Tomorrow we turn the calendar to November, which means the 2018-2019 Antarctic season is now officially upon us. The first flight out of Punta Arenas, Chile to the Union Glacier Camp by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) is scheduled to take place in the morning, weather permitting. And while that flight will mainly be made up of ALE staff who will begin the task of preparing the camp for the arrival of other skiers and travelers, there will also be two explorers looking to get out onto the ice as quickly as possible. For these two men, time is of the essence, and everyday counts as they both hope to make history independently of one another.
The first two skiers to hit the ice this year will be Brit Lou Rudd and American Colin O’Brady. Both hope to become the first to complete a solo, unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent, traveling from one point on the coast, to another, with a stop at the South Pole while en route. And while each of them will be traveling alone, they will share a similar route that starts near Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice Shelf and ends on the Ross Ice Shelf, some 1500 km (932 miles) away.
For Rudd, this is a chance to not only follow in the footsteps of his hero Ernest Shackleton, but also complete the journey that is friend Henry Worsley lost his life attempting back in 2016. Worsley famously came up short by about 30 miles on his attempt to ski across the Antarctic and later passed away in a hospital in Chile after being airlifted off the continent. Rudd hopes to complete what his friend started and cover the same route that Shackleton had intended to use more than a century ago.
For O’Brady, this is another chance to etch his name in the record books. He too, has led a life of adventure, climbing Everest and other major peaks, knocking off the Seven Summits, and skiing last-degree journeys to the North and South Pole. But, he has never undertaken an expedition quite like this one, and it will surely test his strength and resolve as it has all others who have tried in the past.
Both men will be pulling extremely heavy sleds behind them as they go. Rudd will take 140 kg (308 pounds) of supplies and gear, while O’Brady will have even more. His sled reportedly tips the scales at nearly 400 pounds (180 kg), which is a significant amount of weight. That would lead one to believe that Rudd will get off to a faster start, although neither man will be traveling all that quickly in the beginning. Over time, and once they’ve found their stride, they’re likely to cover greater distances, especially as the sled begins to lose some weight. Rudd says he expects to finish in roughly 75 days, while O’Brady estimates it will take him about 70 days to cover the full distance.
Right now, the two adventurers are set to be on ALE’s first flight out of Punta Arenas tomorrow. At the moment, that flight seems to be running on time, but weather will dictate whether or not it actually takes off. The conditions in Chile aren’t expected to be unfavorable, but the team will keep a close eye on what is happening at Union Glacier before setting out. If everything goes as planned, we’ll have our first two skiers on the ice sometime tomorrow. You can bet we’ll be posting regular updates of their progress not long after that.
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