The Inuit Woman Who Survived Alone on an Arctic Island After a Disastrous Expedition

Wrangel Island lies north of the Siberian coast in the harsh arctic waters of the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. Surrounded by ice for much of the year and rocked by strong cyclonic winds, it is the last known redoubt of the woolly mammoth and the site of the highest concentration of polar bear dens in the world.

It was also the site of one of the most chimerical and unfortunate Arctic expeditions in history. In 1921, five people landed here and sparked a diplomatic incident; two years later, only one has survived to tell the tale: a 25-year-old Iñupiat woman called Ada Blackjack.

Expedition to Claim Wrangel Island

The expedition was designed by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Manitoba-born Arctic explorer who spoke out against the idea of ​​the North Polar region being an inhospitable wasteland, presenting it instead as “the friendly Arctic”. Although Wrangel is Russian territory, the fact that it was uninhabited meant that in Stefansson’s eyes it would be possible to claim it for Canada or the UK, a dream apparently motivated by the vision to turn it into a base. aerial for the future pan-Arctic flights.

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