The Ice King Voyages of Discovery


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The Ice King

Paul Rose tells the story of Fridjtof Nansen who, in 1892, announced a daring plan to be first to the North Pole and who became the forefather of polar exploration.


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In the spring of 1892, a charismatic Norwegian explorer called Fridtjof Nansen

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announced a daring plan to venture into all this.

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The Arctic, unmapped and unconquered.

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At the top of the world,

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the ultimate goal - the North Pole.

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Few had even entered these icy wastes.

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Fewer still had returned.

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Nansen's dream to conquer the Pole was thought nothing short of suicidal.

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But Fridtjof Nansen ignored his critics

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and embarked on the most extraordinary voyage in history.

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It would be an expedition of spectacular discoveries

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that would launch polar exploration into the modern era.

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But at the cost of extreme suffering and mental torture

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in the most hostile place on Earth.

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Little more than 100 years ago,

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this 16 million square kilometres of frozen sea was the last unknown on Earth.

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A dangerous fascination for that ominous blank on their maps

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had enticed a few daring explorers to venture into the barren ice.

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But up to now,

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all the attempts to penetrate the Arctic had resulted in either death

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or ships being destroyed in the crushing polar pack.

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Despite this, on 24th June 1893,

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Nansen set sail from Oslo - a man obsessed.

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He was determined to fulfil the dream that fired his imagination -

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to reach the North Pole and claim it for his country.

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He bade farewell to his beloved new wife Eva

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and their infant daughter Liv.

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He promised he would return from his Arctic odyssey a hero.

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The expedition would keep them apart for at least three years, possibly eight,

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but most thought forever.

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I thought everything was black.

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Within me, I was torn apart as if something would break.

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But nothing could deter his ambition.

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So with a raggedy bunch of sailors, whalers and sealers

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prepared to risk their lives with him, Nansen embarked on his epic voyage.

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At 31, Nansen was an eminent zoologist,

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a pioneering neurologist, as well as an ambitious explorer.

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He had just made an epic crossing through the icy heart of Greenland.

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Now, with his outrageous attempt to conquer the Pole,

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he was risking everything.

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Nansen was convinced he could achieve the impossible, and he had a plan.

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A plan that was bold and brave,

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but most people thought plain barmy.

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Ironically, Nansen's theory on reaching the North Pole

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was inspired by a tragic shipwreck and the loss of 18 men.

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In 1879, the US Arctic exploration ship Jeannette

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had made a bid for the Pole,

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but the ship was crushed by the freezing ice cap

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and trapped in the north-eastern Arctic.

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When the wreckage was found over two years later,

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it was on the opposite side of the polar ice - in the west.

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Nansen's theory was that the wreck had been carried the 4,000 kilometres

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by the drift of the floating ice cap.

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His audacious adventure was born.

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My plan for the North Pole is to sail in ice-free water as far as possible.

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Then go into the ice until we are beset and frozen in,

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then drift towards the Pole.

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Nansen, as he had done for much of his life, was turning a reigning concept

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completely on its head, and he was about to intentionally confront the polar explorer's worst nightmare.

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He was going to freeze the Fram in to the polar pack -

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the same ice that wrecked the Jeannette and many ships before her.

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At best, it was considered a ludicrous idea, as this little ditty in The Punch shows.

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"So, Doctor Fridtjof Nansen's off.

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"Cynics will chuckle and pessimists scoff.

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"What a noodle, that Norroway chap,

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"to drift to the Pole to complete our map."

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Even in Norway, scorn was poured over Nansen's idea

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of deliberately freezing into the ice cap.

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Few academics would sign up for what most thought was a doomed expedition.

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One able and willing candidate DID apply.

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A fellow explorer called Frederick George Jackson.

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But he had to be very politely turned down cos he was English,

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and as far as Nansen was concerned,

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this expedition was for the honour of his homeland.

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For Norwegians to claim for Norway the last great unexplored region in the world.

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To start with, everything depended on getting to the northeast side of the polar ice pack.

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But after six weeks at sea, they were desperately struggling to make headway.

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It was as if the ship was being held back by a kind of strange force.

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Nansen was baffled.

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Back then, there were no instruments for sampling underwater.

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So, in the workshop on board ship, Nansen designed and built his own.

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And the very one he made survives to this day.

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Can you believe it? Who better to tell us how it works than Ola, from the Nansen Institute in Bergen.

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So, come on then, mate, how does it work?

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OK, this is a device

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which you can bring up water from great depths.

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You send a messenger down the cable, and the messenger hits like that...

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and it turns round. And you see?

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Now it's closed, and all the water from, say, 3,000 metres sits in here.

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-Can we use it?

-Yes, absolutely.

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Come on then, what are we doing?

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First we have to screw these up here.

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Bit of slack. Ah, yeah.

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Now we're going to put the messenger, so it turns to pick the water up, OK?

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That's blooming clever!

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OK, Paul, give me the bottle because now I open it up...

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We'll do this again.

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-No water in there.

-Yes, here it comes, you see?

