British Prince Harry was planning “a few whiskies” at the bottom of the world on Friday night to celebrate reaching the South Pole with 13 injured service personnel following a grueling three-week trek.
The 29-year-old royal proclaimed “mission success” as the Walking With The Wounded charity expedition reached their polar destination on the eve of the anniversary of Norwegian Roald Amundsen first planting his flag on Dec. 14, 1911.
So tough were the conditions faced by the expedition that the competitive element, which would have seen a UK team race against a US team and a Commonwealth team, was abandoned.
Instead, the 320km Antarctic trek saw a group effort by the service personnel, who pulled 70kg sleds, or pulks, and who had all suffered life-changing injuries in conflict.
Speaking 20 minutes after reaching the pole with the team — made up of 12 men and one woman — Harry, an army pilot who has served two tours in Afghanistan, said it was an “amazing feeling.”
“Every single one of these 12 deserves it. I mean, they have dug out blind to get here,” Prince Harry said. “Duncan, you know, it’s just remarkable the fact that someone with no legs has made it here, and to have done it in record-breaking time, no doubt.”
It is understood this is a reference to UK teammate Sergeant Duncan Slater, 34, from Muir of Ord, who lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2009, when his vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device.
“And Ivan, as well. When I look across, I see him being guided around, you know, totally blind, from America, and absolutely hates the cold. And you know he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for his buddies back home, and that goes for everybody, every single one here,” the prince added.
Their achievement “will just prove to everybody there is so much that can be made possible when you think that nothing is left,” the newly bearded royal said.
“But I am so proud. I’m so chuffed and I’m so privileged to be here with all these guys and girls. I think we’ll be having a few whiskies tonight and then everyone’s looking forward to getting home. Mission success,” he said.
The three other wounded service personnel in the British team are Major Kate Philp, 34, from Worcestershire, who lost her left leg after a bomb blast in 2008; Captain Guy Disney, 31, from Oxford, who lost his right leg in a rocket attack in 2009; and Captain Ibrar Ali, 36, from York, who lost his right arm in a roadside bomb in 2007.
“We always knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but that is what makes the challenge so exciting,” said Ed Parker, the expedition’s director and co-founder of the Walking With The Wounded charity that organized the challenge. “Our aim was to show that, despite injury, young men and women from our armed forces can still achieve great things.”
“We came down here, determined to get 12 men and women, all injured in conflict, to the South Pole, and this is what we have done. The feeling is incredible,” Parker said.