Before 2014 neither Ben nor Natalia had any experience skiing or in the polar environment, yet they wanted to circumnavigate the globe… via the Poles… So while other expeditions they undertook were aimed at building their experience in extremely challenging environments, polar training was essential to enable them to learn the basic skills to successfully undertake expeditions in the extreme latitudes…
Training with the McNair family
The McNair family of polar explorers are incredible. Matty McNair, who is the mother to Sarah and Eric McNair Landry. Matty led the first all female expedition to the North Pole in 1997 and both Sarah and Eric have set numerous polar records. So it was great that we got the opportunity to train with them for three weeks, to learn about the essentials of polar survival – not just in theory, but in practice.
We had to make sure we were in good physical condition before we left Sao Paulo to get to Iqaluit to meet them, so we spent a good amount of time beforehand at the gym and also that old past time of… tyre-pulling (great way to spend weekends!) – to make sure that we exercised the muscles that would be used in pulling sleds, and the course was certainly intense and justified being in good shape! While we could have rented polar clothing and equipment from the McNairs, we wanted and needed to get some of our gear as well, so it wasn’t cheap!
The course covered aspects such as navigation with GPS/compass/the sun/the winds; crevasse rescue; arctic swimming (with dry suit of course!); dealing with polar bears; and of course skiing, camping, the stoves, health and diet, clothing and equipment, kite skiing, plus many other points. Every night we would be camping on the ice then go into the house for theory lessons and then in the afternoon, out on to the ice for some skiing.
One of the more memorable days was a practical test for using the GPS. Sarah placed four bags of items around the bay outside and gave us the coordinates, and left us to our devices. We didn’t manage the battery life of our GPS device very well, so we… didn’t have much luck. We got back just after night fall, when they were thinking about to send a search party for us! Lessons learned with battery management in the freezing temperatures!