33-year-old American Colin O’Brady just set out to attempt the impossible – conquering The Great White Queen. Or at least it’s been impossible until this point as a solo, unsupported, unaided transcontinental crossing of Antarctica has never been done. Although attempts have been made for over 100 years, all those who have tried have either died or had to abandon the mission and be rescued. O’Brady, however, is no stranger to Antarctica, nor to completing the near impossible. In fact, he holds the world record for the fastest climb of the highest peaks on all seven continents, including Everest and Antarctica, completing the task in just 132 days.
O’Brady, currently skiing the route, will attempt to complete the 1,000-mile crossing in 70 days. He was dropped at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, the side closest to New Zealand, on November 3rd. His intended route is L-shaped, allowing him the shortest distance from one side of the continent to the other while still passing through the South Pole. If he manages to complete the route, he will end at the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, closest to South America.
One factor that has made the expedition impossible to this point is packing and traveling with the amount of food required to sustain a person burning that many calories for that many days. People generally eat three to four pounds of food a day based on a standard 2,500-calorie diet. Estimating he will need a minimum of 5,000 calories a day (although burning more), enough food for 70 days would require pulling 560 lbs. of food alone.
O’Brady believes this is the one element of the expedition that all others who have attempted have miscalculated. Of the 400-pounds of supplies he is taking, over half is food. He has managed to reduce the weight of his food supply with a plan to sustain himself on only freeze-dried, astronaut style food and high-calorie energy bars. The “Colin Bar” which he developed with his sponsor, Standard Process, packs a whopping 1,250 calories each.
However, as wild as an expedition as this is, Colin is not the only one currently making the attempt. 49-year-old Louis Rudd from the UK has also just set out. Although not anticipated to be near one another, Rudd reported seeing O’Brady about 500m away yesterday. Rudd, also no stranger to Antarctica and polar exploration was actually mentored there by Henry Worsley who died attempting the same route in 2016. Rudd also plans on utilizing freeze-dried rations as well as hot chocolate which help rehydrate. Instead of bars, he plans on keeping a grazing-bag handy, full of broken up chocolate protein bars, nuts, a bit of dried fruit, cheese and salami that he can pick from while traveling.
The two have quite the challenge ahead of them, both physically and mentally. In addition to facing -60°F temperature, 100-mph winds, undertaking this feat requires over two months of complete solitude. Not only have they been training for the physical toll this will take on their bodies but also training their minds as well. O’Brady has been practicing monk-like Vipassana training, eliminating speaking, writing, and eye-contact from his life for over week-long periods. Rudd intends to view the experience as he’s not on his own, remembering the support of those in his life and placing them at the finish line where he will need to arrive in order to get them back.
Human beings have done some incredible things since the existence of our species. We climbed the highest point on earth, swam across the Atlantic, set foot on the moon, but a solo crossing of Antarctica is one feat that has remained out of reach. You can keep tabs on the progress of Colin O’Brady and Louis Rudd at each of their websites as they ski towards their goal of achieving the impossible. Until then we can only wish these two incredible adventures godspeed as they embark on their journey to complete the never been done.