Nansen and Fram
Fram locked in the ice
Nansen and Johansen leaving Fram
Nansen and Johansen
Nansen outside the Jackson cabin
With Nansen to the North Pole
The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen was preoccupied with the arctic regions all of his life. He crossed Greenland's ice cap in 1888, and this eventually gave him the inspiration needed for a daring expedition to the North Pole in 1893-1896. The American Jeanette expedition, led by G.W. DeLong, got trapped in the ice to the north of the New Siberian Islands in 1879. And in 1884, wreckage from this ship was found along the coast of Greenland. This resulted in a theory that defended the idea of ocean currents crossing the Arctic Ocean from east to west. Nansen readily grasped the idea of an appropriate ship being able to drift with the currents from the New Siberian Islands, and perhaps even crossing the North Pole, before ending with its release from the ice somewhere between Greenland and Svalbard. The plans evoked great resistance among polar scientists of the age, but Nansen was not to be stopped.
Colin Archer constructed Fram, a vessel that easily resisted the pressure of the polar ice. It took Nansen three years to drift with the ice, onboard this vessel, and prove the existence of the sea currents. All thirteen crew members survived the three years that they spent locked in the ice, despite the enormous physical and mental strains they experienced.
Nansen, though, was not able to put up with the monotony that he sustained. Going against all previous plans, he chose a fellow crew member, Hjalmar Johansen, to head off with him in an attempt to reach the pole by dogsleds. They did not reach the North Pole, unfortunately. After enormous exertions, they had to turn around at 86° 14' N, on 7 April 1895. This was further north than anyone had been before. The return trip was even more strenuous. By good fortune and skilfulness, they reached Franz Josef Land - where they had to winter. There they had to lay in a cave for nine months, sharing a twin sleeping bag and living off polar bear meat and walrus blubber. First in May 1896 were they able to leave, and one month later they were fortunate enough to run into the British Jackson expedition. This latter group of men led them to Vardø at almost the same time as the Fram reached land in Norway. Nansen and Johansen were celebrated like heroes when they were reunited with the remaining Fram crew, in the city of Tromsø, on 21 August 1896. Nansen has written about his Fram voyage in the Norwegian Fram over Polhavet (1897), and in the English edition, Farthest North (1897).
Fridtjof Nansen has written a fascinating cultural-historical work, too, on the early explorations of the northern regions in his Nord i tåkeheimen (1911), and in the English translation, In Northern Mists (1912).
© University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.