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Author’s Note: Locked in Ice

Author' Note

Locked In Ice

By Peter Lourie

The story of Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893–96 Arctic journey ranks right up there with Ernest Shackleton’s epic polar adventure among the most incredible adventure tales of all time.

There are nearly fifty books about Ernest Shackleton, yet Nansen’s under-reported story comes from only three books:

(1) his own account, Farthest North: The Epic Adventure of a Visionary Explorer, which National Geographic called “One of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time”; (2) Hjalmar Johansen’s account of his survival tale, With Nansen in the North: A Record of the Fram Expedition in 1893–96; (3) Roland Huntford’s excellent biography of Nansen called Nansen: The Explorer as Hero.

Nansen’s tale shows up as a chapter in various adventure compendiums, but it surely warrants more book treatment, as I attempt here. Twenty years before Shackleton’s famous Endurance tale, Nansen was the first to bring everyone home alive.

I have drawn on these three books and on other accounts of polar explorers who traipsed through that wonderfully cold and bleak region. I have also been to the Arctic many times. One essential resource for me has been my friend Geoff Carroll from Barrow, Alaska. In 1986, after fifty- five days of mushing from March to May, Geoff and five others reached the North Pole. Just as Nansen and Johansen did, Geoff kept a journal that captures a sense of the place and the struggle it takes to embark on such an adventure. No question that the ice has changed since Nansen’s day. No longer does it freeze up in August and September the way it did for Nansen above Siberia. Things are changing so fast in the Arctic that even Geoff’s polar experience in 1986 probably could not be repeated today.

HUNTING ANIMALS
AND USING SLED DOGS FOR POLAR TRAVEL

Hunting animals in the age of polar exploration was a necessity. Everything the men killed was used for food or clothing and other essentials. Attitudes toward the dogs, too, very differed ent in those days. Sled dogs were working animals, rather than simply pets. Although they might be given names by men who cared for them, they often had more in common with their wolf ancestors than with domesticated dogs.

In the early days of polar exploration, dogs were often eaten, if not by other dogs in order to sustain them, then by the men trying to survive out on the ice. On his first attempt to reach the North Pole in 1906, bad weather beset American polar explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary. His stronger, more useful dogs survived off the flesh of their companions. Then, finally, the men sacrificed all the remaining dogs except one for consumption to survive. On Roald Amundsen’s successful South Pole journey in 1911, the expedition set off with fifty-two dogs, returning with only eleven. Most had been killed at stages along the way and were eaten by men and dogs alike.

WHAT AND WHERE IS THE NORTH POLE?

The North Pole is the northernmost place on Earth and is located in the Arctic Ocean, which is covered by a large sheet of floating ice that is in constant motion. There is no land at the North Pole. To pinpoint it on the globe, imagine that the planet rotates around an imaginary vertical line, or axis, running through the center of the earth like a big nail. The nail would exit in two places, the North Pole at the top, and the South Pole at the bottom.

From the North Pole, any direction you face is south. The nearest land is about seven hundred miles away. Although the North Pole is an actual place, the ice is evershifting, so it is difficult to locate it without navigational instruments, either with the more traditional sextant or modern GPS (Global Positioning System) devices. Today the pole is reached by icebreaker ship, plane, or surface travel (dog-sled, snow machine, and on foot).

During the summer, the sun never sets at the North Pole. It rises in March and finally sets in September. Conversely, in the winter months, the sun never rises. Polar bears live in the Arctic near the North Pole. Penguins live at the South Pole.

On the subject of distances from the pole, I have found discrepancies in various narratives. Amazingly, there seem to be disagreements on specific locations that explorers reached and how close to the pole they got. Checking multiple sources, I’ve done my best in each case to determine accurate figures.

I hope readers get a feel for polar travel and what it was like for explorers before the age of cell and satellite phones and other hand-held digital devices that now can take pinpoint readings. To navigate on the ice, Nansen relied on taking readings of the sun and other celestial bodies with the sextant and theodolite, as well as simple watches and compasses.

