Antarctica 2018-2019: Wind and White-Outs

On Week Two of our 2018-2019 Antarctica coverage, the two-man race for a first unassisted solo traverse remains neck-and-neck. Meanwhile, four other South Pole manhaulers have arrived in Antarctica.

Unassisted Solo Traverse

Rudd describes white-out days as a “long, slow, slog inside a ping pong ball.” Photo: Lou Rudd

Lou Rudd covered a further 154km since last week, putting him 528km from the South Pole. His 12th day in Antarctica brought a blizzard and white-out conditions. The terrible visibility, coupled with a sastrugi field, made for slow progress. In 10 hours of manhauling, he covered just 13km. However, he was pleased that he decided to stick it out and kept the kilometres ticking over.

Rudd faced vicious headwinds and temperatures as low as -30°C as he approached Thiel’s Corner, a large fuel cache kept by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE). Day 15 ended with a long, largely sleepless night. Rudd elected to wake himself each hour, fearing that his tent poles might not survive the pounding of the polar wind. Conditions had not improved by morning, and Rudd had to decide whether to push on or wait it out.

Ridges of wind-packed snow, known as sastrugi. Photo: Lou Rudd

“There’s not much room for error when you’re on your own,” Rudd explained in a recent audio log. “If you damage the tent, snap a pole, the nylon gets ripped, or worst case, you lose control of the tent while trying to erect it or pack it away and it blows off in the wind, then you are in a real survival situation.”

Choosing caution, he waited for the wind to ease and eventually started his day at 2pm. Despite the shortened day, he covered nearly 12km.

It took another two full days for Rudd to reach Thiel’s Corner. He pushed on an extra couple of kilometers before he set up camp on November 21 — Day 18 of his expedition.

Colin O’Brady appears to have kept his one day lead over Rudd, reaching Thiel’s Corner one day earlier, on November 20. Gritting his teeth through the same headwinds and white-outs, O’Brady managed to put in full shifts.

His sled, heavier than Rudd’s, contains mainly extra food: O’Brady ingests a whopping 7,000 calories each day. His diet features 4,000 calories of custom-made energy bars during the day, noodle soups for lunch and freeze-dried dinners at night.

O’Brady with a snow vehicle at Thiel’s Corner. Photo: Colin O’Brady

Solos to the South Pole

Joe Doherty at Union Glacier camp. Photo: Joe Doherty

Rudd and O’Brady will soon have a crowd following in their footsteps: Masatatsu Abe, Matthieu Tordeur, Joe Doherty and Eric Larsen are about to begin their solo treks to the South Pole.

Abe’s preparations went smoothly last week, so smoothly, in fact, that it made him uneasy. On November 17, he shaved off all his body hair. Why? To save a few precious grams of weight. Freshly shorn, he arrived in Antarctica on November 20.

Tordeur, Doherty and Larsen have joined Abe at Union Glacier camp. All four are now awaiting favourable weather in order to fly to their starting points at Hercules Inlet.

Jenny Davis has yet to arrive and won’t begin her speed trek until December.

Mt. Vinson

Mt. Vinson was first climbed in 1966 by Nick Clinch. Photo: Linden Mallory

Laval St Germain also arrived at Union Glacier on November 20. Consistent snowfall has grounded planes since his arrival, and the Canadian has amused himself by riding a fat-tire bike around camp.

You can catch our previous updates and season introductions below:

Antarctica 2018-2019: The Races Begin

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 1

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 2