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Dyche Fears for The Explorer

Kansas Professor Thinks the Balloonist Will Probably Not Return From His Perilous Journey -- All the Elements Arrayed Against Him.

Lawrence, Kan., May 29. -- Andree's daring in attempting to reach the pole in a balloon is almost certain to cost him his life. This is the opinion of Professor Lewis L. Dyche of the Kansas State University, and there are few men in America whose opinions on polar expeditions are of greater value.

"I am afraid Andree will never be seen again if he makes a successful start from Spitzbergen for the north pole in his balloon," said Professor Dyche. "His expedition, as an example of daring, has never been equaled; it is a piece of stupendous courage, but nature in its most terrible aspect is against him, and it is very unlikely that he will come back.

"The theory that the north pole may be crossed in a balloon is extremely fascinating, but the difficulties in the way are almost, if now quite, insurmountable. Nansen's drift in his boat through the polar currents was completely practicable beside it. Ice and land are tangible things to travel over, but who knows of the currents of the air?

"Andree has already started from Stockholm, Sweden, for the islands of Spitzbergen, half way between Norway and the north pole. The balloons will be filled about June 20, and if the winds are favorable, that is, from the south or southeast, it will be cut loose, and Andree and his party will have started on their perilous, and, I believe, hopeless journey.

"Andree argues that Nansen having failed to reach the north pole by trusting himself to the currents of the ocean, there is more certainty in currents of air. He relies on the prevailing winds from the south or south-east, carrying him near or across the pole and probably wafting the balloon clear across the Arctic circle to Alaska or Siberia. For a year, circulars from the Russian government have been distributed over Siberia commanding the people to watch for the balloon and to care for its passengers. Similar circulars have been distributed over Alaska and Greenland.

Difficulties of the Expedition.

"A glance at this map will show the difficulties of the expedition. It is said that all winds in that country are from the south, because at the north pole it is south in every direction. Winds coming from every direction will produce cross currents that will blow him everywhere and nowhere. Winds usually follow land inclosed (sic) waterways. When I was at Holsteinborg, Greenland, I observed the winds for seven weeks. From June 9 to June 20 the winds blew hard from the south and brought fog and rain. In August and September the winds were from the north. Peary told me that in the north of Greenland the winds were from the dome of the continent toward the sea in every direction. Greeley reported from Cape Sabine and beyond high winds from various directions. It is therefore likely that the balloon will be blown across the arctic circle in a criss-cross way, now north, now south, east or west, and in all the variations of the points of the compass. There will probably be times when there will be no winds at all, on account of the low temperature, or the winds, taking him to a point he does not desire may abandon him, only to take him up again and bear him out of his course. He may steer a few points in the wind, but he cannot prevail against contrary winds.

Map of the North Pole

Dangers of Ice Fogs.

"The greatest danger he may fear is from the ice fogs, so dreadful and penetrating that no clothing is proof against them. They are caused by the south and north winds meeting over the great ice masses. How will he make observations in these impenetrable fogs? When I was at Cape Sabine I noted strong winds for four or five hours, then no winds and a great deal of bewildering fog.

"If Andree, on the other hand, should cast loose in a fine wind blowing from south-southeast he would probably go over the pole, for with the wind from thirty to sixty miles an hour it would only take three or four days to reach the pole and it will be daylight all the time. With eight or nine days of steady wind he could cross the pole to Siberia. But when he has got to the pole how will he know he has reached it? The mariner takes his bearings by observations of the sun and moon at midday. There is no midday at the pole. The sun circles around the heavens in gradually narrowing circles until, on June 21, the highest northern point is reached. The circles widen then until after the September equinox, when the sun disappears and a night of six months begins. But, should he be able to make observations with the sun low, or by a fixed star, the difference of a minute in his measurements would be the difference of a mile on earth and the pole could probably not be determined within a dozen miles or so. Looking out from his balloon and knowing that he was in its vicinity he could not determine just where it was. If he could land and stay awhile he might make such observations as would be valuable. But while he was away from the balloon contrary winds might seize it and bear it away and leave him to die with his discovery. Even should everything be favorable to leaving the balloon and making trips on sledges neither he nor his companions would be in physical condition to stand the work. It takes the work of weeks in the cold atmosphere to accustom one to its hardships.

Andree May Never Come Back.

"As I said before, Andree's expedition is most fascinating in its bare possibilities of success, and eclipses that of Nansen in its reckless daring. But I cannot believe it practicable. I believe the pole will be reached some day overland --or rather by ice--but it will be by a steady, well-planned expedition that will go forward prepared to retrace its steps safely. A dash to or over the pole through the air sounds fine, but I do not believe it is practicable, and I am afraid that Andree's attempt will be disastrous, although I sincerely hope he will get through all right and land in America.

"The fascination for polar exploration is marvelous. It is a challenge that nature throws down to man. 'Win the pole,' she says, 'and great will be your prize.' She has awarded prizes for these attempts and the nearer the explorer reaches the pole the greater the prize. Nansen's prize has been world-wide fame and an ample fortune. Should Andree succeed in reaching the pole and returning his name will never die and the world will be at his feet. Many men have considered it a prize well worth the attempt."

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.


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Original Source:

Chicago Herald, Chicago, IL. May 30, 1897

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Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

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