Antarctica 2018: Colin O’Brady Begins Solo, Unassisted Traverse

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Last week we brought the news that the Antarctic expedition season as officially underway when the first flight out of Punta Arenas, Chile to the Union Glacier camp on the frozen continent took place. On that flight was American Colin O’Brady and presumably British polar explorer Lou Rudd. I say presumably because Rudd was known to be in Punta Arenas prior to the flight and like O’Brady he is making an attempt at a solo, unassisted traverse of the Antarctic. So far, we haven’t heard a word from Rudd, but O’Brady had been updating his progress on social media and is now underway at last.

After arriving at Union Glacier, O’Brady had to wait a few days before being flown out to his starting point on the Ronne Ice Shelf. Poor weather conditions at the landing zone prevented his Twin Otters aircraft from delivering him to the launching point. But it didn’t take long for conditions to improve and over the weekend he was dropped off at long last and he began his long journey. He is not expected to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 days to complete the crossing, which will first take up to South Pole, then end up on the opposite coast along the Ross Ice Shelf.

The real journey began on Saturday when O’Brady was flown out to the Ronne Ice Shelf. It was then that he was alone at last and left to his own devices. That includes dragging a sled that reportedly weighs about 180 kg (396 pounds), which is packed full of the supplies he’ll need to survive for the next two months on the Antarctic continent. Needless to say, that is a lot of weight to haul around. Of course, it will go down in weight over time as he uses up fuel and food, but for now it is going to be very heavy and make for slow going.

On Sunday, O’Brady tweeted that the enormity of what he has set out to do has started to dawn on him. Remember, no one has ever completed this expedition solo and unsupported before. British adventurer Henry Worsley lost his life in the attempt back in 2016 and Ben Saunders abandon his own attempt when he reached the South Pole last year. Needless to say, this remains one of the last big challenges in exploration and adventure, although some still deem it impossible due to the demands on the human body, the number of calories required, and the relatively short austral summer.

As for Rudd, we’re still waiting for him to update us on his progress.I suppose it is possible that he hasn’t started his own traverse yet, but historically speaking the individuals who are making such an attempt need all of the time they can get out on the ice, which is why they are amongst the first to start. The next flight out to Union Glacier takes place on November 10, so perhaps he’ll be on that flight instead. I expect there will be several other South Pole skiers heading out later this week, which is when the expedition season truly starts to ramp up.

We’ll be following Colin closely in the weeks ahead, as as well as all of the other explorers heading out onto the ice. It should be a busy season indeed.

Kraig Becker