As a young girl growing up in Sudbury, Ont., Meagan McGrath developed an interest in what the human body was capable of.
Years later, the Ottawa resident has put her own to the test over and over again.
In 2008, she became the only Canadian female and the first Canadian Forces member to achieve the Seven Summits, reaching the highest peak in each continent including Mount Everest, Mount McKinley and Kilimanjaro.
She’s raced the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, and reached the North Pole, and received a commendation from the Governor General for her involvement in the rescue of a Nepalese climber on Mount Everest.
And this month, the 32-year-old aerospace engineer for the Canadian Air Force is looking to set a new record — to become the first Canadian to ski the 1,130 kilometres from Hercules Inlet, Antarctica, to the South Pole — in 45 days.
The solo journey will see McGrath face whiteouts and cold up to -50 degrees while she navigates and drags 225 pounds of food, fuel, and equipment on a sled.
She still remembers her first expedition, climbing Kilimanjaro in 2002.
“The effect of the altitude — the pounding headaches and the nausea — were very difficult,” she said. “But I loved the way it felt. And when I got to the top, I wanted to see if I could do that again.”
And she did, later that year, climbing the Aconcauga in South America. “That’s when I knew that high-altitude mountaineering was the sport for me.”
With her trip just weeks away — she leaves Nov. 18 — she’s busy with not just intense physical, but mental training.
“You have to practise the routine in your head and go through the motions,” she said. “And I have to be prepared to be alone for 45 days.”
Once in Antarctica, she’ll face regular whiteouts, fog and storms, “but the trick is to keep moving,” she said. “Relative to a lot of environments, the terrain is relatively featureless,” she said. “That’s why navigation is so important. There’s no room for error.”
It’s the usual whirlwind of speaking engagements after she returns, but then she’s right back at it, with plans to lead a group up Everest in March, a climb up K2 — the second-highest mountain in the world — in June, and Broad Peak in Pakistan in September.