National Geographic : 2009 Jan
explorers had wintered over, hunting polar bear and walrus for food. Nansen had picked up crucial skills from Inuit villagers on Greenland, where he had spent the winter of 1888-89. When he and Johansen ran out of fuel for their stove, they used blubber lamps to cook. "I m surprised they didn t just shoot themselves," Ulrich said, looking at the low circle of stones from the cramped shelter. " e only reason they survived," Ousland said, "was that they refused to give up." By the time Ousland and Ulrich reached Cape Flora on Northbrook Island, where Nansen and Johansen were rescued by British explorer Frederick George Jackson, they too were eager to make their departure. A friend from Oslo had agreed to pick them up by sailboat but had been delayed by several weeks. "It was a very peaceful place with a small lake, the perfect place to wait three weeks," Ulrich said. " e other islands were just rocks and stones and ice, but Cape Flora was green, with moss and owers." e only other residents were thousands of seabirds nesting on cli s and a hungry polar bear and cub, stranded by the lack of sea ice---a consequence of recent climate change. Night after night the bears returned to camp to try their luck, tripping the last of the flares set up to scare them off. In the end the men had to shoo the bears away by dousing them with pepper spray, shooting ri es in the air, banging on pots and pans, and screaming at the top of their lungs. "We chased them right into the water," Ousland said. "A er that we reached an understanding." On August 13, as promised, the ketch Athene appeared o the coast of Cape Flora, and Ous- land and Ulrich paddled their kayaks out to meet their ride back to Norway. A er 15 weeks in the far north, the time had come to follow Nansen s ghost home. "Nansen was way ahead of his time in how he thought about the Arctic and how to travel in it," Ousland said. "For us it was like a holiday compared to Nansen," Ulrich added. "We knew what we had in front of us. He didn t even know where he was and how far he had to go." j Top, left to right: In the northern part of the archipelago, Ulrich paddles past the face of a glacier. Later, on a southern island, a mother bear and cub try to push into camp. An abandoned Soviet military hut on Hoffman Island feels "too spooky" for the adventurers' use. After a three-month journey, Ousland smiles as a friend's sailboat arrives to carry him and Ulrich home. ■ Society Grant This expedition was funded in part by your National Geographic Society membership.