A British army captain has become the second person ever to cross Antarctica alone and unaided. He retraced the steps of a friend who died.

A British army captain has become the second person ever to cross Antarctica alone and unaided. He retraced the steps of a friend who died.


Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Glaciers are seen in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, February 18, 2018.

After 56 days of travel, British Army captain Louis Rudd has become the second person ever to cross Antarctica alone and unaided.

Rudd reached the Ross Ice Shelf on Friday, finishing the treacherous crossing just two days after American Colin O'Brady achieved the same feat. 

Both explorers set out in early November, though Rudd told The Observer that he did not think of the trek as a competition. In fact, Rudd said he was unaware of O'Brady's plan to cross the southern continent until a few days before Rudd left the United Kingdom. 

The 49-year-old British adventurer skied more than 900 miles in honor of explorer Henry Worsley, a close friend who died while trying to complete the same journey in 2016. In an interview with The New Yorker, Rudd said Worsley introduced him to polar exploration, teaching him how to move through blinding whiteouts and spot crevasses in the ice.


Both O'Brady and Rudd kept their load light, since neither man got resupplied. That means they had to pull all their food, fuel, and gear behind them on a sled. Each explorer brought only one pair of underwear, but their provisions still weighed a significant amount. O'Brady said he carried about 400 pounds, more than 50% of which was food. 

Rudd told The Observer that in the mornings, he ate porridge with hot chocolate. For dinner, he consumed freeze-dried meals and protein shakes. Before setting off, he said, he also bought 70 bags of tropical trail mix. Rudd snacked on milk chocolate bars, salami, and cheese as well.

O'Brady's diet throughout the trek was more tailored - the American worked with a sponsor to design special high-calorie "Colin Bars" based on his nutrition needs.

Both men said they lost significant amounts of weight as they battled their way across the ice. Rudd estimated that he lost about 33 pounds over the last two months - roughly one-fifth of his weight.

"I've got chicken legs, my arms are stick thin," he told The Observer. "I had to sew a tuck into the waistband of my underpants and thermal leggings after I felt them slipping down when I was skiing."


'This is horrific'

In January 2016, Worsley decided to abandon his journey just 30 miles from the finish line. He had been unable to leave his tent for two days, so he called for emergency help and was airlifted to a hospital in Chile.

The 55-year-old explorer underwent surgery for bacterial peritonitis - an infection in the tissue lining his abdomen - but he died due to organ failure. 

Henry Worsley

John Stillwell/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge poses in October 2015 with Henry Worsley, who attempted to undertake Sir Ernest Shackleton's unfinished journey to the South Pole. Worsley died trying to cross Antarctica alone and unaided.

To honor Worsley's life, Rudd carried a flag featuring the late explorer's family crest.

But until the end, it was uncertain whether either he or O'Brady would succeed in crossing Antarctica, Rudd said. Every person who had tried before them either gave up or died.


The trek was both the longest distance either man had ever traveled in Antarctica and the longest time spent alone. Even though O'Brady's training included a 400-mile test run in Greenland, the American said nothing could have fully prepared him for more than 50 days of solitude.  

Read more: 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.

Rudd said he sometimes found it difficult to keep going.

"I skied through some horrendous conditions," he told The Observer. "I would be skiing along thinking, 'my God, this is the worst place in the world right now; this is horrific'."

Rudd passed the time listening to audiobooks - including three biographies of Winston Churchill - and music by Pink Floyd and U2, he said.


O'Brady waited for Rudd to finish

Both men began their journey at the Ronne Ice Shelf and reached their destination at the Ross Ice Shelf.


Colin O'Brady/The Impossible First/Business Insider

A map shows Colin O'Brady's path from the Ronne Ice Shelf to his destination.

During his trek, Rudd's only contact with other people came during a one-hour stop at a scientific base at the South Pole. About 15 or 20 people cheered him on at the base, though Rudd told The Observer that completing the trek alone and unaided meant he was prohibited from going inside or accepting any supplies.

When the British adventurer completed his journey on Friday, O'Brady was waiting for him. In an Instagram post, the American congratulated Rudd and said the two men now had a "lifelong bond." 

"This has been one of the most profound and meaningful experiences of my entire life, and without a doubt my proudest accomplishment," O'Brady wrote on Instagram. "This journey has cracked me open to my core and nearly broken me many times."


The men didn't get to return to the comforts of civilization as quickly as they'd hoped, though. On December 29, O'Brady said in an Instagram post that poor weather had prevented pilots from reaching the ice shelf, so the two explorers were still camping out in Antarctica, waiting for a plane.

The forecast initially predicted that the men would not be able to leave until Monday, December 31; O'Brady said he was concerned about running out of food while they waited, since the two men only had enough for 48 more hours.

But a plane managed to pick them up yesterday, and they flew to Union Glacier, Antarctica's main hub for expeditions and research. Both men will then head to South America on their way home.