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ExWeb interview Sebastian Copeland and Eric McNair-Landry (part 2/2): An odd encounter in a paralleled universe

Posted: Mar 08, 2012 08:06 am EST

(Correne Coetzer) Opening a new route across the South Pole of Inaccessibility and the Geographic South Pole, while meeting Lenin along the way was surreal, says the team. For Eric it had special connotations as he followed in his dad’s footsteps.

Sebastian explains the bust of Lenin is alleged to be facing Moscow, but to him it seems Lenin is facing a different direction than on a 1958 photo. “Perhaps, out of boredom, has he slowly rotated his gaze over the years!” he contemplated.

Eric and Sebastian tell more about the route across the Pole of Inaccessibility (POI), the hardest times of the expedition, what they enjoyed most and their future plans.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about the route to the POI. What advice did Eric’s father, Paul Landry, give you about this route?

Eric: Ultimately Dad's advice and route for getting up the Somovoken Glacier were excellent, as was his overall notes on the trip. However on his expedition he encountered deep snow and light winds, while we experienced higher winds and much more formidable sastrugi

Sebastian: We had Paul’s way points to cross the crevasse areas in the beginning, but he is obviously more macho than we are: he went right through them!

We chose a more conservative, if longer, route to avoid the greater concentration of crevasses. Rune Gjeldnes’ experience, almost falling through with his sledge, was also a motivator there.

Mostly, Paul’s notes had to do with wind direction in the first third of the trip: initially the wind was out of the east, but he mentioned that it would turn to the north as we advanced and it did.
From that point on, we were traveling mostly on a broad reach.

Interestingly, Paul’s notes on wind strength and terrain conditions did not really match our experience. He saw smooth snow condition once up in elevation, something we really waited for; but failed to materialize.

He also put in a two hundred plus kilometer day, and we constantly joked that our day would come for that kind of wind. It never did. Wind was generally very light, and shut down after a few short hours. Either that, or we were pinned down by storm conditions!

We spent many days crawling, and wondered if we would ever reach the POI. But we also traveled earlier in the season than he did, with overall colder conditions.

ExplorersWeb: How far away could you spot Lenin? How did it feel when you arrived, facing this man in the middle of this wide wasteland?

Eric:We spotted Lenin from roughly 5km away, the station was far less visible then I had expected. For me getting to the ceremonial POI had special connotations as Dad had leaded the only other kite team to get to that particular location. It was odd to encounter; such an icon in such a vast and empty land, for one it felt like stepping back in time, or to a paralleled universe.

Sebastian: We spotted the markers of the POI from about seven nautical miles away. We benefitted, on that day, from solid and strengthening winds. We had not had good winds for some days, and we were cruising at a pretty good click when we almost overshot it.

Luckily, we did a reading about ten nautical from there and adjusted our aim by almost 45 degrees! It would have been a real challenge to beat upwind had we missed it!

Seeing Lenin’s bust in this environment, stoic, forlorn, incongruous is surreal. Like a Napoleon in exile on Elba! The bust is alleged to be facing Moscow. I cannot confirm that: the thing that surprised me, upon examining a photo of the base circa 1958, is that he was facing a different direction then. Perhaps, out of boredom, has he slowly rotated his gaze over the years!

ExplorersWeb: Your route was partly unknown (POI to SP). How does it feel to look at the endless white horizon and know you will be the first to venture there on kite-skis? How did you experience the route?

Sebastian: Initially, I was unaware of the Norwegian-US trans-Antarctic mission. In 2007-2008, they were the first to open the route. They did so using motorized tractors and over two seasons. This made us the second team to ever cross that section, and the first to do so without assistance or motorized transportation, at the very least!

That said, I had no data to go by, and neither did the NSIDC nor the NSF who had no record of that trip. Consequently, we did not know what to expect wind-wise. Studying wind maps and word from experts all pointed to very light conditions. In the end, we netted the best winds of the entire trip on that section!

Other than three days spent in the tent in dead calm conditions, we average over 100 kilometers per day on those traveling days. Additionally, we saw some of the smoothest terrain on that route. Overall, it was probably the best part of the entire trip, which enabled us to make up time and put us in comfortable margins to the finish line.

ExplorersWeb: What was the hardest parts of the expedition for you (physically, mentally and terrain)?

Eric: For me the most difficult part of the expedition was after Sebastian broke his rib for the second time, after which it became imperative to reduce all strain to his rib cage. In an attempt to mitigate this I took to carrying all the group food with greatly increased my sleds weight, it obviously made kiting more strenuous especially over the sastrugi.

