Iqaluit dogsledding couple complete epic trek around Baffin Island

After 120 days and 4,000 kilometres, Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer arrive in Iqaluit early Sunday, retracing a journey McNair-Laundry's parents took 25 years ago.

Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer battle bad weather, rough trail, exhaustion

Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer arrived home in Iqaluit Sunday after a 120-day, 4,000-kilometre trek by dogsled around Baffin Island. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

After 120 days, 4,000 kilometres and one canine pregnancy scare, Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer arrived in Iqaluit early Sunday, ending a journey that retraced one that McNair-Landry's parents took 25 years ago.

Travelling over land and sea ice, the monumental dogsled trip took McNair-Landry and Boomer in a circular route around Baffin Island. Along the way, they stopped in Igloolik, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq, Clyde River, Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay.

"It feels good [to be home]," McNair-Landry said Sunday. "It still hasn't really clicked in yet. The dogs were really excited as we got closer to town. They started running faster and faster. I think they were just excited to see people and snow machine tracks...They've been out in the middle of nowhere for so long."

Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer travel with their dog team outside of Igloolik. (Erik Boomer/submitted)
Two dogs went into heat during the trip, which was a distraction for the male dogs, making the team difficult to manage. At one point the couple thought one of their dogs was pregnant, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

Rough trail

Weather and snow conditions during the final 25-day leg of the trip made for some tough travelling. In places along the trail, warm daytime weather would cause snow to melt. As the temperature dropped, the snow developed a thick icy crust that made things tough for the dogs, McNair-Landry said. 

"The dogs could hardly walk, let alone pull the sled. There was definitely some 'Oh no, are we ever going to make it back?' moments," she said.

Boomer said while visibility was poor during the last two weeks of the trip, the pair was still able to make good time. 

"It was some of the fastest travel, but even with that fast travel, the plateau we were coming up just above the Sylvia Grinnell lake is a very wild place with wild weather," he said. "Every day was wild but we really did awesome on miles so that really boosted our morale."

History repeating

The trip was fraught with challenges that echoed the experience of McNair-Landry's parents, Matty McNair and Paul Landry, when they did a similar trip in 1990.

Boomer and McNair-Landry travelled with the elder couple's journals during the trip, and began to notice frequent similarities: near Arctic Bay both teams needed to add new dogs, and near Clyde River, both had a local man show up and travel with them by snowmobile for a couple of days.

Bonnie Ammaq holds a picture given to her by Sarah McNair-Landry, right, and Erik Boomer (not pictured). Ammaq remembers when Sarah's parents dogsledded by her parents' outpost camp 25 years ago, says Boomer. (Erik Boomer/submitted)
Both teams also struggled with doubts about whether they could actually complete the journey. 

"By the end we were like 'It's going to happen to us, because it happened to them,'" McNair-Landry said.

Time to relax

The couple spent 12 hours each day on the trails. Then there was all the work required to keep both dogs and humans fed, to set up camp and to ensure a supply of fresh water, so McNair-Landry and Boomer said they were only sleeping about six hours a night. 

"It's nice [to be home]," Boomer said. "The showers and more free time is what we want. Everybody asks us when we're out [on the trail] what we do to kill time. We have zero time."

"That's what I missed," McNair-Landry said. "Having 30 minutes to drink a coffee and stare out the window."

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