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Sarah McNair-Landry

Sarah McNair-Landry

Saturday, 11 June 2011 12:53

Arriving in Pond Inlet

PittarakExpeditionsDistance traveled: 18.5 km
Position: N72 41'36.1 W 077 56'48.0

Day 85 - Position: Pond Inlet!

Warm winds and rain in the last two days have turned the snow covering the sea ice into an inch to a foot of water. Today, an intermittent fog and a steady drizzle continued to add to the existing water. Yesterday, we had given up skiing and were now on foot, as the slippery ice was difficult to negotiate with skis. As a consequence, we were exhausted and eager to get to Pond Inlet, our final destination. Winter was over; it was time to trade our skis for sandals and shorts.

After 85 days, we have traveled 3300 km by foot, ski and kite-ski. We encountered major challenges, namely rough ice, polar bear encounters and a long detour around the Gulf of Boothia, which made the final destination even more rewarding.

PICT0196By 9 PM, we arrived on the beach in front of town. Despite the cold winds and rain, a gathering of people met us on the beach to congratulate us and welcome us to Pond Inlet. It was nice to finally be here.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 08:53

The weatherman

image1aDistance traveled:
June 7th: 23.0 km
June 8th: 20.8 km
Distance from Pond Inlet (end): 55 km

Day 82 - Position: N72°30'44.9 W079°32'05

Every second day, we turn on our Iridium phone and wait for our new weather forecast to download. At times, these forecasts bring good news of future winds; the past couple of days, however, have read: winds less than 5 knots, from variable directions, with temperatures on the rise up to 0°C. And so we have steadily been skiing towards our final destination of Pond Inlet, hoping our next weather forecast will bring better news.

A couple years ago, while I was guiding in Antarctica, I met Mark De Keyser, who was forecasting weather for Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. They spoke highly of his services, however I must admit I was skeptical about receiving weather forecasts on expedition. Shortly after, Eric and I headed to Mongolia to cross the the Gobi Desert by kite. Warned frequently about the fierce sand storms, we thought maybe it wasn't a bad idea to get weather updates.

I've since learnt the importance of these weather forecasts. Mark's advice on winds helped us plan our route and allowed us to be ready for the winds. The best example comes from when we were nearing Igloolik; after seven days of uncooperative head winds, a forecast finally came through calling for west winds, that would however only blow for 24 hours. Knowing this allowed us to plan for a long kite-skiing day, by only skiing four hours, then eating a big meal and sleeping for four hours. Sure enough, the winds picked up at 7 PM, as predicted. Rested and ready, we were able to kite the 154 km into Igloolik, getting there just as the winds died.

World Wide Weather 4 Expeditions, Mark's company, forecasts weather for all types of expeditions, including mountain, polar and sailing. Having just finished the Himalayas season, he is busy forecasting for Greenland expeditions and the first ever summer expedition to the north pole.

Thanks Mark for all your help and advise!


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Saturday, 04 June 2011 07:24

In search of snow

lookingforsnowJune 4th, Day 78

Distance traveled:
June 3rd: 73.6 km
June 4th: 7.9 km

Position: N71°55'38.9 W080°49.35.7

The blizzard outside died down, and the sun made an appearance. We were rested and ready to make some miles. The temperatures have been increasing, hovering between 0°C and -5°C, and, as a consequence, the snow is rapidly disappearing. Our strategy is to cross Baffin Island as quickly as possible, before the snow completely melts away and the rivers start to flow, slowing our progress. The last 150 km of our route into Pond Inlet will be on thick sea ice, which melts out much later in the year.

We stuck to the snow covered valleys, kite skiing when the terrain allowed. Overflow water on the rivers was abundant, forcing us to zigzag across the landscape in search of snow. We made one last steep climb before dropping into a narrow gully, with high rocky cliffs blocking the winds. Exhausted, we could hardly stay awake while we waited for our dinner to cook.

This morning, the smell of spring was in the air and migratory birds could be heard chirping outside our tent. We strapped on our ski's and started our decent, the snow conditions continuously deteriorating as we got closer to the ocean. We hopped from one snow patch to the next, hauling our sleds over the tundra and rocks in between. It was a relief when Milne Inlet came into view. Soon after, the weather socked in and rain pelted down on us. There is nothing more miserable than skiing through rain in the Arctic at 5 AM; it was time to take shelter in our tent and enjoy a hot bowl of soup while we waited for the weather to clear.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Wednesday, 01 June 2011 07:23

Crossing the Fury and Hecla Strait

ericwithkiteDistance traveled:
May 31st: 131.3 km
June 1st: 21.6 km

Position: N70°41'55.2 W080°40'58.4

The winds were slowly increasing, and by 5pm we set off on our final leg, towards Pond Inlet. With the warm spring weather it is to our advantage to travel during the cooler nights when the snow surface is hard packed, and to sleep during the warm days.

