Fridtjof Nansen


Fridtjof Nansen : biography

10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930

The crew spent the rest of the 1894–95 winter preparing clothing and equipment for the forthcoming sledge journey. Kayaks were built, to be carried on the sledges until needed for the crossing of open water.Fleming, pp. 246–247 Preparations were interrupted early in January when violent tremors shook the ship. The crew disembarked, fearing that the vessel would be crushed, but Fram proved herself equal to the danger. On 8 January 1895 the ship’s position was 83°34′N, above Greely’s previous Farthest North record of 83°24.Huntford, pp. 275–278

Dash for the pole

On 14 March 1895, after two false starts and with the ship’s position at 84°4′N,Nansen (1897), Vol II p. 86 Nansen and Johansen began their journey.Nansen (1897), Vol. II p. 112 Nansen had allowed 50 days to cover the to the pole, an average daily journey of seven nautical miles (13 km; 8.1 mi). After a week of travel a sextant observation indicated that they were averaging nine nautical miles a day, (17 km; 10 mi), putting them ahead of schedule.Huntford, pp. 308–313 However, uneven surfaces made skiing more difficult, and their speeds slowed. They also realised that they were marching against a southerly drift, and that distances travelled did not necessarily equate to northerly progression.Fleming, p. 248 On 3 April Nansen began to wonder whether the pole was, indeed, attainable. Unless their speed improved, their food would not last them to the pole and then on to Franz Josef Land. He confided in his diary: "I have become more and more convinced we ought to turn before time."Nansen (1897), Vol. II p. 127 On 7 April, after making camp and observing that the way ahead was "a veritable chaos of iceblocks stretching as far as the horizon", Nansen decided to turn south. He recorded the latitude of the final northerly camp as 86°13.6′N, almost three degrees beyond the previous Farthest North mark.Nansen (1897), Vol. II p. 142


At first Nansen and Johansen made good progress south, but on 13 April suffered a serious setback when both of their chronometers stopped. Without knowing the correct time, it was impossible for them to calculate their longitude and thus navigate their way accurately to Franz Josef Land. They restarted the watches on the basis of Nansen’s guess that they were at longitude 86°E, but from then on were uncertain of their true position.Fleming, p. 249 Towards the end of April they observed the tracks of an arctic fox, the first trace they had seen of a living creature other than their dogs since leaving Fram.Huntford, pp. 334–336 Soon they began to see bear tracks, and by the end of May seals, gulls and whales were in evidence. On 31 May, by Nansen’s calculations, they were only from Cape Fligely, the northernmost known point of Franz Josef Land.Huntford, pp. 343–346 However, travel conditions worsened as the warmer weather caused the ice to break up. On 22 June the pair decided to rest on a stable ice floe while they repaired their equipment and gathered their strength for the next stage of their journey. They remained on the floe for a month.Huntford, pp. 346–351 The day after leaving this camp Nansen recorded: "At last the marvel has come to pass—land, land, and after we had almost given up our belief in it!"Nansen (1897), Vol. II p. 276 Whether this still-distant land was Franz Josef Land or a new discovery they did not know—they had only a rough sketch map to guide them. On 6 August they reached the edge of the ice, where they shot the last of their dogs—they had been killing the weakest regularly since 24 April, to feed the others. They then lashed their two kayaks together, raised a sail and made for the land.Huntford, pp. 365–368

It was soon clear that this land was part of a group of islands. As they moved slowly southwards, Nansen tentatively identified a headland as Cape Felder, on the western edge of Franz Josef Land. Towards the end of August, as the weather grew colder and travel became increasingly difficult, Nansen decided to camp for the winter.Huntford, pp. 375–379 In a sheltered cove, with stones and moss for building materials, the pair erected a hut which was to be their home for the next eight months.Huntford, pp. 378–383 With ready supplies of bear, walrus and seal to keep their larder stocked, their principal enemy was not hunger but inactivity.Fleming, p. 259 After muted Christmas and New Year celebrations, in slowly improving weather they began to prepare to leave their refuge, but it was 19 May 1896 before they were able to resume their journey.Huntford, pp. 403–404