Antarctica 2018-2019: First? Traverse? Unassisted? The Controversy Continues

More O’Brady, Rudd Reverberations

Colin O’Brady and Lou Rudd finished their Antarctica crossings last week, but the questions first raised in ExplorersWeb over whether their treks were truly “unassisted” and a full traverse continue to reverberate. Yesterday, The New York Times published an article from adventure writer David Roberts that put the controversy before a wider audience. The informal race between the pair had generated worldwide interest — interest that ignored whether these two treks merited such hoopla. The two men worked hard and did well, but their exploits were not as pioneering as most media believed.

Solo to the South Pole

Abe’s progress (red dots). The graph shows distance traveled on the x-axis and altitude on the y-axis. Photo: Masatatsu Abe

Masatatsu Abe still feels pretty low. After his food drop, he is trudging for 11 hours per day and averaging 25km. On December 29, he turned 36. Abe celebrated by having his mechanical companion, Aibo, to sing him happy birthday. He had hoped to be at the South Pole by now, but he has at least another six days because of the slow conditions.

Like Lou Rudd before him, Matthieu Tordeur had a bizarre encounter with a luxury tour group. A large black dot on his horizon eventually separated into three huge arctic trucks, packed with tourists fresh from a South Pole visit. The group were on a whirlwind 48-hour return trip, but Tordeur will have at least another two weeks on the trail: He has 345km left and has just entered the area known as the Sastrugi National Park.

Tordeur bumps into some well-equipped tourists. Photo: Matthieu Tordeur

It’s unlikely that Jenny Davis will best Johanna Davidsson’s sub-39-day women’s speed record to the South Pole. Davis has traveled 315km in 17 days and has 835km remaining. Already behind and battling a persistent stomach infection, she would have to more than double her daily pace to come close.

Davis celebrating New Year with the last few drops of her Christmas whisky. Is that a table to her left? Whatever happened to cutting the end off your toothbrush? Photo: Jenny Davis

How dramatically things can change in a few days: Richard Parks was only 70km off speed record holder Christian Eide’s pace on December 31. Parks had covered 481km in 13 days, but the herculean effort finally caught up with him. On Day 14, he stopped after only two hours of skiing, drained, and took two days off to recover. He had also lost sensation in a small area on his left foot and worried about it so much that he consulted ALE’s doctors. Eventually, he chose to continue, but after only three kilometres he noticed what he obliquely called “significant problems”.  Again, he stopped and pitched camp.

Any hope to set a new overall speed record, or even to better his own British record, had slipped away. In an update on his website, Parks sounded crushed, “I really don’t have a lot left in the tank and … my body is breaking down.” On January 3, he ended the expedition.

Guided Expeditions

Major sastrugi, with Doherty helpfully providing scale. Photo: Joe Doherty

Joe Doherty and company are hoping to reach the South Pole on January 6. The group recently received a resupply at 88 degrees. Because of rough surface conditions, the plane could not land, so the food was dropped out the open door during a low pass — a very expensive gift from the gods.

Mount Vinson

Laval St Germain on the summit of Mount Vinson. Photo: Laval St Germain

The weather finally broke for Laval St Germain on December 27 and he flew to Mount Vinson. On December 29, he moved up to a high camp and waited there two days for good weather. Then he topped out in sunny, calm conditions to tick off his seventh summit.

You can catch our previous update and the season introductions below:

Antarctica 2018-2019: O’Brady, Rudd Finish; Abe Resupplies (Week 7)

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 1

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 2