Antarctica 2018-2019: The Races Begin

With most of the major 2018-2019 Antarctic expeditions either underway or about to begin, ExplorersWeb checks in with how the trekkers are faring.

The Race for an Unassisted Solo Traverse

O’Brady sets out with his gargantuan pulk. Photo: Colin O’Brady

The race to bag a first solo, unsupported, unassisted crossing of Antarctica is off to a fast start, with both Lou Rudd and Colin O’Brady clocking over 10 hours of skiing per day. Rudd’s sled weighed 330 pounds; O’Brady’s a hefty 375 pounds.

Rudd set out on November 3 and has already managed 139 miles, 10 percent of the distance to the South Pole. Rudd is averaging 12 nautical miles per day — impressive, considering that his sled is at its heaviest and he is climbing to the Antarctic plateau. Over the last few days he has battled through those big ridges of wind-packed snow known as sastrugi. Common across the polar regions, they can be particularly big in Antarctica because of its violent winds. Hauling over one of these knee-high frozen whitecaps with a full load is a grunt.

In his last update, on November 13, Rudd came across an American flag sticker, which presumably peeled off from Colin O’Brady’s pulk when its glue froze.

Both men have faced whiteouts, forcing them to stare at their compass trays all day. Photo: Colin O’Brady

O’Brady began his trek on November 4, a day after Rudd. Despite this handicap and his much heavier sled, the former professional triathlete has now forged 12 nautical miles ahead of Rudd. They are currently nearing 85 degrees latitude. The race is on, with O’Brady holding a day’s lead.

Solos to the South Pole

Masatatsu Abe sets off for South America. Photo: Masatatsu Abe

Rickshaw driver Masatatsu Abe finished his preparations for a solo, unassisted, unsupported manhaul to the South Pole with a symbolic cleaning of his toilet. He left Japan on November 9 and is now buying supplies in Punta Arenas, including 5kg of cheese. (Cheese freezes as hard as a golf ball in the cold but melts nicely in dinners.) He’ll supplement the dairy with nuts, chocolate biscuits, dried meat and oats.

Heaps of butter and cheese for Abe. Photo: Masatatsu Abe

Endurance athlete Jenny Davis is attempting her own unsupported solo and has announced at the last minute that she will target the women’s speed record from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Her pulk weighs just 85-90kg. She has yet to reach Antarctica.

Matthieu Tordeur aims to become the first French national to complete Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, likewise solo, unassisted and unsupported. He flew out on November 12 and will start shortly.

Outdoor instructor and scout Joe Doherty will ski to the South Pole and then kite-ski back to Hercules Inlet. Doherty set off for South America on November 11 and will set off later in the month.

Joining the throng of South Pole solos, veteran American polar traveler Eric Larsen is aiming for the overall speed record, set by Christian Eide of Norway at just 24 days, 1 hour and 13 minutes back in 2011. Larsen is due to launch on November 23. We’ll feature an exclusive interview with Eric Larsen on ExplorersWeb tomorrow.

Mt. Vinson

Laval St Germain prepares for a major case of the munchies. Photo: Laval St Germain

Aiming for the final mountain in his seven summits set, Laval St Germain will ski 1,300km via the South Pole to the base of Mt. Vinson. Preparations are almost complete for the Canadian. Among his food supplies, he will cart six liters of frozen olive oil in his pulk. The oil is quick to thaw, he reports, and will add calories to each meal.

You can catch up with our introductions to the season’s expeditions below:

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 1

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 2