Sunday, March 2, 2014

Discovery of the North Pole (1909)



Among the many explorations of the unknown regions in recent centuries, none have been more fascinating and engrossing than those for discovery within the polar cir­cles. Despite man's utmost endeavors a veil of mystery has hitherto enveloped the immediate vicinity of both geographical poles. In consequence there have been of­fered to the world various hypotheses. Some declare that they are located on an ice-clad ocean, others that they are -on glacier-covered plateaus. Again the polar regions are declared to be the abodes of great herds of polar and hibernating animals, while their opponents assert that even the white polar bear shuns the highest latitudes. While for the most part the polar countries are believed to be uninhabited, except in the lower parts of the Arctic circle, there are those who have thought it possible that there are habitable areas, where unknown tribes and strange peoples, live, far separated from the rest of the world.

These and kindred polar topics have, for the past four centuries, engaged the attention of the learned and the adventurous, of the scientist and the man of imagination. From time to time there have appeared volumes describ­ing not only the actual inhabitants of the Arctic circle, but also fanciful or semi-serious accounts of imaginary tribes. Indeed there have been so-called scientific books by American authors that argued the non-existence of either a North or South Pole, and asserted that within the polar circles the surface of the earth curves gradually inwards, and that on this interior surface dwell nations as on the outer surface.

For these and other reasons the production from time to time of summaries of polar voyages and explorations are most valuable, as tending to keep alive in the rising generation that interest in the mysterious and wonderful in nature, as well as in adventurous action, which the Polar World peculiarly presents.

The most distinctive feature of polar exploration is not generally recognized, that is its entire disinterestedness. From its earlier phases of voyages to foster commercial intercourse, to stimulate and make more profitable trade relations, by bringing China and the Orient in quick communication with the marts of Europe, polar explorations have passed to higher planes and are now confined to scientific and geographical researches, offering no immediate benefits and free from lure of gain or other aspects of materialism. While with increasing rarity polar work is attended by disastrous losses of life, it has that stimulus to adventurous action, to heroic endurance, and to a spirit of noble endeavor that makes it attractive to hearts and minds which yearn for something beyond the commonplace to stir their pulses.

Nor have polar discoveries been devoid of practical benefits to the world. Bering's voyage led to the discovery of Alaska, which now produces annually more than thirty millions of weath for the United States. Hudson's early Spitzbergen voyages opened up whale fisheries through which the world has profited to the amount of about seven hundred millions of dollars. Barren of attractions as has been Spitzbergen to the tourist visitor, it is now of such commercial importance that its ownership is to be the subject of international conference.

Polar work has had its tragedies and calamities as well as its triumphs and successes. Scores of books have been written on voyages relating to the Northwest Passage, in attempting which Sir John Franklin and one hundred and twenty-eight other souls perished. Their ships were last seen moored to an iceberg in Baffin Bay, and thereafter there have been found no records later than those reciting the abandonment of their vessels, beset in ice northwest of King William Land, and their retreat southwards towards Great Fish river. This unparalled polar mystery engaged the attention of the world for nearly fifteen years, until the harrowing story of its fate found at least a partial solution through the great arctic traveler McClintock.

A similar disaster in the middle of the sixteenth century befell the first extended maritime venture of England to distant seas, in the attempted discovery of the Northeast Passage. Chancellor's two ships, with an equippage of sixty-two souls, wintered on the barren shores of Russian Lapland, where the entire party perished on the dread arctic disease—scurvy. In striking contrast with Chancellor's experiences, illustrating the vast improvements in equipment and transportation, Nordenskiold made the Northeast Passage without casualty or danger.

Most fortunately England was not discouraged by this disaster, through which was opened up a lucrative Muscovite trade, but entered on a career of explorations and enterprises which incidentally led to polar expeditions on a scale never attempted by any other nation.

