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Sir Wally Herbert, 72; headed 1968-69 expedition on foot across the Arctic's surface

June 17, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sir Wally Herbert, who led an expedition across the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean on foot in 1968-69, died Tuesday at a hospital in Inverness, Scotland. He was 72.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, but family friend Geoff Renner told the Associated Press that Herbert had been suffering from diabetes.

Herbert's grueling trip across the Arctic earned him a knighthood in 2000.

The data collected by his four-man, 40-sledge-dog expedition is 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 Oct. 24, 1934, in York, England, into a family with a strong tradition of military service.

From 1951 to 1954, he served with the Royal Engineers in the Middle East, 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 his biography.

Herbert later joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, the forerunner to the British Antarctic Survey.

While in the Antarctic, Herbert mapped about 45,000 square miles of new country.

His attention then turned to the North Pole.

Taking a route from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitsbergen, a remote Norwegian island, Herbert's expedition covered the 3,720 miles in 15 months, reaching the North Pole on April 6, 1969.

The group spent the winter on the frozen ice cap, camping through three months of total darkness in temperatures dipping as low as 58 degrees below zero.

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

In later years, Herbert turned to writing and painting.

In "Noose of Laurels" (1989), he argued that American explorer Robert Peary's 1909 expedition missed the North Pole by a few miles.

Some polar experts agreed with that conclusion, but there is no consensus among historians.

Herbert is survived by his wife, Marie; and a daughter, Kari.

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