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Colin O'Brady

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 thommi 27 Dec 2018

Just wow.... What a phenomenal achievement. 

 Damo 28 Dec 2018
In reply to thommi:


The ice shelves are land ice and therefore part of the continent. This was accepted by all the earliest polar travellers who did, or attempted, crossings – Shackleton (who didn’t have a choice to fly), the Mordre brothers, Messner and Fuchs, Dansercouer and Hubert, Ranulph Fiennes and Borge Ousland. This means you start OUTSIDE them, not inside them. So you probably begin at the ‘outside’ ie north side of Berkner Island and finish at Ross Island (Scott/McMurdo base). This is a continental crossing. When Fiennes-Stroud failed to make it across the Ross Ice Shelf in their attempted crossing, they initially admitted that they had failed. Only later, did they spuriously introduce the idea that by crossing the land only did they make a continental crossing.

In the mid-late 90s some South Pole ski teams decided that Berkner was too expensive (requiring an extra flight to cache fuel) and so made a new start point at the edge of the land at Hercules Inlet – a long way from the actual coast. This was for reasons of cost and convenience (it’s easier and shorter than starting from Berkner). As is the way of things, being cheaper and easier it became more popular, though for people wanting to achieve big firsts a Berkner start was still preferred.

With regard to the ‘Messner Start’ that O’Brady and Rudd have used for this trip, it too is a recent commercial contrivance. When Messner did his crossing with Arved Fuchs, he wanted to start at Berkner or a true outer edge, but fuel and logistics issues meant they actually got dropped in a random point inland along the way. He was furious and threatened to sue. In more recent times some groups started near this random point, calling it the Messner Start, then to fix it up a bit ALE, the logistics operator, moved the Messner Start to the actual land-coast on the Ronne Ice Shelf, still a very long way from the actual coast.

Attempted crossings, with no kites or resupplies, that have tried to go from the true outer continental edges, have failed due to the great distance that needs to be covered. This is why it has been deemed ‘impossible’, a reputation that O’Brady bases his marketing on. By doing so, he is placing himself in the context of those going before him, in a community, of shared standards and experiences. But by just going from inner coast to inner coast AND along the graded road (ffs!) he has shown he is only too willing to reject the true challenge of the goal and disrespect all those whose failed efforts built the challenge up to what it has become. He wants the trophy without winning the race. He is claiming a prize that was meant for another achievement.

O’Brady can do whatever he wants, and his trip is a genuine sporting achievement, but if he wants to make such big claims that rest on the actions of his predecessors, he should respect the parameters of the game that they did. If he changes the rules then just starts shouting that he won, he is cheating.

 Damo 28 Dec 2018
 thommi 28 Dec 2018
In reply to Damo:

Hi damo.

Many thanks for taking the time to post this reply, it really is most helpful to someone like me who only sees the reported hype. 

I, like many others, have what could only be described as a light interest in polar travel, that is to say that I have read a few books over the years about the exploits of the famous few (Scott, amundsun, mawsen etc), but have no real knowledge on the subject. When I read about Colin's success on one of the major news outlets, I was impressed by what I thought it was, without having any real context to it. Combine that with a few glasses of red and the desire to share my thoughts lead to my post. I should maybe have looked into what it was he achieved more thoroughly, and then kept my thoughts to myself.

However, to an extent I am pleased that I did post because it has lead to your reply which has helped me understand just what has occured a little bit clearer.

As the chap in the article, and you within your post have pointed to, it is a fantastic athletic achievement, even if it is not quite what it seems.

Thanks again for taking the time to post, it's one of the positive things about these forums education.

All the best.

 Damo 28 Dec 2018
In reply to thommi:

No worries thommi, and thanks for your reply. My post was indeed to inform, for some balance, at not directed to you at all.

I hadn't actually paid much attention to O'Brady's trip, and the 'race' with Rudd, as I felt it was a disappointing state of affairs and not worth getting worked up about, as I've been known to bang on about such things once or twice ;-)

It was actually the ExWeb article on the use of the 'road' that spurred me to write something this morning, as that really is ridiculous, and I've cut & pasted those words above around a few places. Turns out I'm far from the only one who had been thinking such things.

 Mal Grey 28 Dec 2018
In reply to thommi:

An amazing physical achievement, but having read up after Damo's interesting insights, maybe not quite what I also first thought.

The main thing I'm taking away from this thread, though, is disappointment to find that there is a "road" to the South Pole. I'd assumed everything was flown in.


 Damo 28 Dec 2018
In reply to Mal Grey:

Yes, while the graded road to the Pole made the news quite a bit back when it was first done (2006), its use by any polar skiers is usually left out of their heroic dispatches. If they used the Leverett Glacier, basically they used the road. Until the road went in, no skiers went near the Leverett Glacier. The issue of whether or not it was technically 'assistance' first came up when Felicity Aston used it in 2011-12 but got lost in the hype.

Not only does it make for much easier sledhauling on the graded surface, but it's also obviously much easier to just follow it than have to navigate, and it's flagged, on top of that. Also, as it's traversed by resupply vehicles, there is not the same sense of remoteness from, or impossibility of, rescue that other routes have.

Some old (old) timers will tell you that any modern traverse is less than what was done 100 years ago (duh) because you can always just get on the satphone and call a rescue plane in, but in fact the surface is not always suitable for a Twin Otter landing, so you may have to move miles to be picked up, which may be impossible if you are injured.


 thommi 28 Dec 2018
In reply to Damo:

Thanks again damo for the info, it's very useful to me certainly as a armchair fan of this sort of stuff. 

Out of interest I have a question, I watched the Peter valusiak documentary, which I thought was fantastic and full of some absolutely beautiful shots, but wondered if his failed attempt was one of the closest to actually aiming for a true crossing?

The terrain looked absolutely brutal. For someone with no experience of polar travel I cannot get my head around how difficult some of these journeys are, especially the earlier ones. I guess reading books, you use your imagination, and while I am able to imagine (and remember the feeling of) sub 20 temperatures, I have no idea how someone could pull a puck through sastrugi, and across breaking up sea ice like they were in the old russian footage in the film. It just looked flippin hard!

Must be wonderful climbing in those mountains, they look beautiful....

In reply to Damo:

It is however a matter of record that ( his name escapes me!) Took a car and over winter finding it of not great benefit . Even after losing several ponies to the sand gravel they had eaten   and no one said it wasn't Cricket!

A very very. Different time  

Different time of explorations  I'm not being judgement 



Post edited at 00:01
 Simon Caldwell 02 Jan 2019
 Damo 09 Jan 2019

In reply :

My initial comment at the top of this thread, which was duplicated across a few other sites, formed the basis of this piece that I was asked to write on the subject. It's a bit long, sorry, but for anyone interested it expands on the issues I mentioned earlier:



 Rob Parsons 10 Jan 2019
In reply to Damo:

An excellent piece. Thank you.

 thommi 11 Jan 2019
In reply to Damo:

Great writing damo. A real insight. Thanks.

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