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With this sample, you can determine the salinity of the water,

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and Nansen discovered that it was a very fresh layer,

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really fresh layer, for example caused by ice melting, fresh layer on top of the salt water.

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-The water is so fresh that you can even drink it.

-Wow!

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'Fresh water was not something anyone expected in the middle of the Russian Kara Sea.'

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Nansen realised it was the outflows from the Siberian rivers and the melting glaciers they were passing.

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This layer of fresh water sitting on salt water was causing

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a kind of extra underwater wake, gripping the ship while she tried to make headway.

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The strange layers that Nansen discovered are now known as dead water,

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and they're marked on the charts up here, so we can avoid them.

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With his new found knowledge, Nansen steered a course away from the river run-offs

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to the northeast - but into more trouble.

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Already delayed by the dead water,

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Nansen needed to push further north before being frozen in.

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But the winter ice was forming a month early.

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The sea was freezing around him...

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too soon.

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Finally, on 22nd September 1893,

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Nansen crossed the 78th parallel of latitude, into uncharted territory.

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Now we are entering the absolutely unknown.

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Here, all charts stop,

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and now our real voyage of discovery begins.

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They were now in the mysterious polar realm, with no support,

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no communication and no means of rescue.

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Nansen and his men were off the map.

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It was time to party.

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Nansen joined everyone round the table in the saloon, and drank hot punch.

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This proved what the moment meant, as under his regime, alcohol was a rarity.

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Navigator Scott Hansen summed it up.

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A party that begins at 4am in the morning at the northernmost tip of the known world

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belongs to the rarer events of a man's life,

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and must be absolutely classed as a success.

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-Skal.

-Skal!

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Nansen had navigated the ship through the closing ice floes

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as far north as he could go.

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They were now at the mercy of the polar pack ice.

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When the Arctic Ocean freezes in winter, the sea ice can get to be almost 50 metres thick.

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This groaning mass has a potential crushing pressure

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of 500 kilograms per square centimetre.

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Now the entire bid for the Pole depended on this small ship

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surviving the huge pressure of the closing ice.

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For Nansen, it was the moment of truth.

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His tiny wooden vessel and his dreams would be tested to their limits.

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Nansen called his eccentric creation Fram, meaning forward,

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and she was truly a ship like no other.

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His wild idea was that the unusual curved sides and rounded bilges

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would stop the ice from getting a grip on her.

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And his theory was that being egg-shaped, she would slowly rise up

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under the crushing pressure of the freezing ice,

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and end up sitting on top of the frozen sea.

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Nansen wasn't an engineer, but he'd done his research,

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and he had a good innate feel for design - stuff that works -

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and on his side he had Norway's best ship designer.

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Together, they hoped to create a ship that would rise up above the incoming pressure of the ice.

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A bit like this.

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As the ice comes in, it's a huge amount of pressure,

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and unless it's right, the ship's going to break under that pressure, and sink.

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And in this case, this is what they hoped to do.

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Well, Nansen's theory was all well and good,

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but there was no way it could be tested on a full-sized ship,

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except out in the unforgiving Arctic ice.

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As the ice pushed in against the hull,

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the Fram was facing her greatest test.

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For Nansen and his crew, there was little they could do but...wait.

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And Fram's timbers moaned and creaked as the pressure on them grew.

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Now we are in the very midst of what the prophets would have had us dread so much.

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The ice is pressing and packing around us with a noise like thunder.

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It took the whole of October for the sea to completely freeze around the ship.

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And by the 25th, when the sun dipped below the horizon for the last time,

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the wretched sound of the timbers creaking became just too much.

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Terrified, the men abandoned ship.

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From the surrounding ice floe, they stood and watched.

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The ship trembles and jumps up.

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She allowed the ice to move beneath her, and lifted a little.

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There's no movie footage of Nansen's bid for the Pole, but it was documented with still photographs.

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These extraordinary images capture the moment

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the ship, intact and undamaged, rose up out of the ice.

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It had worked.

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This egg-shaped hull had resisted the crushing forces, and rather than get trapped in the ice,

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the 800-tonne ship had been lifted up, and was sitting on top of the sea ice.

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And just as Nansen had promised,

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Fram was demonstrating she was the toughest wooden ship ever built.

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We're now in the front of the ship.

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-Wow!

-With all the...

-It's absolutely massive.

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All the thick beams, and all of them are joined together

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-by knees from Norwegian pine trees.

-Which bits are the knees?

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Is it all right to get up there?

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-Instead of using metal, they used the root and the stem of a tree in one piece.

-So it's upside-down.

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-This is the trunk.

-Exactly.

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And this is the root. It's obviously massively strong.

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Yes, the strongest piece of the tree and also very flexible.

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How many of them are on board because they seem to be every couple of feet?

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They used 400 trees for the ship.

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These knees themselves look massive, but how thick is the hull here, do you think?

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On the sides it's 80cm - about this big.

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Three layers of wood.

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And the front is also three massive beams,

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one in front of the others, making 1.25 metres.

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So this hull, right here,

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-is that thick.

-Yeah, 80cm on the side and 125 in the front.

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Every effort was made to make the hull as smooth as possible,

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so even the nails was pushed hard in, so that the ice couldn't grip the nail.

