These are my highlights from volume 1 of Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen. I will soon continue with volume 2.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this tale of their attempt to reach the North pole by letting their ship freeze into the ice and drift with it. What a crazy plan! That was also the general consensus when he came up with it. But to undertake it in the 1890’s is just bonkers. So many unknowns that they accepted and believed they could overcome.

Volume 1 ends in the middle of the ice after having drifted a little over a year.

I find this story and the way it is told to be on par with Ernest Shackletons – South! and Amundsens South pole story, where the ship Fram also plays a key role.

Fridtjof Nansen is a really good storyteller and even though a lot of it is just describing their day-to-day routines on the ice, he tells it in a way that puts you right next to him.

Having read quite a few expedition-books, I can guarantee that this is no easy feat.

Volume 1 of the book can be found for free here:

And Volume 2 is available here:

Well, on to the highlights:

The plan of the Danish expedition under Hovgaard was to push forward to the North Pole from Cape Chelyuskin along the east coast of an extensive tract of land which Hovgaard thought must lie to the east of Franz Josef Land. He got set fast in the ice, however, in the Kara Sea, and remained the winter there, returning home the following year.

Some years, however, elapsed before, in February, 1890, after my return from my Greenland expedition, I at last propounded the idea in an address before the Christiania Geographical Society.

It is embarrassing and oppressive to be the object of homage like this before anything has been accomplished. There is an old saying: “At eve the day shall be praised, The wife when she is burnt, The sword when tried, The woman when married, The ice when passed over, Ale when drunk.”

And here on board are men who are leaving wife and children behind them. How sad has been the separation! what longing, what yearning, await them in the coming years! And it is not for profit they do it. For honor and glory then? These may be scant enough. It is the same thirst for achievement, the same craving to get beyond the limits of the known, which inspired this people in the Saga times that is stirring in them again to-day. In spite of all our toil for subsistence, in spite of all our “peasant politics,” sheer utilitarianism is perhaps not so dominant among us, after all.

“‘Would’st thou be free from care and pain,“‘Would’st thou be free from care and pain, Thou must love nothing here on earth.”

“An Irish proverb says, ‘Be happy; and if you cannot be happy, be careless; and if you cannot be careless, be as careless as you can.’

A man has truly no right to be anything but happy when fate permits him to follow up his ideals, exempting him from the wearing strain of every-day cares, that he may with clearer vision strive towards a lofty goal.

The preparations for the expedition cost me several years of precious life; but now I do not grudge them: my object is attained.

“But why always worry about the future? Why distress yourself as to whether you are drifting forward or backward? Why not carelessly let the days glide by like a peacefully flowing river?

‘Love truth more, and victory less.’

whereof several books that are in constant circulation, such as Gjest Baardsens Liv og Levnet, etc., are in a very bad state.

“Personally, I must say that things are going well with me; much better than I could have expected. Time is a good teacher; that devouring longing does not gnaw so hard as it did. Is it apathy beginning? Shall I feel nothing at all by the time ten years have passed? Oh! sometimes it comes on with all its old strength, as if it would tear me in pieces! But this is a splendid school of patience. Much good it does to sit wondering whether they are alive or dead at home; it only almost drives one mad.

“Thoughts come and thoughts go. I cannot forget, and I cannot sleep. Everything is still; all are asleep. I only hear the quiet step of the watch on deck; the wind rustling in the rigging and the canvas, and the clock gently hacking the time in pieces there on the wall. If I go on deck there is black night, stars sparkling high overhead, and faint aurora flickering across the gloomy vault, and out in the darkness I can see the glimmer of the great monotonous plain of the ice: it is all so inexpressibly forlorn, so far, far removed from the noise and unrest of men and all their striving. What is life thus isolated? A strange, aimless process; and man a machine which eats, sleeps, awakes; eats and sleeps again, dreams dreams, but never lives. Or is life really nothing else? And is it just one more phase of the eternal martyrdom, a new mistake of the erring human soul, this banishing of one’s self to the hopeless wilderness, only to long there for what one has left behind? Am I a coward? Am I afraid of death? Oh, no! but in these nights such longing can come over one for all beauty, for that which is contained in a single word, and the soul flees from this interminable and rigid world of ice. When one thinks how short life is, and that one came away from it all of one’s own free will, and remembers, too, that another is suffering the pain of constant anxiety—‘true, true till death.’ ‘O mankind, thy ways are passing strange! We are but as flakes of foam, helplessly driven over the tossing sea.’