maddox wrote.

More than 20 years later, Wade told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that his curiosity led him to accept the challenge of going to Antarctica.

"I had read about the Antarctic," he said, "but I wanted to be shown."

After returning to the United States in 1935, Wade accepted a teaching position at Miami University in Ohio the following year and completed his dissertation there. He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1937, the same year he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work with Byrd. But after studying Antarctic geology for nearly five years, it had become a part of him. So when Byrd organized his third expedition in 1939, Wade eagerly joined in for another two-year stint, this time as a senior scientist.

After his return, a decade passed quickly and eventfully. Wade served as a major in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and helped with the post-war reconstruction of Japan. In 1946, he received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor for his work during his second trip to Antarctica, and in 1947, he received word that the U.S. Board on Geographical Names had named a massive, 15,000-foot mountain in his honor. First sighted by Byrd in 1929, the peak - "a most distinctive landmark in its region," according to the naming board - would henceforth be Mount Wade.

With much fanfare, the increasingly famous Wade arrived in Lubbock in 1954 to lead the Department of Geology at Texas Technological College. With Antarctica still in his blood, he yearned to go back, but first he needed to find the right person to accompany him.

Pappy Yeats

Vestal Yeats - "Pappy" to nearly everyone - started college at the University of Texas in the late 1930s but left to enlist in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, he finished his bachelor's degree, then moved to Lubbock to get his master's degree at Texas Technological College.

While here, he also got the nickname that would follow him the rest of his life.

"Dr. (John) Brand asked the students a question on geology and told them they should have remembered that from freshman geology," Yeats told the Avalanche-Journal in 2008. "He asked me, and I said I vaguely remembered but it had been a while since I had freshman geology. He asked when, and I said, "1937." He said, "You're excused; the rest of you should have known that.' After that, he called me Pappy."

In 1962, Yeats had just earned his master's degree and accepted a position as a geology instructor at the college. One day, out of the clear blue sky, Wade walked into Yeats' office and asked him a strange question: "How do you feel about cold weather?"

Three men standing and talking

Wade walked into Yeats' office and asked him a strange question:

“How do you feel about cold weather?

"Somewhat puzzled, but not knowing where the conversation was heading, I answered rather casually, 'I have not had much experience with it, but I can take it or leave it,'" Yeats wrote in his memoirs, "Penguins Do Have Square Eyes," years later. "He then fired a short but unexpected question at me: 'How would you like to go to Antarctica with me?' The reply was a short but explosive 'Yes!'"

Cal Barnes, a professor of geology and geophysics in the Department of Geosciences at what is now Texas Tech University, said Yeats had a particular set of skills that would have been extremely useful on such an expedition.

"In the Navy, he'd been in the quartermaster division - he was one of the people in charge of taking supplies to naval vessels, so that meant he was very good at organization and logistics," said Barnes, who went to Antarctica twice as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska.

"A huge part of being successful in Antarctica is being organized and having the ability to do things quickly and efficiently, and to know you have to be flexible enough to roll with the punches because the weather is not only changeable, it also can be dangerous. I think that was a big part of it, but of course, he was also a geologist, so he was down there helping collect samples and doing some of the mapping Wade was responsible for."

The 1962-63 Expedition

As Yeats soon learned, Wade had applied for and received a National Science Foundation grant. Between those funds and some from the college, Wade had enough money for three people to spend an Antarctic summer exploring the geology of the Shackleton Glacier. Wade had chosen graduate student David Greenlee to accompany Yeats and himself to the frozen continent.

Because the north and south hemispheres have opposite seasons, October through January is the warmest time of year in Antarctica, and temperatures are normally milder. Of course, it's still almost always below freezing.

The trio flew out of Lubbock on Oct. 7, 1962, stopping for the night in San Francisco then a three-night stay in Hawaii while they awaited transportation for the next leg of their journey. A long flight brought them to the South Island of New Zealand, where they completed final preparations, including a physical exam, and received their extensive cold weather clothing from the United States Antarctic Research Program (USARP) depot.

The trio, along with other Antarctic-bound scientists, boarded a monstrous cargo plane already loaded with an assortment of machines and tools they would need, and lifted off for McMurdo Station, the center for all American Antarctic exploration.

