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Nansen's Fram Expedition: Bold North Pole Exploration in the 1890s

4 min read

Recounting historical expeditions gives us a chance to experience some of the fascinating adventure, excitement, and challenges of polar exploration from the past.

Explorers with verve for discovery and innovation have opened the doors to the Polar Regions, and Quark Expeditions' authentic Arctic expeditions are rooted deeply in their explorative efforts and pioneering spirit.

The discouragement, trials, and hardships experienced by famed explorers on their polar quests, like Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen’s Fram expedition, have paved the way for modern-day explorers to embark on their own North Pole expeditions.

Today, expeditions like North Pole Express: Barneo Ice Camp give you a chance to experience the Arctic like famous explorers such as Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen did.
Quark Expeditions Explorers at Barneo Ice Camp - North Pole

Opening doors to the North Pole’s future

Nansen’s journey began in 1893, when he set off to reach the North Pole by tackling the Arctic Ocean’s east-west current. This current, while advantageous to those traveling west to east because of its tendency to speed up and propel voyages, was known to be challenging for travel east to west, in large part because of its westerly winds. 

But traveling east to west was precisely Nansen’s plan.

This uncommon idea for exploring the North Pole arose after the American vessel Jeannette was found on the southwest coast of Greenland, three years after sinking off northern Siberia in 1881.

Jeannette’s location was an indication that the wreckage had been carried across the polar ocean to Greenland. Nansen recognized this as an opportunity for a ship - specifically designed with a rounded hull and features to withstand sea ice pressure - to freeze in pack ice and end up at the pole.

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Fram leaves Bergen on 2 July 1893, bound for the Arctic Ocean
Fram leaves Bergen on 2 July 1893, bound for the Arctic Ocean. Source: wikipedia

Nansen sets sail against all odds

Nansen’s expedition was discouraged from the start, especially among other polar explorers. Luckily, he was not hindered by the roadblocks he faced, which were well-known among mariners. He launched his ship, Fram, to the New Siberian Islands. As expected, the ship froze into the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean.

Nansen and companion, Hjalmar Johansen, waited for the drift to carry them toward the North Pole, but this became excruciatingly slow. After 18 months, they decided to leave the ship with their dogs and sledges and continued onward to the North Pole.

Franz Josef Land – an unexpected discovery

They did not reach the North Pole as planned, but set a record for traveling the farthest point north when, after a long and tenuous journey over Arctic ice and water, they ended up at Franz Josef Land.

In the meantime, the Fram continued to drift westward before emerging in the North Atlantic Ocean, relatively unscathed. It was an indication that Nansen’s design was headed in the right direction.

Nansen’s ship and journey contributed to new developments in oceanography and proved there were no land masses between the Eurasian continents and the North Pole, data which became highly influential in polar exploration.

An exclusive journey in a great explorer’s footsteps

If not for Nansen’s unconventional work navigating a route to the North Pole, as well as his travel and survival, exploration of the region would certainly have been slowed.

Quark Expeditions passengers at the North Pole via 50 Years of Victory - Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin
Quark Expeditions passengers at the North Pole via 50 Years of Victory - Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin

We have Nansen and many other explorers to thank for the opportunities they have granted us as we explore and experience similar routes ourselves, on exclusive polar expeditions very few people to this day have a chance to embark on.

[Editor's Note: This article was previously published in July 2015.]

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