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And also, there's no keel, the keel is inside the ship with only two inches pointing out,

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so that the ice could not grip the keel if the ice was pushed under the boat, and then tip it.

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So with this extremely smooth hull, is so the ice can't get any grip all.

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Even the rudder and the propeller can be pulled up when the ice came.

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But that the trade-off for that is that she would have been really lively at sea.

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Exactly. You float like a cork on top of the waves,

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and all the diaries talk about massive seasickness.

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One of the crew members said that at first they were worried about dying,

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and then about NOT dying soon enough.

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For all the Fram's strength and weight, she's still a small ship.

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Just 39 metres long, 11 metres wide and a five-metre draft.

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Compared to the unforgiving polar ice cap, she was just a spec of dust.

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The ship was now part of the Arctic ice.

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If Nansen's theory was correct,

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she would drift across the top of the world, over the North Pole.

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Inside, 13 men would have to endure the cold and dark...

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imprisoned in the tiny vessel for more than three years.

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The Fram was now over 2,000 kilometres from civilisation.

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She'd vanished from the world, and for those on board, the world had vanished from them.

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And the dangers now changed from being physical to mental.

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It was a very real threat.

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Polar expeditions in the past had foundered

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as the isolation of the Arctic pushed men into insanity,

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mutiny, even cannibalism.

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And Nansen's crew now faced years alone in the Arctic,

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in a tiny vessel trapped in the ice.

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So he drew up a rigorous schedule to try and occupy the men.

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Scientific observations, surveying and maintenance were top of the exhaustive list.

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The working day would begin at 8am sharp, with monitoring,

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experiments and repairs filling every hour until dinner at 6pm.

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The crew were then allowed the evenings to themselves.

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Nansen had also figured out, when he was crossing Greenland,

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that variety in the diet is exceptional for morale.

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Up till then, monotonous diets on expeditions were legendary.

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So Nansen personally supervised the sterilising and canning or freeze-drying

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of 52 varieties of meat, fish, vegetables, potatoes,

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pates and fruit and, best of all, he brought along plenty of this -

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chocolate.

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In fact, Cadbury's sponsored the expedition.

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At every moment of importance or anything worth noting, out would come the chocolate.

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But being so far inside the Arctic Circle created an extra challenge -

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the disorientation and depression caused by five winter months of constant darkness.

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Ever the innovator, Nansen installed a windmill to generate electricity,

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and used the new-fangled light bulbs to create an artificial day.

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And an organ for evening renditions

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lifted the spirits during the never-ending night.

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Ironically, and despite all his precautions, it was Nansen himself who began to suffer.

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The loneliness and tedium prompted wild mood swings.

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He's an odd character - sometimes serious, scientific and aggressive in discussions.

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And then, one fine day extravagantly cheerful and pleasant, almost to the point of puerility.

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Nansen became surly, depressed, and ranted at the futility of his expedition...

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..and even, sometimes, his own life.

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Here I am, among the drifting ice floes and the great silence.

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I stare up at the eternal courses of the stars,

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thoughtful as thought.

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Everything is picked to pieces and becomes miserably small and worthless.

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As leader, Nansen was unable to confide his feelings.

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He missed the companionship of his wife Eva.

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Nansen had now been away for six months,

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and Eva was distracting herself by pursuing another love.

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Singing.

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SHE SINGS IN NORWEGIAN

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She would rehearse regularly with the aim of turning professional and touring in the spring.

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This was their first winter apart, and on 8th January,

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Nansen missed the first birthday of their daughter, Liv.

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Nansen's diary entry on that special day

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records his thoughts as they turn to his little Liv.

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A good day to you on this your day, little Liv.

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Perhaps Liv's day will be the start of our luck in our northward drift under your star.

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But Nansen's hopes would soon turn to despair.

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Star sightings to check his northward drift towards the Pole

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revealed a disaster.

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Over the last six months, the path of the Fram was erratic, to say the least.

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The ice they were stuck in was going backwards,

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sideways and occasionally - if they were lucky - north.

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Basically, they had only travelled 111 kilometres towards the North Pole.

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Nansen had calculated that the prevailing wind

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and the predictable current would carry his ship directly to the Pole.

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This news was a terrible blow.

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During a routine series of underwater soundings,

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he made an extraordinary discovery that explained everything.

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At the time, it was assumed there was a shallow sea beneath the polar ice.

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But when Nansen took depth soundings, he was astonished by the results.

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The cable, lowered through a hole in the ice,

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touched the bottom at 1,860 fathoms -

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that's almost 4½ kilometres.

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In an extraordinary breakthrough, Nansen had discovered

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over 63 million cubic kilometres of previously unknown deep sea -

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a massive new ocean.

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The Arctic Ocean.

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And it was the strange currents in this deep ocean that were skewing his drift to the Pole.

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When he was here, he was noticing that, compared to the wind,

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he wasn't drifting as he expected to drift.

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That is correct. He expected to kind of drift

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with the same direction as the wind,

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but measurements show that he was drifted to the right of the wind.

