” Our plan was simple – to retrace the footsteps of Commander Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson from Cape Columbia on the north coast of Canada to the North Pole and try to match or better their disputed 1909 journey time of 37 days and 2 hours. Nobody had come close to matching Peary’s time in almost a century. 80% of North Pole expeditions end in failure and primarily because of his speed, most of the experts believed Peary was a cheat who had fabricated their journey. So to set ourselves a target of getting there in the fastest time in history was setting the bar very high.
Driving dogs is the most efficient way to travel up there and the travel speeds that Peary claimed to have achieved seem highly reasonable. Whilst there will always be those who set out to discredit Peary, we believe that our expedition has swung the argument very much in his favour.I hope that we have finally brought an end to the debate and that Peary and Henson’s names will be restored to where they belong in the pantheon of the great polar explorers.
Then came the balmy (minus twenty!) weather as the bitter polar winter turned to a slightly less bitter spring, bringing rapidly shifting ice floes as the Arctic Ocean started to break up and melt. Southerly drift and open water became the new threats and every one of us (dogs included) fell into the perishing cold water at one point or other.
But it was the dogs on whose Herculean efforts our success depended and the special bond we had with our amazingly loyal and hard-working dogs is something I cherish deeply.
The members of the Barclays Capital Ultimate North Expedition, Hugh Dale-Harris, Andrew Gerber, Matty NcNair, George Wells, myself and our four-legged companions, finally reached the top of the world on April 26th 2005, after a gruelling journey of 36 days and 22 hours, beating Peary’s time by just four hours and in the process becoming the fastest team in history to reach the North Pole – a record which still stands to this day.
There were times when I genuinely believed that we might not make it, but to be standing at the North Pole, the centre of the Earth’s axis, where all the planet’s meridians collide, gazing south in every direction, felt absolutely incredible. The sad truth is that with climate change wreaking havoc on the fragile Arctic ice pack, we might find ourselves amongst the last ever to reach the North Pole on foot.
Having been neutral on the debate to begin with, the admiration and respect which we hold for Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and the four Inuit men who ventured North in 1909, today knows no bounds. After experiencing first-hand how they travelled across the shifting ice floes of the polar sea, we are more convinced than ever that Peary and his men did indeed discover the North Pole.
Nothing could have prepared our four-man, one-woman, sixteen-dog team for the debilitating temperatures of the Arctic which hovered around the minus forty degree celcius mark for the first three weeks of the journey. Travelling just as Peary had done with replica wooden sleds and teams of Canadian Eskimo dogs, we battled our way over thirty-foot pressure ridges, often making less than two miles of northerly progress in a 10-hour day. It sometimes made our South Pole expedition three years earlier seem like a Sunday stroll.”