"Frederick A. Cook"
Frederick A. Cook
Public DomainFrederick A. Cook - Credit: Chicago Historical Society

An American doctor of German descent, Cook is a controversial if fascinating character who continues to confound. His claims to have reached the summit of North America's highest mountain, Mt McKinley, in 1906 were widely believed then swiftly discredited due to a lack of evidence and disputed photographs that showed a lower summit. The first official ascent wasn't recognised until 1913 when Walter Harper, Robert Tatum and Harry Karstens reached the summit on an expedition led by Hudson Stuck.

Cook's claim to have reached the North Pole in April 1908 ahead of Peary is even more shrouded in mystery and continues to inspire investigation:



That he took Bridges's Yamana Dictionary whilst in Tierra del Fuego and tried to 'pass it off as his own work' is beyond question, and Chatwin, clearly not a fan, compares him to Irving Washington's fictional henpecked husband Rip Van Winkle who goes up a mountain, falls asleep for 20 years, misses the American Revolution and returns claiming to be a loyal subject of King George III.