The Solo Antarctic Expedition That Ended In Death And A Series Of Tragic Selfies
Following in the footsteps of one of his biggest heroes, Antarctic explorer Henry Worsley dreamed of crossing the continent completely on his own, but the voyage ended in tragedy. Inspired by the incredibly tough, competitive, and stubborn explorers of the early-1900s, the Worsley Antarctic expedition of 2015 was an attempt to re-create a voyage Ernest Shackleton attempted but never completed 100 years earlier. Unfortunately, Worsley found similar results and met an even grimmer end.
Worsley was familiar with Antarctica, having already recreated several expeditions made by his heroes. His route spanned from the South Pole to the continent's opposite shore. While Henry Worsley was an experienced explorer, Antarctica's extreme temperatures, dangerous winds, and unsettling atmosphere proved unconquerable. Worsley's attempt to fulfill a dangerous dream ended in tragedy, similar to voyagers like Robert Scott or Christopher McCandless. Henry Worsley's funeral was a sad day for the exploration community, but the selfies and audio diary he left behind tell an amazing tale.
He Planned To Travel More Than 900 Miles Across The Continent, Walking 13 Hours A Day
In November 2015, Henry Worsley began his journey from Berkner Island on the northwestern part of Antarctica. He planned to complete his trip in 75 days, which would involve walking to the South Pole and then to the opposite side of Antarctica. His route would put him more than 900 miles from where he started. On a good day, Worsley walked for 13 hours, pulling a sled loaded with about 300 pounds of supplies the entire way.
He reached the South Pole on day 51 of his journey. The first people he'd seen in a very long time were those living at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a research facility that studies the geophysics of Earth's polar regions. Because he was intent on completing a true solo trip, Worsley turned down their offers of supplies and food. He continued on, climbing to 9,700 feet on the Titan Dome a few days later. Throughout his trip, Worsley kept an audio diary and took selfies, documenting his growing weariness and deteriorating health.
He Couldn't Bring Enough Food To Make Up For The Massive Amount Of Calories He Burned
Worsley brought enough food for 80 days, five days longer than he thought the trip would take. He expected to lose about 28 pounds during his journey, since walking while pulling a sled weighing almost 330 pounds takes a lot of energy. He potentially burned up to 10,000 calories in a single day, and carrying enough food to replace those calories would be nearly impossible. Plus, Worsley's food remained mostly frozen thanks to Antarctica's conditions, as he discovered when he broke a tooth implant trying to bite down on a frozen snack bar.
Worsley's audio diaries contained many mentions of food, and he spoke specifically about how much he missed junk food; in his last audio diary entry, he said that the first thing he was going to do when he returned home was have some tea and a slice of cake. By the time Worsley was rescued, he had lost almost 50 pounds and was suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.
Worsley's Trip Was Hampered By Soft Snow, Extremely Cold Temperatures, And Nasty Winds
Worsley's adventure began tolerably enough—the snow was even and firm, which made it relatively easy to ski and sled. However, the temperature began to drop as he ventured further inland, and the snow's surface became less than optimal. On day 55, he recorded frigid temperatures of minus 47 degrees Fahrenheit, and he struggled to travel across the soft snow. Worsley also experienced 40 to 50 mile per hour winds. He noted on day 66, "The cruelty... is the very soft snow. Hellish. All day. I'm weaker now, of course, and it's the last thing I needed. It saps what little energy I have left."
Worsley Had An Infection, Which Ended Up Killing Him
After Henry Worsley called his support team to rescue him, he was taken by airplane to a camp six hours away and then to Punta Arenas, Chile. Doctors originally believed Worsley was ill due to dehydration and exhaustion, but they discovered he was suffering from bacterial peritonitis, an infection in the lining of his abdomen. Although medical professionals attempted surgery, Worsley's body was too weak to fight the infection, and he passed away from organ failure on January 25, 2016, at the age of 55.
While it's disappointing that Worsley was a mere 30 miles away from completing his planned journey, a former member of the British Antarctic Survey thought he made the right decision to pull out. He told BBC News, "He did a smart thing and made the call for evacuation, but sadly his system was beaten down so much he just couldn't recover."
Worsley Was Forced To Stop His Adventure Just 30 Miles Short Of His Goal Due To Poor Health And Exhaustion
Henry Worsley remarkably made it more than 900 miles across Antarctica completely on his own, only changing his underwear once. Unfortunately, after more than 65 days traveling in the world's most inhospitable land, he was forced to stop 30 miles from his goal. Worsley's pace had slowed in the last days of his trip as he fought exhaustion and a growing infection he didn't even know he had. In contrast to the 13 hour days he managed at the start of his trip, Worsley was only covering about four miles every five hours.
A storm moved in, which caused whiteout conditions. The winds were so high that they killed a colony of penguins and trapped Worsley in his tent for two days. The rescue team monitoring his progress got ready to move in, but refused to take any action until Worsley gave the signal. Finally, he contacted his support team knowing he was too exhausted to travel any further, and they picked him up.
Worsley's Journey Was Made In The Name Of The Endeavour Fund, A Charity For Injured Veterans
Henry Worsley was a veteran of the British Army and had great respect for his fellow soldiers. He was also friends with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who helped fund Worsley's second trip to Antarctica. In Worsley's final visit to the icy continent, he intended to raise money for The Endeavour Fund, run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Prince Harry. Worsley chose to support the foundation because of his friendly relationship with William, but also because the foundation supports adventures for injured veterans, a cause close to his heart. Although he was unable to complete his journey, Worsley raised more than $150,000, which more than doubled as donations poured in after the news of his death.