Mission To Vindicate North Pole 'Conqueror'

Roundup: Talking About History

Lee Glendinning, The Guardian (London), 02 Oct. 2004

Near the start of the last century, US Commander Robert Peary claimed he had mastered a seemingly unreachable feat: after 20 years of trying, he had reached the north pole in 38 days - the fastest time anyone had trekked to the top of the Earth.

But how was this possible? Surely, at 54, he was too old for the way the arctic ravages the body. He had lost all his toes in previous expeditions and was travelling with a wooden sled.

Newspapers and polar historians questioned the authenticity of his claims, and for years the story has been riddled with doubt - in almost 100 years since his attempt, no team has managed to reach the north pole in less than 42 days.

British explorer Tom Avery has always believed Peary reached the north pole that day in April 1909.

The 28-year-old from Ticehurst, East Sussex, was the youngest Briton to reach the South Pole on foot on December 28 2002, and has spent two years preparing for a journey intended to prove Peary was telling the truth.

Having read the historical versions of Peary's journey, Mr Avery says his dream was hatched during long nights in the tent with his fellow arctic travellers on their south pole expedition.

"This is all about trying to solve the greatest mystery in polar exploration, and I feel very passionate about this story now," he said yesterday.

"When I looked at the north pole it seemed this massive controversy surrounded who was the first to get there, and there was a question about Peary, who was reaching the end of his polar career, and had an unorthodox travel technique.

"It seems to me, that until someone tries to recreate this journey, controversy will always remain."

Peary started with 23 men, 133 dogs and 19 sleds, but that support team had dwindled to just five companions when he said he reached his ultimate destination.

However, just as he announced his feat, a rival US explorer, later exposed as a fraud, claimed he had reached the pole first. The US Congress and the National Geographic Society have since found no reason to doubt Peary's claim.

comments powered by Disqus