His Life’s Set Prize: The Story of Polar Explorer Henry Worsley

Unreleased picture date is Friday April 18, 2008. Left to right. Shipping lawyer Henry Adams, City worker Will Gow and Team Leader, Henry Worsley, 47, during a training session at Constable Point, Greenland. (Photo by Joel Ryan - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

At The New Yorker, David Grann tells the story of Henry Worsley, a British military man and “apostle” of polar adventurer Ernest Shackleton. Worsley earned fame by retracing Shackleton’s failed expedition to reach the South Pole. He, along with two teammates reached their destination on January 9th, 2009. A case study in the art of story pacing, this piece is a testament to the triumphs and perils of human ambition and endurance.

After Frank Worsley and other members of the expedition buried Shackleton, at a cemetery on the island, they found stones and built a cairn to mark the grave.

More than eighty years later, Henry Worsley, carrying a rucksack and a sleeping bag, pried open the cemetery gate and went inside. It was twilight, and he could just make out the cairn and a granite tombstone, which was engraved with a paraphrase of a line by Robert Browning: “I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize.” Worsley put his sleeping bag on the ground and climbed inside it, facing the block of granite. “Reaching out to touch it I considered for a moment just how significant a moment in my life this was,” he later wrote, adding, “I was about to spend the night . . . beside the grave of my hero since childhood.”

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