ExWeb Interview with Meagan McGrath (part 1), “Optimism helped me realize that falling in a crevasse wasn't hopeless”

Posted: Oct 20, 2010 10:02 am EDT

Meagan McGrath climbed Everest when her interest in skiing to the South Pole was triggered. Out on her own on Antarctica from the Hercules Inlet start point, she fell in a crevasse. After ALE’s rescue, she decided to carry on from Patriot Hills.

She was very scared and had to draw motivation from within herself to keep going every day, Meagan told ExWeb’s Correne Coetzer who caught up with her in Kathmandu on her way back from a Cho Oyo attempt.

Megan tells about the fall in the crevasse on Antarctica and how she made the decision to carry on.

ExplorersWeb: Last year you had a scary experience when you fell in a crevasse only two days out of Hercules Inlet. How do you remember that day?

Meagan: I remember it often, as it was rather significant! During my adventures in the mountains this year, I made cautious decisions based on the fact that I may have used up a few of my “nine lives”. I talk about it enough that I'm not traumatized by it. I did realize a few things that day, though: I love my family and friends, and I want them to know it.

ExplorersWeb: How did your mountain climbing and training helped you to handle the situation?

Meagan: Mountain climbing is a sport of patience and intelligence. You are constantly making decisions that can affect whether you live or die, succeed or fail, come home healthy or injured. While mountain climbing, I’ve also pushed myself physically and emotionally.

Mountain climbing helped me on that day because I knew how fast I had to react, I knew how much cold I could handle before I made adjustments to my clothing (and when I would begin to run into the likelihood of serious injury from cold).

I've always thought of mountain climbing as the sport of optimists - I think to some degree, that optimism helped me realize that the situation wasn't hopeless and that I had to help myself if I was going to get out of it alive.

ExplorersWeb: What advice do you have for someone who falls in a crevasse?

Meagan: Keep comms, warm clothing (even a sleeping bag if possible), food and water on your person when travelling in a potentially crevassed area - this way, you'll have some life saving tools avail to you.

Stay calm. Get warm. Get the things you’ll need out of your pack. Try to climb out... maybe you have to walk down through the crevasse a bit to find a high point where you can climb out, but be careful of falling through the snowbridge - likely you'll end up dead or at least in a worse situation than you started.

Honestly, after the fall on to the snowbridge, and I realized that I was mostly okay physically, I instantly thought of Joe Simpson in "Touching the Void". He survived his fall, and he climbed out. I thought of what he did, and realized that I would have to try and climb out. Knowing he got out, and that I was in better physical condition (i.e. nothing major broken), I knew I had a chance!

ExplorersWeb: How clear was the crevasse? Was it a false bridge? How can someone recognize a hidden crevasse on Antarctica?

Meagan: There were no clear indications that a crevasse was present. (I remember sitting in the cab of the snowcat while the doc was looking me over, and just staring at the snow, "I still can't see any signs of a crevasse, I would have missed it again if I were to do it all over again..."

The surface of the snow was covered in sastrugi – waves of snow – and it was not evident that a crevasse was present.

ExplorersWeb: How easy was it to decide to carry on and not give up?

Meagan: When I was brought back to Patriot Hills by my rescuers (ALE staff - thank you!!!), I was convinced the trip was over. Not because I didn’t want to go on, but because I figured the staff would think I was incompetent.

I wasn’t though – I had researched the trip for two years, I practiced the skills I would use - I had been a winter outdoors-woman for years prior to wanting to go on this expedition. I had to realize that it was an accident - a series of events that came together at that one magic moment in time.

After the check by Doc Jane, I headed over to the mess tent. ALE fed me well, and everyone was really great. I took a seat and started chattin' with lots of the staff. I was fed three times that evening - the ALE folks gave me really great meals and I've never had better food!

After the wonderful meals, I sat with the Twin Otter (Ken Borak Airlines) mechanics and pilots. They were a bunch of Canadian guys - guys who reminded me of home and one guy reminded me of my uncle, in particular. I just sat there all night and laughed and laughed and laughed!!

It was after this very healing evening that I realized that I wanted to go on - but making it happen would be a different problem. I didn't have the funds to fly to the start point (Hercules Inlet). There was talk of me ski-sailing to the start point, but again, that probably would have cost a few bucks. I hadn't ski-sailed before, and although I was confident that I could learn quickly --- honestly, there was the issue that I'd have to re-ski the portion I had already crossed.

I was still spooked about that section of the route... I needed more time to get over it.... but I knew that the longer I waited, the more it would seem that I was procrastinating. No, I decided to just leave from Patriot Hills. I wouldn't cost me anything extra, and I could leave whenever I was ready and start making miles.

The day I left, I was mad. That sounds weird, but when I get scared, I don't crawl up in a ball and cry, I get pissed. I was pissed that I was scared - I didn't want to be scared!

I had started planning this expedition two years ago - I had saved and lived like a monk for two years to make it happen! I knew I had the skill to make it successful! I wanted to enjoy the experience, not be scared! I left that day, and quickly got over poking the snow in front of me - I wanted to make miles - I wanted to get this expedition underway and get it done.

I remember putting up my tent that first day, and settling in, and feeling better. It just took a day or two to get comfortable with what I was doing, and start "enjoying" the experience. It was never loads and loads of fun (fun in the regular sense!)

But it was challenging and pushed me - I had to draw motivation from within myself everyday to keep going. There was shit to be done, lots and lots of chores, and I did it! I did it all and that was fun - that was rewarding.

[Ed note: Click here for the final part of the interview where Meagan tells us more about how the fall in the crevasse influenced her South Pole expedition, about her attempt on K2 in August this year and how she experiences the mountains vs. the poles.]

Canadian Meagan McGrath was born in 1977 and lives in Ottawa, Ontario where she works as an Aerospace Engineer at the Canadian Air Force (she holds the rank of major).

In 2002 Meagan McGrath started her quest for the Seven Summits, which she achieved in January 2008 on top of Carstenz Pyramid in Indonesia. She also climbed Kosciuszko, Australia (April 2006) as part of the Seven Summits. On 21 May 2007 she stood on top of Mount Everest.

Meagan completed the 245.3 km Marathon Des Sables in the Moroccan section of the Sahara Desert; a seven-day run equivalent to five and a half regular marathons. She ran and walked on uneven rocky, stony ground, and sand dunes in temperatures up to 48°C.

At the end of November 2009 Meagan took on a new challenge by skiing to the South Pole in temperatures in the opposite scale of the thermometer. After a fall in a crevasse near the Hercules Inlet Start, she was rescued by ALE staff. She started over solo again, this time from the SP base camp, Patriot Hills. Meagan arrived at the South Pole on January 15, 2010.

#Mountaineering #Polar #Medical #topstory #interview

Meagan: “I had started planning this expedition two years ago - I had saved and lived like a monk for two years to make it happen! I knew I had the skill to make it successful! I wanted to enjoy the experience, not be scared! “

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