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-Always to the right?

-Always to the right.

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Roughly with 30 degrees to the right.

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-Oh, wow, that's a lot.

-It's a lot, yes, but then it also postulated

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that when you went down into the deeper part of the ocean,

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one layer dragged the other, so the current was turning...

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and then he started to think.

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What about Earth's rotation?

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And then came the idea that it must be...

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The deflection to the right must be caused by the Earth's rotation.

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And this was one of the first times

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a scientist really looked

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at the whole Earth rotation was affecting the current.

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And it seems even more unbelievable to me

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that he figured it out while he was locked into the ice, stuck on the Fram.

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Well, maybe he had time to think!

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It was an amazing discovery

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that the Earth's rotation affected current,

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but it was a cruel blow for Nansen.

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He now realised the drift would not take the Fram over the North Pole, after all.

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His voyage of discovery had failed.

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If the ice ever released him, he would be returning home empty-handed.

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Nansen was devastated,

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but his obsession would not die.

0:27:040:27:06

On 16th November, he gathered the crew together to make a remarkable announcement.

0:27:090:27:15

Nansen had an extraordinary new plan...

0:27:220:27:25

THEY SPEAK IN NORWEGIAN

0:27:250:27:27

To leave the ship, and ski the remaining 600 kilometres to the Pole.

0:27:320:27:38

His crew were horrified.

0:27:420:27:45

To stand any chance of success, he proposed to travel swift and light.

0:27:470:27:52

He would take only one other person -

0:27:540:27:58

first mate Frederik Hjalmar Johansen.

0:27:580:28:02

Johansen was a world-class gymnast,

0:28:020:28:05

and also the fastest skier Nansen knew.

0:28:050:28:08

This was Nansen's biggest gamble to date.

0:28:140:28:17

It was only 30 years since the British Navy's Sir John Franklyn - along with all his 134 men -

0:28:170:28:23

had perished whilst battling the brutal open Arctic.

0:28:230:28:27

Nansen's new action plan was ambitious by any measure.

0:28:290:28:33

With provisions for just 100 days, he calculated he could get to the North Pole and back to land.

0:28:330:28:39

He'd have to face the whole unmapped polar pack,

0:28:390:28:44

and temperatures often below minus-45.

0:28:440:28:47

Nansen used the dogs and sledges from the Fram.

0:28:490:28:53

They'd been brought up in case the Fram was crushed in the ice and they'd had to abandon ship.

0:28:530:28:58

But now Nansen figured the Fram was safe in her icy cradle.

0:28:580:29:02

So, with the dogs in harness,

0:29:050:29:07

Nansen was ready to start the most risky journey of his life -

0:29:070:29:12

to conquer the top of the world, in his own unique style.

0:29:120:29:17

It was now almost two years since Nansen had set sail.

0:29:550:30:00

Eva was becoming a success, her reputation as a singer growing all over Europe.

0:30:000:30:05

She had no idea that her beloved had now left the relative safety of the Fram

0:30:070:30:12

and was risking everything in his dash for the Pole.

0:30:120:30:16

At first, everything went well.

0:30:160:30:19

Nansen was getting into his stride,

0:30:330:30:36

thanks to a brilliant range of innovations that kept him on the move,

0:30:360:30:39

and still work for us explorers today.

0:30:390:30:42

It was the first time that dogs and men had worked together in the polar regions

0:30:430:30:47

and, to Nansen's joy, it was a perfect match.

0:30:470:30:51

In eight days away from the Fram, he had covered 105 kilometres,

0:30:560:31:00

and was now averaging over 13 kilometres a day towards the Pole.

0:31:000:31:06

But it was still tough going, and the physical exertion would really have taken its toll

0:31:060:31:11

were it not for a small but simple device that Nansen had spotted and decided to try out.

0:31:110:31:17

It was a prototype stove called the Primus,

0:31:210:31:24

and Nansen immediately saw its potential to combat the dreaded Arctic thirst.

0:31:240:31:30

Strenuous exercise in dry polar air causes extreme water loss.

0:31:320:31:38

You can lose over four litres of liquid a day, all of which needs to be replaced.

0:31:380:31:44

Eating a bit of snow for refreshment tastes great, but it's very dangerous.

0:31:470:31:52

It chills the central core of your body.

0:31:520:31:54

The trick is to melt the snow, and that takes a tonne of fuel.

0:31:540:32:00

The Primus...

0:32:000:32:01

..used pressurised fuel...

0:32:050:32:08

and a clever pre-heating mechanism

0:32:080:32:12

so that you burn vaporised fuel.

0:32:120:32:15

It produces a really clean,

0:32:150:32:18

soot-free, super-hot flame.

0:32:180:32:21

In fact, I've heard that in the old days,

0:32:210:32:24

these original Primus stoves were used by Scandinavian women

0:32:240:32:27

in the marketplace - they put them under their dresses to keep warm!

0:32:270:32:31

With the fuel-efficient Primus,

0:32:330:32:35

Nansen avoided the dangerous dehydration of Arctic thirst,

0:32:350:32:39

so he travelled light and fast,

0:32:390:32:41

melting as much snow as he needed, going twice as far on half the fuel.

