Image of Matty sent live over Contact 3.0 during the Ultimate Challenge North Pole expedition in 2005, courtesy of Tom Avery.
Image of American Eric McNair-Landry, then 20, on a 2004/05 South Pole traverse courtesy of KitesOnIce.
If successful, Matty would be the first American to ski unsupported to the SP, her kids the youngest to do so.
The gang sped over the ice, past buried mountains and sharp sastrugi, under Antactica's perpetual sun. Sarah jammed to Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But there was a twist to the story: The year sported another traverse attempt - a much publicized 1600 km trek - compared to Matty and her kids 2200 km march, in addition the "other traverse" was led by another stellar polar guide: Paul Landry; Matty's kids father.
The air at the South Pole was anything but festive; scientists flied a "don't feed the explorers" banner smack dab on Christmas day. The kids hugged dad and took off after mom, for the return trip, 1,200 km, back to the edge of Antarctica.
British explorer Tom Avery set out to recreate Pearys journey and match his reported 37 day record. Using exact replicas of the Peary's sleds - and Matty for expedition guide.
Matty lives in the high Arctic and works as polar guide. Ann Daniels, a member of Pen's current expedition, was part of a 1997 women's relay trip to the North Pole, led by Matty. On arrival, the British ladies claimed female record and asked their guide Matty to step out of the media picture.
Would Matty have the strength, so short after her multiple records at Antarctica, to also beat an all-time record in the Arctic and help Tom prove Peary right? The Canadian Eskimo dogs took off, the expedition spending nights in one large wigwam tent.
Black water clouds smoked everywhere, indicating open water ready to swallow the racing dogs.
Pen Hadow was one of the key organizers behind the gala that dubbed Wally Herbert as the first man to walk to the North Geographic Pole, and the first team in history to reach the North Pole by surface travel without the assistance of airlifts. In fact, at least 10 people had done it before Wally and while all the other polar explorers used dogs, Wally's team also used airdrops, including an 11 tonnes drop before the pole. One who reached the spot before Wally was American Peary (main ima..
Instead of Peary's, the expedition now faced the perils of modern explorers. ExWeb received a desperate call from Tom Avery - the Iridium phone didn't charge.
Until the very last day, there were times when Tom Avery genuinely believed that they would not make it. The ice drift played them a cruel game.
On the last day a lead stretched from east to west as far as the explorers could see, completely blocking their path to the Pole. Exhausted by this stage, the dogs included, they searched for a way across.
The first attempt to cross nearly ended in disaster when one team broke through the thin ice, all of them ending up in the water in the center of the lead.
Amazingly the sled did not go through and with the team calling to them from the bank, the dogs were able to haul themselves out of the water.
But wait, a small dot on the horizon - one more man was arriving: Following Matty's tracks, Korean Young Seok Park completed the world's first Adventure Grand Slam.
Best of ExplorersWeb 2005 Awards: Matty McNair - Arctic and Antarctica
Posted: Dec 31, 2005 04:56 am EST
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2005. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2005.
Today number 2: Matty McNair - Arctic and Antarctica
They come from all different countries, have gotten involved with the Arctic and Antarctic in many different ways, and hold Polar travel records. They are the women of the Poles. Raised by the music of the wind, soft lighting, and endless views - the white wildernesses is their mate; giving them space to spread their wings; embracing them, and allowing their spirit to soar.
The most experienced female Polar guide in the world, Matty McNair's home is in Iqualuit on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic: West of Greenland, East of the Northwest Passage, just South of the Arctic Circle, and 600 km North of the tree line.
The British ladies
Where some ladies visit only briefly, exploiting their womanhood in flashy media stunts, Matty is the real thing. McNair skied to both ends of the earth and over the Greenland Ice Cap, traveled by dog team around Baffin Island, across Ellesmere Island through Sverdrup Pass and through Auyuituq National Park.
In 1997, Matty led a women's expedition to the Geographic North Pole and wrote a book describing her journey, "On Thin Ice; A Woman's Journey to the North Pole."