Igloolik Island faded out of sight as we headed north crossing the Fury and Hecla Strait, a 50 km crossing before arriving on Baffin Island. The strait is named after Parry's two ships, who spent many years searching for the Northwest Passage.

During his first expedition Parry sailed north of Baffin Island mapping a huge artery of one of the Northwest Passages; Lancaster Sound.

On Parry's second expedition, he decided to sail south of Baffin Island through Hudson Bay in hopes of discovering a more southern passage to the Orient. His ships became locked in the ice near Igloolik for several years.

During that time the Inuit told him about a passage between Melville Peninsula and Baffin Island. With that knowledge and rough sketches of the area that the Inuit drew for him, he set out on an overland expedition. Sure enough there it was a narrow passage, filled with islands and clogged with ice even during the late summer months which made it impassible for his ships.

Now with a warmer climate and strong icebreaker ships, the Hecla and the Furry strait has been sailed a few times making it one of the several Northwest Passage routes.

With good winds we crossed the frozen strait, and continued north across Baffin Island. Weaving our way across the rolling landscape dodging rocks, we continue well into the morning till we were to exhausted to continue. Today however the wind only allowed us to travel a couple hours before diminishing.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Saturday, 28 May 2011 07:16

24 hour marathon

igloolik1Distance traveled:
May 26th: 38.1 km
May 27th: 11.1 km
May 28th: 153.7 km

Position: Igloolik - 69.3666N,081.7833W

After seven hard days of skiing, we were desperate for winds; without them, we would soon have to resort to our spare rations. On the morning of the 26th, a light and erratic breeze picked up from the south, and we were able to slowly make progress on our 14 meter Yakuza kites, flown on 60 meter lines.

Our weather forcast the next morning was titled: "the times they are a changing". West winds were perdicted to pick up at 6 pm and blow till 6 pm the following day. We skied only 4 hours, set up camp ate dinner and took a 4 hour nap. Sure enough, the winds picked up as predicted and we were quick to pack up our tent.

With our kites in the air, we started our descent off the plateau, fenced in in a narrow valley following a river. The rocky hills which rose up to 800 feet on either side confined us to the valley floor. For the first section of the night, we weren't able to kite more than 30 minutes at a time. The hills made the winds turbulent, at times blocking them completely, and the river often turned upwind. So we kited when possible, and walked or skied when the winds or terrain would not permit.

igloolik2As the morning sun rose, we descended off the river onto flat terrain. However the winds were not favorable, gusting up and down forcing us to change our kite size frequently. Exhausted, we kept trying to make as many miles as possible. The town of Igloolik was still far, and we knew these west winds would only last till this evening. We had only 24 hours of wind, none could be wasted.

This wasn't our first 24 hour push; on our first Pittarak expedition in Greenland, we did a 24 hour day for "fun", covering over 400 km. This last year, Eric was back in Greenland and put in a new world record, traveling 595 km in 24 hours. However, Greenland is home to an immense icecap that has both steady winds and flat terrain. Today, between the terrain and the winds, the only record to be made is the number of times we un-rolled and re-rolled our kites.

Finally, as the sky clouded over, the winds increased, and we zipped across the white landscape. After twenty five hours of kite skiing, skiing and walking, Igloolik Island appeared on the horizon. We kite skied around the point of the island, and the town of Igloolik came into sight. It was late, and we were exhausted, so we pitched our tent. The delights of town could wait till tomorrow.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Thursday, 19 May 2011 09:03

Music and the Outdoors

listeningtomusicMay 19th, Day 62

Distance traveled:
May 18th: 80.3 km
May 19th: 26.8 km

Position: N66°46'19.9 W085°07'45.7

I powered my kite to gain extra speed to climb the hill in front of me. Eric reached the summit first and slowed down to scout a decent route. The opposite slope was covered in medium size rocks, impossible to kite down, so we turned around and headed back down hill. We zig zagged over the rocky and hilly terrain, trying to push east, where we would encounter the traditional route north to our next destination, Igloolik. Unfortunately the terrain kept forcing us south, towards the ocean, down an icy drainage. With low visibility, travel was challenging and we took many falls, but did manage to get within a stone's toss of the trail.

