Elation and tragedy as explorers push limits
Four women triumphed yesterday after rowing across the Pacific. But in Antarctica, a solo expedition ended in disaster. Should we admire those who push the human body to new limits?
Henry Worsley was just 30 miles short of completing the first solo expedition across the Antarctic when he was rescued. He expressed his ‘sadness’ at not completing the journey, which had raised £100,000 for charity. But exhaustion and dehydration had caused his body to shut down, and yesterday morning he died in hospital in Chile.
The ex-soldier was a descendant of Frank Worsley, captain of Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance during the failed Antarctic crossing a century ago. It was this journey which Henry had hoped to complete, without any assistance. He was ‘a source of inspiration to us all’, said his friend and patron Prince William.
Hours earlier, four women known as the ‘Coxless Crew’ were jubilant as they rowed into the Marlin Marina in Cairns, Australia. It had been 257 days since the first all-female team to cross the Pacific had set out from San Francisco. The 9,206 mile adventure involved rowing in pairs every two hours, while eating and napping between shifts.
Aboard their pink boat, Doris, the women survived waves as high as three story buildings; endured seasickness and sunburn; cooked pancakes on the scorching deck; and saw humpback whales, an albatross and two sharks they named Eduardo and Fernando. When they finally reached dry land, they said it had been ‘an overwhelming experience’.
For nine months, the women had been pushed to their limits, drawing on all their strength to raise money for Breast Cancer and Walking With the Wounded. But Henry Worsley’s death is a reminder that not every adventure has such a happy ending.
Why take the risk? Exploration was once the fuel of human knowledge: it led Columbus to discover America, and Amundsen to the South Pole. But the Earth has now been mapped, and the journeys which ended yesterday were not scientific. The answer may lie with George Mallory; in 1924, when asked why he wanted to climb the treacherous Everest, the mountaineer’s biting retort echoed throughout history: ‘Because it’s there’.
Onwards and upwards
That answer is not good enough, say the more cautious among us. Raising money for charity and completing physical challenges are admirable goals if all goes to plan, but they are not worth risking your life and worrying your family, just to prove a point. Embarking on such difficult challenges is not only dangerous, it is selfish.
Nonsense, say others. If humans did not test their limits, they could never move forward. We do not all have to scale a mountain, but we must always be reminded to push ourselves further in life. Otherwise, it goes stale. In the words of Bruce Lee: ‘There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.’
- The sociologist Lynette Shaw argues that humanity needs both explorers and settlers to thrive. Which are you?
- Not much of planet Earth remains unexplored, unless you count the ocean floors. Are dangerous missions still worth the risk?
- Write down a list of things you want to see or do in your lifetime. Are there any that you can start working towards now? What about five years from now?
- Research an exploration mission from history. Write an account of the challenges the explorers faced, how they were overcome, and the discoveries made along the way.
Some People Say...
“The only mission that fails is the mission that never begins.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t want to be an explorer...
- That’s okay! No one is going to force you; we are not all mountaineers. But it’s still worth considering what you would like to achieve instead, and the challenges you can set yourself. Perhaps you want to read 100 books a year, become a chess champion, or travel to every continent. Whether you achieve these goals or not, you’re sure to learn something amazing along the way.
- I absolutely want to be an explorer!
- That’s great — discovering the world around you is endlessly rewarding, and it’s a fantastic way to keep fit and healthy. Try looking for a young explorer society in your local area, or joining a group like the scouts. Just remember to stay safe and use the proper equipment — don’t rely on a smartphone battery to get you home again.
- 30 miles
- The 1,100-mile journey stretched from coast to coast of the Antarctic, via the South Pole. Worsely estimated that it would take him 75 days to complete alone. He was airlifted after 71.
- In 1915 the ship became trapped in the Antarctic ice, and its crew was forced to abandon it. In 1916 they made it to Elephant Island, and were eventually rescued. Despite the immense difficulties, not a single life was lost.
- 9,206 mile
- This incredible distance is more than a third of the Earth’s circumference. The team made stops in Hawaii and Samoa in order to resupply.
- In 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to reach the American continents. Although he did not ‘discover’ America — there were already people living there, for example — he is credited with bringing it to Europe’s attention.
- Roald Amundsen and four fellow Norwegian explorers were the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. They beat Robert Scott’s team by just over a month.
- George Mallory
- Mallory tried to reach the top of Mount Everest three times, but died on his final attempt.