Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sara McNair-Landry dream adventure - kite-ski the Northwest Passage during the winter

Kiteskier Sarah McNair-Landry

Best Trip Ever: "All my adventures have been amazing, each in their own way. The Pittarak expedition, a 2,300 kilometer traverse of the Greenland ice cap, remains one of my favorite. It was a great challenge and an amazing team, not to mention Greenland is a kite-skiing paradise!

"I must also mention the most amazing place I have ever traveled across is the Arctic Ocean, while en route towards the North Pole. The ice is always in drift and motion, heaving up massive walls of ice, or breaking apart revealing the ocean water, reminding you constantly of the forces of nature." 

Dream Adventure: "I would love to kite-ski the Northwest Passage during the winter. For one, it would be a challenging expedition, as it has never been done. Over the last years, I have always turned my attention towards other parts of the world, but this expedition would take place in my backyard, Nunavut, Canada."

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Heiress to the Arctic
By Ashley Thompson, December 2, 2008 1:00 PM | Comments (1)
sarah.jpgSarah McNair-Landry comes from a family of Arctic enthusiasts, born and raised on Canada's Baffin Island. At age 18, she became the youngest person ever to ski to the South Pole (with her brother, Eric, then 20). She and her mother, Matty, are the first Canadian women to reach the South Pole by ski. Since then, she's trekked across the Arctic Ocean and 1,430 miles of the Greenland Ice Cap (equivalent to the distance from Boston to Miami), among other expeditions. Now 22 and a National Geographic Young Explorers grantee, McNair-Landry spoke as part of Will Steger's Ellesmere Island team's presentation during National Geographic Live's "Heirs to the Arctic" event last month.

Before packing her bags for third next trip to Antarctica later this month, she made time to chat with IT about this winter's adventure, her interest in filmmaking, and her favorite warm-weather destination (Yes, she does have one). 

What have been some of your most notable and memorable expeditions?  

Three trips come to mind. The first is the unsupported kite-skiing expedition to the South Pole in 2004-05. It took us 52 days to haul bulks weighing over 230 pounds each, traveling almost 700 miles to the Pole. When we arrived, my brother and I became the youngest people ever to reach the Pole.

In 2006, a team of three others and I departed from Northern Russia, skiing and dog sledding toward the North Pole. Once we reached the pole, we continued on, hoping to complete a full crossing of the Arctic Ocean. Unfortunately, after 100 days on the polar ice, due to warm conditions and the ice breaking up, we were forced to abandon our goal of finishing in Northern Canada.

Last year, with my brother and a knowledgeable friend, I headed to Greenland to complete a 1,430-mile crossing of the ice cap, leaving from the southern tip near the village of Narsarsuaq and ending in one of the most northerly communities, Qaanaaq. We spent 45 days kite-skiing, cross-country skiing, and hiking. We managed to cover more than 250 miles by kite in a 24-hour period.

What is the preparation involved in all of this? In your lecture you mentioned your integral role in building the sleds used and creating a cohesive dog-sled team. 

Living in a town of 7,000 people in Northern Canada, where the nearest city is a 3 1/2 hour-flight away, you learn how to do everything yourself. My parents always built their own dog sleds, and we've learned from them. For the Ellesmere expedition, Will Steger already had two dogsleds from previous trips, so we only had to build the third. The first task is to build the runners, the crosspieces, and handlebars out of wood. Once those are built, the sled gets lashed together with rope, making them flexible and easy to repair on the trail.
As far as training the dogs, it starts when they are born. As puppies we work them into the team, so that they grow up and get to know the rest of the dogs. It takes years to really train a good team, and since dogs are always retiring, and puppies are being joined to the team, the training is continuous.

What is the most mentally challenging part of journeying through the Arctic or Antarctic for months at a time? 

It's hard to wrap your mind around the entire trip. After a challenging hour, you think to yourself, "there's no way I can make it through the day, let along the next 60 days!" You have to be very optimistic out there, and go day-by-day giving it your best.

What is a typical day of eating like when you're out there? 

The day starts with hot drinks and a breakfast of granola or oatmeal. During the day, instead of eating lunch, we snack every couple hours on chocolate, cheese, salami, nuts, dried fruit, and sweets. Once in the tent in the evening we cook up a high-calorie freeze-dried meal.

When not traveling on skis through perilous conditions, what keeps you busy? 

I love film, and have been trying hard to combine that passion with my expeditions. After taking a course at the New York Film Academy, I've been filming on all my expeditions, and editing when back at home. I recently just finished a 22-minute piece on my recent expedition to Greenland.

How do you think your experiences and your life can bring a different angle to your filmmaking? 

I am so fortunate to be able to travel to these extreme regions, where not many people get the chance to go. It's so important for me to be able to capture it on film, to allow me to share my experiences with others.

What are your plans for your journey in Antarctica this winter? 

I'll be heading down to Antarctica to guide a group of four clients to the South Pole. Once we reach the pole, one of my clients will also join me to kite-ski back to the coast. The trip will probably take just under 80 days.

What's the most awe-inspiring place you've ever been? 

The Arctic Ocean. I got the chance to spend 100 days there while traveling to the North Pole. It is the most mind-boggling place I have ever been. The ice is always in movement, big pans crashing into each other heaving up ridges of ice, or splitting apart creating leads of open water. When you're unlucky, cracks will open up under your tent, or the ice will drift south faster than you are traveling north.

On other days you will get to a stretch of uncrossable open water, and the ice will drift together closing the gap of water. 

Finally, we have to know, what's your favorite warm-weather destination, and why? 

I love kite-surfing, so any warm beach country with good rum is always great.  One of my favorite (not so warm) places for kite surfing is Hood River, Oregon.

Photo: Sarah McNair-Landry during the Ellesmere Island expedition. Courtesy Jerry Stenger 

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