It was the trip of a lifetime for a 17-year-old from Souris, Prince Edward Island.  

Sixty years ago, Jim Reggie MacDonald was on board a ship taking Sir Edmund Hillary to the Antarctic in preparation for the historic Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole

MacDonald was on the Canadian sealing ship, the MV Theron, in Hudson Bay when the company landed the contract to carry supplies to the Antarctic.
'It was the last great adventure left to man, and I was involved with it.' — Jim Reggie MacDonald

"He came onboard in Montevideo, Uruguay," recalled MacDonald, flipping through a photo album of his trip. "I took one look at him, and he was a tough looking character ... And then I got to know him and he's as tough as he looks."

It was at their last stop before the Antarctic that the famed climber invited MacDonald and another Islander, Kimball Jarvis, to summit a mountain in South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, a British territory in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It was only 3,000 feet but we didn't make it quite to the summit," MacDonald said. "It was too much for us."  

Hillary left them behind and continued to the top.
Jim Reggie MacDonald

MacDonald returned to P.E.I., where he fished lobster for 50 years. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Chasing penguins

The trip to Antarctica was a dangerous one.  Even though it was summer in the Southern Hemisphere, conditions around the continent were treacherous. Their ship got trapped in the ice in December 1955, leaving them stuck for 30 days.

"Most of them figured we'd never get out, that we'd be in for a year."

But MacDonald made the best of the situation.

"It was 24 hours daylight," he said. "And there were lots of penguins around. You could chase penguins up and down the ice for exercise."

MacDonald would go out with Hillary to shoot seals to feed the sled dogs. The Island teen turned out to be a better shot than the famous mountaineer.

"Hillary had the rifle and he fired and he missed ... And I looked at him and I said, 'If you don't do any better than that, the dogs are going to starve.'"

Hillary tossed the rifle in his direction and after that, the young man from Souris was in charge of shooting the seals.

'No one will ever know'

It was while they were out on the ice that MacDonald finally asked Hillary the question being asked around the world: Who made it to the summit first — Hillary or his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay?

"And he looked at me with a big smile on his face and he said no one will ever know."

After finally breaking free from the ice, the Theron and its crew finally made it to the Antarctic shoreline and dropped supplies, along with eight members of the expedition who would spend the winter at the Shackleton base camp.

"We were about a week there ... None of us wanted to stay there for the winter."

MacDonald said the crew was "on edge" fearing the ice would trap them again.

The Theron completed its mission and returned to London to a hero's welcome at the Tower Bridge.  

MacDonald returned to P.E.I., where he fished lobster for 50 years.

Hillary went on to successfully complete the first overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole in March 1958. 

"To be able to live with him and socialize with him was a remarkable experience for someone who was 17 years old ... He was exceptional," MacDonald said.

"As Hillary said, it was the last great adventure left to man, and I was involved with it."