March 5, 2010

March 1910

Tryggve Gran as a naval cadet. [1]

Inspired by the second Fram expedition to the Canadian Arctic and by Shackleton's travels, the twenty-year-old Norwegian Tryggve Gran was in fact planning an expedition of his own to the Antarctic, and had had a ship built for the purpose, to start from Norway the next summer. He had consulted Nansen, who was dismayed not so much by Gran's enthusiasm as by his youth and polar inexperience. Nansen did, however, see an opportunity to benefit both Gran and Scott, and arranged for the three of them to meet at Hagen's in Christiania, the ski and sporting-goods manufacturers famous for fitting out expeditions, where Nansen (very casually, one imagines) turned to Scott and remarked, as Gran recorded later, "Now you're going to take ski with you. Shackleton didn't take ski and told me when he had lunch with me if he had known how to use ski he would have reached the pole. He would have done!"

"But remember," Nansen went on, "it's no use having ski unless you know how to use them properly. You ought to [let] a Norwegian show [you]. Well, if you can point out a man who can show me, says Scott, I would be very thankful to you. So [Nansen] knocked me on the shoulder and said, well, Gran, can't you do it? And I said, with the greatest pleasure." [2]

Gran caught the train to Fefor with Scott to discuss the matter and, merely a day later, was presented with the opportunity to prove both himself and the noble art of skiing when an axle on the motor sledge broke, and the British were faced with a long journey to the workshop for repairs. Instead, Gran went off down the valley on skis with the broken pieces strapped to his back, and returned a mere five hours later with the repaired axle.

"Scott could scarcely believe his eyes," Gran later wrote. Scott had never seen two ski poles used, only the by-now obsolete single pole, and Gran's apparently-effortless gliding and climbing impressed Scott deeply. [3] "[He] suddenly stopped and asked me if I would consider postponing my own Antarctic plans and follow him South instead. I thought I had heard wrongly, and it was only when Scott explained that now, for the first time he realized what ski, properly used, would mean to him and his expedition, that I grasped that my ears had not been playing me tricks." [4]


[1] IFFHS.
[2] Tryggve Gran, in an interview with Roland Huntford, quoted by Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.275-276.

In this 1893 studio portrait, Amundsen (centre) and his friends Laurentius Urdahl and Vilhelm Holst recreate their crossing of the Hardanger plateau in December of that year. At that time, the use of a single long ski pole was still common, but the two-pole style was becoming popular due to the increased agility possible. Nansen himself used a single pole for part of his 1888 traverse of Greenland, with two poles for the inland ice. See, for example, "Ancient skis in Finland" and "Ski history timeline".
[4] Tryggve Gran, Fra Tjuagutt til Sydpolfarer (Oslo: Mortensen, 1974), quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.276-277.

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