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Second explorer completes Antarctic crossing

National Geographic logo National Geographic 2018-12-29 Aaron Teasdale
a man wearing a red hat: Polar explorer Louis Rudd completed his solo, unaided crossing of Antarctica two days after Colin O'Brady became the first person to accomplish the feat. © Photograph by Rene Koster

Polar explorer Louis Rudd completed his solo, unaided crossing of Antarctica two days after Colin O'Brady became the first person to accomplish the feat.

Concluding the most epic polar competition since Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott raced to the South Pole in 1911, British adventurer Louis Rudd skied to the edge of the Antarctic land mass on December 29, the 56th day of his expedition, to complete his solo, unsupported, and unassisted crossing of the frozen continent. Awaiting him on the icy vastness of the Ross Ice Shelf, a 2,000-feet-thick slab of ice nearly the size of France and one of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet, was a strange sight: a tent, a sled, a pair of skis, and another human.

It was American Colin O’Brady who had completed his own unsupported solo crossing of the same route only three days earlier, making him the first person to ever do so. Both men had set off on November 3 a mile apart at the Atlantic coast on the other side of the great white continent aiming to be the first person to ski alone and unassisted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific by way of the South Pole. Now Rudd becomes the second member of this ultra-exclusive club.

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The two emaciated men encountered each other amid the stark whiteness beneath the soaring stone of the Transantarctic Mountains, which Rudd had just threaded through on the Leverett Glacier. A lonely stake in the ice here marks the beginning of the Pacific Ocean and the place where O’Brady had arrived after a stunning 32-hour, 80-mile continuous push to complete his record-setting expedition. Upon arriving, he told NBC News that he wept, “tears streaming down my face to an audience of zero.”

Video: Record-setting Brit skier gives final interview before setting off alone to South Pole (Newsflare)

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O’Brady spent the following days resting here atop the world’s largest ice sheet, waiting to greet Rudd. Meanwhile, the Englishman was battling strong winds and much colder, subzero temperatures in the higher elevations of the mountains. “The pulk was just like an out-of-control dog on a leash behind me,” he wrote on his Christmas update. “I was all over the place trying to control the thing.”

He cut his sleep short his last two nights in a hearty final push of his own, gaining 34 miles on his penultimate day as he descended through heavy fog, granite cliffs appearing briefly through gaps in the mist. It was the longest distance Rudd has covered on any single day of his previous expeditions, aided by the descent through the mountains, where he wrote he was, “Getting quite a bit of glide, and the pulk was zipping along as well (sometimes wiping me out) … It was fantastic.”

a man skiing down a dirt road: Rudd spent months practicing pulling a heavy pulk, or cargo sled, in preparation for the grueling expedition. © Photograph by Rene Koster

Rudd spent months practicing pulling a heavy pulk, or cargo sled, in preparation for the grueling expedition.

Though his finish carries echoes of a devastated Scott arriving at the South Pole more than a century earlier to the sight of the Amundsen’s Norwegian flag, he insisted in one of his final web updates that he doesn’t see it that way.

“I’ve always been keen to avoid the media [who try] to make it a race issue,” he wrote. “The minute you get drawn into a race scenario, everything you’re doing is dictated by the other person ... It changes the whole nature of the expedition. I decided right from the early stages I wasn’t going to get drawn into that… I’ve just come and done my journey.”

Video: Colin O’Brady Is First Person to Cross Antarctica Solo (NowThis News)

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In an Instagram post shortly after Rudd’s arrival, O’Brady declared the two men, “Have a lifelong bond now having both completed this epic journey.”

Now they await the ski plane that will land on the ice sheet and whisk them off to one of civilization’s wind-battered, micro-outposts on the coast. Finally, they can talk with other humans and eat something besides the same prepackaged expedition food they’ve consumed every day for almost two months. Both men are surely counting the minutes, and as O’Brady cheerily puts it, “It will be great fun debriefing all of our experiences over the coming days as we make our way out of Antarctica together.”

Aaron Teasdale, based in Missoula, Montana, is an award-winning writer specializing in adventure travel, wilderness, and conservation.

Gallery: An American adventurer has become the first person to cross Antarctica alone and unaided. His training included Buddhist retreats and a 400-mile trek in Greenland. (Business Insider)

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