0:32:410:32:46

DOGS BARK

0:32:490:32:51

By the third week into the trek for the Pole, Nansen was truly pushing hard.

0:32:510:32:57

And his remarkable talent for invention served him well.

0:33:000:33:04

He had come up with a whole new way to allow him to travel fast over the ice -

0:33:040:33:10

cross-country skis.

0:33:100:33:13

These are the very skis that he used?

0:33:150:33:17

Yes, they are our cultural heritage.

0:33:170:33:22

-It's light.

-It's lovely.

0:33:220:33:25

I've got skis shorter than this that are a lot heavier, even now.

0:33:250:33:28

I find it really interesting that he went to do the North Pole

0:33:280:33:32

with just wood - he didn't take skis, he built skis on the way.

0:33:320:33:35

Yes, and they had to use skis for exercising.

0:33:350:33:39

They were very fat, so Nansen ordered his crew going around the ski

0:33:390:33:43

to lose some weight also.

0:33:430:33:46

It's not built for turning.

0:33:460:33:47

I mean, there's no...no side cut at all or waist -

0:33:470:33:51

it's just completely parallel.

0:33:510:33:53

They are parallel, and then they are pointed at both ends.

0:33:530:33:58

-Oh, I see...

-Also very practical. You can see also...

0:33:580:34:01

The tail is cut away, isn't it?

0:34:010:34:04

Yes. So it's lighter, more elegant, and in the worse case, if one end -

0:34:040:34:11

this end, for example - broke, you can just turn the ski and continue.

0:34:110:34:16

And they are just incredibly designed for one single purpose -

0:34:160:34:21

going in a long straight line

0:34:210:34:23

using the smallest amount of energy as possible.

0:34:230:34:26

He was a fantastic inventor.

0:34:260:34:29

Inventing a new energetic style of skiing

0:34:370:34:40

brought a fresh challenge for Nansen - overheating.

0:34:400:34:44

Old-style heavy-duty clothing didn't suit the demands

0:34:440:34:48

of vigorous cross-country skiing,

0:34:480:34:51

so Nansen had another idea -

0:34:510:34:53

lightweight layers to regulate body temperature.

0:34:530:34:56

Nansen's ideas were inspired by a weatherproof woollen material

0:34:590:35:05

created by Dr Jaeger of Germany.

0:35:050:35:08

And a ground-breaking breathable wind-proof material called Burberry cloth,

0:35:080:35:14

and this was manufactured in a factory in Basingstoke, England.

0:35:140:35:18

Now, this layer principle was an inspired idea by Nansen.

0:35:180:35:22

It meant you could travel in the cold and across the snow and ice at the very limits of human endurance.

0:35:220:35:28

These days, we use the layer principle without even thinking about it.

0:35:280:35:33

But it's all thanks to Nansen.

0:35:330:35:35

After one month on the ice, they were halfway to the Pole, but conditions were worsening.

0:35:440:35:50

Even with all Nansen's ingenuity, the extreme environment was now punishing their bodies.

0:35:520:35:58

At minus 45 degrees Celsius, skin will freeze within seconds.

0:36:000:36:05

Tuesday, minus 45.

0:36:080:36:11

We don't sleep at all because of the cold.

0:36:110:36:14

We work a lot and suffer much.

0:36:140:36:17

My God, icy sleeping bags, heavy loads, but onward we must go.

0:36:170:36:23

My fingers are all destroyed.

0:36:230:36:25

All mittens are frozen stiff, it is becoming worse and worse.

0:36:250:36:29

God alone knows what will happen to us.

0:36:290:36:33

It's not pleasant to be a human being here.

0:36:330:36:36

There must surely be an end to it.

0:36:360:36:38

The problem were these hellish contortions in the pack ice.

0:36:430:36:46

There's nothing worse for a polar traveller.

0:36:460:36:49

And up here in the Arctic, the constant movement of the sea

0:36:490:36:52

buckles and shatters the frozen surface

0:36:520:36:55

and forces it into thousands of hummocks

0:36:550:36:58

and these big pressure ridges.

0:36:580:37:00

Some of them can be ten metres high,

0:37:000:37:02

making them completely insurmountable.

0:37:020:37:05

And now the dogs were also suffering, as Nansen recorded.

0:37:100:37:15

The dogs are becoming almost impossible to drive ahead,

0:37:150:37:19

the more tanglements and other devilments that appear in them.

0:37:190:37:22

In the growing chaos, the lead dog team fell into a crack in the sea ice

0:37:380:37:43

and had to be pulled out of the water one by one.

0:37:430:37:46

The sledge had gone in as well, and had to be man-hauled out.

0:37:460:37:50

The mood darkened even more when they had to begin slaughtering some of the dogs to feed the others.

0:37:520:37:58

And although they'd planned this, it felt like murder, and depressed them immensely.

0:37:580:38:04

But on they went.

0:38:040:38:06

After battling the ice for five weeks, their pace was slowing.

0:38:250:38:30

The past 12 days had only achieved 75 kilometres.

