Fridtjof Nansen


Fridtjof Nansen : biography

10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930

The expedition left Jason "in good spirits and with the highest hopes of a fortunate result", according to Jason’s captain. There followed days of extreme frustration for the party as, prevented by weather and sea conditions from reaching the shore, they drifted southwards with the ice. Most of this time was spent camping on the ice itself—it was too dangerous to launch the boats. By 29 July they were south of the point where they had left the ship. On that day they finally reached land, but were too far south to begin the crossing. After a brief rest, Nansen ordered the team back into the boats and to begin rowing north.Reynolds, pp. 48–52

During the next 12 days the party battled northward along the coast through the ice floes. On the first day they encountered a large Eskimo encampment near Cape Bille,Huntford, pp. 105–110 and there were further occasional contacts with the nomadic native population as the journey continued. On 11 August, when they had covered about and had reached Umivik Fjord, Nansen decided that although they were still far south of his intended starting place, they needed to begin the crossing before the season became too advanced for travel.Scott, p. 84 After landing at Umivik, they spent the next four days preparing for their journey, and on the evening of 15 August they set out. They were heading north-west, towards Christianhaab (now Qasigiannguit) on the west Greenland shores of Disko Bay, away.Huntford, pp. 115–116

Over the next few days the party struggled to ascend the inland ice over a treacherous surface with many hidden crevasses. The weather was generally bad; on one occasion all progress was halted for three days by violent storms and continuous rain.Nansen (1890), p. 250 On 26 August Nansen concluded that there was now no chance of reaching Christianhaab by mid-September, when the last ship was due to leave. He therefore ordered a change of course, almost due west towards Godthaab (now Nuuk), a shorter journey by at least . The rest of the party, according to Nansen, "hailed the change of plan with acclamation".Nansen (1890), pp. 267–270 They continued climbing, until on 11 September they had reached a height of above sea level, the summit of the icecap with temperatures dropping to at night. From then on the downward slope made travelling easier, although the terrain was difficult and the weather remained hostile.Reynolds, pp. 61–62 Progress was slow because of fresh snowfalls which made dragging the sledges as hard as pulling them through sand. By 26 September they had battled their way down to the edge of a fjord that ran westward towards Godthaab. From their tent, some local willows and parts of the sledges Sverdrup constructed a makeshift boat, and on 29 September Nansen and Sverdrup began the last stage of the journey, rowing down the fjord.Reynolds, pp. 64–67 Four days later, on 3 October 1888, they reached Godthaab, where they were greeted by the town’s Danish representative. His first words were to inform Nansen that he had been awarded his doctorate, a matter that "could not have been more remote from my thoughts at that moment".Nansen (1890), p. 363 The crossing had been accomplished in 49 days, making 78 days in total since they had left the Jason; throughout the journey the team had maintained careful meteorological, geographical and other records relating to the previously unexplored interior. The rest of the team arrived in Godthaab on 12 October.

Nansen soon learned that no ship was likely to call at Godthaab until the following spring, though they were able to send letters back to Norway via a boat leaving Ivigtut at the end of October. He and his party therefore spent the next seven months in Greenland, hunting, fishing and studying the life of the local inhabitants.Reynolds, pp. 69–70 On 15 April 1889 the Danish ship Hvidbjørnen finally entered the harbour, and Nansen and his comrades prepared to depart. "It was not without sorrow that we left this place and these people, among whom we had enjoyed ourselves so well", Nansen recorded.Nansen (1890), pp. 442–444