Henry Worsley’s journey comes to a sad end

Death of an explorer: ‘No one conquers the Antarctic – it’s always in charge’

The final journey of Antarctic explorer Henry Worsley was in many ways the most contemporary of events, a charity expedition followed in real time around the world. But it was also a throwback to a more romantic age of adventure, rooted in Worsley's lifelong admiration of the Irish polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Worsley (55), a former British special forces officer, documented his journey across Antarctica in daily audio journals he transmitted by satellite phone. This meant that when he gave up last Friday after 70 days and 900 miles – just 30 miles short of his goal – the world heard about it right away.

“My journey is at an end,” Worsley said. “I have run out of time and physical endurance – the simple, sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to cover the distance required to reach my goal.”

Worsley was suffering from bacterial peritonitis, an infection of the abdomen that can cause liver failure, and had not moved for two days. He called Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request what he used to refer to as "the world's most expensive taxi ride" and was flown to Punta Arenas, Chile.


It was too late: he quickly lapsed into complete organ failure and died on Sunday.

Endurance ancestor

Worsley was a direct descendant of

Frank Worsley

, Shackleton’s skipper on the


, the three-masted sailing ship he started out on in 1914, hoping to cross the Antarctic via the South Pole.


was crushed by pack ice before the expedition really began, but Shackleton’s heroism in surviving and rescuing his crew made him a hero to Henry Worsley.

“As a child, it was the images of Shackleton stranded and surviving on the pack ice that gripped my imagination,” Worsley said before he set off in November. “When I joined the Army, I was attracted by the leadership style of Shackleton, who I thought was a terrific role model for a young officer. The leadership qualities he valued most were optimism, patience, idealism and courage.”

Entering Sandhurst straight from school, Worsley was commissioned into the Royal Green Jackets and later joined the SAS. He served in Northern Ireland with the controversial 14th Intelligence Unit, which has been accused of collusion in loyalist paramilitary murders. He later served in Bosnia and Afghanistan and retired from the army last year.

His latest expedition was a fundraiser for the Endeavour Fund, a charity that helps wounded soldiers.

South Pole routes

Prior to his final journey, Worsley made two expeditions to Antarctica, one following in the footsteps of Shackleton, the other tracing the routes charted by Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole.

His final adventure was the most ambitious, however, as he sought to be the first man ever to cross the Antarctic alone, without even the aid of a pack of sled dogs.

Pulling a sled weighing 148kg, almost twice his own weight and packed with food for 80 days, Worsley was under no illusions about the challenge as he set out from Gould Bay.

“No one conquers the Antarctic,” he said. “It’s always in charge. If you’re very lucky, it’ll allow you to achieve your goal and let you get home safely.”

Worsley set off on November 14th and hoped to complete the journey in 75 days. In his daily audio diaries, he described the physical challenge of dealing with temperatures below -40 degrees, fierce storms and steep glaciers.

He also documented the bouts of depression he experienced, alone and disorientated, as well as misfortunes, such as the loss of a tooth when he bit into a frozen energy bar.

Christmas dinner

He celebrated Christmas at 8,500 feet, hunkered down in a one-man tent with a pre-packed turkey dinner, whiskey and a cigar and reached the South Pole on January 3rd.

But as he neared his goal of the Ross ice shelf, Worsley began to weaken, perhaps already suffering from the bacterial infection that would kill him.

Last week, with 30 miles to go, he collapsed in his tent and was unable to move for two days. Knowing he could go no further, Worsley called for help. While he waited for his rescuers, he recorded a final message.

“The 71 days alone on the Antarctic with over 900 statute miles covered and a gradual grinding down of my physical endurance finally took its toll today, and it is with sadness that I report it is journey’s end - so close to my goal.

“This is Henry Worsley, signing off, journey’s end.”