0:38:300:38:36

They were running out of time and supplies.

0:38:360:38:40

Nansen also had a sense of unease. Something else wasn't right with their progress,

0:38:490:38:54

so he stopped to take a precise star fix.

0:38:540:38:59

The results came as a terrible shock.

0:39:020:39:04

They showed that the last 75 tortuous kilometres hadn't got them any closer to their goal.

0:39:040:39:11

Nansen was distraught, as he realised that the ice was playing a terrible trick.

0:39:110:39:16

As they hauled northwards, the whole of the pack ice was drifting southwards,

0:39:160:39:21

it was as if they were on a giant running machine - they were almost going backwards.

0:39:210:39:26

It was a gut-wrenching blow.

0:39:260:39:28

After 175 kilometres of painfully hard slog since they'd left the Fram,

0:39:330:39:38

Nansen - frozen, exhausted and utterly demoralised -

0:39:380:39:44

reflected on the note Eva had written in his diary.

0:39:440:39:48

My beloved boy, God grant that health, happiness and good luck will follow you.

0:39:480:39:55

The ice is growing worse and worse.

0:39:570:40:00

Yesterday it brought me to the brink of despair.

0:40:000:40:02

We have advanced hardly a mile.

0:40:020:40:05

There seems little sense in carrying on any longer.

0:40:050:40:08

We sacrifice the precious days for too little.

0:40:080:40:11

Nansen's North Pole ambition was over.

0:40:130:40:17

It was time to turn back.

0:40:290:40:32

They'd got further north than anyone before them, but the North Pole was out of reach.

0:40:320:40:38

They were exhausted, conditions were worsening and their rations were dangerously low.

0:40:380:40:43

Nansen knew in the shifting ice, he could never find the Fram again.

0:40:450:40:51

Now his challenge was not reaching the Pole, but surviving.

0:40:510:40:56

A month after turning and heading south for land,

0:41:120:41:15

the sun was rising higher in the sky and the sea ice was melting under them.

0:41:150:41:21

Having turned, they were searching for a glimpse of land that might help them get their bearings.

0:41:230:41:30

By late May, Nansen was becoming more and more disorientated.

0:41:320:41:37

Both their watches had stopped, which meant that they had completely lost track of time,

0:41:370:41:42

and Nansen was navigating by guesswork.

0:41:420:41:46

All he had was the sun, his compass and this hand-drawn map.

0:41:460:41:51

But what he didn't know was that the map was wrong.

0:41:520:41:56

It looked as if they were tantalisingly close to a large group of islands,

0:41:560:42:01

but as it was, they were searching for some phantom land.

0:42:010:42:07

After 100 days - the maximum Nansen had allowed -

0:42:190:42:23

they had completely run out of provisions.

0:42:230:42:26

The two dogs that were left were no use to them

0:42:260:42:29

because from now on they would have to kayak.

0:42:290:42:33

Out of compassion they agreed to each shoot each other's dogs.

0:42:330:42:37

And they used two precious bullets to despatch them quickly.

0:42:370:42:42

Then they used the dog's blood

0:42:420:42:44

to moisten the last of the dry dregs of the meat paste.

0:42:440:42:49

Still pressing south, and now four and a half months away from the Fram,

0:42:560:43:00

the terrain began to change.

0:43:000:43:03

Now desperately hungry, the starving men shot everything possible -

0:43:030:43:08

seagulls, seals, even walruses were now in their sights.

0:43:080:43:14

Despite the huge body and deformed appearance,

0:43:160:43:19

there was something gently pleading and helpless in the round eyes.

0:43:190:43:24

Seemed mostly like murder.

0:43:240:43:26

GUNSHOT

0:43:280:43:29

I put an end to it with a bullet behind the ear,

0:43:290:43:33

but those eyes pursue me even now.

0:43:330:43:36

After another two weeks, they were exhausted,

0:43:400:43:43

and the struggle was unrelenting.

0:43:430:43:46

Now winter was closing in, making travel impossible.

0:43:460:43:50

In the dying rays of the brief Arctic summer, their hope also faded.

0:43:530:43:58

They battled aimlessly south, making little headway in the closing ice.

0:43:580:44:04

Temperatures were plummeting.

0:44:040:44:07

Against all the odds, they had crossed 480 kilometres

0:44:070:44:13

of the unforgiving polar wastes, but now they were spent.

0:44:130:44:18

It would be foolish to proceed.

0:44:180:44:20

In desperation, they prepared for another Arctic winter at the mercy of the ice.

0:44:200:44:26

In the early 1990s, one of the most extraordinary sights

0:44:330:44:36

in the history of Polar exploration was unearthed.

0:44:360:44:39

When it was first discovered,

0:44:390:44:41

all that remained was a shallow scraped hole,

0:44:410:44:44

some used gun cartridges and a scattering of bones.

0:44:440:44:49

And it was all that remained of Nansen's most unwelcome adventure.

0:44:490:44:54

So it's here in the high Arctic where they built this winter cavern.

0:44:540:45:00

Cavern or cabin... A hole in the ground,

0:45:000:45:02

or even more so a hole in the permafrost.

