112 years after: Nansen's and Johansen's North Pole quest retraced

112 years after: Nansen's and Johansen's North Pole quest retraced

Posted: Jul 25, 2007 02:31 pm EDT

(ThePoles.com) It took 85 days for Thomas Ulrich and Børge Ousland to retrace Nansen's and Johansens legendary North Pole quest. Yesterday, they crossed the finish line at Cape Flora.

The pioneers' children

The two men have been following in the tracks of Nansen and Johansens expedition, done 112 years before.

The story began in 1893, when Nansen sailed Fram (the ship later used by Amundsen to Antarctica) to the Arctic. When it became clear that Fram wouldn't make it to the North Pole, at 84° 4´ Nansen and his friend Hjalmar Johansen left the ship and continued north on foot on March 14, 1895 with three sleds, two kayaks and a bunch of dogs. They reached 86° 14´ N one month later and then turned back, expecting to find land at 83°N.

No such luck though, and that's when the kayaks came handy for it took open water crossings until July 24, when they finally found some islands, where they over wintered, in a hut they built of local rock and moss, hunting walrus and polar bears. The next summer, their survival was a fact when they met another living soul at last - Brit Frederik Jackson at his hut at Cape Flora.

Another long Arctic trip for Borge

Yesterday, Thomas and Borge crossed the finish line at Cape Flora where the Norwegian pioneers met Jackson on June 17, 1896. In the time since their own start at the North Pole on May 1, Thomas and Borge have not met a single person, but made quite a few close encounters with polar bears.

Thomas told his home team over sat-phone that they were exhausted after more than 1,400km (1,100 km, straight line) of skiing, kiting (the kites replacing Nansen's dogs) and kayaking. But it feels fantastic, he added.

Borge has once again proven himself as one of the top modern polar explorers. The 85 days long long journey has followed only one year after his near-winter unsupported expedition last year with Mike Horn. He crossed the Arctic in another monster trip in 2001, and made the first unsupported unassisted solo expedition to the North Pole back in 1994.

Pick-up scheduled in three weeks time

As the two explorers now wait for Athene sailboat to pick them up around August 10, they'll enjoy their mandatory "holidays at the northernmost beach of the world."

Chances are they'll also meet Victor Boyarsky before their departure. Victor is onboard an icebreaker that will pass by Cape Flora on the way to the North Pole.

No unsupported NP trips this year

No unsupported NP trip has been completed this year. On April 25, Alain Hubert and Dixie Dansercoer, coming from Siberia on an Arctic crossing, and Richard Webers team, which had departed Ward Hunt Island, Canada, reached the Pole but both had gotten resupplies on the way. Alain and Hubert were also airlifted 70km off Cape Arktichevski.

Norwegian Børge Ousland and Swiss Thomas Ulrich departed the North Pole on May 1. On July 24 they reached Cape Flora, the southernmost point on Siberia's Franz Josef Land. They progressed on skis and kayaks (kite-supported), but got no resupplies along the way. Next, the two men will travel to Norway on board a sailing ship.

Børge Ousland was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1962. Thomas Ulrich was born in Interlaken, Switzerland, in 1967.

The archipelago of Franz Josef Land is under Russian military regulations and has been closed to outsiders since early 1930. Very few expeditions have visited the islands. No one has skied from north to south after Nansen. Borge has previously done two expeditions to Franz Josef Land: In 1993, he skied through the islands from east to west, and, in 2004, he was expedition leader on the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn.

In March 1895, Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the polar ship 'Fram' to try to reach the North Pole. They reached the furthest north record at 86 degrees 14 minutes north. From this position they turned south, and in August, they reached the undiscovered northern parts of Franz Josef Land. But it was too late in the year to continue, and with few provisions left, they were forced build a stone hut on Franz Josef Land, and survive the winter under very primitive conditions, living off the land.

On their onward journey in June, they met a British expedition led by Frederick Jackson on Cape Flora, who informed them that they were not anywhere near Spitzbergen, where they were headed, but in fact were on Franz Josef Land. Finally, Nansen and Johansen made it back to Vardø in the north of Norway.

Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat, Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.


Yesterday, Thomas and Borge crossed the finish line at Cape Flora where the Norwegian pioneers met Brit Frederik Jackson on June 17, 1896. Live image over Contact 4.0 courtesy of Thomas Ulrich's website (click to enlarge).
Image of Nansen (top insert) at the hut (main image) where he met Jackson, and where Borge and Thomas landed yesterday. Second insert live image of Borge and Thomas by the hut where Nansen and his friend over-wintered. File images courtesy of Nobel Peace Prize and Mariner.org (click to enlarge).