On the centenary of Fridtjof Nansen’s appointment as the high commissioner for refugees for the League of Nations, we’re retracing his historic route across Greenland to celebrate his lasting legacy as a scientist, humanitarian and explorer. We are crossing the island without resupplies and using only human power. We will raise money and awareness for refugees and stateless people, issues that are just as relevant today as they were when Nansen fought them a hundred years ago.
It’s a time of political and social turmoil. Millions of refugees are fleeing from countries ravaged by war, before them only the emptiness of a future over which they have no control. Many carry little more than the hope of a better life in a foreign land. They possess no official documents and are effectively stateless. Instead of taking on the responsibility to help, the nations of the world are pursuing their own political agendas. Populist parties are pushing their extreme ideologies stirring conflict between classes and driving a wedge between fellow citizens. Nationalism is on the rise everywhere spurring suspicion and distrust of foreigners.
This was the situation in April 1920, when the newly formed League of Nations approached the Norwegian delegate Fridtjof Nansen with the request to oversee and organise the repatriation of prisoners of war, who were stranded in foreign countries. Before his career in Norwegian politics, Nansen had studied Neuroscience at the University of Kristiania, where he laid the groundwork for our modern understanding of the central nervous system. The first crossing of Greenland in 1888 had propelled him to global fame as a Polar explorer. His subsequent North Pole attempt cemented his legacy as the father of modern Polar exploration.
The repatriation of prisoners of war was the first large-scale international humanitarian effort by the young League of Nations, and its success or failure would be the mark by which the great powers would measure its usefulness. Nansen accepted the challenge, and in November of 1920, he could already report the repatriation of 200,000 prisoners to the League Assembly. In 1921, he became the first High Commissioner for Refugees, an office he would hold until his death in 1930. In his work for the League of Nations, Nansen coordinated international relief for the Russian famine, saving millions of lives. He also organised the resettlement of over a million Russian refugees in Europe, whose citizenship had been revoked by the new Soviet government. He introduced a Nansen Passport as an official document for stateless people, which was in time recognised by over 50 nations. For his humanitarian work, he was awarded the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize.
Nansen’s relentless will to help those in need, and believe in the powers of love and compassion, set a shining example for generations to come. His work paved the way for the large-scale humanitarian efforts carried out by organisations such as the UNHCR today.
A hundred years after Nansen was appointed the first High Commissioner for Refugees, the challenges he faced have not disappeared. To celebrate this centenary, to honour his legacy as a scientist, explorer, and humanitarian, to raise awareness for refugees and statelessness, and to promote the idea of a peacefully united world, we are organising a Polar expedition.
We will cross the island of Greenland from coast to coast from mid August to mid September 2021 without resupplies and using only human power. All of our food, fuel and equipment will be carried on our backs or stowed on sledges which we will haul ourselves across the up to 4 km thick ice sheet using skis or crampons. We will transport up to 80 kg of equipment each over a distance of roughly 500 km. We expect the expedition to take just over six weeks, with four weeks spent on the Greenland ice.
We will retrace Nansen’s historical route as closely as possible. This makes our trip more than an ordinary ski tour. Just like him, we will arrive on the east coast of Greenland by boat. We will make landfall in Umivik bay, where Nansen and his team last made camp before heading onto the inland ice and remains of his historic camp are still visible. In their footsteps, we will navigate the treacherous crevasse fields of the eastern glaciers to reach the ice cap after one or two days.
Once we’re able to strap on our skis, our route then takes us 450 km straight west across the ice, on a constant climb until we reach the summit of Greenland at 2,743 metres above sea level. We are prepared for temperatures to drop down to -45°C and chilling winds of 100 mph. Nine to ten hours of skiing every day will see us reach the western edge of the ice cap after four weeks. The elements don’t pose the only threat, as we will have to keep a constant watch for Polar bears roaming the ice. The extreme isolation and monotony of the skiing days will put our team to the test and push our limits both mentally and physically. We will have to be meticulous in looking after ourselves, our team-mates, and our kit, as any injury or equipment failure can mean the end of the expedition during this stage.
After we step off the ice, the expedition will turn from skiing to trekking. Our bodies will have to adjust to a different kind of stress after we will have spent the last four weeks only moving forward with our skis and sledges. Finding our way through a maze of glacial streams, we will descend from the ice cap and hike the remaining distance to the western coast through stunning primordial Fjord landscapes.
Our last camp will be exactly where Nansen’s team camped, after he set out to row to the settlement of Godthaab to announce their historic success. After a last night in the wild, a boat will take us to Nuuk, as Godthaab is called today.
Currently, our planet is undergoing a massive shift in climate, caused mainly by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide. The ecosystems in Greenland and the Arctic ocean are one of the most vulnerable to this change. At the beginning of August 2019, the Greenland ice cap experienced its biggest single-day melting event in recorded history. Many of the delicate mechanics that have existed in balance over centuries have already tipped, starting rapid and irreversible change processes, that will prove catastrophic not only to the species in the Arctic ocean but also to humanity itself. We are deeply saddened by these facts and aware of the need for urgent action, but we are also aware that we are contributing to the climate crisis with our expedition. We are nonetheless determined to help slow down climate change and preserve the Polar ice, which is why we have decided to completely offset all emissions caused by the travel and transport for our expedition and our presence in Greenland by donating to carbon offsetting programmes.
