Five minutes with...teen polar explorer Parker Liautaud

Monday, 30 September 2013 2:24 PM

Parker Liautaud is aiming to set the record for the fastest ski from the Antarctioc coast to the South Pole

Parker Liautaud is aiming to set the record for the fastest ski from the Antarctioc coast to the South Pole

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Epic polar adventures aren’t the usual pastime for today’s teens, but for Parker Liautaud isolated days skiing across barren, frozen landscapes in bitterly cold temperatures have become more than a little familiar. And all in the name of climate change awareness.

The intrepid teenage polar explorer has already been on three polar expeditions, teaming up with scientists and climate change experts along the way, and now he is set for his biggest yet: a gruelling 22-day expedition to the South Pole this December.

What’s more, as part of the Willis Resilience expedition, the climate change campaigner will aim to ski from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole in the fastest time ever recorded. If successful, he will also be the youngest person to achieve this at just 19 years of age.

With the aid of sponsors the Willis Group, the team will set off from the Ross Ice Shelf, where Parker, towing an 82kg pulk (sled) will begin his 397 mile trek to the South Pole. To set the new record, Parker will average around 18 miles (30km) a day, almost three quarters of the length of a marathon, for up to 22 days, facing temperatures between -28°C and -60°C.

Along the way, Parker Liautaud will deploy and test a lightweight weather station which has not been used in the Antarctic before. Additionally, Parker will gather snow samples in order to test the isotopic composition of the Antarctic snow at various depths. These samples will contribute to the global effort to better understand our changing climate and the impact on Antarctica.

In preparation for his expedition, Parker spent the night in his expedition tent inside the Willis Resilience Antarctic Chamber: a large glass box filled with snow, set beneath the iconic backdrop of Tower Bridge.

While not quite the Antarctic, you can get a flavour for the conditions Parker will be enduring every night for 22 nights.

After experiencing the chilly -25°C conditions of the Willis Resilience Antarctic Chamber and sampling some ‘Antarctic breakfast’ (surprisingly tasty muesli), we caught up with the 19-year-old adventurer for a quick chat...

Tell me a bit about how the expedition came about
People talk about creating solutions to climate change for the future generations - we are the future generation, so it is important that we’re involved. I want to change the way that we communicate climate change. And I also thought it was time for a new type of challenge. The question was where could we go that has great research opportunities - an important place to study climate change - and also send out a very powerful message. And that was Antarctica. We built this idea around ‘resilience’, which fit well around what Willis (of The Willis Group, the expedition’s sponsor) wanted to get across - and that’s how the Willis Resilience expedition came about.

Have you done any similar expeditions before and how old were you?
I have done three research expeditions to the North Pole. I was fifteen when I went on my first one.

Wow...that’s pretty impressive! What sort of training have you been doing?
There’s a few basic principles to follow when doing an expedition like this, and they’re pretty regular: press ups, pulls, sit ups, rowing, walking with a weighted pack, endurance...A lot of the exercises are actually very simple but it does take two to three hours per day, six days a week. Flexibility is especially important to prevent injury. Really, it is just about sticking to a routine. I never did any exercise at 14-15, I was a terrible athlete. I’m not someone who naturally does sports. It’s been a real learning curve to do this sort of thing, but fun.

So, you’re going for this record - are you confident that you can do it?
I think we are as well prepared as we can be. But, the Antarctic is dynamic and unpredictable. There are risks. We are just going to do our best and see what happens.

What is the biggest challenge that you’ll face?
Isolation, I think, is the biggest challenge; being alone in the middle of nowhere, with no distractions. There’s nothing to keep your mind occupied. That’s a mental challenge in itself. I like to think about anything that can keep my imagination alive; sometimes I even give myself dramatic background music in my head to make things a bit more exciting! A way of keeping focused is keeping your mind occupied.

After this do you have any other adventures on your mind - or records you want to do in the future?
I am totally focused on this expedition...if I get too far ahead of myself I will end up taking my mind off it I’ll end up messing this one up.

Best of luck!

You can follow Parker Liautaud’s progress at www.willisresilience.com.

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