Not too many people can boast they have a glacier named after them – but Oamaru man Grahame Champness can legitimately do so.
In 1967, the now 73-year-old was part of a six-man team from the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research that conducted geological mapping of the lower Rennic Glacier region in Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica, 640km north of Scott Base.
Mr Champness was a field assistant on the 10-week trip, alongside John Glasgow.
David Massam was team leader, while Mourie Sheehan was deputy leader and John Dower and Vince Neall were geologists.
Four of the men recently attended a reunion in Nelson to reflect on their time on the world’s southernmost continent.
Mr Massam died several years ago, while efforts to track down Mr Sheehan had unfortunately been unsuccessful.
Mr Champness got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica in 1967 on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft after he spotted an advertisement looking for capable climbers to help the expedition.
He said his job was essentially to “look after” the geologists to “make sure they didn’t fall down any holes”.
“We were mountaineers and they were studying there,” Mr Champness said of himself and Mr Glasgow.
“They hadn’t done any climbing so we had to get them to the rocks they wanted to look at.”
That involved crossing some steep and, at times, crevasse-laden terrain using motorised and dog-driven sledges, which he described as “quite scary” at times.
Despite the challenges, which also included blizzards, having to travel mostly at night because the ice was harder and easier to navigate, and an ill-fated supply drop, Mr Champness said the trip was a fulfilling experience.
He even had a landmark named after him – Champness Glacier.
“It was amazing. It was 10 weeks for that trip and afterwards they all flew home except me. I was only going to spend the summer there, but I stayed at Scott Base for the winter and looked after the dogs and got all of the field gear sorted for the next trip.
“I was going to go to Peru so I had to make a choice of whether I stayed for the winter or go to Peru. I never regretted staying, because the winter was a wonderful experience.”
Unfortunately, a second planned trip to Antarctica did not happen.
“The geologists were looking for a field leader and they suggested I go along, but they didn’t do that trip. Our trip was the last big overland trip out in the field. These days, they use helicopters. The Italians have done a lot of work though since we were there.
“They actually found gold there .. it was the first time that gold had been found in Antarctica.”
While Mr Champness and his team did not strike gold themselves, they discovered plenty of fossils, which included ferns and “big leaves”.
He enjoyed the Nelson reunion and said he would continue to stay in touch with his old mates.