The road less travelled for McGrath

LYNNE BERMEL

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

It might just be me, but banging my head against a keyboard sounds a whole lot more appealing than spending 60 days completely alone, dragging a 250-lb. sled across the frozen Antarctic.

For Meagan McGrath, though, it's just one more adventure.

McGrath, who has already climbed both versions of the Seven Summits (the first and only Canadian woman to do so), plans to trek the 1,130 km from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole next November.

If successful, she'll become the only Canadian -- male or female -- to reach the earth's southernmost point unassisted.

But the 31-year-old adventurer says she's not doing it for the record books.

It's what gets her out of bed in the morning.

"Adventures like climbing the world's highest peaks and reaching the ends of the earth are what keep me going," she says. "I would die if I had to sit behind a desk all day.

"I'm happiest where it's success or failure of a mission, where it's a matter of life or death."

The aerospace engineer, who is on a leave without pay from the Air Force, plans to follow her Antarctic expedition by climbing the Himalayas in March 2010 and ascending 8,000 metres without oxygen in Nepal and Tibet.

McGrath just returned from a polar expedition from Longyearbyen, Norway to the North Pole. She calls it a "training run," where she, along with fellow adventurers from the U.S. and Scotland, spent a week skiing an ice flow.

She says it helped her work out the nutrition and equipment she'll need for the Antarctic trek.

"It was a commercial expedition under a Russian guide, so it didn't exactly duplicate what I'll be facing in November. But it was a good test," McGrath says.

"The first five days were great. We had a positive drift which actually pushed us towards the North Pole. Then a storm came in and we were tent-bound. On our last day, we seemed to be going backwards faster than the flow of the ice."

CLOSE CALLS

McGrath doesn't consider herself an athlete, at least not in the same category as other adventurers like Chelsea's Ray Zahab.

"Ray has won ultra-marathons all over the world. I'm not out there setting any speed records," says McGrath. "I'm just getting the job done."

McGrath admits she's had a few close calls.

"There have been times when I've gone back over a crevasse that I climbed the night before and couldn't believe I had gone over that. It's a good thing it was dark at the time.

"I came very close to an avalanche six years ago climbing Mt. McKinley (in Alaska). It came 15 feet right over our tracks. I thought it was a fighter jet when I first heard it. I doubt we would have died, but it would have knocked us off our feet."

As for her next adventure to the coldest, windiest and driest place on earth, McGrath isn't worried.

"There's nothing to be afraid of in trekking to the Antarctic," she says.

"I'll have satellite phones and a beacon tracking system. I don't think about frostbite. I won't do anything stupid like dipping my hands in water and then running outside. I grew up in Sudbury and have spent winters living in Ottawa. Life doesn't stop just because it's -50 outside."

Boredom won't be a problem either, she says.

"I'll be busy. I'll be my own doctor, my own navigator, my own equipment repairwoman. I have no problem spending time with myself."

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LYNNEBERMEL@ROGERS.COM


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