His leg plunged into the shaft. Adams raced over and yanked him out. Soon, the men encountered something startling beneath their feet: a sheet of blue ice. The result of snow accumulating on a glacier and being compressed over thousands of years, this kind of ice is so dense—so devoid of air bubbles—that it absorbs long-wavelength light, which is why it appears mesmerizingly blue.
Yet, as the men quickly discovered, its beauty is deceptive. Before long, the aluminum spikes of the crampons began to bend and break. The men slipped again and again, their bodies smacking against the ice, their sleds pulling them downhill. Adams quietly relented. Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. But he would make those decisions, having listened and consulted with us, so it made it very easy to follow him. On December 24th, after nine days of climbing, they reached the top of the glacier. On Christmas morning, instead of their usual breakfast of freeze-dried porridge, the team prepared a special meal of sausages, bacon, and beans.
Worsley called home and spoke to Joanna and Alicia, wishing them a merry Christmas. Worsley then called his own father, hoping to share the news that he had reached the top of the glacier. T he following morning, the forty-third day of the expedition, Worsley, Adams, and Gow began the next stage of their journey.
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But, as they ascended the Titan Dome, they confronted the most brutal conditions yet: hurricane-force gales, and a wind-chill temperature of minus sixty degrees. Worsley kept a vigilant eye on his companions. They were almost unrecognizable from the young professionals who had set out from London. Their skin clung to their skulls and their eyes were sunken; they had wild beards and untamed hair that gleamed with ice. Because of the whiteouts, Adams was suffering from motion sickness. But by December 31st it was Worsley who was suffering and struggling to keep pace.
His body could not maintain sufficient body fat. My legs would not work any faster. Each stride of the ski seemed locked at a precise distance. I could go no faster, just slower and slower. We are all completely done in, so why should you? Inside the tent on January 5th, he opened the envelope that Joanna had given him. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. The next day, during another whiteout, Adams got such severe motion sickness that he began vomiting. Worsley then forged ahead at his fastest pace in days.
There was still a chance for them to make the ninety-seven-mile mark on schedule. But on January 7th, with just two days to go, another storm descended, and they were enveloped in the white darkness. Worsley explained to the others that they could either keep going or sit out the storm. But if they waited they would miss the anniversary. But he stressed that the decision had to be unanimous. During the next two days, the storm abated, and they covered more than twenty-five nautical miles. On January 9th, they barrelled ahead for six hours.
Then Worsley took out his G.
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All they could see was barren ice—their grail was no more than a geographical data point. The temperature was minus thirty-one degrees, too cold to linger. But Worsley planted a British flag and arranged a group photograph similar to one that Shackleton had taken with his party. Worsley kept thinking about the predicament that Shackleton had faced a hundred years earlier. I must look at the matter sensibly and consider the lives of those who are with me.
I feel that if we go on too far it will be impossible to get back over this surface, and then all the results will be lost to the world. To their relief, they began descending in altitude, their sleds, lightened from the consumption of food, scooting easily behind them. After eight days, they had covered ninety-two nautical miles, a reminder of just how close Shackleton had been to realizing his dream. That night, Worsley went for his stroll, wobbling on bone-thin legs. He was not a religious man, but the landscape stirred him. The next morning, the men broke camp, and embarked on the remaining five nautical miles.
In the distance, they could finally see a signpost: the smudged outline of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a U. After a few hours, Worsley noticed that his skis were moving in tracks that had been etched by snowmobiles. Then he saw, dumped in a pile on the ice, a broken washing machine, a mattress, and crushed boxes. The scentless air became infused with the sharp odors of fried food and petroleum; occasionally, a military plane roared overhead. In front of the research station, protruding from the ice, was a gleaming metal rod, about waist-high, topped with a brass globe.
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On January 18th, at p. As the journey had approached its end, Worsley had felt tears freezing under his eyes: he had not experienced such joy and relief since he was a little boy. Only a few years earlier, they had been strangers, yet they had learned to trust one another with their lives. He happily returned to the Army and relished being with his family. On account of the great geographical discoveries, the important scientific results?
Oh no; that will come later, for the few specialists. This is something all can understand. A victory of human mind and human strength over the dominion and powers of Nature; a deed that lifts us above the great monotony of daily life; a view over shining plains, with lofty mountains against the cold blue sky, and lands covered by ice-sheets of inconceivable extent. In , Worsley launched a new expedition, to mark the centennial of the race between Amundsen and Scott to the South Pole.
Gow and Adams, who had married and settled down with families, declined to go, and so Worsley drew recruits from the military. He and a partner, Lou Rudd, followed the trail of Amundsen and raced against another party, which took the route of Scott. Worsley had become the first person to trace the two classic routes to the South Pole.
In , he was stationed in Washington, D. Special Operations Forces. It was his final military posting: in October of , after more than three and a half decades of service, he would be fifty-five, at that time the mandatory retirement age. Joanna had accompanied him to the States, and she sensed his mind drifting.
Not only would it be his longest, hardest, and most punishing quest; he would have to survive entirely on his own wits. Henry, though, told Joanna that he would return to Antarctica only if she approved. He was sensitive to the toll that his expeditions had taken on their family.
John W. Campbell
He often struggled to express his emotions—the tumult that he had kept masked, even as it drove him—and in his book he had included a passage that seemed intended for his family, a way to convey what he could not say directly. The children were equally supportive. They talked about eventually doing a polar journey together. In the fall of , before Henry departed on the expedition, he and Joanna travelled to Greece.
While visiting ancient sites and drinking wine at tavernas, they plotted out the things they would do when he returned. They would go to India and teach underprivileged children, and travel to Venice, where he could study art and she could do charity work. Worsley no longer journeyed in obscurity, and his plan received admiring news coverage. On October 20th, Joanna drove him to Heathrow Airport. She was more worried about this expedition than any other, given his age and the lack of help.
In a video that Worsley posted on his Web site, he had spoken of the risks of journeying solo. The biggest threat, he said, was falling into a crevasse: no one could pull him out or call for rescue. From there, he would trek five hundred and seventy nautical miles to the South Pole. Then, heading in the reverse direction from the one he had followed with Gow and Adams, he would ascend the Titan Dome and make his way down to the rim of the Ross Ice Shelf, on the Pacific side. This second section would cover three hundred and thirty nautical miles, and he estimated that the expedition would take him nearly eighty days.