(L) Bob Headland, Curator of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge. (R) The stony beach where Fridtjof Nansen and Frederik Johansen survived the winter of 1895-96 in a crude excavation with a driftwood rafter once covered by a frozen walrus hide.

Fridtjof Nansen was one of the great 19th century Arctic explorers. In 1888, at the age of 27, he became the first person to cross the Greenland icecap, climbing over 9000' and enduring temperatures as low as -45°. In July, 1893, he sailed from Norway in the Fram, a specially-designed ice-strengthened ship on one of the many attempts to be the first to reach the North Pole. He had read that wreckage from an American ship that was lost   near the New Siberian Islands had been recovered near the tip of Greenland, seemingly demonstrating the existence of a westerly ocean current. He decided to sail as far east as possible and allow his ship to freeze into the ice, and then drift across the Arctic Ocean in the hopes that it would come close to the North Pole. By July, 1845, the Fram had only reached 84° N and he decided to set off across the ice on foot. It was a journey of incredible hardship and privation, across broken sea ice that unknown to him was moving southward. At their Farthest North, Nansen and Johansen reached 86° 14' N, the closest to the Pole that anyone had ever come, but they were forced to turn back, and 132 days after leaving the Fram came within site of Cape Norway on Jackson Island in the Franz Josef Archipelago. They managed to survive the winter and the following summer kayaked southward to Cape Flora where they met the British explorer Frederick Jackson, who took them back to Norway. Three years after they left home, Nansen and the Fram arrived back in Scandinavia almost at the same time, and the intrepid adventurers enjoyed a heartfelt reunion. Only someone as strong as Nansen could ever have survived such an amazingly difficult feat, and the tale of his exploits made him famous the world over. They had survived attacks by walruses and a polar bear, converted a sledge into a kayak to sail on icy water, proved the polar drift theory, established that the pole was not on any land, demonstrated the advantages of using Sami and Inuit expertise, set a new record for Farthest North, and actually put on weight over the course of the adventure. The remains of Nansen's shelter was lost until 1990 when it was discovered by a joint Soviet-Norwegian expedition.

Polar bears are frequently sighted around the islands of Franz Josef Land and would come across the ice very near to the ship. This big female had blood spots on it, probably from a recent seal kill.

(Above) My photograph of a polar bear appeared in the Los Angeles Times. (Below) Differing ice conditions as we maneuver through the Franz Josef Archipelago en route to Ziegler Island.

(Above left) First view of Ziegler Island, shrouded in the Arctic mists. (Above right) Yamal's big helicopter en route to a landing on Ziegler Island. (Below left) An Austrian version of Hollywood comes to the Arctic, a movie set reconstruction of the Austrian exploration ship Admiral Tegettoff. (Below right) After landing on the island, we are able to go aboard this perfectly reconstructed wooden sailing ship.
The Admiral Tegettoff was the vessel in which in 1873 the Austro-Hungarian explorer, polar and alpine scientist and surveyor, Julius Johannes von Payer discovered Franz Josef Land.

(Above left) Yamal's small helicopter flying ahead doing ice reconaissance. (Above right) Yamal anchored off Calm Bay Research Station, Hooker Island. (Below left) Passengers visiting the bridge, which was open to us at all times. (Below right) We overtake the smaller diesel icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn, also bound for the North Pole with paying passengers, but unable to break through the heavier ice north of Franz Josef Land and.

From that point we were followed all the way to the North Pole by the smaller icebreaker, a diesel ship not capable of getting there by itself if it encountered thick ice, which it did. Like an overeager young sibling, it struggled to keep up with us, its maximum speed in open water being just about what we could do through six feet of ice, and sometimes even got stuck in the channel we had broken. Several times we had to make a big swing around and come up beside the Dranitsyn to clear a channel for it again. In comparison to our ship's 75,000 horsepower, the Dranitsyn's diesel engines generated only 22,000, and the Dranitsyn was approximately 54' shorter in length. And whereas the Dranitsyn was built by the Wartsila Company of Finland, the Yamal was constructed in Russia. She was launched in 1992. Yamal would be the 7th surface ship to reach the top of the world, all but two of the others being Russian nuclear ships, but this was the first time ever that two such ships would be at the Pole at the same time.

The Dranitsyn was often described as a Russian-style apartment block dropped on the deck of a ship, and the plume of smoke that often issued from its stack revealed it as a diesel-powered ship.

(Above left) Small helicopter taking off on sightseeing flight to view Yamal and Kapitan Dranitsyn from the air. (Above right and below) Aerial views of the two ships moving through the ice.

Every place is convenient, if the ice is thick enough, so we stop to stretch our legs, and there is ten feet of ice and ten thousand feet of water below our feet.

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