Wally Herbert; First to Cross The Arctic's Surface on Foot

Wally Herbert, second from right, led a team with Roy Koerner, left, Alan Gill and Kenneth Hedges, right, 3,720 miles from Alaska to a Norwegian island.
Wally Herbert, second from right, led a team with Roy Koerner, left, Alan Gill and Kenneth Hedges, right, 3,720 miles from Alaska to a Norwegian island. (Associated Press)
By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wally Herbert, 72, the first man to cross the entire frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean on foot, died June 12 at a hospital in Inverness, Scotland. He had diabetes.

Mr. Herbert's grueling trip across the ice earned him a knighthood in 2000. The data collected by his expedition during his 1968-69 trip across the Arctic are still used by scientists seeking to measure the melting of the North Pole's ice cap and the effects of climate change.

Walter William Herbert was born in York, England, on Oct. 24, 1934, into a family with a strong tradition of military service. He served with the Royal Engineers in the Middle East from 1951 to 1954, where he picked up his surveying skills.

"He had a quite strong wanderlust, but the military did not give that any satisfaction," said Lewis McNaught, who is writing Mr. Herbert's biography.

Mr. Herbert later joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey -- the forerunner to the British Antarctic Survey. While in the Antarctic, he mapped about 45,000 square miles of new territory, according to his Web site.

His attention then turned to the North Pole. Taking a route from Alaska to Spitsbergen, a remote Norwegian island, he covered the 3,720 miles in 16 months, reaching the North Pole on April 6, 1969. He spent the winter on the ice cap, camping through three months of total darkness in temperatures dipping as low as 58 degrees below zero.

Roy Koerner, a glaciologist accompanying Mr. Herbert, drilled more than 250 ice core samples during the journey. Those samples help scientists measure the impact of climate change on the pole.

An author and artist, Mr. Herbert wrote nine books and conducted one-man shows in London, New York and Sydney, Australia, his Web site said.

Survivors include his wife, Marie McGaughey Herbert, whom he married in 1969; and a daughter, Kari. Another daughter, Pascale, died in an electrical accident at home in 1993.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company