Image: Instagram/Erik Boomer
Image: Instagram/Erik Boomer
After 120 days and nearly 2,500 miles in bone-chilling conditions, the couple’s incredible adventure was over. However, they still had the photographs of their expedition – epic captures of the freezing white expanses through which they had traveled and the trusty dogs by their side to draw them through the snow. They remembered the chocolate, too – 66 pounds of the confection that helped sustain them during their trip. And while reminiscing, the pair also agreed on another point: the whole journey was like no winter vacation they had ever experienced before.
Erik Boomer and Sarah McNair-Landry embarked on their extraordinary adventure in February 2015 and would go on to circumnavigate Baffin Island in the remote Canadian Arctic on a sled pulled by 14 Canadian Inuit dogs. What’s more, their photographs of the trip reveal a breathtaking landscape – one as stunningly beautiful as it is frightening and hostile.
These images are no standard holiday snaps, either, blending as they do both astounding natural beauty and the day-to-day realities of the daunting journey. For example, in one shot an icy landscape is drowned in rich purple by the bold, swirling colors of the aurora borealis above. Meanwhile, in another photo the gruesome severed head of a walrus rests on the floor, waiting to be prepared and consumed by residents of the Inuit settlement of Igloolik.
And the pictures are an evocative document of a journey upon which few would dare to embark. With a handcrafted sled, handmade clothes and their canine companions, the couple’s “Way of the North” expedition saw them traversing a combination of land and sea ice during their round trip to Igloolik and then back to Iqaluit. All the while, they faced sub-zero temperatures, other extreme weather and, perhaps most alarmingly, the potential threat of polar bear attacks.
Certainly, the trip was not without its challenges. Four days after the couple’s departure, for example, they were on a particularly lofty plateau when they encountered a 56 mph storm. And as the high winds swirled around them, the pair’s dogs panicked and opted to turn back.
While the couple were dragged down the hill by the team of dogs, McNair-Landry’s foot got caught in the lines and she began to be pulled under the sled. As Boomer tried to free her, his glove came off, exposing his hand to temperatures perhaps as low as -94°F. Luckily, though, the pair managed to regain control of their dogs and were able to carry on unscathed.
However, if matters had turned disastrously wrong for the couple at any point during their trip, then rescuing them would have proven problematic. A snowmobile might normally have been the best way for potential rescuers to travel; however, the pair were often in extremely remote areas – in one case sledding for an entire month between settlements – meaning that by the time such a vehicle got there, it may well have been too late. An airplane, on the other hand, would have been no good because it requires a suitable landing spot, while no helicopters were stationed locally, so they would have taken their time to arrive as well.
During their tour, the couple additionally ascended frozen rapids and traversed the Hall Peninsula, the latter of which legs Boomer described as “the coldest trip of my life by a long shot.” While crossing the peninsula, Boomer and Sarah McNair-Landry not only had to contend with temperatures as cold as -98°F, but they also needed to climb 2,000 feet while faced with powerful gusts and hazardous storms.
And while the couple tended to ski behind or next to their sled, they sometimes rode it while traversing tougher terrain. At times – namely when their canine companions required some encouragement – they also skied ahead of the vehicle. On occasion this was done with the help of a pup that was in heat, which resulted in the desired increase in speed. And in other instances the dogs were given a nutritional boost with chunks of fresh seal.
On previous expeditions, moreover, both explorers had encountered polar bears; McNair-Landry had even had one leap onto her tent. At least on their Baffin Island trip protection was afforded by the dogs as well as flares and a shotgun. Plus, the humans and canines camped in a safety-first “V” formation.
McNair-Landry is, however, no stranger to the potential dangers of the area, as she was raised in the Canadian territory of Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, by parents who ran a polar tour company. At 18, she became the youngest female to journey to both the North and South Poles, having traversed the expanses variously by kayak, kite-propelled skis, dogsled and, bizarrely, a tractor.
In 2007 McNair-Landry was put forward for a National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” award alongside her brother Eric, while the explorer has also been included in the publication’s “Top Ten Women in Adventure” rankings.
McNair-Landry therefore seems the perfect match for Boomer – a man who, alongside fellow adventurer Jon Turk, successfully circumnavigated Canada’s remote Ellesmere Island. It was a grueling journey that, owing to the dangers involved, had never before been attempted. Still, for their effort, Boomer and Turk were named National Geographic’s “Adventurers of the Year” in 2012.
Boomer and McNair-Landry, meanwhile, originally encountered each other in Oregon and seemingly bonded over their love of adventure. Speaking to Vice, Boomer said that McNair-Landry makes him feel “untethered.” “In other relationships,” he explained, “I’ve felt like I’ve had something pulling me back.” Their romance is especially remarkable given that they live so far apart; when they are together, though, it’s usually on some sort of trip.
The couple circumnavigated Baffin Island in 2015 to mark the same journey that McNair-Landry’s mom and dad had completed in 1990. They even chose to use comparable equipment as well as Inuit kit, although GPS technology also came into play from time to time. Their predecessors, on the other hand, had to make do with just a compass and a map for guidance.
But it wasn’t just the 25-year anniversary of McNair-Landry’s parents’ circumnavigation – a feat that hadn’t been achieved since – that encouraged the couple to attempt the expedition. As the area’s ice has continued to melt year-on-year, the journey will most likely one day become impossible. There was a sense, then, of now or never.
And not only have ice levels in the Arctic been declining, but so too has traveling by dog sled – something that encouraged the adventurers to go forth using such a means. For centuries, the pair’s route was traversed by the Inuit and their squads of dogs while searching for food.
Image: Instgram/Erik Boomer
Boomer and McNair-Landry were further motivated by the locals they encountered along the way – people like the inspirational Qappik Attagutsiak, a 94-year-old woman whom Boomer described as “bubbling with childlike energy.” Living in a tiny house lit only by qulliqs – Inuit versions of oil lamps – the elder still fishes and crafts mittens from pieces of sealskin.
The couple were also spurred on by the endurance element of the journey and, naturally, by having the opportunity to embark on a challenge that doesn’t exactly come around all that often.
After completing their incredible trip, Boomer and McNair-Landry returned to the comforts of home, and their dogs enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Where this remarkable couple will travel to next is anybody’s guess, but their next destination will no doubt be as challenging and, indeed, as spectacular.