South County Woman Goes Overland to South Pole

Times Staff Writers

Shirley Metz of Capistrano Beach and Victoria Murden, a Harvard divinity student, became the first women to reach the South Pole on an overland route Wednesday when they and eight men concluded a 750-mile trek across Antarctica that began Nov. 28.

The group, consisting of U.S. and Canadian citizens, also became the first Americans on skis to reach the ceremonial barber pole at the U.S. Navy’s Amundsen-Scott Research Center. Just three groups had previously made such a trip: The 1911-12 expeditions of Roald Amundsen of Norway and Robert Falcon Scott of Britain, and a 1985 British trek by Roger Mears. The first three groups used a different route than the Americans.

The latest group, led by Canadian guide Martyn Williams, used cross-country skis and towed small sleds. They were also accompanied by two snowmobiles that carried most of their camping equipment.


Flown Out in Amphibian Plane

Metz’s husband, Dick, said his wife radioed him to say that the expedition arrived at the South Pole at noon (PST) Wednesday. They camped overnight at the center, then were flown out in an amphibian airplane, which had to make an unscheduled landing because of fog near the Thiel Mountains. They are expected to reach their base camp at the Ellsworth Mountains on the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf sometime today, Metz said.

From there, the group will be taken to Punta Arenas, Chile, then on to Miami.

Metz said he last received a radio message from his wife, 39, a few days ago, when they were 40 miles from the South Pole. It said: “Dear Dick, I’m well, healthy and when are we going skiing?”

Metz said everyone suffered some frostbite and had to seek shelter in ice caves for a few days when they encountered 140-m.p.h. winds. Temperatures dipped to 38 degrees below zero during the trek.

Some of the equipment was damaged when the party tried to cross an unusual terrain called sastrugi, windswept chunks of snow that swell to sharp peaks as high as 6 feet.

But mostly, Metz said, they reported few difficulties. The skiers, ranging in age from 24 to 59, had expected to reach their destination by Jan. 30.


Last year, Shirley Metz began training for the expedition by working out on roller blades, a kind of roller skate that requires the same technique as cross-country skiing. They also stayed in the couple’s second home at an Idaho ski resort. Otherwise, she and her husband live in a spacious home overlooking Dana Point Harbor.

Before Shirley Metz left, she said she would make a documentary about the expedition. She plans to show the film and lecture on environmental issues concerning Antarctica.

Her life took an abrupt change in 1987, when she and her husband sold the Hobie Sports chain that they had owned and operated for almost 20 years.

In semiretirement, Shirley Metz joined her mother-in-law on a cruise ship headed to Antarctica last January. The cruise stirred her interest in lobbying to keep Antarctica unspoiled.

By becoming one of the first women to reach the pole on skis, Shirley Metz said she hoped to publicize the plight of the pristine continent, which is being targeted for oil drilling by international corporations.