"They began to indoctrinate us against the cold by gradually reducing the heat on the plane, which required us to start donning more clothing," Yeats recalled in his memoirs. "By the time we reached McMurdo, we were fully dressed in our Antarctic gear.

Mount Erebus in the distance

"We were greeted by a beautiful view of Mount Erebus with its stream of hot gasses vaporizing in the cold Antarctic air. It was a good thing we were fully dressed. As we tumbled out of the plane at Williams Airfield, we were faced by a biting cold wind, and the temperature was 37 below zero."

Ready to 'Rock'

The trio quickly made their way to their Jamesway hut - a long, easily assembled, round-roofed structure - to complete the remainder of their preparations. Rather than staying at McMurdo and traveling out to work, like most of the other scientists, Wade, Yeats and Greenlee were headed into the vast white unknown - a totally unexplored region on the Shackleton Glacier, where they would work and camp and live for more than two months.

"USARP provided a large storehouse that furnished us with all the paraphernalia necessary for field operations," Yeats recalled. "We had to carry enough food, fuel and equipment to last us for three months, and if we forgot anything, there was no country store handy for us on the Shackleton."

They had to take everything they needed to live: not only food, but also stoves to cook on and utensils and cutlery to cook and eat with; a medical kit; arctic sleeping bags, sleeping pads, blankets and specially lined tents; towels and soap.

"The latter was just for washing our hands and face, as there was no way that we could take a bath the whole time that we were on the Shackleton. Water was not available," Yeats wrote.

The whole crew standing next to an American flag


"There was ice everywhere but not a drop of water to drink. We had to laboriously melt the ice for all our drinking, cooking and washing water.

Four tents set up in a camp

"We each had a bottle of whiskey we seldom drank. Whiskey does not become frozen at 20 below zero, but if drunk at that temperature, it will freeze your gut."

They also had to take everything they needed to work: tools, ropes, climbing gear and ice axes; crampons and skis for traveling on ice and snow; trail flags and poles; compasses; notebooks and writing instruments; rock hammers and hundreds of sample bags; magnets, tape measures, hand lenses and a bottle of hydrochloric acid for testing samples.

They had to take things to entertain themselves for the times when the weather made working impossible. They had to be able to move it all with them as they progressed from one rock outcrop to another, so they also had two motorized toboggans - the original snowmobiles - and three wooden Nansen sleds.

On Oct. 23, the three men loaded everything into a Navy airplane and headed into the wilderness - civilization abandoned, the Shackleton Glacier ahead, Mount Wade looming over.

"The glacier looked beautifully simple from 10,000 feet of elevation," Yeats wrote, "but when we finally landed, it looked cold, lonely and dangerous."

And it was.

Shackleton Glacier

"Glacial ice is far from stable," Yeats wrote. "A glacier is actually a river of ice, and it moves downhill under the force of gravity just as water in a river does. Unlike a river of water, the ice is solid and can create a tumbled surface. Cracks created by the movement are called crevasses and large ones create a dangerous surface to travel over, particularly if the cracks are concealed with a deceptive cover of snow.

"The snow often forms a thin veneer or bridge which covers the cracks, and unwary explorers sometimes punch through these snow bridges and tumble into a rather mean environment of jumbled ice at the foot of the chasm."

To avoid the greatest danger of crevasses, the team planned to travel up the edge of the glacier for as long as time permitted. Then they would cross the glacier and return along the opposite edge.

The plan wasn't perfect, though. One day, while checking the team's radio aerial in the middle of a heavily crevassed area, Wade broke through a snow bridge and fell into a crevasse.

"I only went in up to my shoulders," he offhandedly told the Avalanche-Journal a few months later.

But crevasses were not the team's only worry. They also had to worry about blizzards - they waited one out for three days in early November - and white-outs, in which fog coupled with the Antarctic summer's constant sunlight creates complete and total blindness. While working on a rock outcrop, Wade and Yeats were lucky enough to see a white-out coming and barely made it back to their camp in time.

"You can only see what's close by," Wade recalled. "There is no horizon or anything. You don't know if you're walking up, down or sideways, or where you're going."

