Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Polar Explorers

Fridtjof Nansen

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Fridtjof Nansen (10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his youth he was a champion skier and ice skater. He led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, traversing the island on cross-country skis. He won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.

Nansen studied zoology at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925), and later worked as a curator at the Bergen Museum where his research on the central nervous system of lower marine creatures earned him a doctorate and helped establish modern theories of neurology. After 1896 his main scientific interest switched to oceanography; in the course of his research he made many scientific cruises, mainly in the North Atlantic, and contributed to the development of modern oceanographic equipment. As one of his country’s leading citizens, in 1905 Nansen spoke out for the ending of Norway’s union with Sweden, and was instrumental in persuading Prince Carl of Denmark to accept the throne of the newly independent Norway. Between 1906 and 1908 he served as the Norwegian representative in London, where he helped negotiate the Integrity Treaty that guaranteed Norway’s independent status.

In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the “Nansen passport” for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.

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Portrait photograph of Roald Amundsen; ca. 1907

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Roald Amundsen led the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12 which was the first to reach the South Pole, on December 14th, 1911.

In 1926, he was the first expedition leader for the air expedition to the North Pole. Amundsen is recognized as the first person, without dispute, as having reached both poles. He is also known as having the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Arctic.

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Captain Francis Crozier – Commander of HMS “Terror”; ca. 1845

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Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland’s most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.

In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.

After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.

Crozier’s first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Parry’s attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.

In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. But the ‘furthest north’ record of 82° 45’ stood for almost half a century.

On successive journeys, Crozier demonstrated his reliability and an aptitude for the painstaking business of magnetic and astronomic readings. In 1827, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1843. His prominent sponsors included the astronomer Sir John Herschel and Sir Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort scale and one of the co-founders of the Royal Geographical Society.

Crozier’s most accomplished feat was the mammoth four-year journey to Antarctica in Erebus and Terror with James Clark Ross, which arguably ranks as the 19th century’s most outstanding voyage of maritime discovery. He captained Terror and never lost a man – a rare achievement at the time.

Setting out in 1839, the Erebus and Terror expedition was the last great journey made under sail, penetrating the pack ice of the Southern Ocean and discovering vast tracts of the Antarctic continent. It also bequeathed many of the now familiar geographical names to the Heroic Age of Exploration, including Mount Erebus, Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. The Great Ice Barrier, where Scott’s party perished in 1912, was so named because it presented a barrier to Erebus and Terror (it was re-named the Ross Ice Shelf in the 1950s). And Cape Crozier, the windswept headland on Ross Island that was later immortalised by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book on Scott’s expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is now renowned for its emperor penguin colony.

However, the Antarctic journey took a heavy toll on both Crozier and Ross. On their return, witnesses were shocked at the way their hands trembled – the tremors so pronounced that they could hardly hold a glass.

Sadly, Crozier was also suffering from a broken heart. On the voyage south, the ships had stopped at the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy Cracroft, the flirty niece of the old explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been appointed the island’s governor. His repeated proposals of marriage were rejected because Cracroft refused to become a captain’s wife. ‘She liked the man, but not the sailor,’ her aunt once confided.

Heartbroken and depressed, Crozier elected to head north again in 1845 when the Admiralty launched a fresh attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in Erebus and Terror. Although Crozier was the most experienced polar captain still serving, the Admiralty gave command of the expedition to Franklin, an overweight 59-year-old who hadn’t taken a ship into the ice for 27 years. It was a snub that hurt Crozier, and he probably should have chosen that moment to retire from exploration. But in a vain attempt to appeal to Cracroft, Crozier volunteered to travel as Franklin’s deputy and assume command of Terror.

In his last letter home, a melancholic Crozier wrote: ‘In truth I am sadly lonely.’ More pertinently, he was worried that the expedition had sailed too late in the season and also questioned Franklin’s leadership, writing that ‘[Franklin] is very decided in his own views but has not good judgement’.

UNSPECIFIED - 1870: Ill. of the ships "Erebus" and "Terror", belonging to the arctic exploration team led by Englishman John Franklin, head into the ice floes of Baffin Bay towards the North Pole, from which they never returned. (Photo by Mansell/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Erebus and Terror crossed Baffin Bay during the summer of 1845 and entered the treacherous Arctic waterways of Lancaster Sound with 129 officers and men aboard. They were never to return.

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Disaster struck in 1847, when the ships became trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait. Shortly after, Franklin died and command of the expedition passed to Crozier. The ships were abandoned in 1848, and it was Crozier who inherited the hopeless task of leading about 100 starving survivors in a forlorn retreat across the ice. Men fell dead in their tracks; years later, examination of their bones revealed that some had resorted to cannibalism in the struggle to survive.

