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Jenny Wordsworth: Hampstead adventurer became just 8th woman to reach the South Pole – despite a gory ‘polar thigh’ injury

PUBLISHED: 08:30 06 March 2020

Jenny Wordsworth en route to the South Pole. Picture: Jenny Wordsworth / Hamish Frost

Jenny Wordsworth en route to the South Pole. Picture: Jenny Wordsworth / Hamish Frost

Hamish Frost

Just weeks ago Jenny Wordsworth became only the 8th woman to make it to the South Pole – and she made it after 43 days of uphill skiing, despite sustaining an debilitating leg injury which made simply putting her tent up an agonising affair.

Jenny Wordsworth's grisly polar thigh injury. Picture: Royal Free Hospital / Jenny WordsworthJenny Wordsworth's grisly polar thigh injury. Picture: Royal Free Hospital / Jenny Wordsworth

Well on the way to recovery - she returned home and underwent surgery at the Royal Free, the lawyer-turned-adventurer is set to take on Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas later in the spring.

Hampstead woman Jenny told this newspaper about how she came to emulate Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott.

She said: "I was on track for the speed record until the injury hit, but I am only the eighth woman to get there. 
"I really didn't want to come back having failed."

The fear of failure was particularly acute for Jenny, who had to turn back on a previous attempt in 2018 when she came down with a gut infection.

Jenny Wordsworth at the South Pole. Picture: Jenny WordsworthJenny Wordsworth at the South Pole. Picture: Jenny Wordsworth

She told the Ham&High: "They tried to med-evac me twice. But they knew I was going to go on no matter what."

The 34-year-old's injury this time was a grisly one - a condition called polar thigh which occurs when fat and muscle start to die due to to extreme cold.

With the end approaching - though not yet in sight - Jenny's injury began to cause her serious issues.

She said: "It was actually fairly straightforward for the first 500 miles. There were a couple of storms but they weren't too bad. You could sail through them. But then the injury hit.

Jenny Wordsworth with surgeon Alex Woollard. Picture: Royal Free Hospital/Jenny WordsworthJenny Wordsworth with surgeon Alex Woollard. Picture: Royal Free Hospital/Jenny Wordsworth

"It was really bad skiing on it. My boots were rubbing against the injury all the time. And putting the tent up was really painful. I was having to do it so quickly in the storms, it wasn't ideal."

Despite the growing wound in her leg, Jenny powered through, and though she wasn't the quickest woman to make it to the pole - and stove issues meant she had to be re-supplied so can't claim to have made the trek unsupported - the Hampstead resident put herself in an elite list of explorers to make it to the bottom of the world.

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When she got there, she said she wasn't aware how seriously the injury had become.

Jenny Wordsworth in hospital recovering from her polar thigh injury. Picture: Royal Free / Jenny WordsworthJenny Wordsworth in hospital recovering from her polar thigh injury. Picture: Royal Free / Jenny Wordsworth

"I didn't really know it was that bad. I arrived at the pole in a state of delirium, really."

Luckily, after a painful flight back to London, Jenny was in good hands. Her husband Matt is a surgeon at the Royal Free, his boss Alex Woolard happened to be the perfect person to take on fixing her up.

"When I arrived back, I thought I would get to go home first," Jenny said. "But Matt knew I needed to go straight to the Royal Free - the surgeon Mr Woollard was waiting for me. He said we needed to operate and that the dead tissue went much deeper than I had thought."

Alex explained how serious it had been.

He said: "It's a bit like a burn, although the healing process has been slower and it's been more painful for Jenny than a burn.

"The reports from the expedition doctors suggested that the injury was best left to heal, but when we took the dressings off the left thigh it showed an extensive area of what's caled full thickness necrosis. 
"An area of skin equivalent to two per cent of her total body surface area had simply melted away and the fat underneath it was looking unhealthy."

He successfully repaired the wound though, and now with a great scar, Jenny's back thinking about the next adventure.

She also explained how she trains by taking advantage of some of Hampstead's geographic advantages.

She said: "I did about nine months' of preparation - I had to build up my strength so I was dragging tyres across Hampstead Heath as part of my training."

She encouraged others to chase after dreams - like hers to make it to the pole - too.

She added: "The hard bit is setting your mind to at and training. But if you want something badly enough you will do it."


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