First New Zealand Expedition at
the Pole confirms Cook observations

On April 21, 1996 -- 88 years after Cook reached the North Pole --
a New Zealand party confirmed Cook's 1908 sun observations with their findings


12 noon 21st April 1996, by a Zeiss Ship Sextant.

Angle of sun above horizon 12 9' (or 12.15).

Shadow from 6 foot pole 27 feet 10.5 inches.

Determination of position by GPS.

Four years ago a New Zealand party reached the North Pole on the 88th anniversary of its attainment by Frederick A. Cook. They had scheduled their arrival on the discovery date to do what no other explorer or group had done since to confirm Cook's observations on precisely the same date and time of his first North Pole camp.

Richard Reaney of Auckland, NZ recalled the circumstances of the venture for Polar Priorities in conjunction with Wayne Davidson's contribution:

"The New Zealand venture to the North Pole in 1996 came about as result of a conversation I had with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1994. A close friend, Bevan de Berry and I were at that time part of the Commemorative Circumnavigation of the Antarctic, celebrating 100 years of Antarctic exploration.

"One evening, while in McMurdo, Sir Edmund related a number of his adventures. One such venture was his trip to the North Pole with Neil Armstrong. He showed us a photo of the pair holding the Stars & Stripes, but there was no New Zealand flag. We felt this oversight needed correction. Hence our plans for the North Pole in 1996.

"On investigation we found there had never been a New Zealand team at the Pole, although NZers had been members of other expeditions. Our plans covered a range of transport from aircraft to dog sled. In the end we used twin Otter aircraft. Realizing that the timing would coincide with Frederick Cook's arrival at the Pole on the 21st April (1908), we determined to delve into the history of North Pole exploration. Little did we know that we had opened a 'can of worms.' Nowhere could we find if anyone had gone to the Pole to confirm Cook's observations on exactly the same day and at exactly the same time.

"Our stepping off point was Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island and while waiting for the right conditions to embark, I discussed my plans with Wayne Davidson. He was most interested and helpful. I do not have a navigational background so I was grateful for his assistance.

"One concern I have always had is the knowledge of the earth's physical measurements and the accuracy of the Nautical Almanac in Cook's time. He could not have known the true dimensions (radius, circumference, etc.) as we do now and would have based his findings on the 'known' but inaccurate figures of 190809. The other is the accuracy of Cook's sextant and the care he gave to detail in recording his observations.

" I believe we have found good reason to support his findings of 11 55' on 21st April 1908 and his observations over the next 24 hours."

Reaney Expedition: Sun observations
1908 and 1996


Richard Reaney led a party which reached the North Pole in 1996. Reaney was at the Pole on April 21, 1996 and he determined the altitude of the sun by computer. His figures were virtually identical to Frederick A. Cook's figures.

Cook made seven observations with the sextant for the altitude of the sun at the North Pole on April 21 and 22, 1908. His figures were entered on a field paper and can be found on page 302 of his book, My Attainment of the Pole. His first observation at noon of April 21 yielded an altitude of the sun of 11 degrees 54 minutes 40 seconds. The sun was very slightly, gradually, ascending and the remaining observations reflect a slightly greater altitude for each of the observations which followed at six hour intervals, ending at midnight, April 22/23, 1908. Cook's altitudes of the sun on the two days he was at the Pole:

April 21, noon ....... 11 54' 40"
April 21, 6 p.m. ....... 12 00' 10"
April 21/22, midnight ....... 12 03' 50"
April 22, 6 a.m. ....... 12 09' 30"
April 22, noon ....... 12 14' 20"
April 22, 6 p.m. ....... 12 18' 40"
April 22/23, midnight ....... 12 25' 10"

Cook states that each observation is reduced for instrumental error of +2' and reduced by 9' for refraction, parallax and semi-diameter.

Reaney's altitude of the sun at the North Pole on April 21 was virtually the same as Cook's. Reaney also measured the shadow cast by a six foot tent pole. The length of the shadow was 28 feet, the same as that given by Cook in his field notes, and thus, verifying Cook's figures. Reaney wrote the Society of his findings in a letter to Society President Warren Cook Sr. on June 22, 1996.

It is interesting that Reaney had obtained a copy of Cook's altitudes of the sun at the North Pole which contained a misprint. The copy Reaney had showed Cook's reading to be 10 54' 40" rather than 11 54' 40". Reaney confirmed Cook's shadow length and felt that the erroneous altitude might have been caused by refraction, humidity, etc.

I wrote Reaney that Cook's figure was indeed 11 54' 40", that Reaney must have had a misprint. I told him that he had verified both Cook's altitude of the sun and the length of the shadow at the North Pole on April 21, 1996 and thanked him for his work and for the vitally important information.

Reaney's verifications of Cook constitute significant, additional evidence in support of Cook's attainment. But, obviously, these verifications, while important and supportive of Cook's claim, do not prove in themselves that Cook reached the North Pole. Even if we had all the calculations on all the field papers and they were correct, and if we had Cook's sextant, they would not alone prove his case.

Dr. Cook's attainment of the Pole has been confirmed and established by the extant and the weight of the supporting evidence it its entirety, which consists of the verification of his account of physical conditions at the North Pole and in the Central Arctic Basin.  Also, the first report of Polar conditions given includes Reaney's verification of Cook's altitudes.

Robert Reaney's verifications are important additional evidence supportive of Cook's achievement.


"In 1996, I led a New Zealand expedition to the Pole and have become even more interested in the Peary-Cook controversy. I now believe that Frederick Cook did get to the Pole and that modern technology has given us some of the tools to evaluate it. On the 21st April 1996, the 88th anniversary of Cook's arrival at the Pole, I made the following assessment:

"Cook in his book My Attainment of the Pole recorded the note "The sun was 10 55' over the Magnetic North Horizon." [At the North Pole] He also wrote that his tent pole was 6 feet above the ice, giving a shadow of 28 feet in length. A modern computer gives a measurement of 12.173 of angle above the horizon for the sun at noon on April 21st 1908, while this may contradict Cook's sextant measurement, it confirms the shadow. An object 6 feet high gives a shadow only a fraction shorter than 28 feet while using a computer. However the simple shadow effect reveals that Cook's tent pole had given an angle of 12.09 for the sun.

"The sextant reading of 10 55' may be due to the fact that the earth's measurements were not well known at that time, hence a precise sextant measurement in 1908 would have been unrealistic and probably contrived. As we now know, the Earth is not spherical but flattened in the Polar Regions giving the form of an oblate spheroid. No allowance for this variation was able to be factored into Cook's sextant readings until modern navigational data became available. I believe Cook's Polar Trip was confirmed by his pole!

"In researching the Franklin Expedition, I have used sextant co-ordinates from the Franklin Searchers' notesall of them are not accurate, sometimes by factors in excess of 20 miles. However a shadow doesn't lie! If Cook was clever or fraudulent as some would like to say, he would have re-calculated or compensated his shadow lengths to conform with the sun angle at noon. Instead he conceded to the truth leaving this discrepancy for posterity. Hence, proof of his achievement could only have been confirmed during this Space Age."

Richard Reaney, 6-22-96




Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society