Editorial: Heroism in the face of overwhelming odds

"Be bold. Be ambitious. Try something you could fail at," Henry Worsley remarked. Photo / AP
"Be bold. Be ambitious. Try something you could fail at," Henry Worsley remarked. Photo / AP

Before departing on his Antarctic expedition, the British explorer Henry Worsley explained his motivation for traversing the frozen continent all alone. "Be bold. Be ambitious. Try something you could fail at," he remarked. Sadly he did fail, though he pushed himself to the very limits, punishing his body and mind in bone-chilling temperatures day after day.

By the time he radioed for help he was exhausted and ill. The former soldier was just 50km from the end of a journey on which he was determined to embark. Worsley challenged the most demanding odds by pressing on for 10 weeks, unaided and unassisted, in temperatures that fell as low as minus 44C, battling white-out blizzards and treacherous ice. Though failing health and bitter conditions forced the father of two to abandon his mission with the end in sight, his achievement in making it tantalisingly close to the finish ranks with the bravest polar efforts.

The tragedy of his passing means he joins other heroic adventurers who have died in the pursuit of cold, distant goals. Robert Falcon Scott, beaten to the South Pole in 1911 by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, perished near a food dump. The Swiss explorer Xavier Mertz died on Douglas Mawson's Australian expedition after a third man fell down a crevasse, taking food and sledges with him.

Worsley used 21st century technology to post reports about his journey and, when he could go no further, call for help.

Shortly before his rescue, the courageous Worsley announced: "When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, was 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of January 9, 1909, he said he'd shot his bolt. Well today I have to inform you with some sadness that I too have shot my bolt." In one dispatch Worsley reported he could feel his muse beside him as he forced his skis over the endless white expanse.

The tragic end to his epic trek is a grim reminder that the world's most hostile environments still can defeat even those most determined to challenge them.

- NZ Herald

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