ENGINEER Richmond Dykes tucked into his Christmas dinner with extra gusto this week, as he looks forward to a year in which there will be very few home comforts.
The Portadown man is part of a six-strong team preparing for what is regarded as one of the world’s last true remaining polar challenges - to cross the Antarctic in the Antarctic winter.
The 2,000-mile expedition, The Coldest Journey, will last for around a year and is being led by the record-breaking explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Richmond, whose family live at Lyndale Grange, is the second youngest member of the team and will be responsible for driving, servicing and maintaining one of two Caterpillar 6DN bulldozers.
Despite the prospect of temperatures which could drop as low as -70 or -90, and three months of total darkness, he is looking forward to setting off in January.
He said, “It is the opportunity of a lifetime, a big adventure and I am totally looking forward to it. I have been in temperatures of minus 28 in Colorado Springs and it’s a dry cold which is completely different from the damp cold you get at home.
“Even though there will be three months of darkness, I’m just looking on it as working the night shift for three months, and with the white landscape there may be some reflected light. We will also probably have a better view of the Southern Lights than anyone else on the planet!”
And at the official launch of the expedition earlier this month, Richmond met Prince Charles and actress Joanna Lumley who were there to see off the expedition ship, the SA Agulhas, laden with equipment and supplies.
Richmond attended Bocombra PS, Killicomaine JHS, Craigavon Senior High and the Upper Bann Institute, where he studied heavy plant maintenance. He had caught the engineering bug from watching his grandfather Tommy Kennedy, a refrigeration engineer, at work.
The 30-year-old served his five-year apprenticeship with the Portadown firm of CA Haffey and Son, specialising in heavy plant engineering towards the end of this term.
After qualifying he worked as a mechanic on heavy track machines with the US Army in Fort Stewart, Georgia, for almost three years, before being transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado.
Soon afterwards, he secured a job back in Northern Ireland working for Finning in Lisburn. It was here he received an email three months ago outlining an opportunity to work with Sir Ranulph Fiennes in the Antarctic.
He jumped at the chance and after an intensive selection process was invited to join the team.
In total, the team will spend an estimated 273 days on the ice, and once under way, will travel for around eight hours a day.
The crossing will mark the centenary year of Captain Scott’s death in the Antarctic and aims to raise $10m for Seeing is Believing, a charity to help fight preventable blindness around the world.
Such is the perilous nature of the crossing, it took five years for a permit to be issued, and only on the condition that a mobile support unit accompany Sir Ranulph.
Despite this, the risks remain high - simply inhaling air below -60C can cause irreparable damage to the lungs and exposure to the skin causes severe frostbite in a matter of seconds.
Richmond is currently in training at the Caterpillar Academy in Birmingham and has also undergone special training in first aid, abseiling and rescue methods, as well as using a special cold chamber where temperatures dipped to -58C.
But over Christmas at least, he can toast his toes in front of a Portadown fire in the company of dad George, mum Moira and sister Gillian. He said, “I’ve never missed Christmas at home, no matter where I was in the world.”