Current Polar Explorers Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters will have to average 13 miles a day through difficult terrain on their journey to the North Pole to reach a safe point before they run out of food and water. Amazingly, after all these years, since the Pole was first reached by explorer and physician Frederick Albert Cook, people are still trying to duplicate what he achieved in 1908.
Cook wrote a book about his adventure, which I read many years ago, “My Attainment of the Pole”. It stuck in my mind all these years. I remembered that while the trip up to the North Pole was almost impossibly difficult, the return trip to civilization was one of the most perilous journeys ever attempted and survived!
During the trip up to the Pole, Cook established caches of food for his return to civilization. Since no one had ever been to the Pole before, no one knew that the Pole isn’t a place – it is simply a fixed point over a sea of ice, which is moving constantly westward.
When Cook began his return down to civilization, all his food had moved west with the ocean and was no longer where he needed it. Cook and his men were stuck at the North Pole without enough food to fuel them for their return home. They would have to hunt and forage.
To make things worse, Cook had only one bullet left. When a man without a weapon is competing for food with a bear – the bear has an advantage. Cook and his companions had to outwit the bears, and adapt primitive techniques to thwart and capture them. The bears looked at Cook and his companions as food.
It took the three men over a year to return home and when they finally reached civilization they found a new challenge awaiting them. During the year it took them to travel from the North Pole back to civilization, Admiral Robert Peary was making his own effort to be the first to reach the Pole.
When Cook announced his great achievement, Peary, a United States Naval Officer on Government Salary, backed by powerful interests, claimed that he had just reached the Pole and that Cook was a liar.
Peary was well known for his previous unsuccessful attempts to be the first man to reach the North Pole –in fact, Cook, who was a physician, had served on one of the unsuccessful attempts. So now, when the exploratory achievement of a lifetime was his, the honor Cook deserved was snatched away by a bitter rival. Portions of Cook’s book dealing with this are the angry rant of a man cheated out of his just rewards.
For the better part of the last century Peary has been credited with being the first man to reach the North Pole. Recent discoveries have led to several books being written challenging Peary’s claim to be first. The pendulum of thought seems to be swinging toward accepting the truth of Cook’s claim to be first. Whatever the truth, “My Attainment of the North Pole” is an incredibly exciting life and death adventure.