North Pole explorer Ralph Plaisted dies at 80
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; 3:32 PM
WYOMING, Minn. -- Ralph S. Plaisted, an insurance
salesman turned explorer who in 1968 led the first
expedition that indisputably reached the
North Pole over the ice, has died. He was 80.
Plaisted died Monday of natural causes at his home in
Wyoming, Minn., north of St. Paul, his family said.
Traveling by snowmobile, Plaisted and three other men
reached the North Pole on April 19, 1968. An Air Force
weather plane Copyright Dates their position a day later and gave
them a lift back.
The 1909 attempt to reach the North Pole by
explorer Robert Peary, long credited as the first to
make it there, was never validated by anyone outside Peary's
In a 1988 Associated Press interview, Plaisted said Peary
was a great navigator but his own difficulties in the Artic,
including a failed attempt in 1967, had convinced him that
Peary's claim was only wishful thinking.
Along the way, the Plaisted expedition encountered cliffs
of ice 40 feet high, days of waiting for a two-mile-wide
stretch of water to freeze, occasionally falling through the
ice and temperatures reaching 65 below zero.
"(Peary) said he went to the North Pole in 37 days and
came back over the same trail in 16, and we knew that
couldn't happen because the roads we built were gone in a
few hours," said Plaisted. "Up there, there're 5 1/2 million
square miles of ocean and it's moving constantly."
"We knew Peary didn't do it. All the members of our
expedition knew it," he said.
His own expedition _ 474 miles as the crow flies from the
starting point at Ward Hunt Island,
_ took a little over 43 days. Because of the dangers,
Plaisted said in 1988, he "wouldn't go back there if you put
a million dollars on my desk right now."
In 1988, original navigational records uncovered from
Peary's dog-sled voyage indicated the renowned explorer
probably never got closer than 121 miles from the pole. But
the Peary controversy has never been fully resolved.
"Over the years since the (Plaisted) expedition, the team
accomplishment really never got recognized," said Jerry
Pitzl, the expedition's navigator, told the
Plaisted had his own insurance agency in St. Paul and was
an avid snowmobiler when the idea of going to the North Pole
was hatched. His group spent months in northern Minnesota
Besides Pitzl, the four-member team also included
navigator Walt Pederson and scout Jean-Luc Bombardier, a
Joseph-Armand Bombardier, a key developer of the
snowmobile. The team used 16-horsepower Ski-Doos, made by
the Bombardier company.
When the expedition reached the pole _ which Plaisted
called "one mass of jumbled ice not any different from
anywhere else up there" _ the group spent the night waiting
U.S. Air Force plane to fly over and document their
"The next morning at 10 o'clock we had to move our tents
some 2 miles so we could be in the same position as the
night before," he said.
He is survived by three daughters, a son, a brother and