Boomer, McNair-Landry Finish Epic 42-Day Baffin Adventure

erik boomer and sarah mcnair-landry clyde river
Erik Boomer and Sarah McNair Landry ski sea ice in Baffin Island. Photo: Erik Boomer

Arctic breakup season, when the skin of ice covering the ocean melts, makes travel impossible for a time. Neither skis, sleds, boats, nor snowmobiles can handle the bobbing ice floes and unconsolidated slush. Both adventurers and local hunters bide their time until the broken ice recedes. This year, two athletes on Baffin Island had other ideas.

In June, kite skier and all-around arctic traveler Sarah McNair-Landry and her partner, pro kayaker Erik Boomer, designed a 42-day multi-sport trip to “wait out” the melt.

The pair, however, didn’t spend much time waiting. Starting from the Inuit village of Clyde River, on east-central Baffin Island, they skied south over Inuksuit Fiord’s deteriorating ice in search of classic rock climbs and first ascents in the aptly named Perfection Valley.

They planned to trek inland to access big whitewater (and possibly claim some river FAs). The trip would end with a paddle back to Clyde River.

baffin island climbing sarah mcnair-landry erik boomer

McNair-Landry follows on a route in Baffin Island. Photo: Erik Boomer

From June 20 to August 2, the two covered 266km under their own power. In the end, they were too top-heavy to safely paddle all the way back to Clyde River, so they opted for a shuttle instead.

But the shortfall didn’t disappoint the two adventurers. Their itinerary remained a massive success. They free-climbed various rock routes and recorded first ascents on formations up to 450-600m. And when they were done with that, they endured brutal carries to clear voluminous waterfalls for several first river ascents.

Neither McNair-Landry nor Boomer requires any embellishment to be impressive. But if you require a slightly thicker plot to really feel hooked, get this: Both adventurists are only just learning how to rock climb.

The birth of a Baffin Island adventure

McNair-Landry and Boomer bring vast experience to their fields, but they’re transparent about how new climbing is for both of them.

McNair-Landry has traversed Greenland ice several times, first with a 2,400km expedition at the age of 17. She also holds the distinction of being the youngest person ever to travel to both the North and South Poles.

Boomer has claimed first descents of rivers and waterfalls worldwide and has more than dabbled in arctic expeditions (much more, in fact). In 2011, he and Jon Turk achieved the first circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island by kayak and ski. And since joining forces with McNair-Landry, Boomer has traveled Greenland extensively. 

Learning to climb “in our backyard”

Climbing is the athletes’ new sport.

“I’m super addicted to rock climbing right now because I’m right at the most fun stage of learning,” Boomer says, “where it all comes together.”

The team beelined across already-tenuous ice to a base camp at an area called Anuraakkaaluut. In terms of prior experience, they had established five routes during a new-routing trip in Southern Baffin. But — the pair emphasized —  their 42-day, arctic breakup excursion had pushed both pros to new limits.

Cold, rainy conditions lashed them on every route as they pushed through first ascents lasting up to 36 continuous hours. At least, at this time of year, that latitude enjoys 24 hours of daylight. At one especially remote juncture, after 450-600m of climbing, an impassable rock forced the pair back. Managing worrisome rockfall and dwindling gear, they rappelled down safely. The summit had been just a rope’s length away.

baffin island rappelling climbing sarah mcnair-landry erik boomer

McNair-Landry rappels down a Baffin Island cliff. Photo: Erik Boomer

They did summit two other routes, handling up to 5.11. They even forged an impromptu direct finish on Riky Felderer and the Pou brothersHotel Monica (320m, 6b+). McNair-Landry and Boomer only determined that they were in terra incognita after the fact, on reviewing the topo.

“We’re just learning,” McNair-Landry acknowledges, “so I’m sure a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, what are they doing climbing on Baffin at all?’ But this is our backyard! And we just love it. We learned so much on this trip.”

The team is still working to substantiate and officially record details of their vertical work, such as proposed grades and FA confirmations.

baffin island climbing sarah mcnair-landry erik boomer

Boomer climbs in Baffin Island. Photo: Sarah McNair-Landry

What goes up must come down: whitewater paddling

From their base camp in the Valley, McNair-Landry and Boomer continued inland, carrying their kayaks and 20 days of food. They followed a traditional Inuit trail, where people still hunt caribou today.

“It’s the same route they’ve been doing for thousands of years,” Boomer said. Ample old tent rings and meat caches proved it.

Four river first ascents and huge whitewater rewarded their efforts. The team FA’d the Inuksuit and McBeth rivers, as well as two unnamed flows. Boomer was in his element, sending waterfall drops up to 20m.

“We got three big [drops],” Boomer said. “One at 60 feet, and another around 45-50 feet. And just amazing, high-quality stuff.”

“Boomer’s definition of good whitewater is different than other people’s definition of good whitewater,” McNair-Landry asserted.

Duly noted.

baffin island waterfall whitewater

Boomer scopes “good whitewater” on Baffin Island. Photo: Sarah McNair-Landry

Next Trip Out

What’s next for Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer?

Soon, Boomer will fly to Ecuador for a kayaking project. After that, he’ll refocus on climbing.

Meanwhile, McNair-Landry will stay in Baffin Island to work on an upcoming film project between her guiding company, NorthWinds Expeditions, and Red Bull.

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About the Author

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.

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