Magga Dan at the ice edge Fuchs and Hillary at the South Pole Fuchs at Scott Base Sir Vivian Fuchs

Biography

University education and training

In 1926 Fuchs went to St John's College, Cambridge. His tutor was James Wordie, who had been Senior Scientist on Shackleton's Endurance Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition between 1914 and 1916. Wordie became Fuchs's influential mentor and took him to the Arctic on an expedition. Much later, Wordie was key in supporting the planning of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Fuchs read Geology, Zoology and Botany, graduating in 1930 with a Third. Always keen on sport, he played in the College Rugby XV, rowed, played tennis and cricket. His parents gave him a small two-seater silver Austin 7, named Lepsima after the arthropod (commonly known as a silver fish) which led to an enduring passion for fast cars. Lepsima was later followed by a Riley sportscar, two MGs, a Sunbeam Talbort and a succession of Jaguars.

'Roof climbing' was popular among some of the students, including Fuchs. Staying out at night was not permitted and students were required to be in College by 10pm, but it was said that there were at least 14 ways of getting back inside the College without using the front gate. This activity did not go unnoticed - much later, Wordie sent an account to the Times of a summer expedition to Greenland, in which he mentioned that 'the ninth member of the team gained his [mountaineering] experience among the roofs and towers of Cambridge'.

After exams in the summer of 1929, Fuchs was invited to join James Wordie on his summer expedition to Greenland. On 2nd July the party of four geologists, two surveyors, a doctor and a physicist, sailed from Aberdeen aboard the Heimland, a 64-ton Norweigan seal-hunting ship. Six days later the ship entered the pack ice and progress became slow. Stuck fast in the ice, time passed with short expeditions catching seal and bear to eat, collecting and identifying animals, plants and birds. After a month of slow progress through the ice, they at last sighted Greenland and sailed up the Franz Josef Fjord to anchor inland at Kjerulf Fjord, long behind schedule with only three weeks left to complete the field work, which included climbing Petermann Peak. Wordie and two others reached the summit (9650 ft) on 16 August in dangerous conditions.

The Greenland expedition was Fuchs's first experience of polar work, and was to shape his future as explorer, scientist and leader. He describes this expedition as a 'memorable baptism of ice'. Following the Greenland Expedition Fuchs returned to Cambridge for a fourth year to read Geology and, encouraged by Wordie, to write a paper with a fellow expedition member on some of their findings - his first publication.

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