On April 6, 1909, a team of polar explorers led by Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson claimed to have reached the North Pole in just 37 days. Critics found the speed unthinkable. They cited inconsistencies in Peary’s notes and the supposedly insurmountable challenges of navigating the Arctic Ocean as evidence against him. The debate continued until 2005, when renowned explorer Tom Avery, now 33, and four others, set out to debunk the rumors by directly replicating the journey. Last week, on the anniversary of the Peary and Henson expedition, Avery organized a ceremony at the two explorers’ gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. And in his new book, To the End of the Earth, Avery details how he and his team may have finally put the century-old controversy to rest with them.
Avery’s team made base camp on Ellesmere Island in March 2005. They proceeded to follow the same path, use the same breed and number of dogs, and ride sleds built from the same design Peary had used 100 years ago. Despite the windchill bottoming out at negative 63 degrees Celsius and a host of other obstacles, the team made it. And not only did they reach the North Pole in 37 days, they made it there roughly five hours faster than Peary and Henson’s time, thus marking the fastest surface journey to the North Pole, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Although it may never be proven for certain whether or not Peary had reached the pole, Avery and his team’s near-identical sojourn had successfully attested to its possibility.
This is exactly what Avery and his team had set out to do. It’s no coincidence that the book—like the expedition four years ago—was released in the same month as Peary and Henson’s journey. For Avery, the expedition had been about more than books and world records all along. “If we’ve helped to get people talking about Peary and Henson again, and if the world now sees their achievements in a more positive light than they did before our expedition, then I’d be content,” Avery says. “That’s all I really want.”