Wrangel Island

Kindly contributed by Hampton Sides, award-winning editor of Outside magazine and author of Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission and the recently released In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.

  In all my travels, I've never been to a place more remote, more haunting, or more strange, than Wrangel Island, a mountainous scrap of Pleistocene tundra located in the Chukchi Sea off the northeast coast of Siberia. Wrangel is a highly restricted Russian wildlife preserve that requires multiple permits to visit and can be reached only by icebreaker in the summer, or by helicopter in the winter. Wildlife biologists have called Wrangel Island the "Galapagos of the Arctic." It's the world's largest denning ground for polar bears, and supports huge populations of snowgeese, Arctic fox, snowy owls, and Pacific walrus. It's also the last place on earth where woolly mammoths lived, and you often find elephant tusks lying around the island, in river beds and valleys.

When I visited Wrangel back in 2012 to research my new book about an 1880s polar voyage, In the Kingdom of Ice (Doubleday), I was struck by the raw beauty this nearly forgotten island secreted near the roof of the world. John Muir, who was among the first to visit Wrangel in 1881, called it the "topmost, frost-killed end of creation." It feels like the end of the earth—and, in fact, it almost is.  

With In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides brings to life the colorful characters that launched the expedition of the USS Jeannette into unknown polar regions. Backed by prominent newspaperman James Gordon Bennett Jr., Naval officer George Washington De Long and crew set off for the "Polar Grail," only to lose their ship to the ice. The nearest land, over a thousand miles away, is desolate Siberia. The men must venture across the Arctic ice fields in hopes of rescue. It's a harrowing tale of hardship and the explorers' heroic fight for survival.