McDiarmid recounts his fifth South Pole trek

While many of us gorged on delicious food on Christmas Day, Whitehorse's Devon McDiarmid was enjoying a modest meal more than 5,000 kilometres away from civilization.

While many of us gorged on delicious food on Christmas Day, Whitehorse’s Devon McDiarmid was enjoying a modest meal more than 5,000 kilometres away from civilization.

Stew, bread and cake were on the menu for McDiarmid and his three clients, who were resting at Thiels Corner, an important refueling station located halfway between their route from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole.

The 41-year-old was leading his fifth ski expedition to the southernmost place on Earth, his ninth time on the continent overall. Bad weather had delayed the 900-kilometre trip by about 20 days. But as luck would have it, their timing couldn’t have been any better.

“It was just a coincidence that we arrived there on Christmas Day,” he said.

“The guys all thought I’d planned it.”

It was a nice change from food the group would normally eat: granola bars, dried fruit, dried meats, nuts, cheese and crackers. Dinners consisted of freeze-dried meals.

Food is actually a big part of the preparation for an expedition on Antarctica, McDiarmid said.

Working for Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, McDiarmid meets with his clients in Punta Arenas, Chile, to prepare for the trip.

It usually takes three or four full days to purchase and re-package food into lightweight bags, he explains, to reduce weight and the amount of garbage left on Antarctica.

McDiarmid said he tailors his menu so it includes about 5,000 calories per person per day.

Another logistical task is making sure they have all the right gear before they board a monster Russian cargo jet for four and a half hours, the last leg of the journey.

“It’s basically a flying tractor,” McDiarmid said.

Once they’ve reached Union Glacier Camp, they collect more gear for the trip, including shovels, tents, fuel, sleds, crevasse rescue gear and first aid kits.

They meet with doctors to learn about potential injuries such as dehydration, exhaustion and frostbite.

They also meet with a communications officer who makes sure everyone has the right radio equipment and each other’s numbers, in case of an emergency.

McDiarmid meets with an operations manager to go over the route and determine where re-supplies will take place.

“It’s a ton of logistics and that’s the biggest part of my job,” McDiarmid said.

“When a lot of clients hear ‘guide’ they think I’ll be out there entertaining and telling jokes. But I’m very clear about that from the beginning.

“I’m there for safety and logistics.”

While his trek to the South Pole was relatively uneventful, he said, his return trip was a lot more challenging.

He and his British friend, Stew Edge, kite-skied back to the coast – a distance of 1,200 kilometres – over nine and a half days.

It’s basically the same activity as kite-surfing on water, McDiarmid explains, except with skis.

Kites with extra long lines are also used so they can reach higher altitudes and catch smoother winds, he added.

The pair were going an average of 20 kilometres an hour “when things were good,” but much faster during certain portions.

Challenges included varying winds, ground conditions and visibility, McDiarmid said.

“The high winds had carved the snow to look like frozen waves,” he added.

“Those varied from a few inches high to chest height. It’s extremely rough ground.

“I’ve skied that route five times, which one other person has done more often than me, but it blew me away how challenging it was.”

Falling on the waves was like “hitting concrete with a bunch of speed bumps.”

Edge had to stop almost every hour because his knees were hurting so badly, McDiarmid said.

On the last day, they completed the loop by traveling 18 hours until they reached Hercules Inlet, a coastal area not far from Union Glacier Camp.

Back in Vancouver, McDiarmid said he doesn’t know where his next adventure will be.

But that doesn’t bother him too much right now.

“The expeditions take so much out of you,” he said.

“I’d like to return to Antarctica next year and work as the South Pole camp manager, which is what I did last year. I love it down there.

“Right now I have no plans and I’m fine with that. There’s more to life than just this.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

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