Antarctica 2018-2019: O’Brady Extends Lead in Week Five

In week five of our Antarctica coverage, O’Brady solidifies his pole position in the race for a solo, unassisted, unsupported traverse, and two solo South Pole manhaulers call it quits.

Unassisted Solo Traverse

O’Brady putting in some photogenic grunt-work. Photo: Colin O’Brady

Rudd and O’Brady had hoped that the snow might firm up by 2,700m above sea level on the polar plateau. Unfortunately, the same soft snow that dogged them down below has continued to limit progress.

Despite the slog, O’Brady has stretched his lead considerably, from 32km to 48km. Both men have resisted rest days, with O’Brady pulling similar length shifts to Rudd. Earlier this week, O’Brady made it to the South Pole. He stopped briefly to celebrate and pose with the Explorers Club flag, then hurried off toward the Ross Ice Shelf, with 600km to go.

Out in front, O’Brady is not letting up. Photo: Colin O’Brady

O’Brady had a pleasant surprise on day 34 of his expedition. Thinking he would be calling in for a media interview, he was instead greeted by musician Paul Simon. Simon heard that he was listening to Graceland and was apparently keen to chat. Rudd also had an unexpected human interaction, though not of the celebrity kind: He bumped into an ALE (Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions) tracked vehicle, which was on the way back to Union Glacier from the South Pole. The two workers on board were the first humans he had seen for almost a month. Rudd reached the Pole today.

Solo to the South Pole

Abe’s progress on the Messner route (red dots). Photo: Masatatsu Abe

Masatatsu Abe continues to provide some eye-widening updates as he creeps up towards the high plateau in eight-hour bursts. He hears human voices in the white void and sleeps fitfully in the endless daylight. He dreams a lot and admits that they are all erotic.

With temperatures as high as -5°C, Matthieu Tordeur has stripped down to basics. He had prepared for much lower temperatures and is alternately enjoying the warmth and cursing the soft snow. He is averaging just over 20km per day in 10 hours of skiing.

Tordeur gets down to base layers. Photo: Matthieu Tordeur


Occasional sunny days make for good photos, but the soft snow has evidently foiled Larsen’s quest for a new speed record. Photo: Eric Larsen

Due to the poor weather, Larsen’s first week of travel was far too slow to break Eide’s speed record. He has since made a valiant effort to make up lost time, skiing 14 hours a day and hopes to reach the halfway point of his journey by December 15. Putting his pace into perspective, on December 7 he chanced upon an Italian manhauler who had left for the Pole a month earlier: Larsen had overtaken him after just 12 days. Perhaps discouraged at being passed, the Italian quit shortly after. Although Larsen has cracked the halfway point, over half of his food supplies are gone, and he may need a resupply.

Another potential challenger for the speed record is about to enter the fray. Former international rugby player Richard Parks is waiting for clear weather at Union Glacier to fly to Hercules Inlet. The Welshman already holds the record as fastest Brit to the South Pole. He will be solo, unassisted and unsupported.

Guided Expeditions

Whiteouts slow the pace a little, but it has been the accompanying warmth, which softens the wind-packed snow, that has really tested expeditioners. Photo: Joe Doherty

Joe Doherty and company are averaging just under 20km per day and have 10km remaining to Thiel’s Corner and their first supply depot. Guided by Christian Iversen Styve, the group will take a break there before continuing.

Mt. Vinson

Jenny Davis acclimatized to the cold while climbing Mt Vinson. Photo: Jenny Davis

Jenny Davis has reached the top of the bottom of the world, summiting Vinson on December 11. She is now ready to begin her own speed-run to the South Pole. She’ll find the going very tough, if temperatures don’t drop soon.

Laval St Germain will tackle the 4,892m peak too, and sooner than expected. The Canadian was making such slow progress that he abandoned his solo journey to the South Pole on December 7, citing a warped sled. He flew back to Union Glacier and will climb Mt Vinson next week.

Laval St Germain’s slightly warped pulk. Photo: Laval St Germain

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

Antarctica 2018-2019: Week Four

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 1

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 2