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


Wrangel Island sits north of the Siberian cost in the harsh Arctic waters of the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. Surrounded by ice for much of the year and buffeted by fierce cyclonic winds throughout it, it is the last known redoubt of the woolly mammoth and is the site of the highest concentration of polar bear dens in the world.

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

Expedition to Claim Wrangel Island

The expedition was the brainchild of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Manitoba-born Arctic explorer who railed against the notion of the northern polar region being an inhospitable wasteland, promoting it instead as “The Friendly Arctic.” Although Wrangel was 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 United Kingdom, a dream seemingly motivated by the vision of transforming it into an air base for future pan-Arctic flights.


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