The First Confirmed Unsupported Expedition To The North Pole Wasn't Until 1986

Illustration for article titled The First Confirmed Unsupported Expedition To The North Pole Wasnt Until 1986

If you’re like me, you probably think somebody stood at the very point of Earth’s North Pole like, a few hundred years ago, or something. But you’d be wrong! Many people have claimed to grace the Pole, but the first indisputable trek didn’t happen until 1986.


In the latest video from Tom Scott, who is currently crashing his way through the Arctic ocean’s loose ice tagging along for astronaut Chris Hadfield’s “generator” expedition, the history of the many attempts at beating the World to the North Pole are explored.

As reported from the deck of the icebreaker Kapitan Klebnikov, the same device used by explorers centuries ago to navigate the waters via the stars is still used (as a backup to GPS) today. Before GPS, records had to be kept via the information used in navigating with the sextant, but were never perfectly accurate. The result is a field of claims from multiple people, ultimately making the first person to reach the North Pole a bit of a contentious topic.


One of the earliest explorers to make the claim was Frederick Cook in 1908, but his evidenced has since fallen into questioning. It was questioned in particular by Robert Peary, who claimed to reach the Pole a year after Cook’s claim. Peary even has a memorial in Cape York in Greenland, but having been the only person on his expedition trained in navigation, his records have also been heavily questioned.

Later, Richard Byrn and his pilot named Floyd Bennett claimed to have flown over the North Pole, but even the manufacturer of their aircraft denied their claim.

It wasn’t until 1948 that a Soviet expedition made it to the exact geographic point of the North Pole by airplane. After that, many explorers also managed the journey with air support.

But the first confirmed expedition to the North Pole, over land and with no resupply, was by explorer Will Steger in 1986, and only after multiple attempts.


Today, Chris Hadfield’s exploration seeks to connect the astronaut’s experience of the North Pole from his time in space to the unique geology of the region, the lifestyle of the people who inhabit the Arctic, and to re-trace some of the greatest exploration attempts in the area. You can read more about the expedition here.

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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The boat... I mean it works and I can’t question it, but it looks like somebody diced an office building, plopped it on top of the deck, then just put the bridge on top of the diced building. It’s so blunt it borders on brutalist.

Bit off-topic: has there ever been a rally raid race in snow? Or the poles? If not... well, that has to change.