Explorer Calls Route to South Pole 'Terrible' Idea

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest and the first to drive a vehicle to the South Pole, described a U.S. highway to the pole as "terrible.''

Work on the 1,020-mile "ice highway'' from the Antarctic coast south of New Zealand to the South Pole is currently in its third season.

The project will enable hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment to be hauled across the world's most inhospitable wilderness to Amundsen-Scott Base, a U.S. research station. It's planned for completion by the end of the 2006 polar summer.

Currently, cargo planes fly in scientists and supplies during the four-month summer.

Hillary, who's revisiting Antarctica this week, was blunt about the project: "I think it's terrible,'' according to local media reports.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said the road is environmentally acceptable, but he understood Hillary's objections to the project.

"He spent weeks battling against the elements to get to the pole and it was an enormous achievement,'' Goff said.

"Now you've got the concept of a marked route that takes away the challenge and the adventure of getting there and that is anathema to Ed,'' he said.

Hillary led a small team 1,250 miles from New Zealand's Scott Base on the Antarctic coast to the South Pole by tractor as part of the first trans-Antarctic crossing in 1957.

Editor's Note: In a 2003 news report, National Science Foundation spokesperson Arthur Brown said: "This is not a highway ... or a road, more a trail or a route."