ExWeb Interview with Sarah McNair-Landry, "The North Pole is a race against the clock"

Posted: Aug 10, 2010 06:51 pm EDT

In March and April 23-year old Sarah McNairy-Landry followed in the footsteps of her father and mother and guided a ski expedition from Canada to the North Pole.

Currently she is in Mongolia on a canoe expedition from Lake Khovsgol to Lake Baikal in Russia. Joining her is her older brother and partner in crime, Eric McNair-Landry, and two friends from Quebec; Ulysse Bergeron and Elsa Fortin-Pomerleau.

ExWebs Correne Coetzer caught up with Sarah in her favorite tent on the shore of the Selenge River. She explained why they are in Mongolia again, After travelling through the Gobi desert last year, Eric and I both fell in love with Mongolia. That expedition was both physically and mentally very challenging; we completed the expedition with only a day to spare, largely due to favorable wind conditions.

This time we decided to return, with the mind set of being on holiday more than an expedition; with time allocated for visiting town, spending more nights with families we meet along the way, and personally for me; to film and take more pictures. Therefore Sarah admitted they are heavy on the technology side, with us we have more cameras than I would like to admit.

ExplorersWeb: About your North Pole expedition; at the end you had a battle against time. You had to start rolling the clock about two weeks before the end, what did you do?

Sarah: During our last two weeks on the Arctic Ocean; a storm and the new moon cracked up the ice around us, slowing our progress down to nearly a halt. Some leads were so wide we could just barely see the other side. We kept increasing our hours travelled per day, and started rolling the clock, going on a schedule of about 15 hours of skiing per day, split up by a quick stop for a hot soup.

The last week, thanks to John Huston for his valuable advice, we changed our routine again; skiing 10 hours, sleeping 2 hours, and repeating.

ExplorersWeb: Navigation was also a challenge at the end, how did you navigate to correct the drift.

Sarah: Since we were drifting so fast East/South, I had to compensate. Depending on the drift and the winds I would compensate different amounts, but most of the time I was steering 20 degrees west of the pole just to be able to maintain our heading.

ExplorersWeb: If you would ski to the NP again, what would you do different next time?

More time if it were possible. Unfortunately for cost and seasonal reasons the North Pole is a race against the clock.

ExplorersWeb: This canoe expedition is very different from the ice fields, the deserts, sledge-hauling, kiting. What is on your equipment list?

Sarah: Our most important pieces of equipment are our two Esquif canoes which were shipped to Mongolia last winter. Both canoes have been rigged with the essentials; a pair of fuzzy dice for one canoe, a Hawaiian bobble girl for the second; sadly she has already been knocked off the canoe in a storm and now lives in the depths of Lake Khovsgol.

On our clothing list: our Kokatat gear includes; expedition dry tops, dry pants and life jackets. We have also brought along clothing suited for warm and cold temperatures and as usual all the basic camping gear: stoves, pots, etc.

We are heavy on the technology side, with us we have more cameras than I would like to admit, a BGAN satellite dish, and two computers. Solar panels are used to charge our mini portable studio, from which we send our blogs, pictures and two minute videos all produced and refined in the field.

Last but not least, I never leave home without my Hilleberg tent and a plentiful supply of chocolate.

ExplorersWeb: What do you do about food and water? Do you carry most in you canoes? Are there towns near the water?

Sarah: There are both small and larger towns along the rivers, but from last years experience; travelling thought Mongolia's Gobi desert, there is a very limited selection of food.

We packed the staple foods; rice, noodles, oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, spices, etc, in Mongolias capital Ulaanbaatar. In the villages, when available, we purchase fresh food such as potatoes, onions, cabbage and maybe if we are lucky we will find carrots or beets in some of the bigger towns.

We also have most of the ingredients to make Sushi: rice, seaweed, and a fishing rod, however we seem to lack the magical ingredient; the skills required to catch fish.

Due to livestock along the Eg and Selenge rivers the water is not drinkable. With us we have a water filtration pump and numerous water purification tablets if the pump fails.

ExplorersWeb: How do you know Ulysse and Elsa?

Sarah: A couple years ago Ulysse moved to Nunavut, Iqaluit (my home town) to work as a journalist. Eric and I both met him there and quickly we became friends. Elsa completed the team of four Canadians, two from Quebec and two from Nunavut. All bilingual, our website is both in French and English, and we alternate between languages on our blog.

