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Travel to the North Pole

Frederick A Cook

Polar Controversies Still Rage a Century On

Peary's PartyIn September 1909, US polar adventurer Frederick A Cook announced to the world that he and two Eskimo companions had just returned from the North Pole after a journey of nearly two years. His bold claims were immediately met with derision by another US veteran of the ice, Robert E. Peary, who counter-claimed his own expedition was the first, reaching the pole on April 6, 1909 . Now, almost one hundred years on, both men's claims raise serious doubts, despite vigorous debates supporting both efforts.

In truth, any claim about a journey to the North Pole during this era must be doubtful because of the elusive nature of the objective and the inherent inaccuracies of the instruments of the time.

William Mills, the keeper of collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), author of Exploring polar frontiers: a historical encyclopedia (San Diego and Oxford: ABC-Clio, 2003) and a regular polar traveller himself, notes;

"Neither Cook's nor Peary's claim has been conclusively disproved, and both claimants have their defenders, but insofar as an informed consensus can be identified it would be against both claims. Commander Richard Byrd's claim to have made the first aircraft flight to the Pole on 9 May 1926 is similarly controversial and recent evidence suggests that in fact he turned back about 100 miles south of the Pole, though again he too has his defenders. If Cook, Peary, nor Byrd is to be believed, the first to see the Pole were those travelling with Roald Amundsen aboard the airship Norge on 12 May 1926. However it was the Soviet's 1948 aircraft landing that is generally considered to be the closest to the exact geographic goal."

In the decades after WWII, numerous "firsts" were achieved, most notably the motorised and dog-sled achievements of the 1960s, however the most sensational "northing" occurred on August 17 1977 when the Soviet icebreaker Arktika became the first surface vessel to reach the pole.

Today, it's possible to make annual sorties to the exact location of the geographic North Pole thanks to modern satellite navigation. Expeditioners aboard the vessel can even authenticate their achievement with a certificate and immediately silence any dinner party detractors.

For more information: Travel to the North Pole


Exploring polar frontiers: a historical encyclopedia

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