THE NORTH POLE
Anjou and Wrangell—The "polynia"—John Ross's first expedition—Baffin's Bay closed—Edward Parry's discoveries on his first voyage—The survey of Hudson's Bay, and the discovery of Fury and Hecla Straits—Parry's third voyage—Fourth voyage—On the ice in sledges in the open sea—Franklin's first trip—Incredible sufferings of the explorers—Second expedition—John Ross—Four winters amongst the ice—Dease and Simpson's expedition.
We have more than once alluded to the great impulse given to geographical science by Peter I. One of the earliest results of this impulse was the discovery by Behring of the straits separating Asia from America, and the most important was the survey thirty years later of the Liakhov Archipelago, or New Siberia.
In 1770 a merchant named Liakhov noticed a large herd of reindeer coming across the ice from the north, and he reflected that they could only have come from a country where there were pastures enough to support them. A month later he started in a sledge, and after a journey of fifty miles he discovered between the mouths of the Lena and Indighirka three large islands, the vast deposits of fossil ivory on which have since become celebrated all over the world.
In 1809 Hedenstroem received instructions to make a map of this new discovery. He made several attempts to cross the frozen ocean on a sledge, but was always turned back by ice which would not bear him. He came to the conclusion that there must be an open sea beyond, and he founded this opinion on the immense quantity of warm water which flows into the Arctic Ocean from the great rivers of Asia.
In March, 1821, Lieutenant (afterwards Admiral) Anjou crossed the ice to within forty-two miles of the north of the island of Kotelnoï, and in N. lat. 76° 38' saw a vapour which led him to believe in the existence of an open sea. In a second trip he actually saw this sea with its drifting ice, and came back convinced of the impossibility of going further in a sledge on account of the thinness of the ice.
Whilst Anjou was thus employed, another naval officer, Lieutenant Wrangell, collected some important traditions about the existence of land the other side of Cape Yakan.
From a Tchouktchi chief he learnt that in fine weather—though never in the winter—from the coast and some reefs at the mouth of a river mountains covered with snow could be seen far away in the north; and that in former days when the sea was frozen over reindeer used to come from there. The chief had himself once seen a herd of reindeer on their way back to the north by this route and he had followed them in a sledge for a whole day until the state of the ice compelled him to give up the experiment.
His father had told him, too, that a Tchouktchi had once gone there with a few companions in a skin boat, but he did not know what they had discovered or what had become of them. He was sure that the land in the north was inhabited, because a dead whale had once been washed on to Aratane Island with spears tipped with slate in its flesh, and the Tchouktchis never used such weapons.
These facts were very curious, and they increased Wrangell's desire to penetrate to the unknown northern districts; but the truth of all the rumours was not verified until our own day.
Between 1820 and 1824 Wrangell made four expeditions in sledges from the mouth of the Kolyma, which he made his headquarters, first exploring the coast to Cape Tchelagskoi, and enduring thirty-five degrees of cold; and in his second trip trying how far he could go across the ice, an experiment resulting in a journey of 400 miles from the land. In the third year (1822), Wrangell started in March with a view to verifying the report of a native who said he had seen land in the offing. He now came to an icefield, on which he advanced safely for a long distance, when it began to be less compact and was soon not solid enough to bear many sledges, so two small ones were selected, on which were packed a wherry, some planks, and some tools. The explorer then ventured on some melting ice which broke under his feet.
|"Two small sledges were selected."|
"At the outset," says Wrangell, "I had to make way for seven wersts across a bed of brine; further on appeared a surface furrowed with great crevasses, which we could only succeed in clearing by the help of our planks. I noticed in this part several small mounds of ice in such a liquefying condition that the slightest touch would suffice to break it and convert the mound into a round slough. The ice upon which we were travelling was without consistency, was but a foot in thickness, and—what was more—was riddled with holes.... I could only compare the appearance of the sea, at this stage, to an immense morass; and indeed the muddy water which issued from these thousands of crevasses, opening up in every direction, the melting snow mixed with earth and sand, those little mounds whence numerous streamlets were issuing,—all these combined to make the illusion perfect."
Wrangell had advanced some 140 miles, and it was the open sea or the polynia—as he calls vast expanses of water—north of Siberia, the outskirts of which he had reached, the same in fact as that already sighted by Leontjew in 1764, and Hedenstroem in 1810.