What stories of real life can be more thrilling to American minds than those set forth in polar annals? There are the adventures and wintering of Barents on Nova Zembla, the besetment of Weyprecht and the journey of Payer on the shores of Franz Josef Land, the three winterings of Parry in the North American archipelago, the sledge journeys of Wrangell across the Siberian Ocean, the five years of Sir John Ross in Boothia Felix and the discovery of the North Magnetic Pole, the vicissitudes of Kane and the boat journey of Hayes in the Smith Sound region, Scott among the penguins and on the ice-barrier of volcanic Antarctica, the great drift of De Long and the disaster of the Lena delta, McClure Is discovery of one Northwest Passage and the navigation of another by Amundsen, the successes and sufferings of the men of the Lady Franklin Bay expedition, the death of Hall and the miraculous drift of the Polaris crew, and many other notable voyages culminating in the great northings of Markham, Lockwood, Nansen, Cagni and the attainment of the North Pole by Cook and by Peary.

All these, and other varied experiences, bordering on the marvelous and exceeding many flights of fancy, appeal to the imagination, stimulate emulation, and cultivate an ardent appreciation of manly and heroic qualities exhibited in action.

While the wonderful journey of Shackleton to the vicinity of the South Pole has naturally excited wide-spread interest, most intense in Great Britain, the astonishing arctic episodes of 1909 have engrossed the attention of the United States, where feeling and interest have been aroused to an extent unequaled by any other news of the period.

That two Americans should have reached the North Pole independently would be most gratifying to the national pride at any time, but that such journeys should be made over separate routes and in successive years borders on the marvelous. Especial interest attaches, therefore, to their methods, routes and experiences.

Dr. F. A. Cook established in 1907 his headquarters most primitively with the Etah Eskimo some two hundred and fifty miles from the Arctic sea. He took the field in native fashion, with Eskimo assistants, and selecting a novel route traveled through regions well-known to abound in game. Attaining the North Pole with two Eskimos, April 21, 1908, he was subjected in his return to the vicissitudes and extreme dangers of a drifting polar-pack, and spent an awful winter in Jones' Sound region, whence his return in 1909 was hazardous and difficult.

Commander Peary approached the task by again establishing his ship's quarters in 1908 on the very shores of the Arctic Ocean, across whose drifting ice-pack he successfully made his journey, reaching the pole April 9, 1909. Thus he accomplished by energy and resourcefulness the great task to which he has applied himself for some twenty-three years.

Late Commander Lady Franklin Bay Expedition.

from the book "Discovery of the North Pole" by Dr. Frederick A. Cook and Commander Robert E Peary USN - also other noted polar expeditions. Edited by J Martin Miller

read the whole book here

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Join a Real North Pole Expedition

The expedition of a lifetime, the chance to stand above the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole, a point known to so many but visited by so few. Join that élite club that have visited the North Pole travelling aboard our Russian nuclear powered icebreaker from the port of Murmansk through the Franz Josef Archipelago and deep into the polar ice to arrive at the Geographic North Pole.

The main purpose of this expedition is to visit the geographic North Pole but there is a lot more to this experience than just simply visiting the pole. This is a voyage into the very heart of the Arctic, as the ship navigates through the polar ocean there is excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Franz Josef Land is visited as part of this expedition and the opportunity to explore a remote and seldom visited region of the Arctic which is historically very significant is a rare opportunity. There is also the spectacle of sailing aboard the most powerful icebreaker ever built, these nuclear powered vessels were designed with strength and power in mind to face even the strongest Arctic ice and to watch her breaking ice is a marvel of machinery.

Wrangel Island

Located some five hundred kilometres north of the arctic circle in the icy Chukchi Sea is the forlorn landmass of Wrangel Island. So remote and isolated is this frozen land that it was not properly mapped until the early 20th Century, and then inadvertently, when wildly over-optimistic explorers washed up, shipwrecked, on its shores.

After a couple of abortive attempts at settlement and protracted diplomatic argument, Wrangel Island is now occupied by a small team of Russian scientists and their supporting community who maintain a meteorological and research base at Ushakovskoye on the Southern coast. The little village confirms Russia's on-going territorial claim - one that wasn't properly resolved until 1974.

Named after Baron Ferdinand Petrovich Wrangel in 1867 by American whaler and de-facto explorer, Thomas Long, as a tribute to the Baron who spent three years searching for the island but came out empty-handed. Long conveniently overlooked the fact that British Admiralty charts already referred to the island as Kellett Land after the Irish-born captain who first charted it in 1849.Ada Blackjack

In 1911 the famous icebreakers, Tamyr and Vaygach, as part of the Russian Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition (1910-15) briefly landed a party on Wrangel Island and claimed it for Russia. In 1914, survivors from the Vilhjalmur Stefansson-led Canadian Arctic Expedition' s doomed Northern Party camped on Wrangel Island for nine harrowing months. Their ever-controversial leader had abandoned them in September 1913, leaving them for dead aboard their ship, the CGS Karluk, stuck fast in the ice pack.

Not content with that fiasco, Stefansson landed an "occupation" party of five on Wrangel Island in 1921, apparently to assist Canada and Britain in the so-called "northward course of empire". In another epic arctic drama, his experiment ended in tragedy, leaving a brave young Inuit woman, Ada Blackjack, the sole survivor. In spite of this abject failure, another group of Inuit were installed in 1923, but these hapless souls were eventually evicted in 1926 by Russia, setting off yet another dispute that would simmer for years after.

A good part of the reason Wrangel Island was chosen for this extreme survival exercise is the abundance of wildlife. Polar bears, walrus, arctic foxes, snow geese, migratory birds and seals populate the immediate region in relatively large numbers. Ironically, Wrangel Island also escaped glaciation in the last Ice Age, leaving several unique species of vascular plants and was probably the last place on Earth to support a woolly mammoth population. Although many of the bones and tusks have been removed, it is still possible to see skeletal remains of these extinct giants scattered across the landscape.

Forget the string of courageous, but disastrous attempts by man to colonise, map and exploit this arctic desert and instead examine the immense natural beauty of this seemingly inhospitable environment. That's exactly what the UNESCO World Heritage committee did in 2004 when it included Wrangel Island on their list of global ecological hotspots, describing it as a "self-contained island ecosystem" with "the highest level of biodiversity in the high Arctic".

In 1991, the tourist-carrying icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, visited Wrangel Island on the return voyage from the North Pole - and the secret was out. Now this veritable arctic wonderland is a regular inclusion on the itineraries of the world's most adventurous travel operators.

Naturalists, ecologists, archaeologists, "twitchers" and regular tourists in search of the unusual are now part of the minor throng that venture north every year from Anadyr in the helicopter-equipped icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov. Being surrounded by ice almost all year, every year, Wrangel Island will always remain on the list of seldom-visited locations and the few who stump up to make this journey will forever hold a trump card to play against the inevitable dinner party braggarts.

- Roderick Eime

Monday, June 21, 2010

Russia Goes the Atomic Route

It’s 1957. The Cold War is at its peak and Russia is on a roll. Sputnik 1 launched on October 4 and shortly thereafter, Russia launched the world’s first nuclear powered surface ship, the 19,000 ton icebreaker Lenin.

Built in the Admiralty Shipyards of what was then Leningrad, the Lenin was launched on December 5, 1957.But like so many early nuclear vessels on both sides, Lenin was marred by accidents and mishaps. She was the only vessel of her class.

In February 1965, while refuelling and undergoing repairs, an operator error caused major damage to the nuclear fuel assemblies. Some sources report up to thirty fatalities. A second accident just two years later resulted in irreparable damage to her two early OK-150 reactors. The then new OK-900 naval reactors subsequently replaced them after a lengthy repair. The Lenin was finally decommissioned in 1989 reportedly due to thinning of the hull from ice friction and is currently undergoing conversion to a museum ship in Murmansk.

