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 sub-ice 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 and a sled—evidence of 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.
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.”
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.”
Though his finish carries echoes of a devastated Scott arriving at the South Pole more than a century earlier to the sight of 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.”
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 to the scientific research station at the South Pole, where they'll board another plane that will carry them back to civilization. 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.