Today, head winds forced us to clip on our skis as we traveled north, listening to music. Eric grooved to Arcade Fire, and I was accompanied by Pearl Jam. Music not only motivates us, but allows us to forget our worries about winds and route, distracts our thoughts from how tired we are, and allows us to enjoy our surroundings.


An Outdoor Nation ambassador, Maren Nilsen, shares her thoughts on music and the outdoors:

My unfaltering passion for creativity in performing and exploring have resulted in some of the best experiences I have had. I believe music and the outdoors are deeply rooted in the same soil. Both influence one another in a way that shapes ties connecting nature to human living.

Whereas music may tell stories through measures and notes versus petroglyphs and puffed clouds, the romance and adventure in both brings people together emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. The outdoors and music are the seasonings in life.

So let the imagination take flight to the forests of Norway in Edvard Grieg's …In the Hall of the Mountain King,… experience the sounds at an outdoor concert, and mesh into a black sky sprinkled with bright stars as a lazy strum of a guitar echos around the campfire. You will find that pairing the two will magnify each experience.

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Sunday, 15 May 2011 07:20

A pristine North?

DumpsiteDistance traveled:
May 14th: To the airport and back
May 15th: 132.5 km

Position: N67°35'31.2 W087°52'25.5

We walked down the main street of town, past the hotel, then the church; were given some more route advice by a couple friendly guys hanging out in front of the local co-op store; then continued on towards the airport to check if our resupply of food, and most importantly our maps, had arrived. Still no luck. Hopefully they'll arrive on the next flight.

As we walked back, I admired the location of the town, perched on the ocean by the mouth of a river, with a beautiful backdrop of rocky hills. Surprisingly, we have yet to see the town dump, which was probably hidden behind a hill, during our walks.

Many think of the North as pristine and clean; however, the dump sites in most communities in Nunavut stick up like a sore thumb. As we skied into Taloyoak a couple weeks ago, the first sign of town was a cloud of ravens circling their landfill. Back in Cambridge Bay, while a friend was giving us a tour of town (which, of course, included the dump), we watched two men throw out bags of good quality winter jackets and snow pants. We stopped and picked up the clothing, filling the back of our friend's pick up truck - it wouldn't be hard to find people who would need winter jackets. This kind of wasteful behaviour happens regularly in all the communities, earning the dumps in the North the nickname "Canadian Tire", after the chain of hardware stores.

And what happens to the trash? Most communities pile it up and light it on fire, burning plastics outside at low temperatures just beside the town.

But how can we blame the small towns, when Iqaluit, both the capital of Nunavut and my home town, sets no better example. Although we have now stopped burning our garbage, we pile it up into a mountain of trash that is now several times higher than the fences that surround the dump. Located on an island with high cost of shipping, most supplies arrive in town by boat or plane, and never leave, adding to our landfill site.

The problem first came to my attention a couple of years back when my brother, some friends and myself started to build a cabin; the goal was to use only recycled materials, most of which found at the dump. As you can imagine, we got to know that dump site pretty well, and I started to wonder, is there no better option? Was recycling or compost a feasible option for the city? Thanks to ONF (the french division of National Film Board of Canada), I launched myself into a two year project researching, writing and directing a film on the topic, featuring both the construction of our cabin, and one man's struggle to run a compost project in town.

See it for your self: www.nfb.ca/film/


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Wednesday, 11 May 2011 09:51

The many routes of the Northwest Passage

Distance traveled:
May 10th: 34.8 km
May 11th: 16.5 km


Position: N69°23'58.4 W091°30'30.7

The winds and terrain have been unfavorable to kiting the last couple days, so we ski south into head winds towards the small hamlet of Kugaaruk.

Although we have deviated from our original route, forced south because of bad ice and open water, we are still following one of the many Northwest Passage routes.

Though it is usually referred to as "The" Northwest Passage, there are several navigable routes that connect the Arctic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea. A century ago, the ice forced Amundsen south of Victoria Island, a route which took him three years to complete. But now, through a combination of climate change, melting the multi-year ice that used to block the passages even in the summer, and better ice breaker ships, more routes have become navigable. The widest and deepest heads north of Victoria Island. We are now following the most southerly route that passes south of Baffin Island through the Fury and Hecla strait, which lies by the community of Igloolik.

The various routes can be seen on the following map, along with some interesting information on the ice.


