Update added below.
According to his website, Colin O’Brady has completed the first-ever solo, unsupported, unaided crossing of Antarctica. He has reportedly arrived at the Ross Ice Shelf on the Pacific Ocean.
Using solely his own muscle power, O’Brady skied 932 miles pulling a 300-pound sled over 54 frigid days across the coldest, windiest, most remote continent on Earth, crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the South Pole. After a remarkable 80-mile continuous push over the last two days, almost five times his strenuous daily average, he emerged from the TransAntarctic Mountains onto the Ross Ice Shelf a little before 1 p.m. EST, December 26 and stamped his name into the annals of polar lore.
But was O’Brady’s crossing really unassisted? O’Brady and Rudd have been skiing on a packed road all the way from the South Pole to their finish line. Known as the McMurdo-South Pole Highway, or the South Pole Overland Traverse Road (SPOT), it is a flattened trail groomed by tractors towing heavy sledges. It conveys personnel and supplies from McMurdo Station to the South Pole. Flags every 100m or so make navigation easy during whiteouts, and all the crevasses were filled in by the original construction crew. Most importantly for a skier, it eliminates the rock-hard, bumpy sastrugi that the wind shapes out of loose snow.
“It is a highway,” says veteran polar guide Eric Philips, “[that] more than doubles someone’s speed and negates the need for navigation. An expedition cannot be classed as unassisted if someone is skiing on a road.”
In polar travel, while “unsupported” means no supply drops, “unassisted” additionally requires no outside help of any kind to make the distance easier: no kites, dogs, roads or navigation flags. Norway’s Borge Ousland crossed Antarctica alone and unsupported in 1996-7, but his journey is not considered unassisted because a kite towed him part of the way.
National Geographic also reported on O’Brady and Rudd during their treks in 2018, and when O’Brady completed his journey, described it as “historic” and “unsupported.” After reviewing those stories and gathering more information, we’ve amended them with an editor’s note.
Prominent leaders of the adventure and polar communities were less enthusiastic about O’Brady’s claims. Conrad Anker, Alex Honnold, Mike Horn, Borge Ousland, and others spoke out against him, accusing O’Brady of exaggerating his accomplishment or worse.
Over the last several months, National Geographic has investigated O’Brady’s claims. He agreed to three phone interviews but recently stopped responding to requests for comment. We also spoke with an array of leading polar explorers, including some of O’Brady’s mentors, many of whom believe he has distorted the truth in pursuit of fame.
O’Brady “didn’t do what [he] advertised,” says Australian polar explorer Eric Philips, cofounder and president of the International Polar Guides Association. “This wasn’t some Last Great Polar Journey. Rather, it was a truncated route that was a first in only a very limited way.”
On March 1, 2018 , National Geographic announced its 2018 Adventurers of the Year, an annual list that honors extraordinary achievements in the fields of exploration, adventure sports, conservation, and humanitarianism within the past year.
The list this year includes daring climbers, hardcore ultramarathoners, resilient mountain bikers, inspiring photographers, and incredible philanthropists.
‘Trailblazers’ was the guiding theme of this year’s list, meaning each honoree has achieved something unique, groundbreaking and game-changing in his or her field.
This year, honorees were nominated by past Adventurers of the Year, prominent members of the adventure community, and National Geographic Explorers and photographers. The National Geographic Adventure editorial staff reviewed all of the nominees and selected the final eight.
From the press release:
Top athletes recognized by the 2018 Climbing Awards include Alex Honnold, Margo Hayes, and John Roskelley. Conservation and volunteerism awards will go to Sally Jewell and Ellen Lapham.
Alex Honnold, winner of the 2018 The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award, is best known for his bold free-solo ascents in Yosemite as well as visionary ascents in Zion, El Potrero Chico, and Patagonia. Margo Hayes, winner of the 2018 The Robert Hicks Bates Award, is a climbing prodigy who as a teenager successfully climbed two 5.15a routes; considered among the most difficult routes in the world ever climbed by a woman.
For having had a lasting and significant impact on the advancement of climbing.
Recipient: John Roskelley
The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award
For his vision and commitment to achieving new standards of climbing.
Recipient: Alex Honnold
Recognizing those who have worked to maintain and strengthen the American Alpine Club.
Recipient: Ellen Lapham
The Robert Hicks Bates Award
Recognizing a young climber with outstanding promise.
Recipient: Margo Hayes
The David R. Brower Award
Recognizing leadership and commitment to preserving mountain regions worldwide.
Recipient: Sally Jewell