Yet another difficulty the team faced was in radio communication. They were supposed to have daily contact with McMurdo Station, but despite going through four different radio sets, the team could not maintain communication with the base.

Once, while camped in a heavily crevassed area, they were found by an airplane that had come from McMurdo to check on them in the absence of any word. The pilot informed them they were in the middle of a dangerous area and asked if they would mind moving.

Wade replied, "Yes, we know we are and aren't worried since we know where the crevasses are - and we do mind."

From then on, the trio became known as "The Mad Texans."

But despite Wade's levity, the crevasses presented a real threat. Not only could they be thousands of feet deep, they also could be large enough to swallow a school bus. On the team's return trip down the glacier, Yeats and Wade learned the extent of Greenlee's fear.

"Greenlee, up until this point, had been an amiable, hard-working companion, cheerful and comfortable to be with, but even while half-joking, he had always been apprehensive about the cracks in the ice, and feared falling into one of them," Yeats wrote. "As we travelled down the glacier, the snow cover became thicker, we no longer encountered glare ice, and we moved across crusted snow. Any crevasses in the area were now essentially concealed from us. Dave became so nervous about this that he began to balk at moving over such surfaces."

But because the group had no other choice to reach the place where their plane would retrieve them, they had to continue. Yeats recalled that he was driving the lead sled, with Wade sitting on the back, and Greenlee driving the second sled. Yeats sped up, forcing Greenlee to either follow him or be left behind. Greenlee did follow, but his nervousness was justified.

The pilot flying to meet them followed the path they left in the snow and later reported:

Three men sledding across the snow

"They were crossing a crevassed area. The first toboggan would cross safely, the second would kick out the snow bridge, and a series of yawning openings would be left behind them."

Their Research

The team's work mostly consisted of collecting rock samples and taking copious notes about where - and how - each was found.

Bill Mueller is assistant curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech University, which now houses the 3,500 to 4,000 rocks collected during the Texas Tech Antarctic expeditions. He said the trio didn't have to dig down into the snow to find the rocks, like you might think.

"During the summer months, a lot of the snow melts, so they have access that way," he explained. They couldn't dig into the glacier if they tried, he said, because the ice can be half a mile thick.

And what is the point of studying the rocks in Antarctica?

"You can study the mineral makeup, which helps determine the history of Antarctica and how Antarctica formed, and tie it in with other places, like India," Mueller said. "Were you aware that India used to be part of Antarctica? Using the minerals, you can determine the geologic history of Antarctica and how it ties together with South America, India and other continents."

The Theory of Continental Drift - the idea that all the continents on Earth used to be joined together and have since split apart at geologic fault lines and moved - is now widely accepted. But in the early 1960s, it was new and controversial.

"Older geologists such as Wade and I were highly suspicious of it," Yeats wrote. "Younger geologists found it a new and exciting concept. The evidence for a spreading Earth is compelling. Many of we older geologists were dragged kicking and screaming into accepting such radical concepts.

"We observed on the Shackleton the presence of dolerite sills that are similarly represented in India, South Africa and South America. We found the unique plant Glossopteris, which is also found in these same locations. Conviction came slowly, but the evidence seen firsthand was compelling and hard to resist."

After studying the rocks on their way up the glacier, Wade, Yeats and Greenlee were in for a surprise upon crossing to the other side.

"The two sides did not match," Yeats wrote. "The older metamorphic rocks were not the same on both sides. It made us suspect that the Shackleton Glacier might be following a geologic fault zone. It is not unusual for this to happen, as both rivers and glaciers often follow faults."

The discovery led Wade to an important decision.

"I think it was at this time that Wade decided we had bitten off more than we could chew," Yeats wrote, "and that we would need to return to the Shackleton for further investigation of the area that was beyond our reach and limit of time."

Two Antarctica banners with a Double T on them

'Bear Our Banners Far and Wide'

Beyond the scientific gains to be had, one benefit of exploring an area where very few people have previously gone is that very few things have names - that means you get to name them.

"It was commonplace for people of Wade's generation and just slightly after that to name peaks because very little had been named, and there are still quite a few that are unnamed," Barnes said. "The names were sometimes crafty and sometimes just whoever was there."

