Steger Expedition Reaches North Pole
May. 03, 1986
NEW YORK (AP) _ Six adventurers waited on the Arctic ice cap today to be picked up for a flight back to civilization after a grueling 500-mile, 56-day dog-sled voyage to the top of the world.
The six slogged their way from the northern tip of Canada to the North Pole to become the first entirely self-sufficient expedition to re-create Robert Peary's 1909 conquest of the pole.
First word of the feat came from a bush pilot shuttling supplies to a remote mining camp. He had picked up a radio transmission Friday from the Steger International Polar Expedition and relayed it to the base camp in Resolute Bay, Canada.
Expedition co-leader Paul Schurke of Ely, Minn., reported their position at 6:50 p.m. CDT Friday as 90 degrees north latitude, zero degrees longitude, where the view in every direction is south.
Because radio communications in the Arctic are susceptible to atmospheric conditions and are frequently blocked, the brief conversation Friday night was their first radio report since April 23.
''It's great. We're happy,'' said the base camp operator, Jim Gasperini, who had been trying hourly without success to reach the adventurers by radio.
''We could hear that they were transmitting but we couldn't distinguish any words,'' Gasperini said. The entire conversation lasted less than 10 minutes. ''We didn't have time to chat.''
''Whenever you have a conversation like this, you just relay the most important information - they're there,'' Gasperini said. All six team members - co-leader Will Steger, also of Ely; Geoff Carroll of Juneau, Alaska; Brent Boddy, of Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories; Richard Weber of Cantley, Quebec; and Anne Bancroft, of Sunfish Lake, Minn. - were reported fine.
The explorers will forgo the return trip to Ward Hunt Island, Canada's northernmost tip, from where they set out March 8, in favor of an airlift to Resolute, where a celebration was planned.
Knowing the expedition would be anxious to get off the ice, Gasperini, along with a horde of reporters, flew to Eureka, 400 miles north of Resolute but still 600 miles short of the pole, at about midnight. There they awaited word that clouds blanketing the pole had lifted enough for a safe landing.
The expedition originally had eight members, but Bob McKerrow of Anakiwa, New Zealand, was airlifted out after a sled rolled over on him, breaking ribs, and Bob Mantell of Anchorage, Alaska, was flown out because of frostbitten feet.
''If one member of the team had made it, it would have been a success,'' said Debbie Bancroft, mother of Anne Bancroft, from her home in Mendota Heights, Minn. ''And for six of them to have made it is really spectacular.''
Bancroft's students at Clara Barton Open School in Minneapolis were just as proud.
When word reached the school that Bancroft, who teaches physical education, and the team were closing in on the pole, teachers and students celebrated by releasing hundred of helium-filled balloons in front of the school.
Mary Ann Fabel, who teaches second and third grades, said she and other faculty members have turned the trip into a lesson in goal-setting and she has made a progress report on the expedition part of her daily lesson plan.
The team's arrival at the pole, which had been expected early Thursday, was delayed by overcast skies. Without the sun, which normally is visible 24 hours a day in the Arctic spring and summer, their sextant was useless.
Like Peary, they relied only on a hand-held sextant and a chronometer to determine their course, measuring the angle of the sun above the horizon at specific times each day.
A beacon transmitter and a radio were concessions to modern times. Steger said he wanted to reach the pole unassisted, but without loss of life.
Twenty-eight of the original 49 dogs were lifted out as planned, rather than eaten as was the practice in Peary's time.
Although they periodically activated the beacon, the team was not aware of its own satellite-generated coordinates, that Friday afternoon had placed them within 1.7 miles of their goal.
The use of satellite tracking and a flyover by a Canadian military reconnaissance plane was part of Steger's effort to verify whether Peary's feat was possible. Could Peary have made the 30 miles a day that he claimed in his diary? Did he really make it all the way to the pole?
The expedition log will be compared to Peary's journal and to that of his arch-rival, Frederick A. Cook, who claimed he beat Peary to the pole by a year. The dispute was settled by an act of Congress in 1911, but many people, including Steger, were never satisfied.