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A 170 Year Old Mystery Starts To Unravel

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
An artist's impression of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

This week saw a significant breakthrough in the attempts to solve a mystery that has been rumbling for nearly one hundred and seventy years. In 1845, famous explorer John Franklin set out to discover a fabled passage of water that would connect the North Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. Today this is known as the Northwest Passage and provides an important trade route through the Canadian Arctic as well as being an area which is sailed on some of the polar expeditions that we have available.

Franklin’s exploration ended in tragedy though when his two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, became trapped in ice in 1846. Until last Sunday, September 7th, no sign had been found of the two vessels and only little remnants of the one hundred strong crew that sailed in them, but now there has been a breakthrough in the search.

No less than six organised searches have been carried out over the years to try and determine the fate of Sir John and his crew, and that doesn’t include the many rescue expeditions that were carried out in the years directly following their disappearance. Canada never gave up on finding these influential remains though and in the end it looks as though the country’s persistence has paid off as a remotely operated vehicle has discovered an underwater wreck.

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, has hailed the discovery as “an historic moment” and said that Franklin’s ships represent “an important part of Canadian history”. It is as yet uncertain whether the remains, found in Nunavut, are those of HMS Erebus or HMS Terror, but the findings have been authenticated and deemed to be in excellent condition.

Following this major discovery, we thought we’d take a look at a few other mysteries linked to the Polar Regions.

The Ipiutak Site

The Ipiutak are a society of people who are thought to have lived between 100BC and 800AD on a relatively small part of the Alaskan coastline. Remains of the site were unearthed in 1939 when archaeologists found the depressions of abandoned houses and buried human remains. Along with these, many masks were discovered that have led to thoughts that the Ipiutak people followed Shamanistic rituals.

Although it is believed that they may have been the predecessors of some of the modern-day Inuit societies, we know little more about this strange culture of people. Questions such as why their society collapsed, where they came from and why there are so many signs of abandonment remain unanswered and so the Ipiutak Site continues to be somewhat of a mystery.

The Abominable Snowman

Yeti Footprint

This fabled creature has many different names depending on where you are in the world. It has been referred to as Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and many more appellations besides, but the truth behind this much maligned beast is still a mystery. Sightings have been recorded in many different parts of the world, including the mountainous regions of Arctic Russia and Canada, as reports range from the discovery of large, incomprehensible footprints to full-on encounters with unexplainable, hairy creatures.

Tests carried out in 2013 on hairs found in Tibet that were said to have come from the Abominable Snowman were shown to be related to a polar bear, sparking hypotheses that there could be an, as yet, undiscovered sub-species of bear roaming around the Himalayas. For most people though, these findings remain inconclusive as the origin of the tested fibres cannot truly be validated. Therefore, until there is concrete evidence to support one conclusion or another, the mystery of the Yeti will continue to be unsolved.

The Arctic Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

Whilst one of Franklin’s ships has been discovered on the ocean floor, this mystery concerns a vessel that may still be floating on the water’s surface. SS Baychimo was previously used to carry furs and pelts between Inuit communities along the coast of Northwest Canada, but is now thought to be drifting eerily around the seas in this part of the world.

The ship was abandoned temporarily when it became trapped within an ice pack in 1931. The crew later returned to find it had broken free, only for it to be discovered again a few days later this time ensnared even more severely. The Hudson’s Bay Company, owners of the vessel, made the decision to permanently abandon it and so they rescued the men via helicopter and removed the most valued cargo. A major blizzard hit the area a few months after and so it was though that the SS Baychimo had been sunk, only for it to be sighted days later forty-five miles away from its original position.

Since it’s disappearance in 1931 the Baychimo has been spotted on many occasions, even boarded on some of them, but no one has been able to recover it. As the last sighting occurred in 1969, it is unsure whether the ship is still afloat or resting in a watery grave, but the Alaskan government remain determined to reclaim her.

If you would like to explore the North-west Passage, just like Sir John Franklin set out to do, we have many Arctic expeditions that can offer the chance to do this. Alternatively, you can look to explore one of the many other areas of the Polar Regions to which we offer expedition cruises. Just call the Fred.\ team on the number above to enquire.