Recently, I wrote about my friend and former Outward Bound colleague Paul Landry and his recent expedition to the Point Of Inaccessibility in Antarctica. We then featured a fuller story about Paul’s life as a polar explorer in The Collective section of our website. Paul has journeyed to the South Pole three times, the North Pole four times, traversed the Greenland Ice Cap and circumnavigated Baffin Island by dog team. Paul’s former partner Matty McNair was also a colleague at Outward Bound. She shares Paul’s passion for polar exploration having been to the North Pole twice, the South Pole twice, traversed Ellesmere Island and circumnavigated Baffin Island by dog team.
And then there are their two kids, Eric, 22, and Sarah, 21. In 2003 they participated in the Greenland Kites On Ice Expedition. In 2004 they completed a 2000 km kiting expedition from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back. Shortly thereafter they returned to Greenland to set the world record for the fastest ice Cap crossing at seven days.
A few days ago they completed the Pittarak Expedition, an unsupported south to north crossing of the Greenland ice cap, a 2300 km journey using kites and skis. Their close friend Curtis Jones joined Eric and Sarah on the expedition. I spoke with them just as they completed the trip.
What influence did your mom and dad have on your interest in polar travel?
Eric: Their involvement in polar travel, and the location they chose to live (Iqaluit, northern Canada) greatly influenced our interests in polar adventure, and allowed us the ability to exercise those interests. There are many skills that we learnt from mom and dad, such as dogsledding, winter camping and traveling in style. But there are also many skills that we learnt on our own; cross country skiing, kiting and first aid to name a few. Iqaluit served as the ultimate place to learn. People travel great distances to use Iqaluit, the back yard Sarah and I played in, to train for major expeditions.
I know you grew up running dog teams when you were living on Baffin Island. How did you transition from dogs to kites?
Eric: Sarah and I started running dogs at a very early age, by 10 years old we were taking teams out solo. It’s comical to think that the dogs weighed more than us then.
I was always interested in kiting, even from an early age I loved flying the one-line kites that mom sewed for us, and from time to time I would tie a kite to a sled and get pulled across the bay. On dad’s first expedition to the Magnetic North Pole he met up with a kiter attempting the same journey, and got his first taste of the sport. Within two weeks of his return, he had ordered a kite. Although dad had little luck with the sport and the kite soon ended up on the workshop shelf, a year later I dusted it off, grabbed a pair of skis, and impressed the family by out-speeding the dog sleds. Instantly we realized the potential kites could have on polar journeys, and how amazing kiting as a sport was.
What’s been the toughest part of the expedition thus far?
Curtis: I guess this question has multiple answers, different things for each of us. As a team however the toughest challenge was likely the day we recorded 414 km in a 24-hour period.
We were kiting 2-hour intervals, breaking 10-15 min for water or a quick snack. The snow surface was very hard packed and uneven for much of the early portion of the day, making it rough on the knees and unsettling for the stomach. As the day wore on we became more and more aware of the toll the kiting was taking on our bodies and the quantity of fatigue that was setting in. Our 24-hour stopwatch had started at 9:30 PM but we had been awake five hours before we even put kites in the sky. During the last leg of the marathon we had been awake almost 30 hours, making it harder to concentrate on the kite, and avoid catching edges with our skis.
We all wanted to push the 24 hour attempt yet not at the risk of injury or mental exhaustion. We were approaching the final days of the expedition and none of us wanted to end on unsafe or compromising terms. This was something we all wanted to do and we all pushed personal, mental and physical limits to do it. At the end of 24 hours we brought our kites to the ground completely drained and astounded, it was an amazing day.
What’s been the biggest surprise during the expedition?
Sarah: During the first week we had many unexpected challenges. The plan was to get dropped of at the base of the glacier where we would start the accent. However, because our boat driver was convinced the waters were too shallow, he dropped us off on a rocky outcrop, about 4 km form the base of the glacier. From there, we had a grueling 4-day hike to shuttle our 350kg of gear up steep rocky gullies, over moraines, through mud and rain.
It was an unexpectedly hard four days before even getting to a place where we could ski. But it allowed us the chance hike beside the glacier, watching huge ice chunks break of and fall into the ocean below forming icebergs.
Do you feel as though your expeditions are an escape from the “real world” or in some ways contributing to it?
Eric: I don’t believe there is such a thing as the real world; Life on the ice cap is just as real, if not more so, than life anywhere else. And it’s defiantly not an escape or retreat. We make an effort to remain connected to the rest of the world, we have email and phone contact, Internet, and still take an interest in world affairs.
From the fan emails we are receiving, it is apparent that we are contributing, and hopefully encouraging, the rest of the world to take on challenges. After the Pittarak expedition is complete we are dedicated to constructing a resource center on our webpage where people interested in completing Greenland expeditions will be capable of finding tips and valuable information.
How do you hope to inspire other young people to pursue their dreams?
Sarah: Eric and I are the youngest to the South Pole, and I am the youngest to the North Pole. We hope to set an example to youth that anything is possible! The Pittarak expedition was our first trip that we completely organized and lead by ourselves.
We hope to inspire youth through media, video, and continuing to present in schools to pass our message on to youth.
We have also been involved in programs to get youth active such as the Youth Outdoor Idols program, organized by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, and the newly created National Geographic Young Explorers Grant.