So shrouded in mystery is the Arctic that even at the turn of the century the home of the Alaskan Inupiat and the Inuits of Greenland, was one of the last uncharted territories on Earth. Since 325BC, when Greek geographer Pytheas discovered the cusp of a frozen Northern sea, explorers have sought to tame the Arctic. Here are six who succeeded.
Robert Peary and Frederick Cook
The question of who reached the North Pole first has raged since April 6th 1909, when Robert Peary announced his expedition’s victorious arrival. Strangely, a mere week before, the New York Herald claimed that Frederick Cook, Peary’s former friend, had discovered the geographic North Pole in 1908. However Cook had previously lied about another of his adventurous achievements – claiming to have reached the peak of Mount McKinley after stopping twelve miles short. Peary’s name went into the history books, with Cook as a footnote. Ironically, historians now believe neither man visited the North Pole. 80 years later, Peary’s claim too was debunked by British explorer Wally Herbert.
Being described as ‘the greatest polar explorer of our time’ by Sir Randulph Fiennes is quite the honour. But Wally Herbert’s 50 year-career extended to far more than compliments and kind words. Leading the 1969 expedition, by dog sled and on foot, on the 60th anniversary of Peary’s expedition, made Wally Herbert the first man to reach the North Pole on sheer muscle power – and almighty courage, of course.
Will Steger is possibly the most hardened dog-sled driver to have ever explored the Poles. Steger has made the first confirmed dog-sled journey to the North Pole without re-supplying, travelled 1600 miles through Greenland, and even drove his dogs across the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada. He was also one of the first to dog-sled across the Antarctic in 1990. Today Steger dedicates himself to Arctic preservation through the Will Steger Foundation.
Four years after his final battle at sea, British Naval officer John Franklin began his first Arctic expedition in 1818. It ended in disaster after Franklin, hopelessly unprepared, attempted to map the Northwest Passage. Eleven men died. After surviving from the fluid collected in his own boots, he earned the nickname The Man Who Ate His Boots. Tragedy dogged Franklin: six days after he started his successful 1825 expedition his wife died. He did not travel to the Arctic again until 1845. Eighteen months later John Franklin and his men had vanished. Evidence suggests his ships had got stuck in enormous ice floes in 1846. Disease soon struck the expedition members, killing many including John Franklin. The starved bodies of the remaining crew were finally discovered almost 150 years later on King William Island. Archaeologists made a macabre find – towards the desperate end, some of Franklin’s team had committed cannibalism.
Robert Peary attempted to conquer the Arctic Circle seven times, before succeeding on his eighth and final time. Richard Weber, on the other hand, has led an incredible 45 missions to the Arctic, reaching the North Pole and incredible six times – more times than anyone else. A former cross-country skiier, Weber retired in 1985 to explore the Arctic. By 2006, alongside Conrad Dickinson, Weber became the first to reach the North Pole using only snow-shoes. The King of the Arctic has been assisted several times on his expeditions by his wife, Josee Auclair.