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The race to the pole 1: Early attempts

History of Spitsbergen

Wil­liam Edward Par­ry

William Edward Parry

Not all expe­di­ti­ons which went to Spits­ber­gen during the 19 cen­tu­ry, were focu­sed on sci­en­ti­fic explo­ra­ti­on of the arc­tic. Becau­se of its posi­ti­on near the pole and its rela­tively good acces­si­bi­li­ty for ships due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Spits­ber­gen was used many times as a base for attempts to reach the pole.

In 1827, the Eng­lish­man Wil­liam Edward Par­ry went with his crew and 8 rein­de­er on board the Hec­la to Spits­ber­gen, ancho­red in the Sorgfjord in the bay which is now named Hecla­ham­na and star­ted a jour­ney to the north with boats. After a while, they met ice and star­ted to pull the boats over the ice as plan­ned, but without the rein­de­er, which had been left behind in the Sorgfjord due to space limi­ta­ti­ons. Des­pi­te of very hard work, they made only very slow pro­gress and tur­ned back at 82°40’N. Par­ry had rea­li­sed that an unfriend­ly cur­rent pushed the ice to the south, making any attempt to walk over the ice to the north impos­si­ble. This was inde­ed a dis­co­very, the impor­t­ance of which can hard­ly be over­esti­ma­ted.

Adolf Erik Nor­dens­kiöld

Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld

The famous Swe­de Adolf Erik Nor­dens­kiöld was not only a sci­en­tist, but did also have ambi­ti­ons to reach the pole, pos­si­b­ly to make his expe­di­ti­ons more attrac­ti­ve to spon­sors. 1868, Nor­dens­kiöld tried on board a ship with a 60 HP steam engi­ne. Des­pi­te of 3 stubborn attempts, the sum­mer did not bring anything but the know­ledge that it was com­ple­te­ly impos­si­ble to sail to the pole from Spits­ber­gen. Sled­ging across the ice see­med more pro­mi­sing. After some trai­ning in East Green­land, Nor­dens­kiöld win­te­red 1872/73 in Mos­sel­buk­ta in north Spits­ber­gen to start ear­ly in the sea­son. Ship­w­re­cked peop­le from sealing ships which got trap­ped in the ice put a hea­vy bur­den on the sup­ply situa­ti­on, and the rein­de­er which Nor­dens­kiöld had brought to pull the sled­ges deci­ded that they had had enough and escaped. Soon it show­ed that it would not be pos­si­ble to reach the pole with the hea­vy sled­ges. After some inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Nord­aus­t­land, Nor­dens­kiöld went back home, thus finis­hing his last Sval­bard-expe­di­ti­on.

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last modification: 2019-02-21 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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