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Crozier’s death march ripples with historical significance. At one point, the survivors reached the narrow Simpson Strait that runs between King William Island and mainland Canada. Unknown to Crozier, the strait was the last piece of the jigsaw that – at that point – made up the Northwest Passage. A little over 50 years later, the Norwegian Amundsen navigated the strait during the first navigation of the passage and graciously flew his ship’s colours in salute.

According to native accounts, a few desperate souls from the Franklin expedition clung to life for several years after the ships were abandoned, but none managed to find a route to safety. Crozier, the imperturbable and experienced commander, is thought to have been among the last to succumb.

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The men left behind on Elephant Island; ca. 1916

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After their ship became frozen in ice, 28 men and Ernest Shackleton (the expedition leader) sailed the lifeboat to elephant island, an island no one had ever stepped foot on. Knowing they wouldn’t be rescued, Shackleton took 5 men to sail 800 miles to a whaling station to get help. The remaining men stayed on the island having to create shelter, procure food etc, and hope that the others would be able to send rescue. After four failed attempts because of heavy ice, all the men were finally rescued. The men had spent 4 and a half months stranded on the island.


Fate of the crew:

Most of these men went straight into the meat grinder of WWI. Some were dead over the next few years.


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An Eskimo man enjoying some music on a record player; ca. 1922

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Leonid Rogozov removing his own appendix at a Soviet research station in Antarctica; ca. 1961

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From September 1960 until October 1962, Rogozov worked in Antarctica, including his role as the sole doctor in a team of thirteen researchers at the Novolazarevskaya Station, which was established in January 1961.

On the morning of 29 April 1961, Rogozov experienced general weakness, nausea, and moderate fever, and later pain in the lower right portion of the abdomen. All possible conservative treatment measures did not help. By 30 April signs of localized peritonitis became apparent, and his condition worsened considerably by the evening. Mirny, the nearest Soviet research station, was more than 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from Novolazarevskaya. Antarctic research stations of other countries did not have an aircraft. Severe blizzard conditions prevented aircraft landing in any case. Rogozov had no option but to perform the operation on himself.

The operation started at 02:00 local time on 1 May with the help of a driver and meteorologist, who were providing instruments and holding a mirror to observe areas not directly visible, while Rogozov was in a semi-reclining position, half-turned to his left side. A solution of 0.5% novocaine was used for local anesthesia of the abdominal wall. Rogozov made a 10–12 cm incision of the abdominal wall, and while opening the peritoneum he accidentally injured the cecum and had to suture it. Then he proceeded to expose the appendix. According to his report the appendix was found to have a dark stain at its base, and Rogozov estimated it would have burst within a day. The appendix was resected and antibiotics were applied directly into the peritoneal cavity. General weakness and nausea developed about 30–40 minutes after the start of the operation, so that short pauses for rest were repeatedly needed after that. By about 04:00 the operation was complete. (Wikipedia)


Restored color photograph of members of the Antarctic Shackleton Expedition and their dogs; ca. 1915

Spoiler alert: journey did not end well for the dogs.

Spoiler alert: journey did not end well for the dogs.


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Antarctica, The crew of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition playing a game of football (or soccer), with the Endurance in the background; ca. 1914-1917)

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The Norwegian Arctic exploration ship Fram in ice; ca. 1894

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The windmill was actually very practical and a major component of their planning before the trip. It was used to generate electricity to power lighting. Since they were going for so long it helped alleviate the necessity to bring large stocks of oil for lamps especially since space was at a premium.

This ship spent three years 1893-1896 stuck ice trying to get to the North Pole on this expedition. She would later take two additional multi year expeditions into the arctic. She is now a museum ship. She holds the record for getting the furthest north out of any wooden hulled ship. Of course that’s a record that is getting easier and easier to break each year with the receding polar ice caps.

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The record of a voyage of exploration of the ship “Fram” 1893-96 (and of a fifteen months’ sleigh journey by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen):

Farthest North, Vol. I by Fridtjof Nansen

Farthest North, Vol. II by Fridtjof Nansen


Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Everest; ca. 1953

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Just to clear up confusion, they are on everest in this picture, but not at the summit. Only Hillary took a picture of Tenzing at the summit, he refused to have his own picture taken.

According to this Swedish source, they are about to start the climb to camp 9, which was their last camp before heading for the summit.

The picture is taken at camp 8, at the South Col, which is at about 8000 meters. The previous summit attempt by Evans and Bourdillon failed, so Hillary and Tenzing wanted to set a higher camp and try to get to the summit from there.