The mention of “American whalers” was significant since it indicated that some vessels at least had reached that point from the east, and that open water must exist for some part at least of the year. Nordenskjold therefore pressed on through snow and ice and fog in the hope of getting through to the Pacific before the sea was completely frozen over. But the ice was beginning to close. Large blocks were constantly hurled against the Vega, threatening her destruction.
On 28th September, the struggle eastwards ended and the Vega was frozen inextricably into the ice. Nordenskjold estimated that this was only 120 miles distant from the Bering Strait, a fact all the more galling as 2400 miles had already been covered since leaving Sweden. Nordenskjold’s meticulous planning stood the Vega and her crew in good stead for the coming winter months and food was not going to be a problem. Locked as she was in the ice, the vessel was close to a settlement of Chukchi. These hospitable people helped the crew to enliven the winter with short expeditions in land on dog-sledges when weather permitted. The trapped ship was enshrouded by snow and it was reported to penetrate every nook and cranny where the wind could find an opening. Morale remained high however and Christmas was celebrated in the traditional Swedish manner.
The first hopes of release came in the following April (of 1879) when large flocks of geese, eider-ducks, gulls, and little song-birds began to arrive, some perching on the Vega’s rigging. This proved a false dawn however and the ship remained locked in the ice during May and June. It was not until 18th July 1879 that, as Nordenskjold wrote, “the hour of deliverance came at last, and we cast loose from our faithful ice-block, which for two hundred and ninety-four days had protected us so well against the pressure of the ice and stood westwards in the open channel, now about a mile wide. On the shore stood our old (Chukchi)friends, probably on the point of crying, which they had often told us they would do when the ship left them.” The Vega pressed onbetween closely packed ice with occasional glimpses through the fog of the coastline until she could at last swing southwards to encounter the heave swell of the Pacific Ocean at what was the Bering Strait. On 14th August, less than a month after breaking free, the Vega anchored at the Russian settlement on Bering Island to be greeted by a voice calling out in Swedish, “Is it Nordenskiöld?”