Now that I’m finally home and the dust is beginning to settle I thought I’d write a few lines to summarise the key points of the expedition. It’s been an incredible experience from start to finish and I’ve learnt so much from it. I’ve been staggered by the amount of media interest it’s generated and it’s really put Antarctica and polar journey’s back in the spot light for a while, which can only be a good thing for everyone right? I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to do this journey and owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many people that helped make it happen. I will be visiting you all in due course to personally thank you.
I achieved what I set out to do, a solo unsupported and unassisted crossing of the Antarctic land mass. Key stats as follows:
- Total distance: 920 miles.
- Time: 41 days from Messner Start point to South Pole, 15 days from South Pole to Ross Ice Shelf via the Leverett Glacier. 56 days total for the crossing
- No full rest days taken
- Pulk start weight: approx. 130kg
- Food: started with 65 days, consisting of 6000 calories per day
- Cooker fuel: 16.5 litres
- Body start weight 88kg, finish 73kg, a loss of 15kg (17% body mass)
- Fundraising for ABF Soldiers’ Charity (still ongoing)
- Dedicated 4 month post expedition school visits programme
Ultimately, Colin O’Brady and I both successfully completed what was an extremely difficult journey, hauling around 130kg of food and equipment over 900 miles, without resupply or the use of kites/sails across the continent. What’s more we did it in what has been unanimously recognised as a difficult season this year, with unprecedented levels of snow fall and soft difficult surfaces making man hauling particularly arduous. Many other solo expeditions this season came through the same conditions we did and thought better of it, taking the sensible decision to abort. At times it was absolutely brutal. We thoroughly researched beforehand to ensure we were correct in saying that this particular journey had not been done in this exact style, unsupported and unassisted. There’s always lots of debate around what unsupported and unassisted actually means, but for me it’s quite simple. If you haul all your own gear without any form of resupply using muscle power alone (no use of wind assistance, kites/sails etc) then you are unsupported. Anything else is supported. Using a simple analogy is the difference between rowing across an ocean or sailing across, clearly rowing is much slower and more physically challenging. Someone with a kite can comfortably do over 100 miles in a day with very little physical exertion, the most I’ve ever managed manhauling with a light pulk going downhill is 29 miles. My typical daily average manhauling is around 12 miles. Manhauling is the purest and most difficult form of polar travel, kiting is a very different kind of journey.
I got to know Colin quite well over the course of the expedition and what he did was truly remarkable. I pushed hard and skied longer hours and greater distances than I ever have on any previous expeditions and yet he was still able to finish two days ahead of me. And this despite the fact he had less direct experience in polar travel, although a very accomplished professional athlete and mountaineer. I genuinely thought his chances of successfully completing were slim but he did an incredible job. Yes, it would have been nice to finish first but my highest priority was successfully completing the journey and I was always wary of pushing too hard and becoming unsafe. It’s just incredible that we both successfully finished and I commend him for what he also achieved.
What has been a little disappointing is the reaction from some in the polar community. You would have thought it is this community that could best relate to what we achieved. I should start out by saying I have the utmost respect for those that crossed Antarctica solo before us, most notably the very first solo crossing by Borge Ousland back in the 90’s which was a truly epic journey, indeed I have his book in my collection which has been a huge source of inspiration. Also, more recently the huge kite traverse completed by Mike Horn which I followed avidly. These were incredible ground-breaking journey’s in their own right. But they were very different in nature to the journey we were looking to do. In reality, you couldn’t do Borge or Mikes journeys without the use of kites because of the sheer distances involved and the time available. The Antarctic expedition season is at best 90-100 days long before the weather turns and the logistics support company (ALE) pack up and go home. This restricts what is achievable for an unsupported, unassisted journey. Also, the current options for coastline start points is restricted by the capabilities of the logistics support operator and getting to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf for example is a non-starter unless you have your own boat, or kite out there. They simply don’t have the reach to get there. In short, actually doing an unsupported crossing starting on the edge of the floating ice shelves by the waters edge without the use of kites or resupply is nigh on impossible, although I’m sure one day someone will crack it. Virtually every expedition these days, and indeed of the modern era, starts from the continental coastline of Antarctica and not the edge of the ice shelves, and they all claim to be coastline to Pole, so are they all null and void? If so there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people out there.