Sebastian: Outside of the first weeks of hauling, the toughest mental part of the trip, for me, was without hesitation dealing with the frostbites. It was a constant strain on the mind, and a daily re-evaluation.

Besides, as the toe’s nerves are raw and exposed, they become especially sensitive to the cold; consequently, it is difficult to tell how cold is cold inside those boots. From two hours to one hour sections, we often had to cut down to thirty minute travel sections so that I could move my foot and get circulation going again.

The threat of losing a digit is tough on the nerves, even while contemplating that such risk is sometimes the price of doing business. As it is, I face a 70% chance of amputation on one toe, even as we speak. I will know in a few weeks... That said, and trust me when I say that I really, really value my toes, I would go through this again if I had to - even if with a different pair of boots!

ExplorersWeb: You finished in time, but were the winds as good as you had hoped for?

Eric: Overall the winds were as expected; as you noted, we did finish on-time. However we had expected better winds going to the POI, poorer winds traveling to the South Pole and much better winds for the last leg of the journey: heading back to Hercules inlet.

Sebastian: Winds were light as we gained elevation on our way to the POI. Consistent with katabatic conditions, the closer you get to the top, the lighter the winds.

We spent a lot of time above 12000 feet, and outside of systems, the winds followed a consistent pattern: generally weak for a few hours in the morning and early shut down by mid afternoon. Winds were lighter than expected to reach the POI, but again, from the POI to SP we scored some pretty sweet conditions - mostly system driven. That saved us. Also on the SP-HI leg, we had a spell of weak to no winds that made for a tense finish.

ExplorersWeb: What did you enjoy most?

Eric: I enjoyed the various encounters with other groups specifically the teams we met at the south pole and especially meeting up with Cas and Jonesy just before they finished their trip.

Sebastian: Antarctica yields the purest, endless stretches of untouched beauty in the world. Whilst up the plateau, there are no contrails and nothing to get in the way of its elemental simplicity: air and frozen H2O.

Kiting there, in regions that have barely seen a human foot print, is a rare privilege. That said, the best part of such a mission is to reach your destinations. Seeing the markers at both the POI and the South Pole delivers one hell of a bang for the money! It is both exhilarating, reassuring and rewarding.

Finally, reaching Hercules Inlet after 82 days holds the promise of a good meal and a shower. That never loses its charm!

ExplorersWeb: I guess I can ask you two, even after such a strenuous expedition, what’s next?

Eric: At the moment I am waiting for Sarah, my number one accomplice to return to civilization, to discuss the various trips we could pursue in the near future. On the table is a Kayaking trip through South Baffin, returning to Greenland, or an epic kite trip in northern Russia. Keep posted!

Sebastian: For me, the next big march will be this summer: down the aisle! That, and the prospect of child rearing, promises to be the greatest of expeditions! We won’t waste too much time as we plan to cross Namibia for our honeymoon. Beyond that, there are no shortages of trips to be had, so stay tuned (you can find out on www.sebastiancopelandadventures.com).

Eric McNair-Landry (27) and Sebastian Copeland (48) opened a new route crossing the continent from East to West, from Novolazarevskaya Base via the South Pole of Inaccessibility and the Geographic South Pole to Hercules Inlet.

In June 2010 Canadian McNair-Landry and American/French Copeland bagged the kite-ski distance world record by kiting 595km in 24 hours on Greenland.

Copeland is an accomplished filmmaker and McNair-Landry is known for his expeditions with his sister Sarah; skiing across ice fields, kite-bugging in deserts and canoeing along rivers. During the 2011 fall and summer, time came for their biggest dream yet: to kite-ski and sledge-haul 3000 km of the historical Northwest Passage route first sailed in 1906 by 1911 South Pole discoverer Roald Amundsen. The siblings started in the far north of Canada’s Northwest Territories, pitching their tent just outside of the Tuktoyaktuk settlement. After 85 days of travel across 3300 km on June 11 they finally reached Pond Inlet.

South Pole of Inaccessibility:
S82°06.696, E055°01.951
Geographic South Pole: 90 degrees South

#Polar #interview

Eric McNair-Landry: “It was odd to encounter; such an icon in such a vast and empty land, for one it felt like stepping back in time, or to a paralleled universe.” In the image, Eric and Sebastian at the POI with Lenin’s bust.
courtesy Sebastian Copeland
2011-12 Antarctica ski routes.
courtesy ExplorersWeb.com