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Top 10 Most Famous and Intriguing Polar Explorers

4 min read

The names and achievements of famous explorers of the Polar Regions are well known, and the history of polar exploration is filled with stories of courage and endurance, as well as triumph and tragedy. From Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose bravery and devotion to his men was exemplary, to the century-long mystery of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, polar explorers continue to intrigue.

Today's adventure travelers can walk in the footsteps of these legendary figures, but with a great deal more comfort and safety, thanks to Quark Expeditions®. Many of our trips take you to the very sites of the most dramatic occurrences in polar history, bringing you up close and personal with the achievements of several of the following famous explorers.


Sir James Clark Ross

A British naval officer, Sir James Clark Ross located the northern magnetic pole in 1831. He later commanded an Antarctic expedition with his ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, during which he charted much of Antarctica's coastline. He discovered the Ross Sea and named 2 volcanoes after his vessels. Ross later published a memoir, A Voyage of Discovery and Research to Southern and Antarctic Regions.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

One of the enduring stories of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat is the tale of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27, which set off in 1914 with the hope of becoming the first explorers to traverse the Antarctic continent. When their vessel, Endurance, became trapped in ice, Shackleton and his men set up camp on ice floes; eventually, they reached the uninhabited Elephant Island. Shackleton and a small crew sailed a lifeboat 800 miles (1,287 km) and returned to rescue the other men with no loss of life.

Robert Falcon Scott

As the leader of two major expeditions to Antarctica, Robert Falcon Scott is credited with discovering that Antarctica is a continent. He reached the South Pole on Jan 17, 1912, a month after Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen did. Exhausted by weeks of marching into headwinds of at least 30 knots and in -40°F (-40°C) temperatures, Scott and four companions died when they became trapped in a blizzard. It was more than a year before the news reached Scott's family.

Footsteps of Shackleton

Fridtjof Nansen

A Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen had some rather unconventional ideas about polar exploration: he felt that a specially designed ship frozen in pack ice would eventually end up at the North Pole, and in 1893 he set out to prove it. His ship, Fram, had a customized rounded hull and features that allowed it to withstand ice pressure. The ship did freeze in the ice, but when it hadn't reached the Pole after 18 months, Nansen and a companion set off with dogs and sledges. They didn't reach the North Pole, but they did set a record for the farthest travel north.

Robert Peary

American explorer Robert Peary traveled much of the Arctic by dogsled, and he's most famous for his claim that he was the first person to reach the geographic North Pole. Peary said he reached the Pole on April 6, 1909, but Frederick Cook, a doctor who had accompanied Peary on expeditions, claimed to have reached the Pole a year earlier. A congressional inquiry upheld Peary's claim, but doubts remain.

Sir John Franklin

It was in 1845 that Sir John Franklin and his crew left England to search for the fabled Northwest Passage. They were never to be seen again, and the fate of the 129 men was the object of many searches and much speculation. In 1857, a cairn and several bodies were discovered on King William Island, where a note stated the ships had been frozen in the ice in 1847. A second note discovered by the expedition indicated that the vessels were abandoned a year later. The fate of Franklin and his crew remains a mystery.

Franklin Grave Site

Erik the Red

Erik the Red was a wild Icelandic youth and, ironically, it was those troubles that led him to become an explorer. Having been banished for 3 years in 983, Erik sailed off to explore a large landmass west of Iceland. He named it Greenland, and when his banishment ended, he returned to Iceland, where he convinced more than 400 people to join him in settling the new land.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary became interested in climbing when he was still in secondary school. On May 29, 1953, he and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary was a member of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1958 and reached the South Pole overland in 1958; he later reached the North Pole, making him the first person to summit Everest and reach both Poles.

Richard Weber

Since 1986, Arctic explorer Richard Weber has been to the North Pole 7 times; in 1995, he was a member of the first 2-man team to reach the North Pole unsupported. Recently named to the Order of Canada, Weber is your host at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, where he shares his experiences and expertise as you explore Canada's Far North.

Richard Weber and family

The Weber family at Arctic Watch. Richard Weber pictured second from the right.

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen is the first person to have reached both the South Pole and the North Pole. He led the Antarctic expedition of 1910-12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on Dec 14, 1911, a month ahead of the American expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen was the leader of the first air expedition to the North Pole in 1926, and he also led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage.

Bonus: YOU!

Now anyone can follow the path of these famous explorers, aboard one of Quark's expedition ships. Each vessel features a special ice-strengthened hull for superior navigation in ice-packed polar waters, exceptional levels of comfort, and delicious food prepared by an on-board chef.

Don't wait another moment to walk in the steps of a legendary polar explorer. Check out our many diverse expedition options and contact a Polar Travel Adviser to get started on yours!

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