As a side note, Trude Wohlleben, a friend and advisor of Pittarak who works with the Canadian Ice Service, had this to say about the choices Team Pittarak were facing:

"There are some pretty significant leads that opened up between the coast and the pack ice where Sarah and Eric are, as a result of those north-northwesterly winds last week. The main advice I can offer is to look for a section of coast that runs parallel to the prevailing wind directions (which gets funnelled up/down the Gulf of Boothia, so it tends to come from the north-northwest or south-southeast). Sections of the coast that are parallel to the winds will have shear zones but smaller shore leads. Sections of the coast that are perpendicular to the wind, on the other hand, will tend to have larger shore leads when offshore winds occur. Where they are now, it looks like the coast is facing kind of southeastwards, perpendicular to the wind direction of that big storm last week, so as a result there is a pretty wide lead.

Also, while the pack ice itself looks similar to what Sarah crossed last year on the way to the North Pole, the ice floes in the Gulf of Boothia will be smaller than those in the Arctic Ocean, and not as thick. The leads and fractures in between will also be slower to freeze. Once they are on the pack, they should just push hard and get to the other side as quickly as possible. Again, aim for a section of coast that appears to run parallel to the main wind directions, so they don't risk running into another wide lead on the other side.

****And finally ... if the ice in the Gulf of Boothia looks too dangerous, Sarah and Eric should recall that Fury and Hecla Strait is an alternate route of the Northwest Passage. So if they went south along the coastal fast ice to Pelly Bay (Kugaruk) and then rounded Committee Bay over to Igloolik and Hall Beach (instead of heading northeast to Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet) they would STILL be doing one of the recognised routes of the Northwest Passage. Overall, that may be the safer option.****"

Image reference: NASA
Statistics reference: Canadian Ice Service 1968-2010 Ice Chart Data

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Saturday, 07 May 2011 09:44

Halted by open water

deislandDistance traveled:
May 6th: 24.7 km
May 7th: 6.3 km

Position: N70°14'18.3 W091°28'12.0

We left the mainland and skied down onto the Arctic Ocean. A wolverine scurried away from us and hid in the rocky hills. Polar bear tracks crisscrossed the area, but we surprisingly have not seen any recently.

In the bay and among the islands, the ice was solid. But today we headed out into the open Gulf of Boothia. Our first obstacle was a field of rubble ice, over which we double hauled - first pulling one sled, then backtracking and hauling our second sled. After more than two hours of hard work, we climbed up on an ice chunk to scout. The entire ice pack in front of us was moving and shifting. To the South, clouds of black mist signaled open water. We decided to head back to a small unnamed island, which we have been calling Decision Island. We frequent the crest of this rocky island to get a better view on the ice conditions, and to gaze at the ever expanding lead of open water blocking our route.

It's decision time; and as no good decisions can be made without a good bowl of soup in hand, we set up our tent and made some calls asking for advice. We have two options, both presenting challenges: the first is to stick with our original plan, hope to find a way around the open water and attempt to cross Boothia. Our second option is to head South, detouring around the strait, adding but a mere 600 km to our route. Personally, we have no time limit and extending the trip would be fun; however, as the weather warms, it'll soon be a race against spring melt.

What route will we choose? You'll have to wait till our next update to find out.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Thursday, 28 April 2011 12:37

The finest Harbour

Gjoa HavenDistance traveled:
April 27th: 7 km
April 28th: 0 km

Position: Gjoa Haven

"The finest Harbour in the world", Roald Amundsen

The weather was overcast, and the hamlet of Gjoa Haven was concealed by the thick mist till we were only kilometers away. We skiied around the point of land, into the small harbour that the town is built around. We were in the true heart of the Northwest Passage.

Many years after Franklin and his men perished, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen set sail for the passage in 1903. He wintered his small boat, named the Gjoa, in a natural harbour, on the south end of King William Island. The ice locked his ship in for almost two years here. Over this time, the Inuit came to trade with Amundsen, and from them he learned the traditional ways to hunt and survive in the Arctic. He also spent time exploring Boothia Pennisula and studying the location and field strength of the Magnetic North Pole. Finally, the ice released his ship, and he continued towards Alaska, becoming the first to sail the Northwest Passage.

After Amunsden left, the Hudson Bay company set up a trading post in 1927, and, eventually, the settlement gained hamlet status in 1981. The surrounding landscape is flat and barren, the highest point on the entire Island being only 300 meters above sea level. The town name, Gjoa Haven, still remains, and the hamlet now boasts a population of 1000 people, not to mention a summer golf course.


[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

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