ExplorersWeb: You have been to Mongolia last year, but how easy was it to get permission to get into Russia. How long may you stay there?

Sarah: The length of our trip required a six month visa for Russia, which requires paper work, medical test, invitation letters etc. My personal visa experience was quite smooth, however my brother Eric, having just returned from guiding a South to North Greenland expedition flew strait to London, and there spent the week working on his Russian visa before he was able to join the rest of the team in Mongolia.

The expedition is planned to finish in September.

ExplorersWeb: What possible danger could there be on the rivers or off the rivers?

Sarah: The three biggest dangers on the river are the following:
1. Chinggis Khaan impersonators
2. Vodka
3. Ticks, they may be small but their bite can be more lethal than a rabid Yak.

ExplorersWeb: In case of an emergency, what rescue possibilities can you employ?

Sarah: We carry a SPOT personal locator beacon, which we send out every night, and a BGAN satellite dish/phone that can be used to call in a rescue. All team members also have insurance to cover the costs of a medical evacuation, if necessary.

ExplorersWeb: Will you camp along the river at night? What about wolves?

Sarah: The big bad wolf can blow a house of straw down, but they cant touch our Hillberg tent.

ExplorersWeb: Will you be on the water the whole way or are there places that you have to cross land to the other river/water?

Sarah: There are a couple obstacles along the way, the first being the depth of the Eg river at its source. Since we are in the rainy season the depth was luckily never a problem, however trees that had fallen into the river (strainers) posed problems; some blocked off the entire river forcing us to portage around.

Our next big obstacle is crossing the Russian/Mongolian border. Crossing on foot is forbidden, so we will have to stop at a small town about 5km from the border, and hire a car to bring us into Russia. Once past the customs agents, we will attempt to get dropped back at the river as close to the boarder as possible. From there we will continue our journey towards Lake Baikal.

Sarah McNair-Landry was born on May 9, 1986 and lives in her Hilleberg tent if not in her hometown, Iqaluit in Nunavut, Canada. She works as an adventure/polar guide and in the film industry. Her hobbies are dog sledding, kite surfing and kite skiing.

Sarah and her brother Eric undertook several polar expeditions with their father and mother, the polar guides Paul Landry and Matty McNair on Antarctica and in the Arctic. In the 2004-05 Antarctic season they became the youngest to ski to the South Pole and did it unassisted, unsupported; and they kited back to the coast. In the 2008-09 Antarctic season Sarah guided an ALE team from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and kited back to Patriot Hills. In the Spring of 2010 she guided a Northwinds team to the North Pole. Both teams were resupplied.

During the Spring of 2009 sister and brother, Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry and their friend Curtis Jones, all from Canada, attempted a kiting expedition across the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. They started their adventure on 16 May, but Curtis had to leave the expedition 10 days later due to family reasons. Sarah and Eric carried on. The team used three-wheeled buggies powered by their kites or pulled by themselves in no winds. The expedition ended on 17 June.

Previously, in 2007, Sarah, Eric and Curtis kited together along a vertical route on Greenland and pulled sleds.

Currently the Sarah, Eric, and fellow Canadians, Ulysse Bergeron and Elsa Fortin-Pomerleau are in Mongolia for a canoe expedition from Lake Khovsgol to Lake Baikal in Russia, traveling along the Eg and Selenge rivers.


#Polar #Oceans #interview














Sarah swimming an open water lead during the 2010 North Pole expedition (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry
Due to livestock along the Eg and Selenge rivers the water is not drinkable. With us we have a water filtration pump and numerous water purification tablets if the pump fails. The meeting of the Eg and the Selenge (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE
The Selenge River (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE
Solar panels are used to charge our mini portable studio, from which we send our blogs, pictures and two minute videos all produced and refined in the field. floating down the river on their self-made raft with solar panels (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE
"Local family from the town of Selenge, outside their one room house (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE
We also have most of the ingredients to make Sushi: rice, seaweed, and a fishing rod, however we seem to lack the magical ingredient; the skills required to catch fish. Eric and Ulysse overlooking the northern coast of Lake Khovsgol (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE
The canoe team: Ulysse, Eric, Elsa and Sarah (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE