Henry Worsley’s death is a sad reminder of the dangers of polar expeditions. It is tragic that he lost his life. He must have pushed himself beyond human limit to get so close to achieving his incredible goal of the first unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica. A far cry from Vivian Fuch’s first successful Trans Antarctic expedition in the 1950s involving a team of explorers and engineers hauled across by tractor. Henry’s expedition was much purer and simpler, but infinitely more difficult and dangerous. One man against a continent, no back up, hauling everything he needed. It is remarkable that he got within 30 miles of finishing, having hauled his sledge for 913 miles in only 69 days, and a real testament to his incredible mental and physical strength. And done with such humility and altruism too. Henry continually referred to his hero Shackleton yet almost completed a crossing which Shackleton barely managed to start. And all the while, his efforts were helping to raise money for wounded soldiers, a cause that was incredibly close to Lt Col. Worsley’s heart.
Lt Col. Henry Worsley was distantly related to Frank Worsley, the Captain of Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’ and as such he was clearly inspired by Shackleton’s exploits. In 2008 he retraced Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, leading a team to the same point Shackleton reached only 97 miles short of the South Pole, when he famously chose to turn around to save the lives of his crew. “Better a live donkey than a dead lion” Shackleton wrote to his wife explaining his decision. When Henry Worsley spoke for the RSGS in Perth in 2009 he was clearly moved at the opportunity to walk in Shackleton’s footprints, and recounted reading Shackleton’s diary a day at a time, and comparing it with his own experience. By pure fortune he arrived at the same point, 97 miles shy of the Pole on the same calendar day that Shackleton had, and found it highly emotional reflecting on his hero’s decision. Henry completed the final 97 miles with his team who were mostly also descendants of the original crew.
However the event that truly marked the talk, was also an event which helps define Henry’s humanity and enthusiasm for life. A young girl scout, Caitlin Daisley, from Greenock had replied to an advert Henry had placed for the final team member, writing a letter to explain why she would make an excellent team mate in a way that truly touched his heart. As a 12 year old she could not realistically be put in such a dangerous position, but Henry got in touch and took a scout scarf from her to the South Pole on his journey. At the end of his highly entertaining talk, he invited the young girl onto the stage with her scout troop and presented her with her well-travelled scarf to the delight of everyone in the room. Caitlin in turn handed Henry a cheque for nearly £1,000 towards the Shackleton Foundation which Henry had helped establish.
Henry Worsley spoke to several of our Local Groups and he was always quick to want to inspire others – as he was keen to challenge his audiences – “Everyone has an Antarctic – what’s yours?” A kind and generous man to the end, our thoughts are with his wife and children. And whilst I am sad at this turn of events, it is the picture from his 2008 expedition below, an image of pure unadulterated joy and achievement, by which I will remember him most.