The trio named Cascade Bluff for the water that flows over it in warm weather and Cathedral Peaks for their resemblance to the spires and turrets of a cathedral. Two similarly sized and shaped nunataks - exposed, rocky parts of a ridge or mountain - were named Gemini Nunataks after the constellation Gemini, which contains the twin stars Castor and Pollux. A different nunatak was named Thanksgiving Point because the men reached it on Thanksgiving Day.

Because Wade already had a mountain named after himself, he knew the pride that comes with such an achievement, so he urged Yeats and Greenlee to pick out features they would like to name after themselves.

That's how an eight-mile-long tributary glacier that flows into the Shackleton became Yeats Glacier and how a steep-sided, jagged peak of metamorphic rock overlooking the Shackleton became Mount Greenlee.

But the team didn't just want to honor themselves: they also wanted to recognize their home and the college that allowed them such an incredible experience. That's how a five-mile-long mountain ridge, ending at the Shackleton Glacier, became Lubbock Ridge and how a prominent, 6,400-foot-tall, ice-free peak became Matador Mountain.

Three men sledding across the snow

The trio returned to Lubbock in February 1963 as local celebrities.

"We had our pictures in the paper and had an interview over the local television station," Yeats wrote. "Wade had made a 16mm film of our adventures, and it became my job to show the film. I must have shown that film 50 times to schools, church groups, service clubs and bar mitzvahs."

On April 25, Wade gave a presentation about the expedition to the Lubbock Geological Society, showing slides and his 16mm movie. In the audience was John Shenk, a young geologist for Pan-American Petroleum in Lubbock.

"At the end, he said, 'We're planning on going back. If anyone is interested, let me know,' so I did," Shenk said. "It sounded like a real adventure."

The Return

Determined to go to Antarctica, it wasn't long before Shenk, who had earned his bachelor's degree in geology from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, enrolled as a graduate student at Texas Technological College. And for someone interested in Antarctica, he came in at just the right time.

After 10 years leading the department, Wade resigned as chair in the fall of 1964 to conduct a more active Antarctic research program. He was replaced by Richard Mattox.

"Al had lost all desire to return to the administrative duties which had never provided him any real pleasure," Mattox later recalled. "For Al, the paperwork and meetings were a waste of the time he could have spent in teaching and research."

Like Shenk, Wade - now free of those duties - and Yeats were ready for the expedition, but it wouldn't just be three people this time. They were joined by doctoral candidates Kerby LaPrade and Ron Everett.

As their departure neared, the five began training for the challenge ahead.

"We received information on fire safety, first aid, all sorts of hazards you run into in cold weather situations," Shenk said. "What to do, psychological preparation, there were talks by people who had been there - in general, just preparing as best you could in the mountains of Virginia for an experience in the Antarctic."

Even knowing what lay ahead of him, Shenk wasn't nervous about the experience.

"Oh no, I was anxious - anxious to get going," he said.

They left Lubbock in mid-October and hopped, skipped and jumped their way from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, Hawaii and New Zealand - for final preparations - before finally reaching Antarctica.

Shenk still vividly recalls his first impression of it.

"It was cold," he laughed. "We got off the plane and it was overcast and windy and cold."

Returning to Work

Based on their prior experience, Wade and Yeats were better able to guide the group's selection of clothing, food and equipment. The team would again take snowmobiles and Nansen sleds to pull all their necessities, but their approach to the research this time was much different, thanks to one key change.

"Instead of having a series of camps based on our travel over the glacier, we were to set up a central camp," Yeats wrote in his memoirs. "Remote and inaccessible areas would be worked by means of two Army helicopters, whose services we would have for two weeks. The camp would be centrally located on the glacier, and nearby areas would be reached by toboggan as before."

From McMurdo, a Navy airplane deposited the group at their camp, which they called Wade Army Airfield - a flat area above where the McGregor Glacier emptied into the Shackleton - and they got to work pitching their tents and preparing to live there for two months.

"We were living in an eight-foot square umbrella tent, with a double wall," Shenk said. "Out of the frustration of the five of us trying to eat together in one of those tents, we built a large dining hall out of ice and used that to gather and eat and have group discussions. We dug down in the ice and built a nice rectangular room and piled the ice blocks up around it, and then used four-feet-by-eight-feet sheets of plywood that our fuel drums came on for a roof, and covered the roof with ice and snow.

