Wally Herbert

Wally Herbert

Sir Walter William "Wally" Herbert (24 October 1934 – 12 June 2007) was an British polar explorer, writer and artist. In 1969 he became the first man to walk undisputed to the North Pole, on the 60th anniversary of Robert Peary's famous, but disputed, expedition. [ [http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/sir+wally+herbert+dies/558357 Channel 4, "Sir Wally Herbert dies" 13 June 2007] ]

During the course of his polar career, which spanned more than 50 years, he spent 15 years in the wilderness regions of the polar world, and travelled with dog teams and open boats well over 23,000 miles - more than half of that distance through unexplored areas. [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1927969.ece "The Times Online", "'Greatest polar explorer' Sir Wally Herbert dies" 13 June 2007] ]

Early career

Walter Herbert was born into an army family in England but emigrated to Egypt at the age of three, then to South Africa for nine years. He studied at the Royal School of Military Survey then spent 18 months surveying in Egypt and Cyprus. He traveled back to England through Turkey and Greece, drawing portraits for his board and lodging.

In 1955 he carried out surveying in the Antarctic with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, during which he became an expert in dog sleighing. On a journey along the Antarctic Peninsula from Hope Bay to Portal Point he sledged some 5,000 km. This experience with dogs led him to a job with the New Zealand Antarctic programme which commissioned him to purchase dogs in Greenland for the Antarctic. There he learnt Inuit methods of dog driving.

As leader of an exploration party in the early 1960s Herbert surveyed a large area of the Queen Maud range and followed Shackleton (1908) and Scott's (1911) route up the Beardmore glacier. Denied a request to proceed to the South Pole, his party then ascended Mount Nansen and descended a route taken by Amundsen in 1911, thus being the first to retrace these explorers' traverses. In 1964 he then trekked the routes taken by Sverdrup and Cook from Greenland to Ellesmere Island in the Arctic.

British Trans-Arctic Expedition

From 1968 to 1969 Wally led the British Trans-Arctic Expedition, a 3,800-mile surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean, from Alaska to Spitsbergen, which some historians had billed as the ‘the last great journey on Earth.’ In July 1968, having crossed 1,900 km of rough drifting ice, Wally and his team established a camp. Because they could not reach a position where the drift of the trans-Arctic ice-stream was in their favour, they were forced to stay for the winter, as they drifted around the pole. Only when sunlight returned the following year could they continue their journey, finally reaching the North Pole via the Pole of Inaccessibility on April 6 1969. Their feat was recognised by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as "a feat of endurance and courage which ranks with any in polar history", and which Prince Philip stated "ranks among the greatest triumphs of human skill and endurance".

In recognition of his polar achievements, he received several honours and awards: among them the Polar Medal and bar; the Founders' Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, the gold medals of several Geographical Societies, and the Explorers Medal of the Explorers Club. He has a mountain range and a plateau named after him in the Antarctic; the most northerly mountain in Svalbard named after him in the Arctic.

Later life

Between 1979 and 1979 Wally and Allan Gill attempted to circumnavigate Greenland by dog sled and "umiak", a traditional boat. It was planned to take 16 months to cover the 13,000km but poor weather made it impossible. Near Loch Fyrne, Wally wrote:

Wally was also a prize-winning author and an artist, and had one-man shows in London, New York and Sydney.

Herbert became involved in the controversy over whether Peary had in fact reached the North Pole in 1909. He was commissioned by the National Geographic Society, which had supported Peary's claim since 1909, to write a biography, but as he researched Peary's life he came to realise that Peary must have falsified his records, and not reached the Pole. His book, "The Noose of Laurels", caused a furore when it was published in 1989, complicated by the fact that his conclusion meant that Herbert himself had a better claim to be the first explorer to have reached the North Pole on foot. His conclusion is now widely accepted. [ [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-wally-herbert-453324.html Obituary, "The Independent", June 16, 2007] ]

Herbert was knighted in 2000.


* "The Polar World", Wally Herbert, 2007
* "The Noose of Laurels", Wally Herbert, 1989
* "Polar Deserts", Wally Herbert
* "Hunters of the Polar North", Wally Herbert
* "Eskimos", Wally Herbert
* "North Pole", Wally Herbert
* "Across the Top of the World", Wally Herbert
* "A World of Men", Wally Herbert


The Guardian, Sir Wally Herbert, Obituaries, Friday June 15 2007

External links

* [http://www.sirwallyherbert.com/ Sir Wally Herbert's homepage]

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