Intrepid kite-skiers construct a leisure lounge on Greenland Ice Cap

Where the only thing on television is snow


The middle of the Greenland Ice Cap is a strange place to watch television.

But then, the three young Nunavut residents, who built the TV set and accompanying couch out of glittering snow using a small shovel and a bucket as tools, are far from typical.

After all, it's an odd decision to spend 40 days kite-skiing from the southern tip of Greenland to the northern village of Qaanaaq, covering a distance of 2,300 km.

"Take only pictures, leave only couches," quips Eric McNair-Landry, 22, of Iqaluit, who recently completed the trek across Greenland with his sister Sarah, 21, and their friend Curtis Jones, who turned 30 during the trip.

Two days before they made the ice cap their living room, they skied 412 kilometres in a single day – a feat that only a handful of others have done.

By the end of their 412-km day, Sarah says "we had trouble walking, because the bottoms of our feet were so sore."

All the more reason to kick back and watch television.

The three reached Qaanaaq, a village near the Thule air force base, on July 10.

But they faced their share of obstacles along the way, including fields of crevasses at the northern end of the ice cap that they navigated with cross-country skis.

At one point, Sarah took a step forward and sunk up to her thigh in snow. After Eric and Curtis hauled her up, the three examined the yawning hole in the snow, which carried on as far as they could see.

Eric says the falling snow sounded like "shattering chandeliers" as it tinkled against the icy walls, out of sight.

Both Sarah and Eric are accomplished kite-skiers. They were the youngest to ski to the South Pole, with their mother, Matty McNair.

And they have crossed Greenland from east to west several times with their father, Paul Landry, using skis, dog sleds and kites.

In contrast, Jones, who works at the pharmacy at NorthMart in Iqaluit, has virtually no expedition experience, but was selected by the two because for a trip like this, Sarah says, "it's more how you get along that matters."

The expedition, named "Pittarak" after the fierce winds that blow across the ice cap, is meant to inspire youth. The McNairs received a Young Explorers grant from the National Geographic Society to help finance the trip, and gear donated by a number of sponsors.

The three were also equipped with a satellite phone and a PDA, powered by a solar-panel charger, that allowed them to send e-mails and update their blog during the journey.

That link to the outside world was nearly jeopardized when Jones dropped the PDA in hot chocolate, but the device thankfully dried out.

The McNairs describe the expedition as a bit like a road trip: like while travelling by car from city to city in the South, they often passed through entire weather systems, from thickening cloud to a core of snow and back out again, into 24 hours of midnight sun.

Other times, the weather would sneak up on them.

"You could see, aww, there's ice fog riding on our ass," says Sarah.

"That's a bad feeling," says Eric.

At times the weather would warm enough for them to wear surf shorts and a T-shirt. Other times, they would bundle up in down jackets, layers of fleece and shell pants and jackets, to keep them, as Jones wrote in a blog entry, "warm, dry, and smelly from kite up to kite down."

During the trip, for lack of any distinguishing landscape to look at, other than a vast expanse of snow, "you start to notice every little thing about the clouds," Sarah says.

Eric and Jones also learned to accurately estimate how long they had before getting up in the morning, based on how painfully Sarah squinted as she tried to rise.

And the trip gave all three an appreciation for the taste of grilled NorthMart salami.

But by the time they arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, en route back to Canada, the three had eaten more than enough trail mix and camp food, so they decided to enjoy the "good coffee and good beer" of the city while taking in a jazz festival.

As one final adventure, the three nearly missed their flight out of Qaanaaq, after a tourism official who offered to drive them to the airport never showed up. In the end, the village's police officer took them to the airport, where their plane had already fired up its propellers.

"It was so late, they didn't charge us for excess baggage," Sarah says.

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