Polar Priorities and Membership News


‘Another Planet:’ Shparo’s address at Cook Centennial, citing Russian Recognition of the 1908 discovery

By Matvey Shparo


In April the Polar Commission of the Russian Geographical Society issued a full commemorative honoring Frederick A. Cook on the Centennial of the Discovery of the North Pole. This included Cook’s route to the North Pole, his image on a medallion in both Russian and English and reproductions of his sleds.

The inscription of the 100th Anniversary of Achievement of the North Pole is included, with “Dr.Frederick Albert Cook and Inuit Etukishook and ‘Another Planet:’ Shparo’s address at Cook Centennial, citing Russian Recognition of the 1908 discovery By Matvey Shparo Ahwelah.” Among the stamps on the cover is that honoring Russian glaciologist and historian A. V.Koryakin (top upper right) one of the first Soviet! Russian scholars to advocate Cook’s cause in the late 20th century.
The commemoration took place with the presentations by the prominent father-son Polar explorers and academicians at the Society’s Centennial Conference in the Yale Club on April 7-8. Dmitry Shparo and Matvey Shparo both addressed the conference. 
Some of the highlights of Matvey’s expedition, which also honored the 100th anniversary of Cook’s first journey, include the following:

“I believe that many people present in this room have visited the Arctic and therefore understand that the Arctic is just Another Planet. It has been Another Planet in Dr. Cook’s times and it keeps being Another Planet today, 100 years later. Just as a century ago, so too in our times, people risk their lives and die on their way to the North Pole.

“I had more luck than most in this room. I had the luck to visit almost all of those places that Dr. Cook had visited. I ascended Mt. McKinley two times. I crossed Greenland two times, and I have been to the North Pole two times. A few years ago it occurred to me that the Polar Night Expedition to the North Pole could be the most significant event in the Arctic exploration since Dr. Cook’s times.
“Borge Ousland, a famous polar explorer who is a national hero of Norway, made an attempt to reach the North Pole at night a couple of years ago. Yet, the sunrise caught him on his way.

“I need to say two words about the polar night. People who are here today in this audience know very well and understand that there is a polar day and a polar night that each lasts 180 days. The Polar night is a time when not only the sun is absent from the sky, but sometimes also the moon and the stars. The long polar night is over on March 21st (the vernal equinox) when the Sun rises for the fist time above the horizon giving start to the long polar day.

“There are many distinctions between expeditions to the North Pole during the polar day versus during the polar night. Let’s take encounters with polar bears. During my previous 6 or 7 expeditions to the Arctic polar bears visited me in my tent. It is one thing when you can seethe bear, follow its movements and maybe even guess its intentions. It is quite another thing is when the white guest and your tent are surrounded by one pitch-black darkness. And then you can not understand whether you’ve scared the bear enough that he will retreat or, on the contrary, whether it will go around the tent in order to attack you from the rear, only 10 minutes later. “We have a pretty similar situation with ice rubble pile up. During the day you can see quite clearly the actual place of an ice pile-up and can predict its speed and its building force. During the night time, you can neither evaluate the hummocking nor predict the distance between the hummocking and your tent. That is why we spent so many nights in our tent without sleep, in anticipation of the approach of the dangerous ridge. The next important distinction is the open water, or rather its crossing. Whereas during the day time you can climb a ridge and see how wide the passage is, during the nighttime a flash-light can pierce the darkness only to 40meters distance. That’s why we had a rule that we would go into the crossing only if we see the distant shore. We used dry- suits for passages. You put it on top of all other layers of clothing.“ 

I can recall a story, not a very pleasant one, when we engaged in one particular crossing. I went first. I swam for 10 minutes and realized that the distant shore did not become any closer. Then I swam for another 15 minutes yet the shore did not become closer. With an uneasy feeling I looked behind and saw to my astonishment a small white spot instead of Boris. He was at least 100 meters away from me, as far as the distant shore. I quickly took a decision to return.

“Our expeditions lasted for 84 days. Only a week after the start we decided to switch from the 24 hour day to a 30-hour day. We discussed these options with specialists, with doctors trying to see whether the switch was viable or dangerous.

“To recover we had to sleep 10 hours. During our expedition we would spend 5 hours to set up a camp and5 hours to take it down. And then we would spend 1 0hours on our trek. I did not go alone to the North Pole. Boris Smolin was my partner. It is so important for every single person to be able to have someone, one whom you could rely upon, someone in whom you trust. Throughout many years of joint expeditions Boris has become such a person for me.

“When we reached the North Pole on March 14th my first words were addressed to Boris. And right after that I addressed my father — Dmitry Shparo who was the head of our command staff in Moscow who worked 18 hours a day for 84 days in a row. My expedition to the North Pole would have never been possible without his enthusiasm and support.

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Copyright 2008 - The Frederick A. Cook Society