“What have I done? Can I handle this?”
Devon McDiarmid had just stepped off the plane in Antarctica and, although it was for the fifth time in his life, this panicked thought ran through his mind.
The challenges of the southern continent had obviously not diminished with repeated stints on “The Ice”.
As a guide for Adventure Network International, McDiarmid was returning to Antarctica to lead four other explorers on an otherwise unsupported trip to the South Pole. The entire group succeeded in reaching the southernmost point of our planet on Dec. 29.
So few people have reached the South Pole that “explorers” is an apt adjective for McDiarmid’s party.
The Antarctic is a place of barrenness that is unprecedented in the rest of the world: the interior of the Antarctic is a windy, empty, lifeless, unbroken expanse of white ice caught in the grips of temperatures far surpassing a constant Yukon February.
Considering this, it comes as no surprise that the unsupported expedition achieved by McDiarmid and his clients has only ever been completed by 57 other people.
Pulling sleds with supplies to see the group through two months of travel with no resupplies, the trip took the group 47 days by ski. It was a constant round of pull, rest, pull, rest, constantly surrounded by “wind, wind, wind.”
As expedition leader, McDiarmid was responsible for the organization of the trip, everything from supplies and gear to pre-expedition training.
Travelling in such a hostile environment (wind chill got the temperature down to -79), each day was different and difficult in its own way.
“It was a bit of a personal trip for myself too,” says McDiarmid. “I cut my hand before and had to leave. So, this time, I was very determined.”
McDiarmid also had the extra challenge of having no resupplies.
“We had other really good moments, but finishing was the best. I had a great time, but the finish symbolized so much more than just being done.”
With such responsibility in such harsh conditions, why return?
“I love the ICE, I don’t know why. I just love the simplicity, the work, the challenge, the multinational mix of people, the beauty and, at the end of a good season, I get a rush like no other,” he wrote from Chile in an e-mail soon after his return from the Antarctic.
And it seems he has no intention of giving up on the seventh continent: “I have not seen emperor penguins. I’m hoping to lead a trip there next year. Car camping with a plane.”