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Tracing the Routes


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Their routes through the Arctic in search of a northwest sea passage were remarkably similar, but their fates could not have been more different. Though Sir John Franklin was a celebrated English explorer with decades of experience, 128 men, and two finely crafted ships, his mission became tragically trapped in ice. A half-century later, a young, comparatively inexperienced Norwegian named Roald Amundsen, using a modest fishing vessel and a tiny crew, charted the long-sought Northwest Passage with relative ease. On this interactive map, compare key points on both expeditions and follow their routes from beginning to end.—Lexi Krock


Map

Franklin Expedition

1. May 19, 1845
Sir John Franklin and 128 men set sail from London in two modified warships, Terror and Erebus, with about three years' worth of provisions.

2. July 26, 1845
The men aboard two whaling ships—the Prince of Wales and the Enterprise—that are cruising in Baffin Bay are the last Europeans to see Franklin's ships.

3. Winter of 1845-1846
Franklin and his crew spend the winter camping on Beechey Island. Three of the mission's men die of tuberculosis in 1846 and are buried on the island.

4. September 1846
Thick sea ice traps Franklin's ships off the northwestern tip of King William Island. Nine months later, on June 11, 1847, Sir John Franklin dies here.

5. April 25, 1848
As described in a final message, the 105 surviving members of the crew desert the immobilized ships on this day and come ashore on the northwestern tip of King William Island. They mount several small boats from the ships onto sleds and drag them south in search of food and rescue. One of the boats, holding the remains of two sailors and over 1,000 pounds of personal items, is later found just south of this spot.

6. Spring/Summer 1848
No one knows exactly when the last of Franklin's men succumbed, but some of their remains were found here, along the southern coast of King William Island, still clothed in their naval uniforms. Many years later, an Inuit elder named Iggiararjuk still remembered having seen them during their final anguished weeks: "They had once been many; now they were only few. ... They pointed to the south, and it was understood that they wanted to go home overland. They were not met with again, and no one knows where they went to."

Amundsen Expedition

1. June 16, 1903
Roald Amundsen and his crew of six men and six sled dogs sail from Oslo in Gjøa, a 70-foot herring boat. Amundsen sets himself a maximum deadline of five years to chart a Northwest Passage and carry out scientific measurements at the magnetic north pole.

2. Late July and early August, 1903
Gjøa makes two scheduled stops on the Greenland coast to take on 10 more dogs and supplies that Scottish whalers have left for them.

3. Late August, 1903
Amundsen and his crew arrive at Beechey Island, where they anchor in Erebus Bay. They explore the island—finding, among other things, the three graves from the Franklin expedition—and take scientific measurements.

4. August 24, 1903
The expedition departs Beechey and sails and motors down Peel Sound, past the eastern side of Prince of Wales Island. This is the same route the Franklin expedition had taken before it became mired off the northwest coast of King William Island.

5. Winter 1903-Summer 1905
On the southeast coast of King William Island, Amundsen finds a protected bay in which to drop his anchor. He names the area Gjoa Haven, and the expedition stays on King William Island until August 1905. During this time, Amundsen learns Arctic survival skills from the Netsilik, a band of Inuit people. He and his men also fulfill the scientific aims of their mission during these two years; they take many geographical measurements and locate the magnetic north pole.

6. August 13, 1905
Amundsen sails from Gjoa Haven. A few days later, Gjøa encounters a whaling ship from San Francisco coming towards it from the west in approximately this location. Amundsen now knows he will complete the Northwest Passage. In his diary, he notes, "The North West Passage was done. My boyhood dream—at that moment it was accomplished. A strange feeling welled up in my throat; I was somewhat over-strained and worn—it was weakness in me—but I felt tears in my eyes. 'Vessel in sight... Vessel in sight.'"

7. August 17, 1905
Continuing to the south of Victoria Island, the Gjøa clears the Arctic Archipelago on this date but has to stop for the winter before going on to Nome on Alaska Territory's Pacific coast. About 500 miles away, Eagle City, Alaska has a telegraph station; Amundsen travels overland there (and back) to wire a success message to Norway on December 5, 1905. The Gjøa breaks through the final stretches of the Northwest Passage and reaches Nome on August 30, 1906.

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