"If Peary was 'The Man Who Refused to Fail' then Wally Herbert was
'the man Britain could not afford to let fail' after polar
failures such as Franklin,
Scott, Shackelton, Mawson, etc."
|(above) Editor's Note: Any
British polar affair dredges up tearful memories of the terrible deaths that
befell the Scott expedition. Which is why the Herbert camping adventure
seems absurd when British royalty posture it as "...the
greatest triumphs of human skill and endurance." Prince
Philip's hyperbole attempts to elevate what many called a
"polar stunt" to greatness it does not deserve.
||Last British luxury marathon polar
hunting & camping trip
|Across the Top of the
World: The Last Great Journey on Earth, by Wally Herbert,
Helicopter, along with military ships and planes moved Wally's dog
sledge camping crew across the polar regions. Is this really "the greatest triumph of human skill and endurance?"
If this was "the greatest", then what was Peary's 1909
unsupported dash of 1,000 miles from land to the Pole and back
without any radios or airplanes to rescue his team? Have Wally and
Prince Philip reduced that unique expedition to merely the
Or is the truth that we are witnessing a later day attempt to
usurp polar honor (Brits spell it with a "u" as "honour")
from America? The British contempt for Americans is
often expressed as an air of superiority when they refer to Americans
as "colonials." In this instance
Herbert's book and
the stunt that it documents have no place in polar exploration.
This is purely the domain of the "Guinness
Book of Records." Herbert is not in the domain of classic
arctic history, not in the domain of arctic exploration, but
squarely in the domain of a human ego aggrandizing itself.
Herbert apparently hated Peary back in 1968. Is
that why he had correspondence with tireless anti-Peary crusader
Janet Vetters, the woman who founded the
It is interesting to read what I see as a deliberately negative
portrayal of Peary in this work that preceded
Noose of Laurels by 17 years. Herbert obviously sides with some unnamed "critics" who
stated Peary was 60 miles short of the Pole (P.35). He references
Peary's "incredible distances" as "physically impossible"(P.30).
This proves that Herbert had already taken sides in something he
actually knew nothing about. In point of fact, he was probably
believing the writing of 1929 author Reverend Hayes - a classic, and
totally inaccurate, "arm chair" expert. Note that Hayes, like other
early Peary haters, were merely reiterating and trying to amplify
the criticisms from Frederick Cook, but they had virtually nothing
to work with - so this genre of writers would claim speeds and
distances were impossible because Cook or others had said so. All of
this speculation, in fact, has been
disproved by skilled dog sledge handlers.
An equally suspicious mischaracterization in Herbert's book are
his statements about Frederick Cook. He inaccurately describes Cook
as having "...considerable fame as an explorer, a
scientist...further increased his stature as an explorer by making
the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain on the
American continent..."(P.28) (Note: Herbert mistakenly
used "American continent" instead of "North American continent") But
Herbert fails to note that
Cook faked climbing McKinley. He additionally claims Cook was "a
highly experienced polar explorer" - yet Cook had only been a
seasonal volunteer on other men's expeditions.
He had never even seen the Arctic Ocean, let alone tried to
travel across it.
Cook was such a phony that in 1903 Robert Dunn, on the McKinley
camping trip, wrote "This is a story of failure...(Cook) has the
feat accomplished before starting. He will hear of no difficulties,
and when his unreasonable dream of success balks, or turns out a
nightmare, he is all weakness and dependence." So while Herbert
offers the naive reader the possibility of Cook being capable of a
North Pole expedition that impression is absolutely false. Herbert
only does this to insult Peary with an illusion of Cook as a
legitimate rival. This is very suspect and makes one wonder if
Herbert can be trusted at all in his later work,
Noose of Laurels.
Herbert then concludes, in a manner so biased it is insulting,
"Neither Peary nor Cook were able to produce conclusive proof of
their attainment of the Pole.." Herbert obviously does not wish
to dismiss the fraud Cook because he, in typical British fashion,
can use Cook to make Peary look bad. The fact is that Cook only
hoaxed going to the Pole. Peary really did go, but "some people",
and Herbert is one of them, like to make the racist statement that
when Peary left Bartlett and took "the Negro in his place" he
(Peary) left behind his
last reliable witness. This is obviously a highly offensive
thing to say about
Matthew Henson. Herbert is clearly just another "British Peary
"Golly good camping trip
little Wally! Loved the
roasted walrus meat with brandy! Now you go write that book that
will make people think Peary was a fraud, and the Queen will make
you "Sir" Wally! How'd you like that?"
Wally couldn't tell
"dash" from "dark". That was one of his mistakes. That is an error
that, perhaps, a student would make —but the professor would catch it. Herbert
not a qualified historian, only a money motivated private author.
Thus he had no professional peers to oversee his work. As a result he
rushed a book into print that is based on his own uncorrected errors. Not errors of
opinion mind you, but errors of demonstrable fact.
The following is from an email we received
from Douglas R. Davies.
Many of the Bryce reviews
& Peary) bow down to Herbert. One refers to him as a navigational
expert. He was
not the navigator on his own trip and frankly admits he doesn't
know anything about celestial navigation.
Herbert can be blasted on a couple of very broad, simple concepts before
going into the details. First, he keeps harping on "proof" but his own
1968 book has a nice passage about how, when he (little Wally) got to the
Pole, they took some pictures holding flags, because, "what other proof
could we offer" or something like that.
Second, he is a conspiracy theorist. He is constantly looking for
some ulterior motive. For example, and entire chapter on the 1906
north is entitled "The first day of dark." This title comes from a
typescript of Peary's diary (original lost). What does first day
of dark mean, Wally wonders? The sun was continually above the
horizon, so it cannot mean plain old dark. It must refer to some
mood that came over Peary, because he knew he wasn't going to make
the Pole, or even a farthest north, and would have to fake it.
Buzzzzz. Wrong, Wally. It is a typo.
Anyone familiar with Peary's handwriting knows that he leaves the
bottom of cursive s's open, so they look like cursive r's. Put a
little curve in the
last part of a letter h, and first day of dash becomes first
day of dark.
The diary starts on the first day of the final northward dash,
supplies and all hope of re-supply was left behind due to a six day
|A huge British helicopter from the naval
ship HMS (Her Majesty's Service) Endurance seen here giving
Wally a lift. Estimated cost for helicopter rescue in arctic realms, if privately
contracted, is around fifty thousand dollars.
|Wally generously received 56,000 pounds of supplies
air dropped to him. In addition to his broadcast
station of radio gear they delivered a hut, a bath tub,
gourmet food, audio music tapes and fresh dogs to haul all
this stuff from camping spot to camping spot. A fabulous
marathon camping stunt! Definitely a winner in some category
of the Guinness Book of Records.