In 1893, the famed explorer Fridtjof Nansen set out on an expedition to reach the North Pole. The plan was to sail a sturdy wooden ship, the Fram, into the ice north of Siberia, then drift, frozen in the sea ice, across the North Pole, coming out years later in the North Atlantic.

After almost two years in the ice, Nansen could see they weren't drifting far enough north to reach the Pole, so he and a single companion (Hjalmar Johansen) set out on skis. After a month of skiing north, Nansen realized they weren't going to make it, so they turned around and headed south.

Since there was no way for them to find the Fram, they had to get home on their own. It looks like their plan was to ski all the way to Svalbard, then board a ship headed for Norway.

But here's the problem -- there were no settlements in Svalbard in 1893, and no ships making regular trips to the archipelago that I could find. What exactly was Nansen's plan for getting home?

As always, actual evidence makes for a better answer than guesswork.

The way he actually got home is as absurd as the expedition itself. After nearly a year in the desolate and uninhabited Franz Josef Land, an unexplored archipelago the size of Serbia, the two men just happened to bump into someone -- and it was even someone Nansen knew personally, Frederick Jackson leading an unrelated expedition. They got a ride back on Jackson's supply ship.

  • So, you are asking us what was going in the mind of a madman who died 86 years ago? You know this site is for FACTUAL questions, not speculating on the motions of spiders in the cranium of crazy dead people. Jan 14, 2016 at 16:16
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    @TylerDurden, Nansen's plan was at least good enough that he received a grant from the Storting, and good enough that a crew of experienced explorers and scientists signed on to sail with him.
    – Joe
    Jan 14, 2016 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


From the Wikipedia page on Svalbard, the area was being used as a base for arctic exploration, so quite possibly he was hoping to run into another expedition that could evacuate him. Given that he walked across the ice-pack for a year it may not be as crazy as it sounds, though if he hadn't run into Jackson he would have had to wait until 1897.

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    And the two of them had already wintered in Franz Josef Land, so it seems they had adequate supplies of fresh water and food to last indefinitely. Jan 15, 2016 at 7:01
  • Sounds like a reasonable conjecture. Know of any sources for the idea that Nansen was just hoping to run into another expedition?
    – Joe
    Jan 15, 2016 at 21:43
  • @Joe - I have no source for the conjecture.
    – Doug B
    Jan 18, 2016 at 12:33

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