THE FIRST CROSSING OF GREENLAND.* Dn. NANSEN reasoned rightly when
he conceived the possi- bility of crossing Greenland on "ski." It was possible, he saw, knowing the condition of the interior, to travel over a vast sea of snow ; it was a question of strength and endurance only, when once the crevasses were crossed ; and his supposi- tion was fully borne out by the experiences of the expedition. The most formidable danger that threatened the party was an unexpected one, and, curiously enough, one that might well have been foreseen, the intense cold that obtained in the interior of the Inland Ice. It seems incredible that some inkling of the conditions of temperature should have been denied to those who discussed the scientific value of the expedition. Given an immense, nay, a practically illimitable surface of snow, and the consequent results of extreme radiation, there is one inevit- able conclusion to be drawn,—intense cold the moment the heat of the sun has been withdrawn. It was not known, indeed, that the Inland Ice would reach the height of nearly 10,000 ft., and some allowance must be made for this ; but the remaining conditions were sufficient to justify an ap- proximate calculation of the cold. The meteorological observations which come to us from Northern Siberia, for most of the year a frozen waste of snow, are surely striking enough in themselves; and Dr. Nansen himself quotes an observation made by a countryman at Irkutsk,—that on April 11th the shade temperature at mid-day was – 35° Fehr., while the "water dripped from the roofs of the houses on the sunny side." The Inland Ice may well be compared with the Siberian plateau. On September 3rd, a spirit thermometer marked 88° Fahr., while a " sling " thermometer (a thermo- meter which is slung round to eliminate the action of the sun's rays, and gives practically the shade temperature) gave the real temperature at 12° Fahr. And with an air as thin as this (it sometimes only rose to –4° Fahr.), we need not wonder that the mercury, after September 8th, fell below the marked scale (only graduated, be it observed, to – 22° Fahr.) the instant the sun disappeared ; though it does seem startling that in a small tent with six sleepers in it, and in which food had been cooked., a thermometer placed under a pillow should have fallen to – 40° Fahr. "When I awoke," says ' Dr. Nansen, "I generally found my head completely sur- rounded with ice and rime. This was inside the sleeping-bag, where the breath had frozen and settled upon the hair of the reindeer-skin." The sun was rarely completely obscured, and even when snow fell it showed through. The snow that fell, except on the outskirts of the Inland Ice, WU more like "frozen mist," or needles, which fell out of a "half-transparent mist." The sun in these circumstances had a halo, and bright mock- * The First Crossing of Greenland. By Fridtjof Nansen. Translated by Hubert Majondie Gepp, B.A. With Illustrations and Maps, 2 vols. London and New York : Lonsmans and Co, suns ; and when the halo cut the horizon, there were bright mock-suns at the points of intersection, as well as one imme- diately below the sun itself. This was in September and the end of August, and reveals a cold simply unprecedented for the time of year.
Dr. Nausea's expedition left Iceland on June 4th for the East Coast of Greenland. Having disembarked from the sealer 'Jason' on July 17th, opposite Sermilikfjord and about nine miles from land, they were supposed to have reached the shore at once, but, just failing to accomplish this, they were hurried by the strong Polar current some three hundred miles in eleven days before they could touch land at Amoritok. Thence they had to make up lost ground, and it was not till August 15th that they finally left the East Coast and began the ascent of "Inland Ice." The going over the outskirts of what we must call the "Great Greenland Glacier," with its rough ice and crevasses, was very heavy till August 23rd, when they reached the gradual ascent and hardly perceptible undu- lation of the interior. For the first few days they had travelled at night, the sun softening the snow in the daytime, but the night-frosts soon made it apparent that the going would be even worse over the dry, powdery snow, which lost all "bite," and later on, when the "Inland Ice" revealed the true character of its climate, it was only humanly possible to stand the weather in the daytime. Constant care had to be taken not to get badly frozen, and when the wind got up, taking one's breath away, with the temperature at zero, it was nothing less than a blizzard. If the expedition had been able to cross earlier in the summer, the hardships would have been much less, the- surf ace of the snow would have been easier, and both sledges and " ski " would have run better. When the height of 6,000 ft, is reached, the fiercest sun only moistens the snow, which of course freezes at night. To put it briefly, the stratification is this,—the fresh-fallen snow; the crust, formed in the hottest weather; then a coarse, granular snow which eventually stopped the staff. This, of course, soon becomes the substance of the glacier.
The success of the expedition, and, indeed, the only chance' of its success as a foot expedition, depended on the use of "ski," which are strips of wood 8 ft. long, 4 in, wide in front of the foot where the upward curve begins, and an inch in thick- ness just under the foot. The snow which fell on the "Inland Ice" was the very worst kind of snow for " skilobning," as we have seen, and but for this, the progress would have been much quicker. The Canadian snow-shoe was used on the ascent to the plateau, and while the snow was loose and deep ; and for that particular purpose, and for hauling the sledges up an incline, Dr. Nausea allows its advantages. The two Lapps could never be persuaded to use it. But it was relinquished at the beginning of September, and thenceforth for nineteen days, " ski " were continuously used, and some two hundred and forty miles travelled on them. The crevasses on the western side of the Inland Ice appear to encroach more on the body of the glacier than those on the other side ; it took the party a long time to carry themselves safely through these crevasses, often running. at right-angles to each other. That the "Great Greenland. Glacier" should break up more on the warmer Western Coast, is only natural. A land-march from the last sledging-ground brought the party to the Ameralikfjord ; here a boat was built, and Dr. Neilsen and Sverdrup rowed to Godthaab for provisions and means of transport. They failed to catch the home-going ship, but seem to have made themselves fairly comfortable at Godthaab, hunting and fishing, and studying the Esquimaux.
