Professional outdoor adventurer Colin O’Brady made international headlines when he claimed to be the first person to ski across Antarctica alone and unassisted. But the Portlander is now under scrutiny after National Geographic Magazine reported that important details of O’Brady’s claims may have been exaggerated.
In 2018, O’Brady and Englishman Louis Rudd both attempted the expedition. O’Brady skied for 54 straight days, without rest, on a route across the Antarctica landmass by himself. He completed the route first and was celebrated worldwide.
Adventure and travel writer Aaron Teasdale covered the trip as it was happening for National Geographic magazine.
Teasdale’s new article in National Geographic magazine looks deeper into the claims made by O’Brady in promoting the project and the subsequent book. Teasdale reports that “key details” in O’Brady’s narrative of his journey “do not withstand scrutiny.”
But O’Brady is standing by every word in his book. A response from his spokesperson said the National Geographic article is riddled with errors and inaccuracies.
Teasdale and O’Brady were each interviewed last week by Dave Miller on OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” O’Brady’s interview was his first media appearance since Teasdale’s article was published.
The Route: Impossible Or Not?
In his book, on his website and in media appearances, O’Brady called his traverse an “impossible first.” Teasdale disputes this claim.
Teasdale said he interviewed many polar experts and none of them thought the route was impossible.
“In fact, they said the reason no one had done it before is because no one took it seriously,” Teasdale said.
In the National Geographic article, polar adventurer Eric Larsen said the route is not considered “worthwhile.”
The Attempt: A First or Not?
In an interview with Dave Miller, O’Brady said that experts consider Norwegian Borge Ousland’s feat “supported” because he used a kite for part of the trip. O’Brady claims this confirms his title as the first solo explorer.
In an Instagram post in response to Teasdale’s article, O’Brady wrote, “In my book, I specifically mentioned [the] earlier feat by this other explorer.”
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TRUTH AND TRANSPARENCY - A couple of days ago I was stunned to see a confusing article in Nat Geo about my expeditions. I’m not sure how or why they got the facts so twisted around, but I assure you the article is full of inaccuracies. Here’s just one example—the article inaccurately states “O’Brady claims to be the first person to ski alone and unsupported across Antarctica …” It’s as if the journalist may not have read my book. The photo above is from page 49 of The Impossible First, where I acknowledge and compliment one of the most pioneering Antarctic projects of all time. I write, “The Norwegian adventurer Borge Ousland in many ways defined the terrain of astonishing modern Antarctic feats, becoming the first person to cross Antarctica solo when he traveled eighteen hundred miles alone in sixty-three days from late 1996 to early 1997. Not only did he cross the entire landmass of Antarctica, but he also crossed the full Ronne and Ross Ice Shelves from the ocean’s edge. Ousland’s expedition, which had deeply inspired me, was unsupported in that he’d hauled all his food and fuel with no resupplies …” Ousland used a parawing (kite) and traveled much farther than I did. I was completely human powered, crossing just the landmass. Apples and oranges. I look forward to continuing to express my humility, gratitude, and appreciation for those who came before me, and I’ll be cheering from the front row all future expeditions in Antarctica that will inevitably continue to push the boundaries. You all know that a big part of how I live revolves around transparency—sharing my journeys and my ups and downs with the world. It’s why I keep my GPS live throughout every expedition so you can see where I am and where I’ve been. So, I’m going to keep following that practice with this issue. I’m putting together a letter to the Nat Geo editor providing them with the supporting materials they can use to correct the record. Because there are a number of errors, it’s going to take me a few days to finish it. When I do I’ll post a copy of the letter on my website.
Teasdale said that both explorers received assistance. Teasdale adds that O’Brady’s single reference in his book to Ousland’s 1997 achievement is not enough.
Teasdale takes issue with the fact that O’Brady repeatedly makes public claims to being the first.
“The problem is Colin is saying, ‘I did something everyone thought was impossible. People had been trying to do this for 100 years. A guy before me died trying to do what I did. I cracked the code.’ Those were his words,” Teasdale said. “None of those things are true.”
O’Brady told “Think Out Loud” that many other polar explorers have accomplished difficult Antarctica crossings, they either accepted assistance like supply drops or skied with a partner.
“What makes mine different is that it was solo, unsupported and unassisted,” O’Brady said.
The Trip: Unassisted Or Not?
Teasdale said O’Brady used a vehicle route, created by the National Science Foundation that covers 1,000 miles. Teasdale reports that the route is “graded smooth” and “flagged.” The flags mean O’Brady did not need to navigate.
“There’s unanimity among the serious expedition community that you cannot claim your expedition is unsupported if you use a vehicle route,” Teasdale told “Think Out Loud.”
O’Brady defines assistance as utilizing kites, dogs and food drops. He said that by this definition, his expedition was unassisted.
Rescue: Impossible Or Not?
O’Brady states in his book that he was in places where the safety coordinators for the logistics company he worked with told him no rescue would be possible.
Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, the logistics company used by O’Brady, now handles the majority of expeditions in Antarctica. Teasdale spoke with the company and reported that “they said they never told Colin rescue is impossible.”