Franz Josef Land Expedition: A Childhood Dream Come True

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is teaming up with explorer and TV presenter Paul Rose, and setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend.  Follow their adventures throughout the month.

By Paul Rose, Expedition Team Leader

N 81 12 E 55 28 is the most exciting set of numbers I’ve seen in a long time. They are the position of Fridtjof Nansen’s 1895 – 96 enforced winter shelter.

Nansen was one of the greatest polar explorers of all time, a source of inspiration for generations and a personal hero of mine. I know his stories, presented a BBC documentary about his North Pole attempt called “The Ice King” and have fantasized about being on that beach since I was a young boy. So it’s no surprise that I was on the ship’s bridge at 0600 today checking our progress and worrying over the big seas: The waves are building and that will mean “dumping surf” at the beach. Will we be able to land in our inflatable boats? Could reality be so painful as getting this close and never setting foot on shore?

Eventually we realised that a normal landing was impossible, so Enric and I along with our great photography team of Cory, Andy, and Manu opted for a “wet landing” by taking a boat in close to the beach and then just swimming ashore. Perfect! I could think of no better way of arriving.

In just one hour we made our observations and completed the essential historical photographic record that we are making at all the Franz Josef Land sites of historical interest. I then had time to reflect on my man Nansen, soak up the same sights, feel his presence, and reflect on the completion of a personal Arctic pilgrimage.

In one of the most remarkable survival stories of all time Nansen and Johansen arrived at Jackson Island after they failed to reach the North Pole and had been travelling for months. They built a very basic shelter from rocks, used walrus skins for the roof, ate nothing but polar bears and walruses, and survived 9 months sharing the same sleeping bag.

Learn more about their journey, and modern explorers who followed in their footsteps in “1,000 Days in the Ice” From the January 2009 National Geographic Magazine.


NEXT: Read All Franz Josef Land 2013 Blog Posts


The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.