0:45:020:45:04

You have to remember, the ground is frozen from about...

0:45:040:45:07

In summer, the top 30 centimetres defrosts and from there, down to 600 metres, it's frozen ice.

0:45:070:45:13

And there's basically a log

0:45:130:45:16

above a small hole in the ground.

0:45:160:45:18

They'd dug a hole into the permafrost,

0:45:180:45:20

laid a single driftwood log across the top.

0:45:200:45:23

The walrus that they'd killed for food,

0:45:230:45:25

they put the hides over the top with rocks holding down the hide,

0:45:250:45:29

and they crawled in this hole in the ground.

0:45:290:45:31

-Wow.

-Definitely not a cabin.

0:45:310:45:34

They then started sharing the same sleeping bag to stay warm,

0:45:340:45:38

they burned the walrus blubber for lighting because you have to remember,

0:45:380:45:42

at that area it's four and a half months to five months of total darkness throughout the winter.

0:45:420:45:46

And they would have laid in the cabin for that winter in nearly a state of hibernation.

0:45:460:45:51

All that was keeping Nansen alive was the survival techniques he had learned form the Inuit in Greenland.

0:45:550:46:01

I live their life, I eat their food.

0:46:040:46:08

I learned to appreciate the inventions the Eskimos had made to secure life's necessities.

0:46:080:46:14

The men were just surviving.

0:46:210:46:24

They did little and spoke less, holding on to the last flames of optimism.

0:46:240:46:31

It is miserable. One feels bitter and depressed.

0:46:330:46:38

Monotony has told on both of us, and we both have our dark moments.

0:46:380:46:43

If we did not have the certainty of returning to the world,

0:46:430:46:46

this existence would be unbearable.

0:46:460:46:48

Back in Oslo, three years had passed with no word of the expedition.

0:46:550:47:00

But Eva refused to give up hope.

0:47:020:47:06

Together, she and Liv faced their third Christmas alone.

0:47:060:47:10

Most people had given Nansen up for lost.

0:47:140:47:17

Others believed he was already dead.

0:47:170:47:20

SHE SINGS "SILENT NIGHT" IN NORWEGIAN

0:47:200:47:24

Incredibly, they had survived.

0:47:460:47:50

Although buried alive in their hole in the ground,

0:47:500:47:53

Nansen and Johansen also marked Christmas in their own special way.

0:47:530:47:59

To celebrate, Johansen turned his grease-ridden shirt inside-out,

0:47:590:48:03

and Nansen changed his underpants for the first time that year.

0:48:030:48:08

As the dead of winter passed,

0:48:140:48:17

a scattering of life slowly returned to the frozen wastes.

0:48:170:48:20

They managed to kill a lot of walrus on the beach straight down from where they built the hole in the ground,

0:48:230:48:29

and they put all that meat as a stash right next to the cabin,

0:48:290:48:35

if you'd like to call it, and of course the bears started coming.

0:48:350:48:38

So then they started shooting the bears as they come.

0:48:380:48:41

And they couldn't eat the food faster than they managed to replenish.

0:48:410:48:45

-I notice

-you're

-wearing a gun. Is that for the same reason?

0:48:450:48:48

We've got the gun cos a bear could pop up anywhere.

0:48:480:48:51

A wise Eskimo always looks over his shoulder.

0:48:510:48:54

After eight months of total isolation,

0:49:010:49:05

the men broke from their dark, cold, stony prison

0:49:050:49:09

to struggle south again.

0:49:090:49:12

They were still hopelessly disorientated.

0:49:120:49:14

The islands Nansen hoped he was heading for were, in fact,

0:49:160:49:20

over 800 kilometres away - an impossible distance to kayak.

0:49:200:49:25

Nansen could not know this so, with blind faith, and little choice, they went on.

0:49:280:49:35

For over a month, they'd skied, clambered and kayaked over unforgiving terrain.

0:49:440:49:50

At last, they'd reached some open water,

0:49:500:49:52

so they rigged their two kayaks together,

0:49:520:49:55

catamaran-style, and rigged up a sail, and carried on.

0:49:550:50:00

It worked great until they went ashore

0:50:000:50:02

to stretch their tired bodies.

0:50:020:50:04

A wind came up, caught the craft and it began to drift away.

0:50:040:50:09

On board was their food, clothing, ammunition - everything on which their lives depended.

0:50:090:50:16

And of course, it would have been complete madness

0:50:160:50:18

for either one of them to have jumped in the icy water after it.

0:50:180:50:22

The water was icy cold and it was exhausting to swim with clothes on.

0:50:300:50:34

The kayaks drifted further and further away.

0:50:340:50:37

It seemed more than doubtful whether I would manage it,

0:50:370:50:41

but there drifted all our hope.

0:50:410:50:43

If only I could hold out, we were saved.

0:50:430:50:45

So I forced myself on.

0:50:450:50:49

At long last, I could stretch out my hand and grasp the ski

0:50:490:50:53

that lay across the kayaks.

0:50:530:50:54

Nansen was numb with cold, and soaked through.