"The nice thing was that it was protected from the wind. We called it The Rookery, and the average temperature in our dining hall was about 14 degrees, so that wasn't too bad. Most of the time down there, our working temperatures were from 10 to 20 degrees."

The coldest temperature Shenk encountered is one he remembers well: 28 degrees below zero.

"You do the same things you'd do if you were out skiing," he said. "You try to stay out of the wind. And of course, we had on plenty of warm clothes - that was not a problem."

John Shenk standing on a peak

"But it was hard to see; you couldn't expose much of your face, your hands are covered in big mittens and gloves, and your feet.

It was kind of like, if you fell over you weren't sure you could get up, you were so encumbered with clothing.

The work, as planned, was mostly a continuation of the previous expedition.

"This was an area that was unmapped, so we were collecting information about the rocks and their attitude to map the area geologically, looking for faults so we could try to fit the geology of this area in with other areas that had been mapped previously," Shenk said.

"We were all involved in doing the geology of the Trans-Antarctic mountains where they were cut by the Shackleton Glacier. I was involved in studying the diabase sills, another member studied sediments, Pappy Yeats and Doc Wade oversaw and worked on general geology, and Everett was working on the seismicity of the area."

The addition of helicopters opened lots of areas to the group they otherwise would not have been able to study - not only features that were far away, but also those that couldn't be climbed. A helicopter could just land on top.

"Just as the use of toboggans had been a leap forward in Antarctic exploration, the use of helicopters was to be a quantum leap insofar as geologic exploration was concerned," Yeats wrote.

What's in a Name?

While working, the group found several opportunities to complete its secondary task - the naming of geologic features.

They found an eight-mile-long curved ridge with a steep cliff on one side that separated the polar plateau from McGregor Glacier. It resembled the wall around a castle, often called a rampart.

"Since we could name things, we looked primarily to Doc Wade and Pappy Yeats, who were the senior members of the expedition and had been down there before," Shenk said. "So we named them after Texas Tech" and it became Red Raider Rampart.

Doc Wade standing next to a sign

"Since we could name things, we looked primarily to Doc Wade and Pappy Yeats, who were the senior members of the expedition and had been down there before," Shenk said. "So we named them after Texas Tech"

and it became Red Raider Rampart.

"Then each of us was allowed to pick a secondary geographic feature to name for ourselves."

LaPrade chose a three-mile-long valley in the Cumulus Hills with steep rock walls and an ice-covered floor. On Nov. 9, he became the first person to traverse LaPrade Valley.

Everett chose a huge, ice-free nunatak he found on Nov. 17. It would henceforth be Everett Nunatak.

Shenk chose one of the three mountains that were easily visible from their camp. One was Mount Wade, one was Mount Kenyon, which Wade had named after his alma mater, and the third was an unnamed sharp peak more than 9,200 feet high.

"I first saw it when we were climbing a mountain not too far away, Mount Kenyon, and it kind of looked like a nice spot," he recalled.

On Nov. 19, he became the first person to climb Shenk Peak.

"I thought it was a big deal," he said. "These are permanent names recorded in the names register with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that they keep over all features named everywhere on Earth. It's a pretty big deal. Our whole family is proud of that."

They named Epidote Peak because of the mineral that gave it its spotted appearance; Halfmoon Bluff, Longhorn Spurs, Pendant Ridge and Ringed Nunatak because of their shapes; and Simplicity Hill because it was so easy to approach.

The team also named nine features after members of the U.S. Army Aviation Detachment that handled their helicopter transportation, one glacier after a National Science Foundation polar personnel specialist and one hill after a man who nearly died there.

Life and Nearly Death

"We had a photographer and writer from Life Magazine with us for about a week," Shenk remembered. "We were the only party on the continent out in the field that particular summer, so they were going to do an article on Antarctic exploration and feature us with a nice write-up and photographs."

The team was excited about the prospect of, as Yeats wrote, "being immortalized" in Life Magazine. But fate - and gravity - intervened.

