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In Nansens Footsteps

Production year: 2008 | 2*54 | Genres: Lifestyle / Travel
In Nansens Footsteps
Origin country: Norway
Production company: NRK Norsk Rikskringkasting AS
Original title: I Nansens fotspor
Original language: Norwegian
Formats: SD

The Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland and his Swiss companion Thomas Ulrich have recently repeated a journey widely regarded as the most demanding ever undertaken in the history of polar exploration. Together, they have retraced the route taken 110 years ago by two of Ousland's compatriots, Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen, to the North Pole.

In 1895 Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the safety and comfort of their ice-bound ship, Fram, in an all-out bid to reach the North Pole on foot. Forced to give up close to their goal, they changed course and headed south, only to be halted by bad weather in the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. In this uninhabited waste they were compelled to spend the winter, cooped up in a small stone cabin. On more than one occasion they came close to losing their lives. No one had since repeated their arduous journey until Norway's Børge Ousland and his Swiss companion Thomas Ulrich decided to make the attempt - and succeeded.

For over a century no polar explorer had set foot in this inhospitable region, to which the Russians denied access, having designated it a military zone. Ousland and Ulrich spent months - years, in fact - trying to obtain permission to go ashore there, but even with the aid of willing helpers in official circles in Norway, again and again they were refused the necessary authorization.

However, through the good offices of some favourably disposed Russians, they finally received permission, albeit after they had already been in the archipelago for some weeks. Together, Ousland and Ulrich have written a glorious new chapter in the history of polar exploration. It is unlikely that their feat will ever be emulated.

The two travelled alone, doing all the filming themselves. It was an extremely exacting undertaking and a hazardous one to boot. The first obstacle they had to overcome was a sheet of rafted ice; this was followed by an expanse of fast-moving drift ice, which eventually gave way to wide stretches of open water. And then there were the polar bears ...

It is not without reason that Nansen and Johansen's feat had never been repeated until Ousland and Ulrich came along. The challenges confronting polar explorers have always been formidable, and now the ice is melting at unprecedented speed. To cross the innumerable leads and stretches of open water, the two explorers used their sledges as kayaks. More than once the ice gave way beneath them, and there were times when walruses threatened to overturn their frail craft. As if that were not enough, when they finally neared land they were troubled by importunate polar bears, which had to be warned off by gunfire, flares or pepper sprays.

Over the years, Børge Ousland has chalked up an enviable record of similar perilous journeys, among them solo treks to both poles. In 2001 he crossed the Arctic from Siberia to Canada.

Still images

This program is featured in the following article(s):

The Beauty of Norwegian Nature (Mar 2011)

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