It cannot be said of Dr. Nansen, as it can be of many great explorers, that he is a man of deeds and not words, in the sense that he cannot bring before us his adventures and hard- ships. He is both ; and we know no modern account of a great expedition which presents to our eyes with such vivid- ness and fascinating detail the dangers, the difficulties, the' hardships, and the every-day life of the exploring party. From first to last, one accompanies them with unabated interest, can appreciate their varying fortunes, their hopes and fears, and rejoice with them when they creep into their sleeping- bags, and enjoy such repose as none of us can aught but envy. We are spared, indeed, the painful interest that attaches to many Arctic narratives,—the mournful un- certainty that enshrouds a vanished name, or the horrible details of a timely or a just-too-late relief. There is nothing to remind the humane reader of the horrors of Greeley's rescue. Let no one think, however, that because there was no suffering to chronicle, the expedition was not entitled to rank among the greatest of the Arctic achievements of any time. If a thorough knowledge of the probable dangers of the expedition and the impossibility of rescue, a real courage and an uncommon endurance, go to make a well- arranged plan an important undertaking, then surely this was one. Dr. Nansen compares the wide range of tempera- ture on the Inland Ice to a similar circumstance on the Sahara; we will use this comparison to explain the impossibility of rescue. How many caravans the simoom has buried, no man can say; sometimes their bones are bared to sight. The snow of the Inland Ice, as like sand as anything not sand could well be, would cover up an army, and never reveal any traces; perhaps a million years hence, one of the great fjords into which the Inland Ice flows might give out their corpses. In either desert, human aid is not to be thought of.
The actual crossing of Greenland occupies but a small portion of these two volumes; it was not a theme on which many variations could be played. The voyage to Iceland, the -days spent in drifting down the East Coast of Greenland, and the winter at Godthaab among the Esquimaux,—these, and the stories of previous expeditions, the sealing trade, the history and use of " ski " in Scandinavia and Siberia, are in themselves interesting enough to most people, and made doubly so by Dr. Nansen's clear and easy style, and his acquaintance with and keen observation of all that is of im- portance in the Arctic world. We learn from him more about the Esquimaux than any one else has ever taught us ; and from him we hear nothing but good of them. It is curious, indeed, that such a rigorous climate should have nurtured such an amiable race. Civilisation is ruining them in Greenland, so Dr. Nansen tells us. One direction in which it works, as also a similar interference in hot climates works, is very fatal to them. The pure Esquimaux in his home strips himself, as his akin garments check evaporation. The missionaries preached against this, as they did and do against the nakedness of the South African. Nothing shows the gross thoughtlessness of missionaries more than this interference with a custom which is as necessary to the preservation of his health in an almost unnatural climate, as the national custom of community of food is necessary for the welfare of the community. The Esquimaux is, as it were, suffered to exist in an awful climate, and for him to disarrange the long teachings of experience is to fly in the face of Providence. The two Lapps of the ex- pedition were the objects of much curiosity to the Esquimaux. These Lapps, by-the-way, were not in any respect superior to the Norwegians in their knowledge of snow and sense of locality. They took no interest in the object of the expedi- tion; often vented their despair during the trying days among the ice-floes, like children ; were not proficient " skilobers," and were the only ones to suffer from "snow-blindness." They appear to have been obstinately conceited as to their own qualifications, expressed their disgust when the others ate raw flesh, and laughed at the sleeping-bags and the spectacles ; but they were uncommonly glad of both on the Inland Ice. They learnt, as Dr. Nansen puts it, a thing or two before they crossed Greenland. The younger one, a River-Lapp, was, however, intelligent, and the soul of the party, and extracts from his diary are often quoted ; they are fresh and vivid. Both the necessaries and appliances of the expedition seem to have been well arranged, though, despite Dr. Nansen's considerable scientific attainments, neither the barometers nor the thermometers were sufficiently graduated. This, of course, only reflects on him as far as it implies that he ought to have been prepared for all possibilities. The sledges, the sleeping-bags, and most of the clothes did well. The waterproof coats were not waterproof. The cooking. stove heated by alcohol was certainly a success. The pemmican was earefullyperified front fat I This was discovered when too late. Naturally there was a fat-famine, and one of the party .actually asked if the boot-grease might be eaten as a substitute. Herr Beauvais has, we hope, ere now been roundly rated for ,daring to supply such an article, as pemmican. The only sub- stitute, a preparation of calf's liver, was not a success, and as it contained water, had to be broken up with an axe. Chocolate, meat-powder biscuits, and pea-soup, were invaluable. The First Crossing of Greenland is a most fascinating book; it is well illustrated, chiefly from photographs, and has maps showing the route and elevation of the Inland Ice. The Inland Ice,
indeed, which is a survival of the Glacial epoch, opens the question of glacial action more than ever ; the true extent of the eroding action of ice cannot be very easily overrated, now that we see the dimensions of the forces at work. It is one of the most marvellous natural phenomena to be seen on the face of this earth.