UPDATE December 31, 2018:
In an epic 54-day journey on foot, an Oregon man became the first person to traverse the Antarctic continent alone without any assistance on December 26. Colin O’Brady of Portland trekked across the polar continent. He finished the challenge that was previously deemed impossible—and did so at a shockingly fast pace.
O’Brady’s friends, family, and fans tracked the endurance athlete’s bone-chilling, 932-mile journey in real time online. At the same time, a British adventurer was attempting the same feat. Louis Rudd had started his cross-continental trek on the very same day, November 3. But it was O’Brady who finished first—making one huge final push of 80 miles to the finish line without breaking to sleep. He had posted online the day before that he felt his body was “in the zone” for peak performance. He thought he could make it to the end in one go. He did, though it took well over a day of trekking to do so.
“I did it!” a tearful O’Brady said on a call to his family gathered in Portland for the holidays.
“It was an emotional call,” says O’Brady’s wife, Jenna Besaw. “He seemed overwhelmed by love and gratitude, and he really wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to all of us.”
O’Brady was sleeping near the finish line in Antarctica late Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. But the 33-year-old told Besaw he would stay until Rudd finished as well.
He didn’t have to wait too long. Rudd finished on Friday—just two days behind O’Brady. Rudd’s original meticulously planned schedule had predicted he would reach the finish between January 7 and January 25—depending on weather and temperature conditions. Both men exceeded the best-case scenario by more than a week.
O’Brady has also summited Mt. Everest. The adventurer was told he may never walk again after an accident burned his legs in 2008. The Antarctic experience has been life-changing for him, he says.
“I’m no longer the same person I was when I left,” he wrote online. “I’ve suffered, been deathly afraid, cold, and alone. I’ve laughed and danced, cried tears of joy, and been awestruck with love and inspiration.”
So what happens now for the man who can’t be kept down? Apart from wanting a fresh—not freeze-dried—meal, Besaw says she’s not entirely sure.
“We are just so in the moment celebrating,” she says. “Then we’ll see what’s next on the horizon.”
Louis Rudd may soon become the first person to cross Antarctica by himself—with equipment and supplies but no transportation except his own two feet. It’s treacherous, and by Rudd’s own admission, it’s “right at the limits of what is possible.”
Rudd is following in some huge polar footsteps. He named his expedition “Spirit of Endurance” after the ship used by Ernest Shackleton during the famed explorer’s 1914-1917 attempted trans-Antarctic crossing. Ice trapped and crushed the Endurance leaving 28 men stranded on the ice for over a year. Shackleton’s leadership and bravery—including sailing 800 miles in an open boat—saved the entire crew. Rudd aims to complete Shackleton’s unfinished business.
Rudd trained in arctic warfare in the British Army. His first polar expedition was in 2011 with Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, his mentor. “Henry completely inspired me from that very first journey,” Rudd says. Worsley died during his own solo polar attempt two years ago. Last year, Rudd led an Army reservists team on a trans-Antarctic trek. But this is his first solo trip across “The Great White Continent.”
Rudd started on November 3 somewhere on the Ronne Ice Shelf. Before him lay over 900 miles of ice and snow. He’s dragging 330 pounds of food and supplies on a seven-and-a-half-foot sled attached to his waist. His journey should take about 75 days. He’ll fight constipation, dehydration, exhaustion, frostbite, snow blindness, sunburn, temperatures of negative 58 degrees, and 100 mile per hour winds.
As the journey continues, Rudd’s physical load will get lighter as he eats through the protein bars, nuts, and salami he’s pulling. But with only an iPod for company, isolation will weigh on him most.
An American, Colin O’Brady, is simultaneously attempting the same feat. O’Brady and Rudd began at the same time within a mile and a half of each other. Together, yet utterly alone.
On his website, Rudd states, “There will be so many people out there supporting me, willing me on and watching my progress—they will be with me all the way.” Christians take comfort knowing that no matter their location or trials, Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
Rudd’s wife, Lucy, and children Luke, Amy, and Sophie are following the journey from their home in England. They’ve included “super-light” presents for him to open on Christmas. Rudd makes brief contact with his team daily via satellite phone.
Rudd plans to finish the Spirit of Endurance on or near January 27. He prepared for this journey for nearly 10 years—as much as possible to prepare for something so harsh and dangerous. Before setting out, he declared, “I absolutely love the sheer vastness of Antarctica.” One wonders whether he will feel that way after his ordeal. But for now he says, “It blows me away every time.”
3 November 2018: Expedition start date
22-30 December: Expected to reach South Pole
7th-25 January: Expected to complete Expedition
27 January: Latest completion date