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The Greatest Polar Explorers in History or Who Reached the Poles First

10 September 2020

Probably there is no place left on the blue planet that we haven’t visited or discovered: we’ve looked into its every nook and cranny, and have explored even the deepest parts of it like the Mariana Trench. So, it’s indeed hard to believe that some dozens of years ago only two places were not conquered: the North and the South Poles. Many tried to reach these two extremes and failed miserably. But a few great polar explorers had massive success in their perilous endeavors. And we should know and remember their names.

The Greatest Polar Explorers

Why Was It Difficult to Reach The North Pole?

Did you know that reaching the North Pole is much harder than reaching the South one? The reason behind this is simple — while the South Pole is situated on a landmass, the North Pole is located on the moving ice, which makes it challenging to identify its precise location. Many polar explorers would have a hard time identifying the right position.

Who Was The First Person to Reach The North Pole?

It has always been a baffling question, which can’t be answered with absolute certainty. Before the dawn of the 20th century, many explorers from all over the world had tried to reach the North Pole. All of them had failed and even perished within 300 years. It was hard to locate its correct position; many didn’t have enough evidence to prove that they indeed had reached the North Pole, and many just died in the extreme weather conditions. And we probably will never find out the answer to the question of who was (or were) the first person to reach the North Pole, but we definitely who tied and succeeded in their expedition endeavours. Here are a few facts about polar explorers.

Indigenous People - North Pole

Indigenous People

The North has always been populated with indigenous people like Inuit tribes in Canada, Greenland, and Alaska, l Saami in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, or Khanty, Nenets, and Chuckchi in Russia. They’ve inhabited the Arctic Circle for centuries, and probably some native peoples were the first ones to reach the North Pole. Unfortunately, we won’t know it for sure as there is no hard evidence left. It’s just speculation. But what we can be adamant about is that Intuit people helped polar explorers in their endeavors. 

Matthew Hanson and Robert Peary

We might say that the first person and famous polar explorer to reach the North Pole was an African-American explorer named Matthew Hanson. He was born in Maryland, the US, and in his teen years, he worked as a cabin boy for a ship crew. His years there didn’t go down the drain as Matthew learned how to read, write, and he became more curious about the world around him. 

While working as a store clerk, he met another polar explorer Robert Peary, who was a famous explorer during that time. Fascinated by the prospect of exciting traveling and significant discoveries, Hansen started working for Peary as his personal assistant. Matthew had many valuable skills that would come in handy during their Polar expeditions. He was good at managing a dog sled, hunting, navigation, and interpersonal skills. 

Many people considered Peary quite an unpleasant person, who was only driven by fame and other material gains. To know what kind of person he was, the case with a burial place was pretty illustrious: Once he ordered to open graves of native people who had died of an epidemic. Then he sold their remnants to the American Museum of Natural History. Peary also had no visible respect for the living natives, either. 

After a long line of failures, Hansen and his team that consisted of several Inuit people reached the North Pole in 1909. Robert Peary arrived there forty-five minutes later. Unfortunately, only the latter was acknowledged by the National Geographic Society for his polar expedition. Matthew Hansen’s extraordinary feat went unnoticed during that time. 

Only after his death, Hansen’s North Pole expeditions and his influence was recognized and duly appreciated. The National Geographic Society awarded him the Hubbard Medal.

The North Pole Explorers

Frederick Cook

An American polar explorer, Frederick Cook, is surrounded by considerable controversy. He was always fascinated by indigenous tribes and tried to adapt to their way of life and even learned one of the native languages. 

Cook and Peary were friends. They first met when Frederick joined Robert as a volunteer physician for an expedition to Greenland. But because of Robert’s rough edges, bad blood started between the two, and Cook eventually left Peary. 

Frederick set out on his personal north polar expedition in 1907 with several native people. The journey was difficult and perilous. Despite all obstacles, in April of 1908, he claimed that he had reached the North Pole. He used a sextant, an instrument used for navigation, that showed that he was “near the North Pole.” It had been one year earlier than Matthew Hansen and Robert Peary reached the destination. 

When Peary found out about Cook’s expedition, he was furious and wanted to undermine Frederick’s success. He did everything to prove that he didn’t reach the North Pole. Eventually, all the odds were against Cook — Peary had his connections at the National Geographic Society, and Cook’s had evidence — the traveling journal— proved to be not enough to confirm that he indeed had reached the North Pole. 

The scarcity of proven records made Cook’s claims vague and improbable. Even though him reaching the North Pole seemed quite dubious, he made a lot of useful observations about a westerly drift and noted multiple descriptions of the polar sea and ice islands that would prove to be accurate much later. 

American polar explorer, Frederick Cook

Who Was the First Person to Reach the South Pole?

Native people have never inhabited Antarctica, and there have been no indigenous peoples. But humans have always been fascinated by the white wilderness in the Southern hemisphere. 

Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott

Roald Amundsen was born in a small town named Borge near Oslo, Norway. Growing up in a family of a captain and sailors, he always wanted to become the greatest polar explorer. When he was fourteen years old, Roald became a sailor and used to set out on multiple expeditions to the Arctic, where he learned everything about navigation and survival. 

In his late twenties, he would lead his own expeditions to the Arctic. He also wanted to be the first one to reach the North Pole. But he was deeply disappointed when he heard that Cook and Peary had already done it. And this was the time that he decided to turn his attention to the South Pole instead. 

His ship reached Antarctica in January 1911. But he was not the only one to enter the South Pole race. The British explorer Robert Scott wanted to reach the destination first. 

Despite severe weather conditions, Amundsen was able to perfectly organize the route to the South Pole, which he successfully reached in December 1911 and hoisted a Norwegian flag. Robert Scott and his team arrived there thirty-five days later. Unfortunately, no one survived from Scott’s team. 

The Polar Explorers. First Person to Reach the South Pole

How to Embark on a Polar Journey
Nowadays, you don’t have to be a great polar explorer to reach the North and South Poles. Moreover, modern expeditions are safe and do not require one to risk his or her life. So if you want to embark on a journey to the coldest part of the Earth, you can do it onboard Ragnar. Visit here for more information on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.

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