Like all of Russia’s icebreaking fleet, their primary task is to clear shipping lanes like the 14,000 kilometre Northern Sea Route from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, and to this effect the Lenin, and the later second generation, Arktika-class vessels (the world’s largest icebreakers) performed admirably.

Six Arktika-class vessels have been constructed, with the latest; the 50 Let Pobedy launched just this year after an interrupted building schedule that began in 1989. Inspected by President Putin himself in May this year, this latest, largest and most modern vessel will probably see the majority of service as a tourist vessel either replacing or supplementing the Yamal currently operating itineraries to the North Pole.

The privately-owned Murmansk Shipping Company’s (MSCO OJSC) who operate the nuclear fleet on behalf of the Russian Federation, states, “In the Far North and the Arctic regions of Siberia, the Northern Sea Route remains an essential factor in the economic development of the Eastern regions. There is also no alternative to the nuclear powered icebreakers providing stability and reliability of navigation in the Arctic latitudes. Moreover, recent critical events showed that only on account of the icebreakers can the inhabitants of the Arctic shoreline could get the necessary supplies so vitally important for those regions.”

According to Yury Zaitsev, an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences, Russia is committed to the nuclear Arctic fleet because the Northern Sea Route is a highly important factor in developing hydrocarbon deposits on Russia's Arctic shelf, which contains an estimated 62.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, nine billion metric tons of crude oil in offshore deposits and 3.5 billion metric tons of oil on shore.

“Russia must maintain its icebreaker fleet and also build special-purpose ships to transport these hydrocarbons,” said Zaitsev in a report for RIA Novosti.

The third generation of nuclear icebreakers, the Taymyr-class, was commissioned in 1988. The 151m Taymyr and Vaigach (1990) are 21,000 tons each and have 35MW of propulsive power compared to 54MW of the Arktika-class.

Did You Know?
Russia’s nuclear icebreakers must use cold arctic water for cooling and cannot operate in tropical waters. Hence, the nuclear fleet will never visit Antarctica.

Cruise Tourism in Polar Regions: Promoting Environmental and Social Sustainability?

Cruises are the primary form of tourism in the Polar Regions and cruise ship tourism in both the Arctic and Antarctic is expanding rapidly. Yet little is known about the practices, implications and challenges of tourism in remote polar seas. Climate change is dramatically altering the impact and potential for such forms of tourism. Recent incidents, such as the sinking of one cruise ship and the grounding of two other cruise vessels in the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007, highlight the need for a critical examination of the implications of polar cruise tourism.

A specific critical study of polar cruise tourism is therefore timely. The industry has moved beyond its infancy, and is now entering a maturing phase with increased numbers and types of vessels, more demanding routes, and more regular and predictable patterns of activity. A range of factors is likely to support this maturing phase, including increasing tourist demand for travel to remote places, overall popularity of cruising worldwide, more sophisticated promotional activities by tour agencies, increasing awareness at the political and community levels about the benefits and costs of cruise tourism, and changing ice regimes in the polar regions. The increase in cruise activities, and the associated risks of accidents, as well as the potential and actual impacts of the large numbers of tourists in the polar regions bring with it management challenges for sustainable use of these regions. This book discusses critically the issues around environmental and social sustainability of the cruise industry in Polar Regions. Authors from Canada, USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are experts in their respective fields and take an innovative, critical and at times controversial approach to the subject.

The North Pole Debate Still Rages

In September 1909, the American adventurer Frederick A Cook announced 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. He claimed his own expedition was the first, reaching the Pole on 6 April 1909, conveniently overlooking his Negro manservant, Matthew Henson, who possibly reached it ahead of Peary. More than 100 years later the claims of both these egotistical self-promoters raise serious doubts despite debates supporting both efforts.

