Historical records suggest that humans have explored the planet’s northern extremes since at least 325 BC. Throughout the centuries, unpredictable weather, extreme cold, and treacherous pack ice have posed a huge challenge for Arctic explorers, making this region one of the final frontiers of human discovery. At Zegrahm, we celebrate the spirit of exploration and the brave adventurers that expanded the known limits of our world. Here, we give homage to some of our favorite explorers, whose heroic exploits helped put the Arctic regions, quite literally, on the map.
Erik Thorvaldsson, “Erik the Red”
Born and raised in Iceland, Erik was banished in 980 AD and decided to search for a new home. Following rumors of a large landmass to the west, he discovered and settled in Greenland, a journey crossing approximately 900 nautical miles of open ocean.
The son of Erik the Red, Eriksson is considered by many to be the first European to reach North America, nearly four centuries before Christopher Columbus. According to legend, he sailed off course on his way to Greenland and landed on the North American continent, possibly Newfoundland, where he explored a region he called Vinland, due to the abundant grapes growing there. After spending the winter in Vinland, Leif sailed back to Greenland, and never returned to North American shores.
This Dutch navigator set out on three voyages from 1594 - 1597, trying to find a Northeast Passage to Asia; he ended up discovering Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea. On his last voyage, his ship became trapped by sea ice and he and his crew were forced to winter ashore on Novaya Zemlya. They became the first Western Europeans to winter in the high Arctic and survive! …though Barents himself perished before the crew was rescued.
An English explorer and navigator, Hudson made three voyages from 1607 - 1611 in search of a passage to Asia. Though unsuccessful, he did discover Hudson Strait and the vast Hudson Bay where, after a challenging winter, his crew mutinied, and set Hudson, his son, and several crewmen adrift in a small boat. They were never heard from again.
A native of Denmark, Bering was hired by Tsar Peter I of Russia to determine whether Asia and North America were connected by land. From 1725 - 1741, his expeditions mapped—for the first time—thousands of miles of the coast of Siberia. Bering is credited for discovering numerous bays, gulfs, capes, and islands, as well as the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Strait, proving that the Asian and North American continents were not connected.
William Edward Parry
A British naval officer, Parry led four voyages in search of the Northwest Passage from 1819 - 1831. He discovered Cornwallis, Bathurst, and Melville islands and his was the first expedition to enter the Arctic Archipelago. On his fifth and final expedition attempting to locate the North Pole via Spitsbergen, he traveled north to 82°45’N—a record that stood for 52 years. While each of Parry’s ventures were unsuccessful, he made significant contributions to European knowledge of the Arctic. The Parry Islands in the Arctic Archipelago are named after him.
Another English naval officer, Franklin set out in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage with two ships: Erebus and Terror. This expedition is one of the greatest mysteries of Polar exploration—the entire team of 129 men disappeared, prompting a number of search and rescue expeditions that would last for 11 years after their disappearance. The Erebus was only recently located in 2014, near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic; Terror was discovered two years later in Terror Bay.
Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld
Swedish geologist, mineralogist, geographer, and explorer, Nordenskiöld completed the first successful navigation of the Northeast Passage in 1878 aboard the Vega.
An American explorer, Peary organized eight expeditions to the Arctic. He crossed the Greenland ice cap and, from 1898 – 1902, he made his first unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole. Finally, between 1908 and 1909, Peary reported that he had reached the North Pole with his friend, Matthew Henson, and four native people.
Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, completed the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage from 1903 - 1905. It would be another 34 years before this feat was accomplished again.