Two helicopters landed on the snow

"Unfortunately, not too long after they joined us, we were out in the field working on the slopes of the LaPrade Valley and the photographer, Michael Rougier, slipped and fell," Shenk said.

"He went down about 600 feet on the ice sheet, hit some rocks and was - we thought - deceased. He wasn't, but he broke some ribs and injured his back badly."

He also smashed his camera, Yeats noted, so only a few early shots from his time with the group survived.

"They had to make a very dangerous rescue," Shenk said. "They hovered a helicopter beside the mountain, we strapped him onto a gurney and threw him into the helicopter and off they went."

Rougier survived, and the hill he fell down was named Rougier Hill in his honor. But the article would never emerge in its planned form. Winston Churchill's death in January 1965 superseded the story of Antarctic research, and that issue of Life Magazine was devoted to him. By the time Rougier's photos were published in May 1965, they instead accompanied a story about Adélie penguins.

Spills and Thrills

Rougier was not the only one injured during the expedition.

While working on a relatively warm day on Waldron Spurs - a steeply sloped area of tilted and folded beds - a dump truck-load of melting snow suddenly fell on Yeats, knocking him off his feet and down the slope several hundred feet, bouncing off ledges and boulders until he was able to cling onto one.

"It was one of those things that happen suddenly and move swiftly, but the events are registered in your brain like a series of single shots," Yeats wrote. "I was not knocked out, but jarred and bruised beyond belief. Every fingernail was broken down to the quick, and my fingers were bleeding as a result of my grabbing at rocks and boulders on the way down, trying to find something solid to hang onto.

"After seeing that I was all in one piece, Wade remarked, 'It's a good thing you landed on your head, otherwise you might have gotten hurt.'"

Wade, though, was in for his own injury.

"While walking across a rough, stony field of glacial debris on a relatively flat, unexciting-appearing surface, Wade paradoxically stepped on a rock, tripped and fell on this seemingly safe-appearing terrain, and broke two ribs," Yeats wrote. "We got him back to camp safely, but he was in quite a bit of pain. Two days later, a plane in transit stopped by, picked him up and whisked him off to the medical facilities of McMurdo Station."

His ribs were taped up and he was back two days later, grinning and in good humor.

Speaking of humor, having five men together for two months in the wilderness - three of them in their 20s - came with its fair share of hijinks.

"One time we were up working in an area next to a glacier, I forget which one it was, and we had a Nansen sled," Shenk said. "We decided three of us would get on it and go down the glacier, and we did - about four miles, reaching speeds of at least 300 miles per hour. We were going like crazy. I remember this very well: We went over an ice ridge, the sled flew through the air and when it came down, Ron Everett on the back - Ron always had a pipe in his mouth - he bit his pipe stem in half."


At the appointed time, the helicopter crew left for its next assignment, and the Texas Tech group began to pack what was left of their gear and equipment for their trip down the glacier. After a six-day-long toboggan ride, picking their way through moraines, dodging crevasse fields and white-outs, they reached their pickup spot. It seemed their adventure was over.

But fate had one more surprise in store.

"While landing, the plane ruptured a hydraulic line and spewed the bright red fluid over the white snow," Yeats wrote. "The line was the one that controlled the flaps, and consequently we would be unable to use them during takeoff."

Instead, the pilot attached four jet assistance takeoff (JATO) bottles to the plane.

"These jets bottles were attached to act in two directions," Yeats wrote. "First, two were fired when the plane had reached its top takeoff speed to help lift it off the surface of the snow, and at just that point, the remaining two were fired to maintain its position in the air. This required rather delicate timing.

"I was not particularly concerned about the situation until I discovered the enlisted crewman shaking in fear and packing himself in life jackets just before we took off."

The takeoff ultimately went just as smoothly as it would have in normal conditions and the team waved goodbye to the Shackleton Glacier. Landing without the flaps was also dangerous, but the pilot managed it safely and the expedition came to its end.

"We left the ice, as everybody calls it, back to Christchurch, New Zealand, in the second week of January," Shenk said, "and were back in Lubbock by Jan. 20, something like that.

TTU Memorial Circle with snow on the ground

"It was colder here than it was down there, I think. When it's 10 or 20 degrees in Lubbock, it's cold."

