Shackleton Solo: In Memory of Henry Worsley

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Source: Mariamichelle, CC0 via Pixabay

Back in November 2015, I came across an article about a man who planned on trekking across Antarctica alone, without the aid of dogs, machinery, kites, or supply drops. I had been browsing National Geographic en Español when I came across the story. (I couldn’t find the Spanish article, but you probably prefer English, anyway). The article writer interviewed Henry Worsley, a 55-year-old British ex-army officer and experienced Antarctic explorer. While many explorers has crossed Antarctica in the past, they did it with some form of aid; explorers Cecelie Skog and Ryan Waters made the crossing unsupported, but they did it together. Worsley wanted to be the first to do it alone.

Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton undertook a Trans-Antarctica expedition in 1914 with the intent to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. However, the Endurance – the expedition’s ship – got stuck in the ice, and eventually sank. While they never made it to Antarctica, the crew escaped onto the ice, set up camp, and sailed on on three small boats in 1916. After reaching Elephant Island, Shackleton and the men in his boat crossed over 700 nautical miles of ocean to get to South Georgia and find help. In the end, none of the expedition members died!

This story is relevant because Frank Worsley, captain of the Endurance, was a distant cousin of Henry Worsley. Worsley was fascinated with polar exploration since he was young, possibly because of this adventurous relation. He also undertook the exploration to support the Endeavor Fund to help wounded soldiers. In the end, Worsley raised over £100,000 for the fund, and nearly made it across the entire continent, alone and unaided (excluding daily check-ins by satellite phone).

On Day 71 of his journey across the Antarctic, with only 30 miles left to walk, Worsley made the call to be picked up by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) and end the Shackleton Solo. He was suffering from dehydration and the sheer exhaustion of moving forward in harsh conditions. But when he was flown into a hospital in Punta Arenas in Chile, he was also found to have bacterial peritonitis. Despite surgery and medical care, Henry Worsley passed away yesterday, January 24, in the hospital of complete organ failure.

When I saw the news this afternoon, I remembered that first article, and I was heartbroken. Worsley set out on a courageous expedition, and was so close to his goal. I saw some comments on various news articles that were actually downtalking Worsley, saying that his journey was pointless, and that he shouldn’t have even done something so dangerous in the first place. Remember the saying, “if you don’t have something nice to say”? This man was an antarctic explorer, and this was far from his first expedition. This was something he truly loved, and criticizing him for something beyond his control seems childish.

From aspiring young explorers to the Duke of Cambridge, it is clear that Henry Worsley will be well missed. His voice is immortalized on Soundcloud, where you can listen to his daily phone logs from the expedition.

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