After a lifetime of adventure, world-famous polar explorer dies

Last updated at 13:24 13 June 2007


A man hailed as one of Britain's greatest polar explorers has died aged 72.

Sir Wally Herbert, who in 1969 became the first person to reach the North Pole on foot without motorised transport, died yesterday in a hospital near his home in the Highlands.

He had been suffering from diabetes and heart trouble.

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Sir Wally Herbert

In a career spanning almost 50 years, the Yorkshireman travelled across well over 23,000 miles of the polar world - more than half of which had never been set foot upon before.

His spirit of adventure began after completing three years military service with the Royal Engineers in 1954.

Sir Wally went on to work as a surveyor with the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey, based at Hope Bay in Antarctica.

His first major expedition was the first crossing of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1957.

The by-then-committed explorer went on to map a large part of the frozen continent's Queen Maud Range of mountains.

During the mid 1960s he began planning his mammoth journey across the Arctic Ocean, taking in the North Pole.

It was widely considered as the "last great journey on earth".

He reached the top of the world on April 6 1969 during what became an epic 16-month trek across the frozen Arctic Ocean.

Sir Wally, three companions and a pack of 40 dogs covered 3,800-miles from Alaska to Spitsbergen in Norway.

His achievement was immediately hailed by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a "feat of endurance and courage which ranks with any in polar history" and "among the greatest triumphs of human skill and endurance" by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Nearly ten years later he tried unsuccessfully to circumnavigate Greenland.

Through his explorations Sir Wally contributed heavily to the mapping of Antarctica and to people's knowledge of the native Inuit of north-west Greenland.

They led to him having a mountain range and plateau named after him in the Antarctic, and the most northerly mountain in Svalbard named after him in the high Arctic.

Paying tribute to Sir Wally, Dr Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, said his legacy would not be forgotten.

She said: "As well as his superhuman physical achievements, his expeditions laid the foundations for modern polar science and our understanding of the thinning Arctic ice from climate change.

"Sir Wally is quite simply one of the greatest polar explorers."

He was awarded the Polar Medal twice - once for his Antarctic research (1960/62) and again for his crossing of the Arctic Ocean (1968/69).

A prize-winning author of nine books, Sir Wally was also an accomplished artist and two of his paintings are owned by members of the Royal Family.

Knighted in 2000, last year saw friends and colleagues gather in London at an event to celebrate his remarkable achievements.

Sir Wally was admitted to Raigmore hospital in Inverness last week, and he died there early yesterday morning.

He leaves wife Marie, who lives in Laggan near Aviemore, and a daughter Kari.

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