Huw Lewis Jones new book offers a fascinating insight into Wally Herbert’s Arctic adventure – PLUS there’s a chance to win a Rab Kitbag worth £90, for your own expedition!
Wally Herbert first went to Antarctica as a young man in 1956, spending two winters at Hope Bay and learning to navigate by the sun and stars. He mastered the art of sledging with dogs and was leader of the team that made the first crossing of the Antarctic Peninsula. During his first Antarctic season on the Ross Sea side he would map 10,000 square miles of previously unexplored country. As leader of his own field party in 1962 he covered 21,500 square miles of the Queen Maud Range, with his geologist securing the richest collection of plant-fossils yet found on that frozen continent. As surveyors, they opened the gateway to the Pole, retracing Amundsen’s route through the mountains down to the Ross Ice Shelf. They came home with a string of records and first ascents but – most important of all – they returned with the maps they had made. This was real exploration.
Four years later Wally led an arduous 1,500-mile training expedition over the most difficult terrain in the Canadian Arctic. After years of grinding preparation work, he then set out, in February 1968, with three others, to attempt that impossible dream, the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean – a surface as unstable and unsafe as anywhere on Earth. There would not be a day when the floes on which they travelled or slept were not drifting in response to currents and winds. There would be no rest, no landfalls, no safe haven, no certainty and no precedent.
On 6 April 1969 they finally reached the North Pole. Two exhausting and perilous months later, Wally and his team completed their journey, some 3,720 route miles in all. Their success was hailed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a ‘feat of courage which ranks with any in polar history’, and, in the opinion of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, as ‘one of the greatest triumphs of human skill and endurance’. Yet as time passed public interest and attention naturally fell away and it is only in recent years that the significance of this journey is coming back into focus.
Yet Wally always believed in deeds not words. ‘No amount of dreaming’, he once wrote, ‘will shift a seated man’. He felt that the urge of man to respond to a challenge is one of the finest attributes, and to discourage such things in people is to ignore our innate sense of curiosity, the wellspring of discovery. All this might not seem that much to people with no interest in the ice, but it isn’t hard to see the magnitude of his achievement. He made his time on Earth count and he left his mark in his lifetime. He was a good man, a man of wild deeds yet wise and meticulous, careful, confident of his own skills and generous in sharing them. He did not waste his days and he was brave enough to live with the consequences of a calculated risk. Perhaps he was too good, too competent; thankfully there were no disasters on his many expeditions, but tragedy seems to be the only thing to guarantee the notoriety of lasting news. Yet, he would not have wanted this fame anyway. His deeds should be remembered as he earned his place in the history of this wide, eternal sea the hard way.
Win a set of Huw Lewis-Jones’ Arctic trilogy books and a Rab Kitbag
Thames & Hudson have teamed up with the fantastic Rab Equipment to celebrate the publication of Across the Arctic Ocean and the launch of Rab’s new Autumn/Winter range to offer Stanfords customers the chance to win all three of Huw Lewis-Jones’ exploration books, (Across the Arctic Ocean, The Crossing of Antarctica and The Conquest of Everest) and Rab’s new Kitbag 120 (RRP £90) for all your own exploration adventure needs.
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