On Christmas Day 2018, rather than the usual merriment of bulging stockings and mince pies, Capt Louis Rudd MBE was hauling a 130kg sled for 13 hours in temperatures of minus 30ºC. He allowed himself a three-minute break every two to three hours – to have a pee, a drink, and momentarily catch his thoughts – and then pressed on once more towards the edge of the most unforgiving continent on Earth. By this stage it was routine; day 53 into his solo, unsupported crossing of Antarctica.
He successfully reached the Ross Ice Shelf three days later, a gruelling haul of 920 miles, finishing two days behind American Colin O’Brady, who had set off from Messner on the same date (November 3rd, 2018), with the same world-first mission in his sights. In doing so, Rudd, a 49-year-old Army officer, became the most decorated polar explorer of all time, with more miles covered in Antarctica than any other person.
As we chat now, two weeks after Rudd returned to the UK, the blistering media interest around this trans-Atlantic race has barely given him time to absorb the magnitude of his achievement. In fact, it was never meant to be a head-to-head; O’Brady totally blind-sided Rudd. After a year of openly documenting his intentions for crossing the frozen continent, he learned of the American’s participation via email, five days before he was due to fly out to Punta Arenas in Chile for the final preparations. The media pricked its ears to the news. Rudd, however, tried to steer clear of the hype and stick to his original game plan.
“I made a conscious decision to eliminate the competition element and not get drawn into the contest,” says Rudd. “The crossing is hard enough without it being a race. I decided that my main effort was focused on a successful finish. If I had failed because I got tempted to race I would have regretted that for the rest of my life.”
Rudd also had a greater spur to motivate him than a world-first: he was carrying with him the family crest of his late friend Henry Worsley, who tragically died attempting the very same crossing in 2016. He was set on taking this all the way.