email a friend iconprinter friendly iconPolar Saga Part One
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As the spring thaws came, Nansen and Johan­sen ventured out of their hovel. They wound south through the archipelago by ski and kayak. When a walrus upended Nansen's kayak, they put in at Northbrook Island to dry out. There they began to prepare for a dangerous journey across the open water to Spitsbergen, where they nursed an overly sanguine hope of being rescued by a Norwegian whaling or sealing vessel. But then on June 17, Nansen thought he heard a familiar sound coming from somewhere over the frozen wastes: a dog barking. He took off alone on skis over the jagged terrain to hunt it down. Nansen wrote: "Suddenly I thought I heard a shout from a human … How my heart beat, and the blood rushed to my brain … I hallooed with all the strength of my lungs." There in the distance, sure enough, was another human being. Nansen approached the figure, and soon the two men enjoyed a remarkable Stanley-Livingstone moment.

"Aren't you Nansen?" the man said in English as he studied the greasy, soot-blackened wretch before him.

"Yes, I am. By Jove! I am glad to see you!"

"You have made a good trip of it," the man told Nansen, "and I am awfully glad to be the first person to congratulate you on your return."

Nansen's rescuer was an accomplished British explorer named Frederick George Jackson who, as it happened, had met Nansen four years earlier in London. Jackson had sailed his ship, Windward, to Franz Josef Land preparatory to his own attempt on the Pole. The explorer was not looking for Nansen, exactly, but he knew that the Norwegian might be in the vicinity.

Still, the odds were against their encounter on this desolate island, and if Jackson had not appeared when he did, Nansen and Johansen in all likelihood would have died. Jackson wel­comed the two men into his headquarters hut, where they waited for the Windward­—sent home the year before for supplies—to speed them home.

When Nansen and Johansen returned to Norway in the summer of 1896, they might as well have been returning from the dark side of the moon. Their hero's welcome was made all the more sweet a week later by the happy news that the Fram, under the command of Captain Otto Sverdrup, had broken free of the Arctic ice and returned safely the same month.

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