Todd Balf is a former senior editor at Outside magazine and the author of The Last River, Major, and The Darkest Jungle, the bestselling account of a disastrous mid-nineteenth-century U.S. Navy expedition that was searching Panama's Darién rainforest for a canal route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific.
America's First Arctic Hero and His Horrible, Wonderful Voyage to the Frozen Top of the World
By the winter of 1854, the men had been trapped for almost two years, their ship frozen in a bank of ice somewhere below the North Pole. Some had lost limbs to scurvy and frostbite; some had succumbed to Arctic hysteria; all of them were starving, reduced to eating the rats that seemed impervious to the vise-like cold. All but a handful of the fifty-odd sled dogs were long dead, victims of rabies and lockjaw. Thousands of miles away, people in America were convinced the crew of the Advance was dead, too.
But one person remained undaunted: Elisha Kent Kane, the unlikely captain of the ill-fated ship whose previous trip to the remote and mysterious Arctic had made him one of the most famous men in the United States. Small of stature, poetic, and sickly, Kane was nonetheless determined to fulfill his voyage's mission: to find survivors of the celebrated Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin, and to prove the existence of a legendary Open Polar Sea that circled the North Pole. Before William Peary and Frederick Cook, there was Kane, the man who set the stage for the golden age of Arctic exploration that would follow. Under his calm yet unrelenting leadership, the crew of the Advance spent two years exploring the frozen realm of the Arctic Archipelago, going farther north than any expedition had before. But when it was finally time to return home, the ice had other ideas.
Farthest North tells the little-known story of one of the most gripping Arctic expeditions of all time. Despite sickness, mutiny, gnawing hunger, and the malevolent cold, Kane and his men made discoveries that influenced theories about the Ice Age and developed survival strategies that would be the model for generations of future explorers.
In the tradition of Apsley Cherry-Girard's classic book The Worst Journey in the World, this tale of survival and discovery captures polar exploration at its best—which is to say, its most miserable. For them, the pain. For us, the pleasure.