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The Polar World


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Captain Scott may be our most famous polar explorer, but one of Britain's most accomplished explorers, Sir Wally Herbert, had to wait until very recently to be publicly elevated to his rightful position as a national icon. The historic, but fundamentally flawed, claims of US explorers Frederick Cook (1908), and Robert Peary (1909) to have attained the North Pole are now publicly discounted by almost all explorers and historians including Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Pen Hadow, and not least Herbert himself. Herbert's seminal analysis of Peary's claim, published in 'The Noose of Laurels' (1989), put Peary's claim onto the thinnest of ice. The de facto result is that British explorer Wally Herbert was the only one now known - beyond reasonable doubt - to have made the first contiguous surface journey to the North Pole. Controversy has raged since 1909 over who was first to the North Pole. The falsity of Frederick Cook's 1908 claim followed within a year of his return. Robert Peary's 1909 claim went largely unchallenged for decades, but more recent detailed analysis of his navigational methods and field records revealed at best these are incapable of proving his claim (ultimately the responsibility of any explorer) which included regular daily mileages of over 50 miles, something that has never been achieved before or since, with either dogs or skidoos. It was also rumoured by some in Resolute Bay, the settlement from where Ralph Plaisted set off for the Pole in 1968, again taking the dramatically shorter route from Canada, that he had had to have his snow-mobiling team lifted by aircraft across the roughest sea ice, which if the case would compromise his claim too. Noteworthy is that Herbert has never seen fit to lay claim to the Pole for he always regarded his Arctic Ocean crossing as his magnum opus. Never satisfied from the outset with merely attaining the North Pole, Herbert's four-man team immediately continued their journey south from the Pole to complete the first ever crossing of the entire Arctic Ocean, and by its longest possible route. It was a 16-month, 3,620 mile dog-sledding epic endeavour which has never been repeated. Ice-core work undertaken en route now provides the benchmark data for many of today's scientific predictions about the status of the melting North Pole ice cap. These predictions have major consequences for global issues including climate change, accessibility of oil and natural gas reserves and the survival of the unique polar ocean ecosystem. Herbert's credentials as a bona fide polar explorer are supported by the fact that no one alive today has made a greater contribution to the surveying and mapping of Antarctica. He has surveyed, travelling with dog-teams, and personally prepared the first detailed maps of the Graham Land plateau region and the coastal area (10,000 sq miles); the Nimrod Glacier region of the Trans-Antarctic Range (10,000 sq miles); and the Queen Maud Range and Beardmore Glacier region of the Trans-Antarctic Range (25,000 sq miles). In the Arctic region again, few have contributed more to our understanding of the native Inuit of North-West Greenland. Sir Wally has a mountain range and a plateau named after him in the Antarctic, and the most northerly mountain in Svalbard named after him in the high Arctic. He was also a prize-winning author with nine books to his credit, and a gifted artist who has had one-man shows in London, Sydney and New York. He was awarded the Polar Medal for his Antarctic Research (1960-62) and another Polar Medal for his crossing of the Arctic Ocean (1968-69); and Gold Medals by the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Scottish Geographical Society, as well as the Explorers Medal by the Explorers Club (New York). Wally Herbert was made a Knight Batchelor by HM The Queen on the last day of the old millennium, as one of the British 'icons' of the 20th century.


"'Profoundly evocative... a uniquely insightful book.' H.R.H. Prince Charles 'A vastly important book about these extraordinary regions of the world. The Polar World stands as a magnificent epitaph to a genuine explorer and great man of the modern age.' Sir Ranulph Fiennes"

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