The Marie Byrd Land Expeditions

Man standing on the side of a cliff Two men standing next to the Ferrar Dolerite

Although Wade and his team had finished the work he wanted to do on the Shackleton Glacier, there was still a lot of Antarctica left to explore. So by the end of January 1965, when Wade talked to the Avalanche-Journal about the 1964-65 expedition, he was already looking ahead to the next voyage in late 1966 - something the newspaper noted in its article.

For the next expedition, he wanted to return to Marie Byrd Land - the site of his Antarctic expeditions with Admiral Byrd in the 1930s. For one thing, after working his way up from a dog-sled driver to a scientist who could operate the Snow Cruiser - the gigantic, early cousin of the snowmobile - it irritated him that the machine ended up being so heavy that it sunk into the snow and burned out its motor trying to stay on the surface.

"The failure of this machine was a bitter blow to Wade," Yeats wrote. "Instead of being able to travel from one outcrop to another quickly, he was forced to return to the use of dog sleds for transportation, which severely limited the amount of work he could do."

A second, no less serious, problem was that World War II erupted during the last Byrd expedition, which cut it short.

Now that these problems were things of the past, Wade wanted to finish what he started.

The 1966-67 Expedition

Wade and Yeats this time took along John Wilbanks, a recent master's graduate, and James Suggs, a master's student. But gone were the days of striking out on their own.

Since Wade's team had, on its last expedition, successfully managed to combine the use of snowmobiles and helicopters for long-range transportation while working out of a main base, USARP decided to follow this example. It arranged for a central camp to be established in Marie Byrd Land, from which a number of scientists in different disciplines could work simultaneously.

"Guess who was selected to set up the new camp?" Yeats wrote. "Due to his experience in Antarctica and in Marie Byrd Land, Wade was to be in charge of setting up the camp, and our crew would be responsible for its erection."

They were dropped in a flat-lying snowfield with mountains in the distance. They began by pitching tents, picking a restroom area and constructing Jamesway hut barracks.

"As a final act, we planted our Lone Star Texas flag along with Old Glory and a red trail flag with a Double-T on it in black," Yeats wrote.

"This camp became an official Army Airfield, albeit a temporary one. We had a brief ceremony to dedicate it, and it was decided to name it Yeats Army Airfield. It was quite an honor, even though it would have only a brief existence. The honor should have gone to Dr. Wade, but since he already had an airfield named for him on the Shackleton Glacier, the honor came to me by default."

As always, working in Antarctica came with its dangers. Weather conditions rapidly deteriorated for two engineers, who were working on top of a mountain, so Wade and four others set out by helicopter to rescue them. But the weather proved too fierce.

"The ground became invisible due to the flying snow," Yeats wrote. "This becomes a pilot's worst nightmare when he cannot see the surface of the ground. This occurred to the major flying the helicopter, and he smacked it into the ground."

Wade broke a rib and an Army crewman injured his arm, but miraculously, no one was killed. The helicopter, on the other hand, was destroyed. Another helicopter was able to rescue the engineers later that day, and, thanks to USARP and the Navy, a new helicopter arrived several weeks later as a replacement for the one that crashed.

Marie Byrd Land Geology

Unlike the geology they'd done on the Shackleton Glacier, working in Marie Byrd Land meant a new set of problems in trying to answer the same question - how the world fit together millennia ago.

Group in front of Yeats Army Airfield sign

"Marie Byrd Land is mostly ice," Barnes explained. "If you see a satellite image, you'll see these tiny little mountain peaks sticking up from the ice. So for a geologist, that's the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. You have so much ground covered with ice, and so you have to use these tiny little clues to try to determine as much as you can about the geologic history of the area.

Muncy Glacier far in the distance

"In the days Wade was going down there, it was pure exploration science - nobody knew anything about that part, or any part, of Antarctica, really, except where the bases were. Looking at the rocks, mapping them and trying to determine their age were all really major parts of their research. In most places, somebody would visit and nobody would come back - because of the remoteness - for decades."

For the team, Marie Byrd Land offered a lot more diversity - both in the geographical area they had to study and in the rocks themselves.

