Polar trek
First all-women trek to the top of the planet

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 26/97) - As you read this, two Iqaluit women may be taking the final steps of an arduous trek to the North Pole and into the history books.

For the past nine weeks, Matty McNair and Denise Martin have been tracing the 75th longitude north from the tip of Ellesmere Island.

Last Wednesday night the two, along with four British women, were just 58 nautical miles from the northern tip of the planet. The straight line distance from their starting point at Ward Hunt Island to the geographic North Pole is 750 nautical miles.

"If the weather is good and the travelling conditions -- the ice -- is OK, they should get there in five, six or seven days," said Paul Landry, McNair's husband. The two run NorthWinds Arctic Adventures, an Iqaluit adventure travel company that helped organize the trip.

McNair, an American and lead guide, and Martin, her Canadian assistant, are leading a group of 20 British women, all on Arctic ice for the first time.

The Brits are travelling in relays, teams of four skiing and pulling small sleds over the ice for stretches of about 15 days.

The fly-in exchanges have caused a few delays in the journey, said Landry, who gets updates from a base camp at Resolute.

"Matty would find a suitable place on the ice where the plane could land, then they would have to stay there.

"If the weather was bad in Resolute, or bad on the ice, or bad between, the plane would not fly."

On each of the last two changeovers the wait for the plane lasted four days, said McNair.

As is the case with any travel on the land, straight-line measurements on a map are rarely an accurate measurement of the distance travelled.

Ice conditions, cracks and the eastern drift of the ice they are travelling on add distance to the journey.

"They've encountered many leads (impassable cracks)," said Landry. "When they get to a lead, the decision is 'Do we go left or right?'"

Because of the easterly drift of the ice, he said, they usually go west (left).

While the struggle with the challenges of the Very High Arctic are waged, back in Iqaluit it's a waiting and wondering game.

"I miss her a lot. I think about her every hour," said Landry of his wife. "We have two children. Eric is 12 and Sarah's 11, so it's been hard for them, too."

The family has been apart since mid-February, when McNair left Iqaluit for Resolute, and Landry hasn't spoken to his wife since March 14, the day she left Resolute.

If they manage to complete the home stretch of their journey, McNair and Martin will enter the history books as the first unpowered all-women team to make the journey.

Martin would also become the first Canadian woman to accomplish the feat.