Antarctica 2018: It’s All Down Hill for Rudd and O’Brady

48386182 2195327347454104 1760007207681785856 n.jpg? nc cat=106& nc ht=scontent atl3 1The two skiers attempting solo, unsupported crossings of Antarctica continue to make slow but steady progress towards their goal. After visiting the South Pole last week, both American Colin O’Brady and Brit Lou Rudd have now turned the corner and are skiing back to the coast with the ultimate goal of reaching the Ross Ice Shelf sometime in the next 20-25 days. Now that they have turned in that direction they’re starting to move back down hill, which should make pulling their increasingly-lighter sleds a bit easier. It’ll take a few days before they actually notice, but the most physically demanding leg of the expedition is now behind them and they’re now settling in for the monotonous slog toward the finish line.

O’Brady checked in on day 45 of his expedition with details on his day-to-day struggles. He says that he has noticeably lost muscle mass and it has started to catch up to him during the daily routine. Things like shoveling snow and moving gear around leave him gasping for air and feeling exhausted, no doubt in part because of the constant hauling of a sled behind him for the past month and a half. Still, despite the physical fatigue setting in, he continues to make good time each day. He’s up to roughly 21 miles (33 km), which is a solid effort this deep into the expedition.

Meanwhile, Rudd is also on the return trip having crossed the 88th degree on his way to the Ross Ice Shelf too. He’s about a day and a half behind O’Brady at this point but covering solid distances on a daily basis as well. There is still a long way to go before either of them are done, but it is starting to look like they both have a real chance of completing this journey, which has eluded a number of other explorers in the past. And, even more impressive, they’re doing it in one of the toughest expedition seasons in recent memory.

After yesterday’s session of manhauling Rudd shared an interesting story of encountering another group out on the ice. This time it was a team of tourists who are skiing the final three degrees to the South Pole. That, in and of itself, is not unique. Travelers do that all the time. In this case, they actually drove out to 87ºS in a large vehicle, which is serving as their support center. The five individuals who make up the group ski all day, with no packs or sleds, as the vehicle follows along. Guides are there to help lead the way and set up camp and they even have their own chef to prepare meals. Very different from what the British explorer is experiencing to say the least. One of the members of the group was even riding a large tricycle.

Lou says that he encountered them three or four times throughout the day and that he lost time chatting with them with each and every encounter. He described it as a bit surreal, as one of the men was friends with Rudd on Facebook and proved it by showing him his smartphone. By the end of the day, the Brit was happy to be moving in the opposite direction and get some solitude back out on the ice.

Another British adventurer is now a few days into her own solo crossing of the Antarctic to the South Pole. Jenny Davis is an endurance athlete who climbed Vinson a week or so back and is now embarking on the full-distance ski journey from Hercules Inlet. Like everyone else who has attempted that expedition this year she is experiencing whiteout conditions already, although on day two she had already ramped up to 22 miles (35 km), which is a heck of a great way to start.

Most of the other skiers are simply moving along as best they can at this point. Progress is extremely slow for everyone, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a few more of them abandoned at some point. The soft snow and whiteouts have been problematic for all involved and these expeditions are taking longer than expected. An already interesting season is about to get even more so moving forward.

Kraig Becker