An Impossible First: Colin O’Brady Completes Solo Trek Across Antarctica

On the 26th of December, 33-year-old American Colin O’Brady skied across an imaginary finish line on the Ross Ice Shelf at the foot of the Leverett Glacier.

Colin O’Brady completed his historic trek across Antarctica on the Ross Ice Shelf. (Source: Alan Light, Flickr)

Upon reaching the glacier, O’Brady became the first person to cross Antarctica unaided by wind. Borge Ousland was the first to transverse the continent using a kite in 1997. Others have attempted this 932-mile journey unaided, but all have failed. 

O’Brady began his extreme trek at the Messner Start on the Ronne Ice Shelf, about a mile away from his friend and fellow competitor, Louis Rudd, a British Army captain and adventurer well known for previous expeditions on Greenland and Antarctica. The two began their race across the the continent on November 3rd. O’Brady completed the tremendous feat 54 days later. Rudd followed two days behind.

O’Brady’s Antarctic expedition began at the Ronne Ice Shelf, crossed through the South Pole, and ended on the Ross Ice Shelf (Source: Jeandré du Toit, Wikimedia Commons)

Even with summer conditions in Antarctica, the southern continent remains a daunting setting. The two explorers faced brutal storms, high-speed winds, and chilling temperatures on their route. O’Brady even experienced frostnip, the precursor to frostbite, on his nose and cheeks due to the brutal conditions. Not to mention, they each pulled heavy sleds with tents and supplies weighing about 375 pounds. O’Brady and Rudd had no human contact or supply restock throughout their expedition. O’Brady used social media and a satellite phone, however, to keep in touch with the outside world. The athlete credits some of his success to his expedition manager and wife, Jenna Besaw, for her support and guidance.

“Despite how hard it is to step outside of your comfort zone, the magic of life and growth happens when you point your compass toward the limitless horizon of your dreams and commit to the journey,” O’Brady wrote in an Instagram post. Throughout his expedition, O’Brady frequently turned to Instagram to keep his curious followers informed about his whereabouts, daily struggles, and brushes with beauty.

The 932-mile journey included a detour through the South Pole, which O’Brady reached on day 40 and Rudd on day 41. It was a close race between the two explorers throughout the journey. But on Christmas morning, O’Brady completed the final 77.54 miles in a single, 32-hour-long push to the finish line. O’Brady called it his “Antarctica Ultramarathon.” He wrote on Instagram: “I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey.”

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Day 54: FINISH LINE!!! I did it! The Impossible First ✅. 32 hours and 30 minutes after leaving my last camp early Christmas morning, I covered the remaining ~80 miles in one continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line. The wooden post in the background of this picture marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins. As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided. While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced. I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey. I’m delirious writing this as I haven’t slept yet. There is so much to process and integrate and there will be many more posts to acknowledge the incredible group of people who supported this project. But for now, I want to simply recognize my #1 who I, of course, called immediately upon finishing. I burst into tears making this call. I was never alone out there. @jennabesaw you walked every step with me and guided me with your courage and strength. WE DID IT!! We turned our dream into reality and proved that The Impossible First is indeed possible. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela. #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

A post shared by Colin O'Brady (@colinobrady) on

O’Brady’s monstrous feat, detailed in a series of New York Times pieces written by Adam Skolnick, is one of immense courage, physical and mental strength, and perseverance. He will go down in history for his seemingly impossible first—traversing alone and unassisted what is possibly the most treacherous landscape on Earth.