Fridtjof Nansen - Fram Expedition - Retreat


At first Nansen and Johansen made good progress south, but on 13 April suffered a serious setback when both of their chronometers stopped. Without knowing the correct time, it was impossible for them to calculate their longitude and thus navigate their way accurately to Franz Josef Land. They restarted the watches on the basis of Nansen's guess that they were at longitude 86°E, but from then on were uncertain of their true position.

Towards the end of April they observed the tracks of an Arctic fox, the first trace they had seen of a living creature other than their dogs since leaving Fram. Soon they began to see bear tracks, and by the end of May seals, gulls and whales were in evidence. On 31 May, by Nansen's calculations, they were only 50 nautical miles (93 km; 58 mi) from Cape Fligely, the northernmost known point of Franz Josef Land. However, travel conditions worsened as the warmer weather caused the ice to break up. On 22 June the pair decided to rest on a stable ice floe while they repaired their equipment and gathered their strength for the next stage of their journey. They remained on the floe for a month. The day after leaving this camp Nansen recorded: "At last the marvel has come to pass—land, land, and after we had almost given up our belief in it!" Whether this still-distant land was Franz Josef Land or a new discovery they did not know—they had only a rough sketch map to guide them. On 6 August they reached the edge of the ice, where they shot the last of their dogs—they had been killing the weakest regularly since 24 April, to feed the others. They then lashed their two kayaks together, raised a sail and made for the land.

It was soon clear that this land was part of a group of islands. As they moved slowly southwards, Nansen tentatively identified a headland as Cape Felder, on the western edge of Franz Josef Land. Towards the end of August, as the weather grew colder and travel became increasingly difficult, Nansen decided to camp for the winter. In a sheltered cove, with stones and moss for building materials, the pair erected a hut which was to be their home for the next eight months. With ready supplies of bear, walrus and seal to keep their larder stocked, their principal enemy was not hunger but inactivity. After muted Christmas and New Year celebrations, in slowly improving weather they began to prepare to leave their refuge, but it was 19 May 1896 before they were able to resume their journey.

Read more about this topic:  Fridtjof Nansen, Fram Expedition

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