Despite his grand hoaxes, Cook was nevertheless a genuine pioneer explorer of the polar regions and Alaska, and his actual contributions to exploration should not be forgotten. Here are some of them:
Cook made important contributions to the success of Peary’s North Greenland Expedition. As Peary said, he amassed a valuable record of the far northern tribe of Greenland’s Inuit. His photographic record of the tribe is a treasure yet to be fully appreciated by anthropologists.
Cook made significant medical discoveries in regard to the Inuit as a result of his studies of their physiology and published several pioneer papers on the subject. He was also the first to realize the physiological effects of the absence of the sun during the polar winter. This is perhaps the first clinical description of seasonal affective disorder.
Cook was an innovator of exploration gear. His wind proof tent, convertible sleeping bags, yellow snow goggles, and shallow draft motor boat, being some outstanding examples. He is considered to have pioneered the Alpine style of climbing. His open-work polar sledges, made of second growth hickory, have been much underrated for their rugged abilities.
Cook helped organize and participated in the first camping and sledging trips in Antarctica.
Cook made a number of important discoveries in Alaska, including Kahiltna Dome, Ruth Glacier, which he explored to its amphitheater in 1906, Bulls River Pass and the Tokosha Mountains. He was the first to circumnavigate the entire Mckinley Group in 1903 and made the second attempt to climb Mount McKinley, reaching about 11,000 feet on the Northwest Buttress, a record he held for nine years.
Cook’s photographic record of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition is incomparable among the early expeditions. He was a marvelous photographer of both people and landscapes.
Cook’s books are well written and show an unusual eye for detail. Of course, some of the incidents described did not happen, but all are based on his firm polar experience. His final book, Return from the Pole, is replete with humane insight and philosophy based on a lifetime of unusual experiences. It can still be read with profit as literature.
Cook’s liberal attitudes toward aboriginal peoples were unusually modern. He had a genuine personal touch, which endeared him to most he met and which made him so believable in his fabrications.
His perception of human psychology and human predictability has allowed his story to be carried down to this day and has achieved for it the form of near cultism that continues to compel his advocates to advance him as a serious contender for Discoverer of the North Pole. Although most scholars of the subject have now discarded that possibility, they continue to underestimate Cook’s staying power as a fascinating personality to the masses, where he will continue to have adherents until the end of time.