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The spellbinding biography of Fridtjof Nansen, the pioneer of Polar exploration, with a spotlight on his harrowing three-year journey to the top of the world. Before Shackleton, there was Nansen.

The story of Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893–96 Arctic journey ranks right up there with Ernest Shackleton’s epic polar adventure among the most incredible adventure tales of all time.

There are nearly fifty books about Ernest Shackleton, yet Nansen’s under-reported story comes from only three books:

(1) his own account, Farthest North: The Epic Adventure of a Visionary Explorer, which National Geographic called “One of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time”; (2) Hjalmar Johansen’s account of his survival tale, With Nansen in the North: A Record of the Fram Expedition in 1893–96; (3) Roland Huntford’s excellent biography of Nansen called Nansen: The Explorer as Hero.

Nansen’s tale shows up as a chapter in various adventure compendiums, but it surely warrants more book treatment, as I attempt here. Twenty years before Shackleton’s famous Endurance tale, Nansen was the first to bring everyone home alive.

I have drawn on these three books and on other accounts of polar explorers who traipsed through that wonderfully cold and bleak region. I have also been to the Arctic many times. One essential resource for me has been my friend Geoff Carroll from Barrow, Alaska. In 1986, after fifty- five days of mushing from March to May, Geoff and five others reached the North Pole. Just as Nansen and Johansen did, Geoff kept a journal that captures a sense of the place and the struggle it takes to embark on such an adventure. No question that the ice has changed since Nansen’s day. No longer does it freeze up in August and September the way it did for Nansen above Siberia. Things are changing so fast in the Arctic that even Geoff’s polar experience in 1986 probably could not be repeated today.

HUNTING ANIMALS
AND USING SLED DOGS FOR POLAR TRAVEL

Hunting animals in the age of polar exploration was a necessity. Everything the men killed was used for food or clothing and other essentials. Attitudes toward the dogs, too, very differed ent in those days. Sled dogs were working animals, rather than simply pets. Although they might be given names by men who cared for them, they often had more in common with their wolf ancestors than with domesticated dogs.

In the early days of polar exploration, dogs were often eaten, if not by other dogs in order to sustain them, then by the men trying to survive out on the ice. On his first attempt to reach the North Pole in 1906, bad weather beset American polar explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary. His stronger, more useful dogs survived off the flesh of their companions. Then, finally, the men sacrificed all the remaining dogs except one for consumption to survive. On Roald Amundsen’s successful South Pole journey in 1911, the expedition set off with fifty-two dogs, returning with only eleven. Most had been killed at stages along the way and were eaten by men and dogs alike.

WHAT AND WHERE IS THE NORTH POLE?

The North Pole is the northernmost place on Earth and is located in the Arctic Ocean, which is covered by a large sheet of floating ice that is in constant motion. There is no land at the North Pole. To pinpoint it on the globe, imagine that the planet rotates around an imaginary vertical line, or axis, running through the center of the earth like a big nail. The nail would exit in two places, the North Pole at the top, and the South Pole at the bottom.

From the North Pole, any direction you face is south. The nearest land is about seven hundred miles away. Although the North Pole is an actual place, the ice is evershifting, so it is difficult to locate it without navigational instruments, either with the more traditional sextant or modern GPS (Global Positioning System) devices. Today the pole is reached by icebreaker ship, plane, or surface travel (dog-sled, snow machine, and on foot).

During the summer, the sun never sets at the North Pole. It rises in March and finally sets in September. Conversely, in the winter months, the sun never rises. Polar bears live in the Arctic near the North Pole. Penguins live at the South Pole.

On the subject of distances from the pole, I have found discrepancies in various narratives. Amazingly, there seem to be disagreements on specific locations that explorers reached and how close to the pole they got. Checking multiple sources, I’ve done my best in each case to determine accurate figures.

I hope readers get a feel for polar travel and what it was like for explorers before the age of cell and satellite phones and other hand-held digital devices that now can take pinpoint readings. To navigate on the ice, Nansen relied on taking readings of the sun and other celestial bodies with the sextant and theodolite, as well as simple watches and compasses.

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