Sarah McNair-Landry: ExWeb’s Latest Ambassador

Antarctic Arctic Poles

Growing up in the frigid expanse of Baffin Island, polar guide Sarah McNair-Landry led an unconventional and adventurous childhood. Her parents, guides Paul Landry and Matty McNair, taught her and her brother Eric to be comfortable and to have fun in the cold. Thanks to their parents’ jobs, they became used to camping, hiking, kayaking and dog sledding. In the 1990s, Paul and Matty started Northwinds Expeditions, which offered adventures to Greenland, the North and South Poles, as well as courses and assistance in polar training, film, photography and logistical support. Her brother Eric continues to do expeditions but has taken a break after the birth of his first child this summer.

Sarah McNair-Landry sledding with kayaks during a recent adventure. Photo: featster.com

Unlike many explorers who believe that expeditions require a certain level of suffering, Sarah’s parents showed their children how to appreciate the beauty of the Arctic and the cultures that have adapted with it. The now 31-year-old Sarah is continuing her parents’ legacy and took over as owner of Northwinds Expeditions five years ago.

Sarah with her dog team. Photo: c-qp.com

When Sarah was just 17 years old, she embarked on a month-long, 2,400km expedition across the Greenland ice sheet. Since then, she has crossed Greenland ice six times. However, it was her expeditions across the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica that earned her recognition as the youngest person ever to travel to both poles.

On one recent Greenland expedition, she and boyfriend Eric Boomer combined their skills of skiing and kayaking respectively, in order to travel more efficiently. “In Greenland,” she explained, “the rivers are super remote and really challenging to get to.” They had to cross the ice cap and descend into the river before the paddling began. Despite her vast experience kite skiing, she broke her back when a gust of wind lifted her high in the air and she slammed back down on the hard snow. For the rest of the expedition, she was in constant pain.

These expeditions require a great deal of equipment testing and constant physical activity, no matter whether it is dog sledding, kayaking or skiing. While she keeps physically fit with various sports and hauling heavy weights, her main priority is working with her team of 16 dogs. She described her dog training as a full-time job with an ever-present “level of chaos”. She works hard to develop their obedience and team-work. In the cold months — and there are a lot of cold months on Baffin Island — she runs them frequently. The longer the expedition, the harder and longer the training, especially for the lead dog.

Sarah during her dogsled journey around Baffin Island. Photo: Sarah McNair-Landry

Her most difficult expedition to date, she says, was her 3,300km kite ski through the frozen Northwest Passage with her brother. After three months, the two siblings had to take a 550km detour around unexpected open water. Also difficult: her route around Baffin Island by dogsled a few years ago with Eric Boomer, which was a replication of her parents’ own journey some 28 years prior. The 120-day homage required skiing and dog sledding for an exhausting 12 hours every day.

Although most of her experiences have taken place in the cold, she also enjoys those on the other end of the spectrum. She has crossed the Gobi Desert with a kite buggy, sea kayaked in Mexico and spent a month astride a camel in Egypt. Yet she is most at home in the Arctic and has no quarrel with the cold. “The Arctic is super beautiful, and there are so many untouched places,” she says.

Sarah documents all of her expeditions on film and video in order to capture nature in its rawest form and to present the people she meets who have supremely adapted to wilderness. One well-known documentary she made highlights the environmental impact of poor waste management in her home of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. The 25-minute film, Never Lose Sight, was produced by Canada’s distinguished National Film Board and shows Sarah and her friends recycling materials to build cabins and encouraging the community to compost their organic waste, as a symbolic gesture of what is possible even in the remote Arctic. Because Baffin Island is roadless, isolated and accessible only by planes (and by a few ships during the brief summer), waste builds up and is rarely disposed of.

During her career, she has earned much publicity for her skills. She became the first woman master polar guide recognized by the International Polar Guides Association and has been nominated twice for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year, an award for which her brother has also been nominated. National Geographic has also listed her in the Top Ten Women in Adventure.

The key to kicking off a life of adventure is to “start small and build your way up…you’ve got to get outside, even if it’s in your own backyard.” Being outdoors offers a great deal of mental, physical and technical training for many aspects of life, says Sarah, not just outdoor adventure.

In the next couple of years, Sarah will embark on arctic expeditions involving kite skiing, backcountry skiing, dog sledding and paddling. Information about her travels and documentaries can be found on the Northwinds Expeditions website.

About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine is an aspiring travel writer from Trinidad and Tobago with a BA in English and History. She is currently with the British College of Journalism.

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