The expedition comprised British females shuttled to the ice in a relay on resupply planes, spending about one week each - led and cared for by Matty and second guide Canadian Denise Martin. When the expedition arrived at the North Pole, only Matty and Denise had skied the entire way - spending three months on the ice.
Upon arrival at the Pole, the British ladies claimed female record and had their media shots taken, asking Denise and Matty to step out of the picture. The two guides set up camp and cooked for the party. When all were warm and fed, Matty and Denise sneaked out to quietly shoot a few pics of each other: The first women in the world to have skied to the North Pole without dogs or skidoos.
The Guinness book of World Records
A few years later, some of the British ladies returned for the Pole - without Matty and Denise this time. After 81 days and numerous resupplies by Arctic pilots, two of them reached the pole. Meanwhile, a woman lugged a sled twice the size of the British. After 65 days, and straight after an unsupported expedition to the South Pole, Swedish husband and wife team Tom and Tina Sjogren reached the North Pole - Tina becoming the first female in the world to do it entirely unsupported.
The ensuing press was a Matty deja-vu: The British women entered the Guinness book of World Records as "The first women to reach the poles without the aid of men."
Taking on the "world's greatest explorer"
Matty's next expedition would in fact take on another Guinness favorite: A man they had dubbed "the world's greatest explorer" - Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Late November last year, the unknown Matty McNair 53, set out to lead her kids, daughter Sarah (18) and son Eric (20) and two friends on an incredible South Pole traverse - KitesOnIce - the boldest SP expedition of 2004/05. If successful, Matty would be the first American to ski unsupported to the South Pole, her kids the youngest to do so. But that wasn't all: At the South Pole, they planned to get a resupply, turn around and kite the 1100 km back - totaling 2200 km as the crow fly. Their distance longer than the Fiennes/Stroud crossing in 1992.
Not only Matty and the kids, but their two British friends would actually beat the "worlds greatest explorer" in the longest Antarctica/South Pole expedition undertaken by a Brit without the use of motorized vehicles - it helped though that Fiennes traverse had been the shortest in the first place.
...to the tunes of a fiddle
Matty parted with her pottery and dogs and headed South. Yanni and "wicked fast fiddle music" loud in her headphones she set off from the coast, her kids and friends close behind. The gang sped over the ice, past buried mountains and sharp sastrugi, under Antactica's perpetual sun.
Sarah jammed to Red Hot Chili Peppers, while her brother Eric thought about computers. Entrepreneur Conrad Dickinson footed the expedition bill and chased after Hillary, his triathlon wife. Matty fretted that the unsupported status had forced her to leave behind a favorite book: "Dragons in Eden - the evolution of the human brain."
The KitesonIce expedition faced a rough year on Antarctica. Bad weather and big sastrugi outed 6 trekkers, and soon the guys were the only full distance unsupported team left. Everyones thoughts are turning to food. It's in every conversation. Eric seems to be devouring anything left on the tent floor, they dispatched.
First return trip
There had never been a return trip Hercules Inlet-SP-Hercules Inlet on skis. If you skip all tractor, ski-doo and dog expeditions, Antarctica had only been crossed by 10 people.
But there was a twist to the story: The year sported another traverse attempt - a much publicized 1600 km trek that included a Landrover stunt. Compared to Matty and her kids 2200 km march, in addition the "other traverse" starting point was only 500 km from the South Pole - the first point of resupply. A new route, true, but also half Matty's distance to the pole; a hell of a difference when you pack your sled for a cross country ski without kites and resupplies! Moreover, the "competing" expedition was led by another stellar polar guide: Paul Landry; Matty's kids father.
In fact, with some luck they would all meet at the South Pole - just in time for a very brief Christmas family rendezvous...
The South Pole - an unfriendly place
Christmas Eve, the feeling at the South Pole was anything but festive. Matty, the first American to reach the point unsupported, was met by a "don't feed the explorers" banner flied right on Christmas day by her fellow American polar base scientists. Matty's kids, the youngest expeditioners to ever reach the Pole - joined their mom to look for the compound store, where they managed to con chocolate bars out of the clerk.
No reason to linger. The kids hugged dad and took off after mom, for the return trip, 1,200 km, back to the edge of Antarctica.
This time, they flied their kites, and what followed was plain beautiful. The guys sped round the clock, covering daily record distances up to 104 nm (192.73 km), in spite of the physical exhaustion of their unsupported trek to the pole. Less than 20 days later, they were back at the edge of the Antarctic Ocean.
The kids, their mom and two friends beat everything, completing one of the most clean and remarkable expeditions in South Pole expedition history. The 1,380-mile (2,220 km) expedition that started on the Antarctic coast at Hercules Inlet on November 2 2004, reached the South Geographic Pole on December 23 and finished back at the coast at Hercules Inlet on January 11, 2005 - all in a mere 70 days!
It was an outstanding performance. In an instant, Matty had become the world's only unsupported polar expedition guide and the gang swept the polar table with more records than anyone could count. But Matty hardly stopped to breath. She waited for Paul and his clients to catch up for now it was dad's turn to take the kids, and like an arctic tern - Mom hurried North.
Taking on Peary
In April, 1909, American Polar explorer, Commander Robert E. Peary, discovered the North Pole...or did he? Controversy clouded Pearys alleged 1909 expedition. Using dogsleds, Peary, Matthew Henson, and four Inuit men apparently took only 37 days to arrive at the North Pole. Since then, the fastest time for a dog-sled expedition to reach the North Pole had taken 42 days, a record held by Matty's husband, Paul.
Many said Peary lied. They just didn't make dogs that fast. British explorer Tom Avery set out to recreate Pearys journey and match his reported 37 day record. Using exact replicas of the Peary's sleds - and Matty as expedition guide.
Would Matty have the strength, so close after her multiple records at Antarctica, to also beat an all-time record in the Arctic and help Tom prove Peary right?
In fact, it was not about Peary either. One day short of the pole, Peary left his loyal companion of many years - Matthew Henson - behind to claim the pole for himself. It was the song of the time - Matthew was African-American and it would take years anyway before he was allowed on the Persian carpets of the Explorers Club. Rather than Peary, Matty's and Tom's expedition was about a principle - could it have been done?
Sleds lashed together with rope
January, only days after she returned from Antarctica, the gang assembled in Matty's house in Iqualuit, test driving the dog-teams and the brand new, specially designed sledges. Tom, 23, had put much effort in the expedition. On a visit to New York, he studied Peary's sled on display in the Museum of Natural History near Central Park.
Matty and Tom got to work on the sleds right away and used photographs of Pearys sleds to help in their construction. Like Pearys, they were eleven foot long and just over two feet wide. The fronts of the runners were reinforced with extra support, made completely from Canadian Spruce. Peary didnt use any screws or nails in the construction of his sleds and neither did Tom and Matty. Instead the sleds were lashed together with rope.
Mid March, Matty McNair, Tom Avery, Andrew Gerber, George Wells, and Hugh Dale-Harris left Cape Columbia.
The key was to keep the sleds light, 500 pounds each when fully loaded. Alpha and Eagle were pulled by eight dogs on each team - dog food the biggest weight. Peary had support parties and the 2005 version had food and fuel caches placed by Twin Otters at each of the four points Peary used. As the Canadian Eskimo dogs shot off under Arctic's foggy skies, the 5 skiers followed, spending the cold nights in one large wigwam tent.
Instead of Peary's, the expedition soon faced the perils of modern explorers. ExWeb received a desperate call from Tom Avery - the Iridium phone didn't charge - flashing 'Invalid Battery'. It was the first call about a problem that would come to plague many explorers. "Send the phone in for repair," Iridium had advised. ExWeb New York team grabbed a cab to JFK - armed with a spare phone for Tom and Matty.
The "extreme geek squad" was to fly to Canada, where a new phone would be delivered by a Twin Otter to one of Peary's checkpoints. But the world of exploration is small. Just as ExWeb was to board the plane - Paul, Eric and Sarah showed up at the gate! Shared custody takes on a different meaning in polar families: To keep up with mom, dad had decided to treat the kids to a double crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap. ExWeb quickly unloaded Matty's phone on her family, who took it to her Arctic pilots.
The quest for speed
Until the very last day, there were times when Tom Avery genuinely believed that they would not make it. The ice drift played them a cruel game - in the very last hours adding 18.6 miles to their distance.
Black water clouds smoked everywhere, indicating open water ready to swallow the racing dogs. They maneuvered the heavy sleds over rough ice and open leads, with an almost fatal giant lead on Day 35: At a quarter of a mile wide and nearly four inches thick, the ice was barely enough to support the weight of the two dog teams. At the very end, one lead of no more than fifty yards in width remained unfrozen in the center. It stretched from east to west as far as the explorers could see, completely blocking their path to the Pole. Exhausted by this stage, the dogs included, they searched for a way across.
The first attempt to cross nearly ended in disaster when one team broke through the thin ice, all of them ending up in the water in the center of the lead. Amazingly the sled did not go through and with the team calling to them from the bank; the dogs were able to haul themselves out of the water.
Finally the crew made it across a stretch of slightly thicker ice and was making their final steps to the Pole, located on a small flat area of snow, no larger than a tennis court and surrounded by pressure ridges. They counted down the last sixty feet to the Pole on the GPS side by side. Arriving April 28, just after 7:30 am local time, they hugged, laughed and cracked open the champagne. They had done it.
With an 18.8 mile sprint on the last day, Tom and Matty and the Ultimate North team broke Pearys 1909 speed record at 36 days, 22 hours and 11 minutes - 7 miles ahead of Pearys pace.
In a short period of 5 months, Matty, 53, had skied, kited and dog sledded 3000 km of polar ice. To the tunes of "wicked fast fiddle music," she beat them all - hubby, Fiennes and Peary - kids in tow, fixing camps and food for men and dogs alike.
But wait, a small dot on the horizon - one more man was arriving: Following Matty's tracks, Korean Park Young-Seok completed the world's first Adventure Grand Slam, by climbing the 14, 8000ers and skiing to both poles - a cross-over in the extremes no adventurer in the world had accomplished before.
Matty had gone a long way from that 1997 British "all women expedition" to the North Pole.
Matty McNair has fullfilled all of the award criteria and stays in our memory for her astonishing professionalism, leadership and courage to take on several great challenges after each other.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
3. Simone Moro and Piotr Morawski Shisha Pangma first Winter Climb for pioneering, persistence, idealism, comradeship, honesty and fair play.
4. The German Alpinclub Sachsen - as a symbol for climbers' courage, idealism, self reliance, ingenuity, compassion and heart.
5. Ed Viesturs and Christian Kuntner - for courage, idealism, determination, comradeship and the spirit of a climbing life.
6. Didier Delsalle and his Mystery Chopper - for pioneering, courage, ingenuity, and magic.
7. Broad Peak SW face - for pioneering, courage, self reliance and persistence.
8. Expedition Siberia - for heart and Shackleton Spirit.
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Marcin Miotk - for his self-sufficiency and courage to speak up.
Minoru Saito - for his humble life of great adventures.
Pavel Rezvoy - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Fedor Konyukhov, the Renaissance explorer - for his pursuit of fairness.
More on Matty
Matty grew up in Swarthmore Pennsylvania, in a family that canoed, skied, sailed and biked. Matty dreamed about riding horses and being an artist. A girl in a mens world of outdoor pursuits she had to push herself hard to prove that she could do everything too. She began instructing in ski mountaineering, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing in Colorado for the Outdoor Leadership Training Seminars. Next, she worked with Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School instructing wilderness canoeing, whitewater kayaking, dog sledding and leadership training.
She first went to Baffin Island to ski & dog sled across Southern Baffin Island. She returned in 1990 to do a 4,000 km dog sledding journey around the island. At the end of the expedition she stayed, made Iqualuit her home and started North Winds Arctic Adventures to share her love of the Arctic with others. "I always knew that adventure travel was going to be in my life because it gave me a zest for live, made me feel alive, challenged and energized," she says.
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