Explorer Turned Back, but Decision Came Too Late

'New Yorker' looks at Henry Worsley's epic Antarctic feat and its tragic end
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2018 9:30 AM CST
Updated Feb 11, 2018 3:34 PM CST
Explorer Turned Back, but Decision Came Too Late
The late British adventurer Henry Worsley.   (Steve Parsons/PA via AP, file)

After 71 days and more than 900 miles, British explorer Henry Worsley finally made the agonizing decision to end his epic journey through the Antarctic in early 2016. The decision, however, came too late, and the 55-year-old died of organ failure after being airlifted out. Incredibly, he was just 30 miles short of his goal of becoming the first person to cross the Antarctic alone and unaided. Now, the New Yorker provides a lengthy and fascinating look at his life and death, with excerpts from his diary showing just how brutal a toll the expedition had been taking on his body. Eventually, those entries became "a litany of suffering," writes David Grann. Worsley had lost more than 40 pounds, his stomach hurt constantly (later, doctors would say he developed bacterial peritonitis), frostbite had taken the tip of one finger, and storm after storm punished him.

Still, he pressed on, murmuring a mantra of "Always a little further" from a poem and asking himself, "What would Shacks do?" in times of trouble, referring to his Antarctic hero, the late explorer Ernest Shackleton. The story recounts how his wife, Joanna, wrote the phrase, "Come back to me safely, my darling" on his skis and called friends on Jan. 17 in a panic after hearing her husband's exhausted voice on a radio broadcast via a satellite phone. She wondered whether it was time to send in a rescue plane, but Worsley's friends said only he should make that decision. He finally did on Jan. 22, a day after speaking to Joanna, who implored him to give in. Upon being airlifted out, he called Joanna to say, "I'm having a cup of tea and I'm going to be fine." But his body began shutting down soon afterward at the hospital. Read the full story. (More Antarctica stories.)

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