Farthest North

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The location of the North Pole, at the centre of the Arctic Ocean

Farthest North (sometimes known as Furthest North) describes the most northerly latitude reached by explorers before the conquest of the North Pole rendered the expression obsolete. The northern (Arctic) polar regions are much more accessible than those of the south, as continental land masses extend to high latitudes and sea voyages to the regions are relatively short.

Early voyages

A Dutch expedition led by Willem Barentz reached 79°49’ N on 16 June 1596 to register the first recorded Farthest North.[1] In 1607 Henry Hudson probably reached Hakluyt's Headland (a little south of the latitude reached by Barentsz), but could not proceed further as ice lay packed along Spitsbergen's north coast.[2] In 1612 an explorer from Hull, Thomas Marmaduke, claimed to have reached 82°N, while Dutch explorers in 1614 and 1624 claimed to have sailed even further north to 83°N.[3] None of these claims have any basis in fact, with the second claim, made by Joris Carolus, impossible knowing ice conditions that season; although Marmaduke did at least reach Gråhuken (at 79° 48' N). English whalers reached Svalbard's Nordkapp (at 80°32' N) in or before 1622, as shown on the Muscovy Company's Map (1625). The Seven Islands (at 80° 49' N), north of Nordaustlandet, were first marked on a Dutch map of 1663, but were allegedly reached by a ship of Enkhuizen as early as 1618. In 1707 the Dutch whaler Cornelis Cornelisz Giles (or Gieles) rounded the northernmost point of Nordaustlandet in Svalbard, passing 81°N.[4] In 1806 the Resolution of Whibty, under William Scoresby, Sr., was said to have sailed north of the Seven Islands and reached 81° 50' N.[5]

Nineteenth century

One of the first expeditions with the explicit purpose of reaching the North Pole was that of William Edward Parry in 1827, who reached 82°45’ N, a record that stood for decades. Albert Hastings Markham, a member of the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 was the next one to get closer to the pole 48 years later, when he reached a latitude of 83° 20′ 26″ N by a dog sledge. Adolphus Greely's Lady Franklin Bay Expedition bested Markham by a few miles, reaching 83°24′ in 1882.

In 1895, Norwegians Fridtjof Nansen and Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen reached latitude 86°14' N. In 1900, Umberto Cagni of the Italian Royal Navy left the base camp established by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi and reached latitude 86° 34’ on April 25, beating Nansen's 1895 mark by 35 to 40 kilometres.

Cook and Peary

Two American explorers claimed to reach the North Pole in 1908 (Frederick Cook) and 1909 (Robert Peary). Cook's claim was soon judged to be fraudulent, and Peary was credited as the discoverer of the North Pole for much of the 20th century. In recent decades, however, Peary's claim has become the subject of controversy,[6] though he did set a new record for Farthest North (his support party was dismissed at 87° 45’ N latitude). With Peary's claim accepted at the time, overland expeditions to the North Pole came to an end. Roald Amundsen of Norway redirected his planned Arctic expedition and instead aimed for the South Pole, which he achieved in 1911.

Wilkins-Ellsworth Expedition

In 1931 an expedition, led by Hubert Wilkins and Lincoln Ellsworth and partly financed by William Randolph Hearst, attempted to reach the North Pole with a leased U.S. Navy submarine named Nautilus (formerly the USS O-12). The Nautilus was modified for under ice operations by submarine designer Simon Lake so it could detect openings (or, if necessary, drill them) in the ice pack and surface to recharge her batteries. While the expedition was a failure, the Nautilus did reach a latitude of 82 degrees north - the farthest north a vessel had ever been. In accordance with the lease agreement, the Nautilus was scuttled after the expedition to prevent her reuse as a warship.


Navigator's report: Nautilus, 90N, 19:15U, 3 August 1958, zero to North Pole

On 9 May 1926, Richard Evelyn Byrd attempted to fly over the North Pole in an airplane. He was widely credited with achieving this, but his claim subsequently became subject to doubt. Finally, on 12 May 1926, the airship Norge carried Roald Amundsen and fifteen other men (including the craft's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile, helmsman Oscar Wisting, navigator Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, and the expedition's sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth) over the North Pole, en route from Spitsbergen to Alaska, the first achievement of the Pole about which there is no controversy.[7]

The first man definitely to set foot on the Pole was the Russian Alexander Kuznetsov, who landed an aircraft there in 1948.[8]

On 3 August 1958 the United States submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the first to sail under the ice pack to reach the North Pole. On 17 March 1959 the United States submarine Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole.

In 1968–69 the British explorer Wally Herbert became the first person to indubitably reach the Pole on foot, having sledged from Alaska. His expedition was supported by air drops.[8]

See also


  1. Holland, p. 8
  2. Conway (1906), No Man's Land, pp. 27-28
  3. Conway (1906), p. 76, p. 139
  4. Conway (1906), p. 228
  5. Laing (1818), A Voyage to Spitzbergen, p. 103
  6. Holland, p. 206, p. 219
  7. Fleming, pp. 411–415
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fleming, pp. 417–18


  • Fleming, Fergus (2001). Ninety Degrees North. Granta Books, London. ISBN 1-86207-449-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Holland, Clive (1999). Farthest North. Robinson Publishing Ltd, London. ISBN 1-84119-099-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>