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Dr. Varicle's Dash to the North Pole, 1905

Dr. Antoine "Antony" Varicle

The San Francisco Sunday Call (San Francisco, California), Sunday, November 19, 1905

Dr. Varicle's Dash to the North Pole, 1905

    CONFIDENT that the people of the Pacific Slope will interest themselves in his daring undertakings and assist him in carrying out his plans, Dr. Antoine Varicle, a well-known young French explorer, has arrived in San Francisco with a view to arranging for an expedition to the north pole. If you have the good fortune to listen to the doctor's proposed trip and judge his interesting manners you will readily realize that he is in earnest and has abundant confidence in the success of his adventure. He figures that the pole can be reached in less than two years' time and estimates that the expedition will cost in the neighborhood of $150,000, part of which has already been assured him in the Northwest.

(Click on the image below to greatly enlarge it.)
Map of Dr. Varicle's Dash to the North Pole, 1905

    The wiry litthy Frenchman, who yearns for adventure in the Far North, has been a guest at the Palace Hotel for several days conferring with local people, whom he hopes to interest in his exploration project.

    Dr. Varicle is by no means alone in the proposed expedition to the Arctic. On the contrary he has the support of «a number of prominent organizations of the Northwest, including the Yukon Polar Institute, which was formed for the purpose of assisting him and which has among its members Governor W. W. H. McInnes and other government officials of the northern British territory. He has also received assurance of support from the Alaska Club of Seattle and similar organizations of Portland.

    The project to make the Pacific Coast the starting point of another polar expedition was conceived by the young doctor several years ago while in Dawson, which he first visited in 1898. Being an adventurer by nature and deeply interested in polar trips of various explorers, he began to carefully study the people of the Northwest with the avowed intention of determining whether or not the material was there for the forming of a well equipped and experienced expedition. He kept careful records of the tests of endurance of many of the men engaged in traveling over the trailless and mountainous sections of that part of the Western continent, in all kinds of weather, until he finally convinced himself that if a polar expedition was to be undertaken its best chance of success would be with men who had been well tried in everyday hardships of the North-western country.

    "Again in Dawson last winter," said the doctor, "we resumed our tests of men under conditions as near identical with those that are known to exist near the north pole. We sent men out into the rough and unbroken country on rush trips and forced them to sleep in the open and forage for food. Accompanied by several of the sturdy members of the mounted police, that were kindly furnished me, I made a trip through a new country 40 miles to the north of Dawson, returning in forty-five days and averaging nineteen miles of travel each day.

    "The manner in which the mounted police stand the trials they are subjected to in that cold and cheerless country readily impressed me with the idea that if some of the explorers, who have succeeded in getting so close to the north pole, had been accompanied by men of the type of these peace guardians, their mission would have been accomplished."

    Dr. Varicle, reviewing the past failures to reach the pole, remarked that none of the expeditions had been properly equipped with "mushers," such as are found in the Northwest, men who, through years of experience, have thoroughly accustomed themselves to the rigors of the freezing climate of the Arctic's six months' night. Instead the explorers had permitted, in many instances, friends to accompany them on the perilous trips.

    These men had proved themselves ignorant of the methods of traveling in the ice bound country and suffered untold hardships from the very time they entered the freezing zone, by reason of the fact that they were not acclimated to the north.

    Composing the party which Dr. Varicle hopes to lead to the north will be some of the best "mushers" known in the Northwest Territory. Not a few of these noted northern frontiersmen have already agreed to accompany the young Frenchman, two in particular being Eli Verreau, a celebrated runner, and Jules Marion, who has been carrying mail over the Eagle-Tanana route for a long time.

Dr. Antoine Varicle, 1905     One of the purposes of the doctor's present visit to San Francisco is to talk with a number of the owners of whalers with a view of securing their assistance, which is absolutely necessary in the success of his proposed trip. It is part of Dr. Varicle's plan to go north with his expedition, through the Bering straits as far as Grant land, where a base of supplies can be established, and the party can then await a favorable chance to dash across the ice to the pole.

    "If my project carries it is my intention to leave here in the month of July, and if possible I will make my start next year," said he with a show of confidence that plainly suggested that he little fears for the success of his preliminary plans. "I would like to charter a whaler that is operating between Herschel Island and Grant Land, and I have been informed that there are at least fourteen vessels that are accustomed to this trip and are possessed of crews that are thoroughly acquainted with the map of that section of the north.

    "My objective point on Grant Land is the nearest possible portion of that land to the eightieth degree of north latitude, and from there we would convey our provisions to the most northerly point of Grant Land, where our base of supplies would be established. This point is about 700 miles from the unexplored regions of the north pole. If we could leave here in July and reach Grant Land without unnecessary delay, our expedition ought to be in readiness to make the dash for the pole some time in the following January. In this way we would probably have to endure the hardships of only one cold northern winter, for, as I have already stated, the distance from our proposed base of supplies on the most northerly point of Grant Land, to the region of the pole is about 700 miles, and from the pole to Franz Josef Land and which would be our objective point, after leaving the pole, the distance is about 600 miles."

