On December 3, Parker Liautaud and decorated polar guide Douglas Stoup will depart from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica on a 397-mile journey to the South Pole. It’s called the Willis Resilience Expedition, and the goal is two-pronged: first, to collect scientific data that will contribute to a better understanding of climate change; and second, for Liautaud to become the youngest and fastest man to trek from coast-to-pole, a feat that will require him to ski roughly 18 miles per day dragging a 180-pound sled. Not bad for a 19-year-old college sophomore. But then, he first went to the North Pole when he was 15. We caught up with Parker to talk about the expedition, climate change and how to eat 6,000 calories in a day.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
How to live out of one suitcase. I’ve learned that too much stuff will hold you back!
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Definitely picking up the pieces after I failed to reach the North Pole during my first attempt at 15 years old. It was emotionally, mentally and physically draining. Coming back from nothing was not a glamorous process by any means. I was basically starting at square one because people and potential sponsors were very reluctant to get involved and support my next attempt. There has never been a period in my life when I’ve been more anxious than at that time, but I got through it.
Q. What are you working on right now?
Right now I’ve just arrived in Chile where I’m making my very last-minute preparations for the Willis Resilience Expedition. In a few days I leave for Antarctica, where I’ll be spending six weeks first to undertake three climate research programs across the Antarctic continent, and then to try to walk unsupported the 400 miles from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. My expedition partner and I hope to complete the unsupported journey in less than 22 days. When I’m not training, I’m usually doing school stuff. I’m a sophomore studying geology and geophysics at Yale University. I guess I’m a pretty busy guy.
It felt like a huge slap in the face, and I was humbled by the magnitude of the challenge and the Arctic’s unpredictable nature.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
My laptop, usually. I guess that’s a strange answer since I’ll have no access to my usual electronics or an Internet connection while on the expedition!
Q: Who or what influences you?
The people I respect and admire — how they behave and the things they do — influence the decisions I make. That could be anyone from an accomplished polar explorer to a climate scientist to my own family or someone I work with. I’m also influenced by my passion to raise awareness about climate change. During my upcoming expedition, I will be collecting snow samples that I hope will provide valuable contribution to our understanding of Antarctic climate and the changes that are happening so rapidly. Young people like myself will experience the most severe impacts of climate change, so we have to do what we can now. That’s why I’m going to Antarctica.
Q. What are you reading right now?
I unfortunately don’t have much time to read for pleasure. Most of what I read is required reading for classes! But I will need to select a book — a light one — for my expedition. Right now I’m thinking The Old Man and the Sea
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
I love breakfast, so it would have to be an all-you-can eat breakfast with bottomless black coffee. All the eggs, bacon, pastries and fruit. Then I’d need a really long nap.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
Life is long, so go easy on yourself. Don’t let one failure keep you from looking ahead. The most satisfying outcomes are the ones we work the hardest for, so work hard and try again. You’re going to fulfill your dreams, and along the way, you’re raising awareness about climate change.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
I really hope people will remember me as a young campaigner for climate change. I want to use all of my expeditions and speaking opportunities as platforms to shine light on the growing need to call on our leaders to take action and make our environment a priority. We can’t afford to continue moving forward without thinking about the consequences of our choices.
Q. What makes the Willis Resilience Expedition more challenging than previous trips?
Well, for starters, I’ve never been to Antarctica. The geography will be totally new to me. I’m also trying to complete the journey within 22 days to become the youngest and fastest man to complete this route. That means I have to cover 18 miles a day. On top of that, I’ll be pulling a pulk that weighs 180 pounds. It’s pretty grueling, but I’m doing it for a cause I really care about. I keep that in mind to get me through the long days.
Q. Tell us about some of the unique tools and gear you’ll use on the expedition.
The 180-pound pulk I pull will contain everything I need to survive. It contains my food, tent, supplies, ice-screws, ropes and more. I’ll also have polarized glasses that will protect me from snow blindness and a huge, insulated jacket that will keep me dry and warm in the -60ºC temperatures. I obviously have to carry everything with me, so I’m traveling light.
Q. Your meals will be 6,000 calories per day. What exactly will you be eating?
I won’t be eating the most delicious food. I’ll have oatmeal with some dried fruit for breakfast. During the day I’ll have some beef jerky, nuts and chocolate. Then for dinner I’ll have high-calorie, custom-made, freeze-dried meals. I’m also planning on bringing 44 chocolate bars, but they’ll be rock-hard and frozen from the weather. I’ll have to break them up into little pieces before the expedition. But my favorite tradition is cheese with my expedition partner. We bring a block of it, and at the end of each day we cut ourselves a slice. Nothing ever tasted so good, and it’s the moment I look forward to each day during my expeditions.
Q. Describe some emotions you’ve felt on your trips to the North Pole. What was it like going for your first time at 15?
My first expedition was when I was 15, with legendary explorer Robert Swan. The trip was unfortunately wrought with disastrous weather conditions and fast-drifting ice. So every morning we’d wake up farther behind than where we started the day before. It felt like a huge slap in the face, and I was humbled by the magnitude of the challenge and the Arctic’s unpredictable nature. I’ve done three expeditions to the North Pole, and I’m so excited to learn more about Antarctica and discover how this expedition will change me our understanding of Antarctic climate.
The Willis Resilience Expedition departs from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica on December 3. Follow along at willisresilience.com and on Twitter @parkerliautaud.