People & Culture

How the British Trans-Arctic Expedition made the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean

Dr. Ken Hedges, Honourary Colonel and RCGS Fellow, recounts his amazing experience traversing the top of the world on the expedition’s anniversary
  • May 29, 2020
  • 252 words
  • 2 minutes
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On May 29, 1969, after 476 days and 5,987 kilometres battling ice floes, disorienting weather, and injuries, the four members of the British Trans-Arctic Expedition and their pack of 40 sled-dogs completed the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean by its longest axis. Dr. Ken Hedges served as medic on the expedition — along with members Sir Wally Herbert, Roy ‘Fritz’ Koerner and Allan Gill — which traversed the polar ice cap from Point Barrow, Alaska, to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard via the geographic North Pole, becoming the first undisputed expedition to also reach the Geographic North Pole on foot.

In honour of the expedition’s anniversary, the former member of the British Special Air Service, Honourary Colonel for the Canadian Forces Health Services, Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and recipient of the Society’s prestigious Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier Medal, has donated the Nansen sled, tent and wolf-skin parka he used on the expedition to The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to display at its headquarters at 50 Sussex in Ottawa. Here Hedges gives insight into this perilous expedition now billed the “last great journey on Earth.”

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Hedges with lead dog, Uncle Wal, on the fore deck of HMS Endurance, an Royal Navy ice patrol vessel that picked up the crewmembers at their end point in Svalbard. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)

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 Expedition leader, Wally Herbert. Herbert received a knighthood 30 years later for his services in polar regions. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)

A pyramid polar tent on the day of retrieval by two Whirlwind helicopters about 75 kilometres from HMS Endurance. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)
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A pyramid polar tent on the day of retrieval by two Whirlwind helicopters about 75 kilometres from HMS Endurance. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)
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A pyramid polar tent on the day of retrieval by two Whirlwind helicopters about 75 kilometres from HMS Endurance. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)
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A pyramid polar tent on the day of retrieval by two Whirlwind helicopters about 75 kilometres from HMS Endurance. (Photo: Mick Rowsell)
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