Top 10 Expeditions of 2018: #4: O’Brady, Rudd Cross Antarctica

Over the last 12 months, ExplorersWeb has documented incredible adventures in climbing, cycling, running, walking, skiing and anything involving force of will and dedication to a dream in the outdoors. As this year comes to a close, we present our countdown of the Top 10 Expeditions of 2018.


Note: ExplorersWeb compiled this Top 10 list before we learned that both men followed the South Pole-McMurdo snow road for the last 600km, which made their last 15-17 days much easier. Any 1,700km trek across Antarctica, with no resupplies, remains an impressive feat, but in retrospect, other accomplished adventures might have ranked higher by comparison. Holly Harrison, for example, #7 on our list, walked 23,305km.

British Army Captain Lou Rudd and American endurance athlete Colin O’Brady set out separately from the Ronne Ice Shelf in early November in the hope of completing one version of a first solo, unsupported and unassisted traverse of Antarctica. They aimed to finish at the start of the Ross Ice Shelf some 70 days later. Rudd was trying to complete the journey that his close friend, Henry Worsley, could not. O’Brady wanted to rack up another endurance tick to go with his Seven Summits speed record, among others. O’Brady finished first after 54 days, ending in style with a 33-hour, 129km final push. Rudd came in two days later.

Crossing Antarctica is not new. Ernest Shackleton launched his ill-fated Endurance expedition in 1914. Then in 1958, Briton Vivian Fuchs led an 11-man team from northwest to south using snow tractors. The first foot crossing came in 1989, when Arved Fuchs and Reinhold Messner skied and parasailed. Norwegian Børge Ousland became the first to cross the continent solo in 1996-97, also with kite support. A year later, Belgians Dixie Dansercoer and Alain Hubert manhauled and kite-skied an astonishing 3,924km from north to south in 99 days.

Since then, a select few have traversed the Great White Queen, all using either resupply, kites or sails. A recent standout feat was Mike Horn’s remarkable 4,713 km renegade kite and manhaul crossing (with resupply) by the continent’s longest axis. Rudd and O’Brady took a shorter route than some others, but they went solo, without food drops or kite assistance. This, of course increases difficulty, since kiters can gobble up hundreds of kilometres on a good day, while a fit skier may cover 30-40km.

The ongoing race has attracted global attention, thanks to coverage in mainstream outlets such as The New York Times and National Geographic. The idea of a “first solo crossing of Antarctica” hooked casual readers. Apart from issues with the snow road along part of their route — does that not constitute assistance, like kites? — there is some debate whether their efforts, no matter how impressive physically, constitute a traverse. Should it be from coast-to-coast, including permanent ice, as Borge Ousland did, or is it enough to start at the edge of the landmass — far from any actual open water — and finish where land (but not ice) ends?

The debate will continue, but the difficulty of hauling 130kg sleds for over 50 days should not be taken lightly. After all, Henry Worsley, an inspiration to both, collapsed just 50km from the end of that route in 2016, and died of peritonitis hours later.