The other contentious issue has been around the choice of route for the second half of our journey from the South Pole to the Ross Ice Shelf. I selected the Leverett Glacier quite simply because it was the safest option for a solo expedition. The crevasse risk on this route is well understood and mitigated. As a husband and father of three, safety was always my utmost priority with this trip, any other approach would be irresponsible. The route is used by the US to resupply the South Pole station from their base at McMurdo. It’s been described by some as a ‘road’ which is misleading. It’s quite funny watching people comment on it when I know for a fact they’ve never even seen it let alone skied 300 miles along it. A tracked vehicle convoy traverse this route several times in the summer season, but having now used it I can tell you it’s a churned up heavily rutted surface that is mostly buried in soft spindrift. For most of the time it was a hideous surface to ski on and actually skiing parallel to the road on the much firmer flanks was mostly a better option. It is marked every 400m or so with a bamboo pole again which some claim is an artificial aid but having successfully navigated over 2,500 miles across Antarctica previously without them I don’t think they were a deal breaker! Without them I still would have skied exactly the same course. Of note, I have previously successfully skied the Axel Heiberg and Shackleton Glaciers so this wasn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. I’ve done the whole falling into crevasses several times a day piece and didn’t really want to repeat that experience solo. In summary, I believe the presence of the marker poles and vehicle tracks had no real impact on the overall outcome of the expedition. Either way I would have got to the Ross Ice Shelf.
I suspect one of the main issues is the amount of media interest our crossings have generated, primarily because of the race angle they focussed on. Some coverage has not made it clear precisely what we are claiming and has inadvertently diminished the solo crossings of those that went before us. I have always gone to great pains to stress the difference, but unfortunately have been misrepresented at times, which is a common issue for us all when dealing with media. When Borge did his journey back in the 90’s social media didn’t exist and coverage was minimal, which is a shame because it was a truly ground breaking trip. I don’t do these journeys for self-promotion or recognition, I have a full time day job in the Army and they are very much a hobby. I’m not a full-time adventurer (I certainly don’t consider myself an explorer or an athlete for that matter) and don’t need to make a living from them writing or talking about the experience. I do them for the love of Antarctica and actually being on the journey itself. When leading a team such as SPEAR17 I get a huge sense of satisfaction from watching others develop and achieve their goals in this most challenging of environments. Reaching the finish line is always an anti-climax as I know the experience is then coming to an end and it’s back to routine life once more.
As part of the post expedition phase I’ll be visiting schools, clubs, organisations and cadets across the country to talk about not just the expedition but my time in the Armed Forces as a whole and the incredible journey and experiences and opportunities I’ve had. Sadly this four month tour from Mar-Jul 19 is now fully booked.
In summary, what Colin and I did was push the boundaries of what is possible in truly unsupported polar travel, stretched the limits of human physical performance and lay a marker in the snow, it’s just a matter of time before someone goes one better. But what we have done is show what is possible and opened the door for future unsupported traverses of the continent. If what I’ve done with this expedition inspires just one person to pursue their goals or overcome a difficult challenge then I’ll be happy. Any future ventures I undertake will be focussed around helping others experience this wonderful continent and passing on all the skills and knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years.
It’s getting close now, less than a week to go before I depart the UK. I’m feeling as well prepared both physically and mentally as I’ve ever been for any expedition. Even though this will be a solo expedition I am just the tip of a huge iceberg of support that has helped make this journey a reality. The British Army, Shackleton, Level Peaks, Team Army, SSVC and many more have all played a huge part in getting me this far and now it’s time for me to deliver.
The build up and preparation has been hectic and I’m really looking forward to getting dropped at my start point on the edge of the continent and beginning the journey. As I will be unable to update this website while out on the ice my incredible expedition partners, Shackleton, will be providing full expedition coverage with daily updates, tracking map and many more features at the following site – Spirit of Endurance
Tune in to watch the adventure unfold!
