Amund Ringnes Island

Amund Ringnes Island, located in the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Nunavut (formerly Canadian Northwest Territories), is roughly 2230 square miles (about the size of the state of Delaware) with the northern tip, Cape Sverre, at about 79° N latitude and about 77°30' N at the southernmost cape. The island is situated along the 96° W meridian between Axel Heiberg Island and Ellef Ringnes Island. Most of the surface of Amund Ringnes Island is below 500 feet with little relief and low coastlines. Haig-Thomas Island lies off its southeastern coast; a low, sandy island, unofficially called Cook Island, lies just west of Cape Sverre. Amund Ringnes Island has no permanent human inhabitants and rarely any visitors.

Before World War II, expeditions from several nations visited the island. On April 16, 1900, the Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup first sighted the island while exploring western Axel Heiberg Island. He dispatched Gunnar Isachsen and Sverre Hassel for a brief visit in 1900 and more extensive exploration in 1901. The three Norwegians circumnavigated Ellef and Amund Ringnes Islands and mapped a possible channel (Hassel Sound) separating what appeared to be two islands. The next visitors—American Frederick Cook and Greenlanders Ittukusuk and Apilak—landed on the sandy island off Cape Sverre in June 1908, while returning from the Arctic Ocean and their North Pole journey. Finding no game, they quickly passed through Hassel Sound and headed south seeking a whaling vessel. In 1916, American Donald MacMillan reached the southern coasts of the Ringnes Islands from Greenland, and a month later the Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson passed through Hassel Sound. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials A.H. Joy and R.W. Hamilton visited the island between

1929 and 1932. In 1938, British explorer David Haig-Thomas explored the island that bears his name.

After World War II, the Canadian government instituted scientific exploration of Amund Ringnes with aerial mapping in the 1950s and geological and other surveys in the 1960s. The government discovered a piercement dome, about 17 miles long, composed mostly of gypsum, rising to about 850 feet in the northern part of the island. The island mostly consists of shale and limestone with dyke and sill intrusions of labradorite and other igneous minerals. Many small streams drain the island during the summer, and vegetation supports seasonal visits from deer, caribou, and hares, which in turn provide food for wolves and polar bears.

Amund Ringnes Island retains historic significance due to its role in the controversy about Frederick Cook's 1908 North Pole claim. Cook's rival for polar honors, Robert E. Peary, claimed that Cook had gone only a short distance on the Arctic Ocean, and then went south along the west coast of Axel Heiberg Island before landing about 30° southeast of Cape Sverre on the eastern shore of Amund Ringnes Island. Cook allegedly followed the coast to the southeastern cape of the island rather than the route south through Hassel Sound. Peary supposedly obtained this information plus a map from Cook's two Inuit companions. Although Peary's "Eskimo Testimony" was hearsay and self-serving, it was Peary's primary tool to discredit Cook's polar trip and establish his own. Peary advocates, Stefansson and MacMillan, later tried to prove that Cook did not use Hassel Sound.

Critical flaws emerged in Peary's account during the 1990s when researchers gained access to Peary's personal papers. These documents disclosed that Peary misrepresented his interrogation of the Inuit. He prevented his own medical officer from questioning them and later blocked MacMillan's offer to bring the Inuit to the United States for questioning. Additionally, had Cook followed Peary's map route, he would have discovered Haig-Thomas Island. Since Peary had never visited the area, he was unaware of the small, sandy island at the north end of Hassel Sound, just west of Cape Sverre. Isachsen and Hassel had not seen it in 1901, but Cook landed on it and photographed it in June 1908. In July 1916, Cook's opponent, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, passed near or directly over this island, but omitted any mention of it and did not include it on his map. A July 1950 photograph clearly depicts Cook's island without snow (Heckathorn, 1998). In 1935, Cook's former companion, Apilak, told Haig-Thomas about his discovery of apparent "monster bones" that he had made of Ellef Ringnes Island many years before. Haig-Thomas was unable to reach the location in 1938. Heckathorn found and photographed Apilak's Ellef Ringnes site in 1998, adding further evidence that Cook had used the Hassel Sound route.

Ted Heckathorn

See also Axel Heiberg Island; Cook, Frederick A.; Ellef Ringnes Island; Peary, Robert E.; Queen Elizabeth Islands

Further Reading

Cook, Frederick A., My Attainment of the Pole, New York: Polar Publishing Company, 1911 (see also new edition, Polar Publishing Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2001) Dunbar, Moira & Keith B. Greenaway, Arctic Canada from the

Air, Ottawa: Defence (sic) Research Board, 1956 Featherstonhaugh, R.C., The Royal Canadian Mounted Police,

New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1940 Fortier, Y.O. et al., Geology of the North-Central Part of the Arctic Archipelago, Northwest Territories (Operation Franklin), Ottawa: Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, 1963 Haig-Thomas, David, Tracks in the Snow, London: Hodder and

Stoughton, 1939 Heckathorn, Ted, "Dr. Frederick A. Cook's 1908 journey: a 1998 Arctic field investigation." Polar Priorities, September 1998 MacMillan, Donald B., "New evidence that Cook did not reach the pole." Geographical Review, February 1918 Peary, Robert E., The Peary Papers, Unpublished, Washington,

District of Columbia: National Archives Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, The Friendly Arctic, New York:

MacMillan, 1921 Sverdrup, Otto, New Land: Four Years in the Arctic Regions, 2

volumes, New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1904 Taylor, Andrew, Geographical Discovery and Exploration in the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Ottawa: Department of Mines and Technical Services, 1955

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