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8 Impressive Arctic Explorers You May Not Have Heard Of

3 min read

There are many arctic explorers whose names and stories we know well – Sir John Franklin, for example. In 1845, he and his crew of 129 men sailed from England in search of the Northwest Passage, never to be heard from again.

8 Impressive Arctic Explorers - Photo by Filip Kulisev

Yet the Arctic has a rich and storied history of exploration that surpasses even well-known explorers like Franklin, set over hundreds of years, of which you will learn about on your polar cruise. Here are eight explorers who may not be household names, but still hold an important place in arctic history:

North Pole - Photo by Samantha CrimminNorth Pole - Photo by Samantha Crimmin

Robert Peary: First Explorer to the North Pole?

Robert Peary is credited with one particularly significant accomplishment: being the first explorer to reach the North Pole. While there is speculation to this day that Peary might have been superseded in this accomplishment by his mate Frederick A. Cook a year earlier, or that Peary was up to 60 miles short of the North Pole and thus never made it there at all, he is still credited with the feat. He was also known for an exploration style based on Inuit survival techniques, and for losing eight toes to the frigid weather, despite those survival skills.

Matthew Henson: First African-American Arctic Explorer

Matthew Henson was often considered the primary assistant to Robert Peary on many of expeditions. He is known for being the first African-American arctic explorer. While Peary received most of the recognition for being the first to reach the North Pole, Henson's navigation skills were considered crucial to Peary's expeditions. Henson was also highly admired by the Inuit for his ability to hunt, drive sleds, and speak their language.

Richard Weber: Traveling the North Pole on Foot

Known as one of Canada's most impressive polar explorers, Richard Weber has many other great accomplishments under his belt. His polar milestones include being the first person to reach the North Pole from both sides of the Arctic Ocean, and the first to reach the North Pole on foot. He and his family currently run the amazing and breathtaking Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Quark's first land-based polar expedition in Nunavut, the Canadian High Arctic.

Polar Bear - Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin

Polar Bear - Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin

Richard Evelyn Byrd: Journey to the North and South Poles by Air

Richard Evelyn Byrd was a pilot and American naval officer and is credited with five Antarctic expeditions. He is considered the first person to fly to both poles, and was one of the first to spend the winter on the continent, which nearly cost him his life. Although Byrd was highly decorated with 22 citations and special commendations - one of which the Medal of Honor - it is believed his disappointment in being rescued from Antarctica haunted him most of his life.

Ranulph Fiennes: World's Greatest Living Explorer

Ranulph Fiennes, described by Guinness World Records as “the world's greatest living explorer”, is responsible for a number of “firsts” in polar exploration. Impressive accomplishments include being the first person to reach both the North and South Poles, and the first to cross Antarctica on foot. This particular adventure was also the longest unsupported polar journey in recorded history, during which he was forced to amputate his own frostbitten fingers on his left hand. At the age of 64, Fiennes also became the oldest Briton to climb Mount Everest.

Greenland with Quark Expeditions - Credit: Quark Passenger (name unknown)
Greenland with Quark Expeditions - Credit: Quark Passenger (name unknown)

Ann Bancroft: First Woman of Polar Journeys

Hailing from Minnesota, Ann Bancroft is not only the sole woman on this list, but the first woman to complete many arctic and Antarctic expeditions. She was the first female to ski across Greenland and the first woman to ski across Antarctica. Bancroft is also credited with being the first woman to stand on both poles. Because of her many accomplishments, she was inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

'‘Top Gear' Team: Race to the North Magnetic Pole

This team of adventurers included Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, hosts of BBC's show Top Gear. In the show's Polar Special episode, the group raced to the North Magnetic Pole. Clarkson and May by polar-modified Toyota Hilux; Hammond by dog sled. Clarkson and May became the first explorers to reach the area by car.

Top Gear Team - race to the North Magnetic Pole
Top Gear Team - race to the North Magnetic Pole - Photo credit: BBC

Fridtjof Nansen: East West Journey to the North Pole

Although Fridtjof Nansen's initial goal to reach the North Pole by traveling the Arctic Ocean's east-west current (rather than the more common west-east path) failed, Nansen is credited with setting the record for traveling to the northernmost latitude. Although his ship ended up frozen in pack ice and abandoned, Nansen's expedition and the ship's design were heavily influential in future polar exploration.

Learn about these explorers, and many more, and follow in their footsteps, on your next Quark polar expedition.

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