Last year, to celebrate the anniversary, British explorer Tom Avery recreated Peary's trek using replica equipment and dog sleds and actually completed the trek in less time despite a much thinner ice pack.
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 late keeper of collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), author of 'Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia' and a regular polar traveller himself, noted:
"Neither Cook's nor Peary's claim has been conclusively disproved, and both have their defenders, but informed consensus is 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 on Roald Amundsen's 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."

Despite these other attempts, the most sensational "northing" occurred on 17 August 1977 when the Soviet nuclear icebreaker Arktika became the first surface vessel to reach the Pole.

Today, the Arktika's sister ship, 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory), makes annual sorties to the exact location of the geographic North Pole thanks to modern satellite navigation. Unlike Peary, Cook or Henson, expeditioners authenticate their achievement with a certificate and can immediately silence any dinner party detractors.

Krassin to the Rescue

The nose of the ice-encrusted airship rose dramatically in the forty knot headwind, sending the crew tumbling backwards while General Umberto Nobile struggled to keep Italia in the air against such ferocious gales. The great hydrogen filled vessel was buffeted back and forth in the worsening weather and, overwhelmed by excess ice, came crashing down on the arctic ice with such force, the gondola and engines were torn off and the airborne wreckage blown away with six men still clinging to the hull.

It was May 1928 and the age of the mighty airship. The famous Italian dirigible captain who, just two years before, was feted as a hero and promoted to General after piloting Amundsen and Ellsworth to the Pole in an airship of his own design, was about to enter the realms of history again – for all the wrong reasons.

Nobile’s drama later became the subject of the 1969 Hollywood blockbuster, The Red Tent, starring Peter Finch (as Nobile) and Sean Connery (as Roald Amundsen). Nobile died in Rome in 1978 at the ripe old age of 93.

If there was real hero to this story, it was Russia’s first proper icebreaker, the Krassin.

With the survivors of Nobile’s Italia languishing on the ice and his supposed support vessel, the Citt√† di Milano, sitting suspiciously idle, a number of fruitless search and rescue attempts were launched by air, the most famous being the total disappearance of the legendary Roald Amundsen and five others whilst searching for the crew. The world’s media held their audiences in suspense with every report of the multinational rescue effort and soon great national pride was at stake for the successful rescuers.

So chaotic and disorganized was the rescue, that ultimately the survivors’ only chance rested with the trusty Krassin and she was hurriedly prepared in Bergen and finally sailed on June 24, a full month after Italia’s crash. Loaded with a Junkers aircraft for aerial searches, her journey to Spitsbergen with 138 souls, including media, tested the mettle and stomachs of all aboard.

Built in Britain in 1916 to a Russian design and originally named Svaytogor, she was built for rugged practicality and bore very few creature comforts. But with 10,000 horsepower, the 6,000 GRT, 100m vessel was the most powerful icebreaker in European service at the time.

After more drama amongst the ever-thickening ice, Krassin suffered propeller and rudder damage, Captain Karl Eggi was forced to a halt and launched her aircraft to complete the search. Skilfully piloted by Boris Chuckhnovsky, the red tent was eventually located and the survivors brought aboard on July 12th, delivering Russia a momentous propaganda victory.

If that weren’t enough, the brand new German tourist ship, Monte Servantes, with 1500 passengers aboard had struck ice on July 24 in an attempt to observe the Krassin in her search. Holed and taking water, she was in serious danger of sinking. Damaged as she herself was, Krassin diverted to the stricken liner and her divers repaired the hole. Upon her eventual return to Leningrad on October 5, the entire city turned out to welcome her and she was awarded the prestigious Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

Krassin continued to serve her country throughout the Second World War, where she undertook the treacherous Arctic convoy duty. She was fitted with 76mm and anti-aircraft guns for this purpose and survived this ordeal and the rest of war virtually unscathed.

She was extensively refitted after 1953 and continued to serve until 1971 when she was finally and graciously retired to Saint Petersburg where she is now a floating museum.

More info:,