Pulling together major expeditions such as these can be an emotional rollercoaster. The early phases are always particularly difficult as you are trying to get it off the ground, spread the word and build support. But eventually, after a lot of hard work (and soul-searching!) it begins to grow, support begins to trickle in and the momentum builds. And then it gets to a point where it really takes off and you become truly humbled by people’s generosity and good will. It might be a solo expedition but it would not be possible without the support of so many; friends, family, colleagues and sponsors.
This is an Army supported expedition facilitated through the superb Adventure Training Scheme and the support I have received from the Army over the last few months in the form of funding, promoting and preparing for the expedition has been truly outstanding. After 33 years of service its been a great reminder of what a wonderful institution it still is. Of course, major expeditions like this require additional support and funding from commercial backers and again the support I have received has been truly humbling. One of my key sponsors, The Shackleton Company, have gone above and beyond in their support and their enthusiasm for the project is inspiring. In addition, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the following for their ongoing support:
The Infantry Battle School, Brecon
My little brother Nick Rudd
Pete Masters at Skinzophrenic
Gus & Steve…
Rhodri at Nordic Life
All of you and many more are all helping to make this bold and ambitious project a reality and I can’t thank you enough. Plus, I’m sure there’s someone up above watching down on proceedings with great interest…Onwards.
Planning and preparations for the Spirit of Endurance expedition are coming along well. I’m currently tackling fundraising, physical training, selecting and sourcing equipment, clothing, nutrition, logistics support, media plan, route planning and post expedition legacy.
The biggest challenge as always is the fundraising but I’m receiving some great support from the Army and commercial sponsors alike and starting to get there. Although there is some way to go yet and with only 3 months to go I’m working hard to secure the final support needed. It’s always a stressful period but I’m feeling confident it will all come together in time. Belief is everything!
Physical training is in full swing and I’m regularly out on the tyre getting the miles in, down the gym doing strength and conditioning exercises or up on the hills completing the Fan Dance or 3 Peaks Challenge. I’m also heading out to Iceland in September for a final equipment test and refining of procedures. It will also be a great opportunity for some filming and photography.
I’m starting to order some of the specialist kit required for a solo journey and working out how to lighten my load as much as is safe to do. The food I’ll be eating for the 75 day crossing is a key part of this and striking the balance between weight and calories is a delicate one. I’m aiming at around 6000 calories per day and trying to keep it to around 1.1kg. I’m having to use a specialist pulk (the sledge I’ll be dragging behind me) that has a huge volume and is 2.3m long to fit everything in!
A key part of the expedition, and something that is very important to me personally, is the legacy it will leave behind. In conjunction with the Army a post expedition engagement plan is being put together that will see me touring the country and speaking to schools and other establishments to inspire the next generation to pursue their dreams and goals on whatever scale they may be. This is a phase of the project I’m really looking forward to.
Staying focussed and positive despite the inevitable set backs is key. With much still to do I continually remind myself why I’m doing this, to honour the legacy of the early polar pioneers, for Henry and for the next generation of aspiring adventurers. As I was once inspired by those that went before me then I hope I in turn can inspire those that follow to go always a little further.
Crossing Antarctica, Solo & Unsupported
A solo, unsupported crossing of Antarctica, using muscle power alone with no resupply– although attempted – has never yet been completed. It is the purest and most challenging form of polar travel. A dear friend of mine, Lt Col Henry Worsley, MBE, Polar Medal, tragically lost his life attempting this journey in 2016. My first ever polar journey was with Henry and he taught me all of the skills required as well as inspiring me further. As a fitting tribute to the legacy of Henry I am hoping to go to Antarctica to complete his journey.
I am under no illusions as to the enormity of the task. Just raising the necessary funds to get to the start line will be a huge challenge, let alone the journey itself. However, I genuinely feel having served for many years with Henry and shared a tent with him for 3 months in 2011/12 while skiing to the South Pole, that I am the right person for this task. I’m sure he will be looking out for me throughout. His wife Joanna has very graciously given me her blessing and will be supporting the build up and preparation as well as watching the journey unfold.
And so, as Henry would have said ‘Onwards’.
To be a part of this world first, record breaking journey I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Solo & Unsupported Traverse of Antarctica
“Through Endurance We Conquer”
Sir Ernest Shackleton CVO OBE FRGS