May 31, 2009

Icy indigenous expeditions

In recent postings, we've seen how the Franklin expedition failed while the Amundsen expedition succeeded. A key difference was Amundsen's reliance on Inuit help.

Here are some other icy expeditions where indigenous aid was important.

Frederick CookNorth Pole

After the Mount McKinley expedition, Cook returned to the Arctic in 1907. He planned to attempt to reach the North Pole, although his intention was not announced until August 1907, when he was already in the Arctic. He left Annoatok, a small settlement in the north of Greenland, in February 1908. Cook claimed that he reached the pole on April 22, 1908 after traveling north from Axel Heiberg Island, taking with him only two Inuit men, Ahwelah and Etukishook.
Robert PearyInitial Arctic Explorations

Peary made several expeditions to the Arctic, exploring Greenland by dog sled in 1886 and 1891 and returning to the island three times in the 1890s.

Unlike most previous explorers, Peary studied Inuit survival techniques, built igloos, and dressed in practical furs in the native fashion both for heat preservation and to dispense with the extra weight of tents and sleeping bags when on the march. Peary also relied on the Inuit as hunters and dog-drivers on his expeditions, and pioneered the use of the system (which he called the "Peary system") of using support teams and supply caches for Arctic travel.

The final 1908-09 expedition

For his final assault on the pole, he and 23 men set off from New York City aboard the Roosevelt under the command of Captain Robert Bartlett on July 6, 1908. ... On the final stage of the journey towards the North Pole only five of Peary's men, Matthew Henson, Ootah, Egigingwah, Seegloo and Ooqueah, remained. On April 6, he established "Camp Jesup" allegedly within five miles (8 km) of the pole. In his diary for April 7 (which, when released to the public in 1986, as historian Larry Schweikart showed, in fact had all the earmarks of being written on the polar trail), Peary wrote "The Pole at last. The prize of 3 centuries, my goal for 20 years."
Tenzing NorgayTenzing Norgay GM (late May 1914-9 May 1986), born Namgyal Wangdi and often referred to as Sherpa Tenzing, was a Nepali Sherpa mountaineer who later settled in India. Among the most famous mountain climbers in history, he was one of the first two individuals to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which he accomplished with Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953.

Success on Mount Everest

In 1953, he took part in John Hunt's expedition, his own seventh expedition to Everest. A member of the team was Edmund Hillary, who had a narrow escape when the ice gave way as he was moving loads up to this camp, plunging him into a crevasse. Fortunately Tenzing, who was following, thrust his ice-axe in the snow, and whipped the rope round it in good belay. It tightened just in time to prevent Hillary being smashed to pieces at the bottom of the crevasse. Thereafter Hillary began to think of Tenzing as the ideal partner in a bid for the summit.
Comment:  To sum it up, indigenous people were crucial in conquering three of the coldest and remotest places on Earth. Without their assistance, it would've taken white men much longer to reach these places.

For more on the subject, see Eskimos:  The Ultimate Aborigines.

Below:  Tenzing Norgay.

No comments: