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O’Brady on the move with his packed sled

Courtesy of Colin O’Brady

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.7, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1, W.6-8.3, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.7

C3 (D2/6-8): Geo.2, Geo.3, Geo.5

NCSS: People, places, and environments; Culture

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

GEO SKILLS

Antarctic First

Courtesy of Colin O’Brady

Adventurer Colin O’Brady recently achieved what many said could never be done. This winter, he became the first person in history to cross Antarctica solo and unassisted. His trek across the icy continent took 54 days as he navigated snow-covered mountains and braved frigid temperatures.

While other people have crossed the frozen continent before, they did it with the help of fellow explorers, dogs, or other assistance. O’Brady, who covered 932 miles while towing a gear-packed sled, was propelled only by his arms and legs—and ironclad endurance.

Why did O’Brady, who had already climbed the highest peak on all seven continents, pick a solo, unassisted Antarctic crossing for his next challenge? Because, he said before starting his trek, “no one in history has ever accomplished it, and people have been trying for 100 years.”

Adventurer Colin O’Brady recently achieved what many said could never be done. This winter, he became the first person in history to cross Antarctica solo and unassisted. His trek across the icy continent took 54 days. O’Brady navigated snow-covered mountains. He braved very cold temperatures.

Other people have crossed the frozen continent before. But they did it with the help of fellow explorers, dogs, or other assistance. O’Brady covered 932 miles while towing a gear-packed sled. He was propelled only by his arms, legs, and ironclad endurance.

O’Brady had already climbed the highest peak on all seven continents. Why did he pick a solo and unassisted Antarctic crossing for his next challenge? Because, he said before starting his trek, “no one in history has ever accomplished it, and people have been trying for 100 years.”

An Unforgiving Landscape

Jiim McMahon/Mapman®

Antarctica is Earth’s coldest continent. No country owns it, thanks to a 1959 treaty that established it as a place of scientific study. Several countries—including the U.S.—have research stations there, but no one lives there year-round except for penguins and seals.

Antarctica has long been a magnet for adventure seekers. Since the early 20th century, explorers and athletes have been drawn to the icy continent to test their strength and attempt world records. 

O’Brady began his Antarctic journey on November 3, 2018, setting off from the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, a vast stretch of frozen seawater (see map, below). It took 40 days to reach his first destination, the South Pole—the southernmost point on Earth.

Conditions were brutal. Temperatures fell as low as 80°F below zero and winds roared up to 60 miles an hour. O’Brady also faced the constant threat of crevasses—deep cracks in the ice that could open up and swallow him or his sled at any moment.

Antarctica is Earth’s coldest continent. No country owns it. That is because a 1959 treaty established it as a place of scientific study. Several countries, including the U.S., have research stations there. No one lives there year-round except for penguins and seals.

Antarctica has long been a magnet for adventurers. Explorers and athletes have been drawn to the icy continent since the early 20th century. They travel to Antarctica to test their strength and try to set world records.

O’Brady began his Antarctic journey on November 3, 2018. He set off from the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, a vast stretch of frozen seawater (see map). It took 40 days to reach his first destination, the South Pole. That is the southernmost point on Earth.

Conditions were rough. Temperatures fell as low as 80°F below zero. Winds roared up to 60 miles an hour. O’Brady also faced the constant threat of crevasses. Crevasses are deep cracks in the ice that could open up and swallow him or his sled at any moment.

What He Carried

That sled was vital to O’Brady’s survival. It held his tent, sleeping bag, fuel for heat and cooking, and the GPS tracker and satellite phones that allowed him to plot his course. But mostly the sled was crammed with food—and O’Brady needed every ounce of it.

To withstand the bitter cold, he had to eat 8,000 calories a day. (That’s equal to 20 cheese­burgers!) He relied on calorie-dense energy bars and freeze-dried meals to do so.

That sled was vital to O’Brady’s survival. It held his tent, sleeping bag, and fuel for heat and cooking. It also held the GPS tracker and satellite phones that allowed him to plot his course. But mostly the sled was crammed with food. O’Brady needed every ounce of it.

To survive the bitter cold, he had to eat 8,000 calories a day. That is equal to about 20 cheeseburgers! He relied on calorie-dense energy bars and freeze-dried meals.

Pushing Boundaries

By Christmas, O’Brady had been on the move nearly 20 hours a day for 53 days and exhaustion was setting in. But when he woke up that morning, he felt compelled to try to finish the last 80 miles in one stretch.

Thirty-two sleepless hours later, he made it to his finish line: the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf on Antarctica. After reaching it, he shed tears of joy.

Back home in Portland, Oregon, O’Brady says he hopes his achievement inspires others to go after their dreams. While he hasn’t picked his next challenge, one thing’s for sure, he says: “I want to continue to push the boundaries of human potential.” 

By Christmas, O’Brady had been on the move nearly 20 hours a day for 53 days. Exhaustion was setting in. But when he woke up that morning, he felt compelled to try to finish the last 80 miles in one stretch.

Thirty-two sleepless hours later, he finished. He made it to the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf on Antarctica. He shed tears of joy after reaching it.

Back home in Portland, Oregon, O’Brady says he hopes his achievement inspires others to go after their dreams. He has not picked his next challenge. But one thing is for sure, he says, “I want to continue to push the boundaries of human potential.”

Icy Crossing

This polar map shows Colin O’Brady’s route across Antarctica. A polar map is a flattened view of the world from directly above a polar region. This map shows the South Pole, the farthest point south on any map.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

MAP SKILLS

1. What is the name of Antarctica’s highest peak?

2. To reach it from the South Pole, you’d travel in which direction?

3. O’Brady started close to which line of longitude?

4. The Ronne Ice Shelf is the frozen waters of which sea?

5. What ocean surrounds the continent near the Antarctic Circle?

6. What is the straight-line distance in miles between O’Brady’s starting point and the South Pole?

7. Antarctica is closest to which other continent?

8. In which direction would you fly to go from Tasmania to the South Pole?

9. What mountain range did O’Brady cross to reach the Ross Ice Shelf?

10. On this map, all longitude lines meet at which point?

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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