    When one of his visitors rather loudly remarked that the doctor seemed most sanguine of the ultimate success of his hurried trip across the ice plateau between Grant Land and the pole, he quickly replied, as he nervously waved his arms and pointed to the maps and other documents lying on the table before him:

    "And why should I not feel sanguine? If I was not fully convinced that I can achieve success in this undertaking I would not have gone so far in my preparations. I would not have prepared these maps you see before me, and would not have wasted so much time studying the question from books of authority and by hard experiences in the north."

    He is firmly of the belief that the pole is on land or that a body of land is situated near it. These conclusions he has derived from the various authorities that have been the closest to the great objective point of exploration. According to these the ice in that locality is not regular; in some places it is smooth, while in others it is formed lke hillocks.

    "The reports of Nansen support me in this theory," he continued, "for, if my memory is correct, Nansen wrote that after 86 degrees and 14 minutes ice in great upheavals was encountered, such as he had not come across since leaving the supposed coast line of Franz Josef Land. In the records of Captain. Cajni, who headed the D'Abruzzi expedition, the statement is made that tracks of foxes were found at 86 degrees, and were the first sign of any animal life that had been noticed after Frank Josef Land had been left behind.

    "My plan of exploration includes an expedition of twenty men, selected, as have already explained, from the most experienced and physically able men in the Northwest. Each of these men will have a dog team of eleven dogs and a supply of provisions sufficient for two years. After reaching Grant Land and having established our supply basis and made every necessary arrangement for the trip across the ice, we could bide our time for the most favorable opportunity. When we are ready to make the dash our expedition will be divided into two parties, one of which will act as an auxiliary to the other. After crossing the ice plateau for about 300 miles we would select from the two parties the best 110 of the 220 dogs and place their teams in charge of the youngest and still most rugged members of the expedition, replenish the supplies of the newly selected party and then send the rejected men and dogs back to Grant Land, which they can explore, while the other party is continuing its journey toward the pole.

    "We ought to move ahead at the rate of ten miles a day, which would bring us to our destination, if it is really approachable, as I think, in at most 100 days. Should kind Providence favor our expedition and permit us to reach the pole we would remain there long enough to carefully make observations and then proceed on to some inhabited part of Franz Josef Land, where provisions are always to be had, and by a circuitous route eventually reach the civilized world.

    "With the experienced men I hope to take with me I would have little reason to fear the cold of the extreme north. Certainly not while we are in quarters on Grant Land, for the temperature there is 20 degrees less cold than it is in the Klondike. And there is another point that may interest the public, and that is that the distance we contemplate traveling after we leave Grant Land - from our basis of supplies to Franz Josef Land, is about the same as the distance between Dawson and Nome. When one remembers that hundreds of men, in the winters of 1899 and 1900, made the trip down the Yukon, through one of the roughest countries in the world, it is easy for me to believe that a well equipped expedition will fare almost as well on the trip I have proposed as they would on a 1300 mile trip from Dawson to Nome over a country covered with snow and ice."

    "And if your dash toward the pole should fail?" was asked, with no intention of disturbing the doctor's noticeable feeling of confidence.

    "Well," snapped the young explorer, as if to resent any suggestion in the question, "we would dash back again to Grant Land, where we would probably be able to find a whaler if our own vessel had departed."

    It is the financial side of the polar expedition that is at present interesting the doctor. To secure a suitable vessel to carry his expedition to the northern extremity of Grant Land is one of the merest items of the financial outlay for his trip, for the whalers generally go north comparatively empty and would probably carry the entire expedition to the north for a moderate consideration. The buying of dogs and a two years' supply of provisions will need the better part of the $150,000 which Dr. Varicle estimates wil! be the cost of the trip. As stated before he has been assured a portion of this from the enthusiastic people of the Yukon Territory, who have great faith in his ability to carry out the project, and from persons in Seattle and Portland. He confidently believes that San Francisco will contribute liberally toward his polar trip after he has put the details before the members of the Academy of Sciences and several individuals who are usually generous donators to projects that promise advancement of science.

    "I have had volunteer offers from more than one hundred men who are eager to accompany me on this trip," said he, "and of this number I personally know at least forty that would make up a first-class expedition, for they are men noted for their ability to stand the severest hardships and are good loyal fellows, who would prefer death than to shirk a hard task in any daring undertaking they were involved in. There are also a number of the Yukon mounted police who would gladly join me if they should obtain permission to go, and several of them would willingly undertake the trip solely for the glory that would attend it in the event of our reaching the pole.