"We found that we encountered almost exclusively igneous and metamorphic rocks," Yeats wrote. "We found that there was little correlation of the rocks from one scattered peak to another, and that there was an amazing diversity of rock types. Some peaks would be simple, coarsely crystalline granites and others would be tortured, twisted masses of metamorphic gneiss, while still others consisted of sediments that had been metamorphosed into monster, monotonous masses of schists, phyllites and amphibolites."

Because Marie Byrd Land had been explored before, most of the prominent features had been named already, but Wilbanks and Suggs were able to pick some smaller ones to name for themselves. Mount Wilbanks is a mound-shaped mountain, partly covered in ice but with a prominent bare rock face. Suggs Peak is a small, ice-covered peak nearby.

The Work Continues

With so much work to do in Marie Byrd Land, the two-and-a-half-month expedition achieved only about one-third of the total goal, so Wade immediately planned another return trip. Unlike his trips to the Shackleton, he was no longer content to wait two years between visits.

For one thing, Wade was now 64 years old. Even though the Avalanche-Journal reported that he looked 20 years younger - which Wade attributed to his frequent trips to the Antarctic - he wanted to make the most of his time. Wade received a reminder of his age in June 1967, when he was named one of the first Horn Professors at Texas Tech. While the position honored him for the national acclaim he had earned throughout his career, it also served as something of a lifetime achievement award - which doesn't go to young men.

Unfortunately for Wade, his oldest accomplice had reached his limit. After three trips, Yeats told Wade he was finished and would not return. But luckily, Wade had found a new partner in Wilbanks, now a doctoral student, who found Antarctic exploration just as tantalizing as his mentor did.

That October, Wade and Wilbanks returned to Marie Byrd Land intending to study the coast, but they faced especially hazardous conditions for weeks. As Wade reported in a letter to Texas Tech in late November, "The weather has hampered operations. Whiteouts and blizzards have been the rule rather than the exception."

Single tent in a snow storm

"The weather has hampered operations. Whiteouts and blizzards have been the rule rather than the exception."

Although the weather became slightly better in the second half of the expedition, Wade was, on the whole, unsatisfied with the progress that was made and immediately started planning yet another return.

In July 1968, Wade received a new National Science Foundation grant to continue his research in Antarctica, but he was also reaching the phase at which so much material had been gathered that there wasn't enough time at home to properly examine and catalog it. So for the 1968-69 expedition, he decided to stay home.

Not that he was sitting out completely, because, of course, who else would he let study the rocks that had become his life's work? But he also had to ensure that the person he sent to Antarctica was someone he trusted. He had two goals for this expedition: finish the coastal survey he'd begun the previous trip and return to the Shackleton Glacier to gather more data to supplement the work from 1964. But because the Shackleton was so isolated and posed its own challenges, Wade knew he had to send someone who had experience working there.

Keeping Wilbanks in Lubbock with him, Wade instead sent another former graduate student to Antarctica in his place: Kerby LaPrade. Even without Wade, the team achieved its goals and made it home safely, but he was determined to return at least once more, for an important milestone.

Saying Goodbye

Wade, then 66, knew he had one last Antarctic expedition in him, and this was one he wouldn't miss for the world.

On Nov. 29, 1929, Wade's mentor, Admiral Byrd, had, on his first Antarctic expedition, flown over the South Pole. Despite going to the frozen continent six times in the intervening four decades, Wade had never made it there. He intended to change that on the 40th anniversary of Byrd's achievement.

And he did.

On Nov. 29, after making his way to Antarctica with Wilbanks one more time, Wade found himself in a place he'd never seen before. He was one of only three men chosen to honor Byrd in that hallowed place. With him were Laurence Gould, a fellow longtime Antarctic explorer who had given ground support for Byrd's famous flight, and Texas Tech President Grover Murray, present as a member of the governing board of the National Science Foundation, which had funded most of the Antarctic exploration since Byrd's time.

A planted American flag whipped in the breeze as Gould placed a wreath at its base.

"There are no words to describe my feelings as I watched," Murray later told the Avalanche-Journal, adding he "gained a tremendous respect for those explorers who braved untold hardships to advance the knowledge of the world."

Wade, who had always been very open with the media about his work, never talked about this event. Perhaps, for him, it was simply too personal.

Mar 14, 2018