Thursday, May 10, 2007
Black Polar Adventurers
Boys brought up in the Fifties knew all about explorers and adventurers. Hillary and Tensing, Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, Peary, Fawcett.
But I had no idea that alongside Peary on the first trip to the North Pole was a black American, Matthew Henson.
According to this National Geographic portrait, the notoriously difficult Peary wasn't at all happy at the idea that Henson might have been first there.
On April 6, 1909, Henson arrived at Camp Jesup, 89°47', 45 minutes ahead of Peary, concluding by dead reckoning that he had reached the Pole. Henson greeted Peary, "I think I'm the first man to sit on top of the world."
I picked this story up because another Hillary, 75 year old Barbara Hillary has just become the first black woman to reach the North Pole, skiing from Norway. Admittedly, it's not like the old days. You pay about $21,000 and get a helicopter back from the Pole - not an option Scott could avail himself of.
But all the same - 18 days pulling a 100lb sled across the ice, at 75. Good going.