Celebrating the Peary Centennial
Today marks 100 years to-the-day that the North Pole was first reached by Admiral Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, and 4 Inuit.
It must have been an exciting day for Peary and his team in 1909, just as it has been an exciting day for our team today.
The day started off with an accidental spill of 6 liters water in the tent, but the day quickly improved. The sun was shining bright and the winds were calm, and even with several large leads in our path we were able to clock 11.2 nautical miles.
The controversy about Peary being the first to reach the pole is long standing and Lonnie’s audio dispatch (Peary Part One) is all about Peary’s expedition and how he could have made it to the Pole in such record-breaking speed.
Some people interested in the Peary expedition have asked us how polar travel differs today from back in 1909. Amazingly, there are more similarities than differences. We still struggle with extremely cold temperatures that threaten our fingers, toes, cheeks and noses. Though our clothing has changed to include nylon and breathable materials, many would argue that traditional Inuit clothing is still the best; and many of our most important pieces of clothing (anorak, mitts, mukluks, etc) are inspired by Inuit design and ingenuity. Thus on a daily basis our teams on the ice experience conditions that are surprisingly close to what Peary and Henson experienced in 1909. It’s an incredible feeling not only to be following in the footsteps of such polar heroes, but also to share the same emotions that they must have felt on a daily basis, 100 years ago.
Perhaps the two biggest differences between polar expeditions of 1909 and polar expeditions today are satellite communications and air support. Back in 1909 Peary and Henson had no way to communicate their successes and no way to call for help if needed. 100 years later, no expedition travels without a satellite phone and at least one other form of emergency communication. Satellite communications allow our teams to request assistance in emergencies, but it also allows them to communicate their daily achievements and struggles. Air support is another big difference between 1909 polar expeditions and today’s expeditions. When our expedition reaches the North Pole they will be picked up by charter air and they’ll return back to civilization in the relative comfort of a heated plane over the course of one day. Once Peary and Henson reached the Pole their journey was only half over – they still had to get home!
The final difference, which has only become perceptible to the one-the-ice skier or dogsledder in the last couple of years, is the changing ice. Due to global warming the Arctic Sea ice is melting at an astonishing rate. In fact the summer of 2008 showed the least amount of sea ice on record. Though sea ice returns with the colder temperatures of winter, it only has a few months to develop before the warmer temperatures of spring and summer return. For a team on the ice this means much thinner ice (which poses many interesting dilemma) and less snow pack for melting water, building snow shelters, etc. For the citizen of the world, this change in sea ice is much more significant, marking a potentially irreversible change in ocean currents and global temperatures.
Maxime Chaya via Iridium
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