Lauren is a keen hiker and sailor from Bristol, UK, who discovered her love of the cold in the last two years. When not working as HR Manager for a UK charity, she spends time volunteering with Girlguiding, The National Trust and My Great Escape, an organisation which supports survivors of domestic abuse. She’s working towards her Mountain Leader and Yachtmaster qualifications.
Thorsten is a German adventurer currently living in Vienna. He’s working for the ÖAV (Austrian Alpine Society) as a wilderness trekking and hiking guide. Together with Lauren, he skied across lake Møsvatn in Norway. He has extensive training in outdoors first aid, expedition leadership and psychology. In his day job, Thorsten is a freelance business coach and trainer.
Thomas has been spending most of his freetime in the French alps skiing up and downhill for the past years. He discovered Greenland during a kayaking trip last year, and couldn’t wait to go back since. He is a big fan of everything lengthy and gruelling he can share with friends, which made this expedition a very tempting challenge to him.
Lars is an Oslo based adventurer and Polar explorer. He is the first person to ski Spitsbergen from North to South and has one North Pole, one South Pole and eleven Greenland expeditions under his belt. He has 40 years of experience as an expedition planner and coach. He is working with Polar greats such as Børge Ousland, Eric Phillips, Aleksander Gamme, Lou Rudd and numerous others.
Our goal is not only to reach the west coast of Greenland. We want to draw attention to the amazing story of Fridtjof Nansen’s life and his legacy as a scientist, explorer, and humanitarian. Our expedition will cover aspects of science, history and humanitarianism as well.
We are taking part in a study run by Dr. Nathan Smith at the University of Manchester in collaboration with Lauren Landon and Pete Roma from the NASA human behaviour and performance team. The study aims to validate the utility of various measures in predicting neurobehavioral health changes and the impact these fluctuations have on team performance and health when exposed to extreme environments, such as prolonged isolation and severe weather conditions. Ultimately, it will contribute to the safety and survival of NASA crew during long duration missions and provide a way of monitoring crew member and team performance and health.
Fridtjof Nansen started work with refugees in 1920 with support of the League of Nations. With growing international pressure to respond to the number of people displaced by war, he was soon appointed the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921. This was the first formal international effort dedicated to assisting refugees and paved the way for large-scale international humanitarian endeavours. Until his death in 1930, Nansen continued to work on behalf of refugees and statelessness.
We are proud to support UNHCR, as the successor of the League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with our Nansen2020 expedition. We are raising money and awareness for people forced to flee and celebrating a 100-year-old tradition of humanitarian aid.
Every Step Counts
Families who have been forced to flee make extraordinary efforts to survive. In solidarity with them, at a time when there are more and more global crises forcing people from their homes, we are coming together to honor their resilience and determination to keep their families safe. From South Sudan to Uganda, Myanmar to Bangladesh, Syria to Jordan; they have endured long, dangerous and difficult journeys.
Together, we are challenging ourselves to cover two billion kilometres in 12 months, just as refugees worldwide do each year to reach the nearest point of safety. Through this collective effort we will show our solidarity, build better understanding of refugees and raise money to protect refugees and help them to rebuild their lives.
We are adding the distances covered for our Nansen2020 expedition, both for our training and the actual trip, to the 2 BILLION KILOMETRES TO SAFETY campaign.
Unlike most autumn Greenland crossings, which start further North, we will follow the historic Nansen route as closely as possible. This allows us to take high quality pictures of various sites of significance along the route mentioned in the diaries of the historic expedition. We will provide the pictures as illustrations to the Fram Museum in Oslo to use in upcoming publications on Nansen’s Greenland expedition.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.
We are looking to build lasting beneficial relationships with organisations sharing our beliefs and values and manufacturers whose products we trust to be the very best for our expedition. If you are interested in partnering with us for this expedition, please don’t hesitate to contact us via one of the following channels!
This expedition is being organised by Lauren Owen and Thorsten Schillo of Team Fram. We will utilise the Team Fram social media channels and newsletter for communication regarding the expedition.
Lauren and Thorsten met by pure chance in a mine in Italy and bonded over their shared love of Norway, snow, and adventure, and their common goal to one day ski on an Arctic expedition. Being at similar points on their journey towards adventuring, the decision to team up in order to support and motivate each other was easy.
They quickly discarded their existing individual plans for guided tours in the Arctic in favour of planning an unsupported and unassisted crossing of Norway’s Hardangervidda early in 2019. This expedition was the launch pad for future endeavours, such as the crossing of Greenland in 2020.
The name Team Fram is a nod to their heroes, the famous Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, and a reminder to always keep pushing forwards, literally and figuratively.