    "With this excellent material to draw from our expedition should be one of the best that has ever started for the pole. Great care would be taken in the selection of the dogs for our sleds. I do not favor the light forty-pound dogs that were used by Nansen on his journey to the north, but would prefer the biggest and soundest dogs of the Yukon district. I wouldn't care if they weighed 100 pounds, so long as they have had the experience on the rough trails and have showed an inclination to suffer a few of the hardships which their exciting lives have been accustomed to. There are no better canines in the world than the Alaska malamute and the similar specie commonly known among travelers in the north as the Mackenzie huskies."

    Charles Macdonald, who accompanied Dr. Varicle to this city, is the clerk of the Supreme Court of the Yukon Territory and a director of the Yukon Polar Institute, that was organized to assist the young Frenchman in his polar exploration plans. Macdonald is as enthusiastic over the project as his companion and is also as confident that the trip will be made.

    "Among the people of the territory," said Mr. Macdonald, "there is little doubt entertained as to the outcome of an expedition to the north pole, conducted according to the plans suggested by Dr. Varicle. The sturdy men of the Yukon have proven beyond a doubt their adaptability for the well-known hardships of polar exploration. These men have dispelled the terrors of life in the Arctic by accustoming themselves to long journeys, sometimes 500 miles, and at other times 1000 miles into the coldest of regions, carrying the necessaries of life with them and learning by the hardest kind of experiences just what is the best food, the best clothing and the best equipment for these trips.

    "These men of Alaska and the Yukon have made traveling practically their trade. They have proven to their own satisfaction at least that traveling in that north land is easier in winter than in summer. When the project of Dr. Varicle was taken up by our people and accepted as feasible the plan was proposed to establish a wireless telegraph system in connection with the expedition by having stations at Dawson, Herschel Island and other points on the land lying between that island and a base of supply on the northern part of Grant Land. The United States officials in Alaska and the British officials of the adjacent territory have agreed that the wireless system could be successfully operated and if the funds which Dr. Varicle hopes to raise for his trip are sufficient, that means of communication, for the purpose of keeping the outside world advised as to the progress of the explorers, may be adopted and carried even beyond Grant Land on the route of Dr. Varicle to the pole."

    It is twenty-six years ago that an equally ambitious explorer, in the person of Lieutenant George W. de Long of the United States navy, headed an expedition from this city to the Arctic region, which left here on the Jeannette. Four years later the world learned of the fate of the brave little party. The Jeannette had proceeded north through Bering Strait, and entered the ice close to the eighty-third parallel. She remained in the drifting ice until June 12, 1881, when she was crushed and sunk in latitude 77 14 57 N, and longitude 154 58 45 E.

    Escaping from the vessel De Long and his followers divided themselves into three parties and started in their boats for the Siberian coast. En route a boat commanded by Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp became separated from the others and has not been heard of since. Lieutenant de Long and his party finally reached a point near the mouth of the Lena Delta, where he and all but two of his men died of starvation. Chief Engineer George W. Melville, who was later promoted to the position of admiral in the navy, and his party landed in safety and returned to civilization with the story of the Jeannette expedition's sad ending.

    That was the first and only polar expedition that has ever started from the Pacifie Coast.

    Meanwhile several expeditions have undertaking the perilous journey to the north from other parts of the world, but none as yet have been able to solve to the satisfaction of science the mysteries that enshroud the most northern terrestrial point. As Dr. Varicle is endeavoring to interest the people of the Pacific Coast in his proposed expedition another, headed by Lieutenant Robert E. Peary on the Roosevelt, is slowly making its way northward from the Atlantic side with Grant Land, Dr. Varicle's basis of supplies, as one of its objective points. Peary hopes to reach there in September next, and while the darkness lasts, to establish his supply stations. At the first break of dawn he proposes to start northward with his Esquimaux across the 600 miles of land and frozen sea to that long sought for goal.

    Meanwhile that daring Norwegian navigator, Captain Roald Amundsen, who left Christiania June 17, 1903, in the Gjoa, is somewhere in the extreme north, from which a message was recently received to the effect that he had succeeded in discovering the magnetic pole, one of the objects of his trip. Many have confused his discovery with that of the north pole, which history is yet to record as having been traversed by the human race. The last heard from Captain Amundsen was that he expected to proceed westward and around through Bering Strait to this coast.

    Of Peary's ultimate success in reaching the north pole Dr. Varicle, while expressing great faith in the American's knowledge and energy, does not believe that the latter will accomplish the object of his present trip, basing that opinion partly on the fact, as he claims, that the Peary party is not properly constituted to make the final dash across the ice plateau between Grant Land and the pole.

    "Time will prove that the men of the Yukon are the proper material for this difficult journey." said the Frenchman, "and if I should be unfortunate enough to fail in my present plans to organize an expedition others later will probably be more successful and will earn much coveted honor of reaching the north pole."

The image below shows the original newspaper layout.

Dr. Varicle's Dash to the North Pole, 1905