All you have to do is read about Franklin and the hunt to find him. At one point, the Brits had 5 naval expeditions on the Northern side of the Canadian archipelago. They had no problems getting around.
When America got into the race for the poll, they had at least one ship on the north end of Ellismere Island in the Lincoln Sea. There is nothing north of that but the pole. Things change.
A nice article about Fort Conger and the tragic end of the Greeley Expedition.