0:50:580:51:02

I never could have done this if I hadn't had a safety back-up team.

0:51:020:51:06

But Nansen had saved their provisions, he'd saved their lives, he'd saved the expedition.

0:51:060:51:14

It was the luckiest of escapes.

0:51:180:51:22

But if you thought THAT was lucky, what was about to befall them beggars belief.

0:51:220:51:27

They were about to experience one of the most extraordinary

0:51:290:51:33

and fortuitous coincidences in the history of exploration.

0:51:330:51:37

Over 15 months since Nansen had walked away from the relative comfort of the Fram,

0:51:400:51:45

and nearly a year since his provisions ran out,

0:51:450:51:49

in the middle of nowhere, lost, on an unknown Arctic island,

0:51:490:51:54

he heard the distant sounds of dogs barking.

0:51:540:51:57

Suddenly I was certain that I heard a strange voice.

0:52:010:52:05

The first for three years.

0:52:050:52:07

Behind that single human voice in the middle of this wilderness of ice

0:52:100:52:15

lay home, and she who was waiting at home for me.

0:52:150:52:19

-Hello!

-Hello!

0:52:280:52:31

-Hello!

-Hello!

0:52:310:52:35

I waved my hat, he did the same.

0:52:360:52:40

I came closer, and believed that I recognised Mr Jackson.

0:52:470:52:50

-How do you do?

-How do you do?

0:52:560:52:59

-How do you do?

-Aren't you Nansen?

-Yes, yes, I am.

0:52:590:53:03

'The man in black was a fellow explorer.

0:53:030:53:06

'The Englishman Frederick George Jackson,

0:53:060:53:09

'who Nansen had turned down for the voyage over three years before.

0:53:090:53:14

'Undaunted, he'd organised his own expedition, but he'd been misled by the very same bad map as Nansen.

0:53:140:53:22

'There was one crucial difference between the two men's predicament -

0:53:220:53:26

'Jackson had a ship, and knew the way home.'

0:53:260:53:30

-By Jove, I'm glad to see you.

-I'm glad to see you too.

0:53:320:53:36

It was a bitter-sweet moment.

0:53:360:53:38

Nansen's ordeal was over, but he was returning home

0:53:380:53:44

with his dreams of conquering the North Pole for Norway in tatters.

0:53:440:53:50

In a final coincidence, on 19th May,

0:54:020:54:06

exactly the same day that Nansen and Johansen left their winter lair,

0:54:060:54:10

the Fram at last broke free from the ice, and she sailed here,

0:54:100:54:16

to the most northerly inhabited place on Earth - the islands of Svarbard in the high Arctic.

0:54:160:54:22

And from a telegraph station that was just over there,

0:54:220:54:25

they sent the first message for over three and a half years to say they were safe.

0:54:250:54:31

In an emotional reunion, Nansen rejoined the rest of the Fram crew for the final leg,

0:54:530:54:58

and they fought back tears of joy as they sailed south for home.

0:54:580:55:02

They were re-entering the land of the living.

0:55:020:55:04

And not only had Nansen survived over three years in the Arctic wastes, he'd come home.

0:55:070:55:13

Although the expedition never achieved its goal, Nansen's legacy is phenomenal.

0:56:170:56:23

He'd gone further north than any man before, and opened up the Arctic to modern exploration.

0:56:230:56:30

His pioneering achievements inspired Captain Scott, Shackleton, Pirie and Roald Amundsen.

0:56:300:56:38

Amundsen even took the Fram when he beat Scott to the South Pole.

0:56:380:56:41

In a spectacular series of journals,

0:56:430:56:46

Nansen detailed hundreds of ground-breaking scientific observations still used today.

0:56:460:56:52

Whilst trapped in the ice cap, he discovered a new magnificent ocean,

0:56:540:56:59

developed the theory of Polar drift and launched the global science of oceanography into the 20th century.

0:56:590:57:06

Nansen went on to be an Ambassador for Norway,

0:57:090:57:13

and in 1922, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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He passed away peacefully on this balcony in May 1930,

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and is buried in the grounds of the house he designed and built here in Oslo.

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And long after he died, Nansen's innovations affect us all.

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Even today.

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He will never be forgotten.

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Two mountains bear his name, and even on the moon and Mars, you'll find a Nansen crater.

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Nansen was forever seeking results, whether in science, politics or exploration.

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He was inspirational and driven to the end.

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Few men in history can match him in stature, and for me,

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he'll always be the original incarnation of Polar explorer as hero.

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His expedition that never reached the North Pole was truly the most successful failure ever.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2006

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E-mail [email protected]

0:58:530:58:56

Explorer Paul Rose tells the story of his hero Fridjtof Nansen who, in 1892, announced a daring plan to be first to the North Pole, an idea considered so off-the-wall that no scientist would volunteer to join him on a venture they believed was nothing short of suicide.

He allowed his ship to become stuck in the crushing pack ice, hoping it would drift to the Pole, and then set off on foot across the frozen wastes. Nansen became the forefather of polar exploration, inventing practical techniques that today allow people to survive, travel and work in the most hostile and forbidding places on our planet.