To the top of the world
Many people buy fuel-efficient cars or urge protection of the world’s rainforests to combat global climate change. At the end of February, Truckee-resident Doug Stoup will do his part by skiing 700 miles to the North Pole dragging a 225-pound sled.Along the two-month journey from Siberia to the northernmost point in the world, Stoup and his two partners will leave five beacons in the polar ice cap that will help researchers study and track the pole’s thinning ice. The team expects to encounter hungry polar bears, open water between ice floes that they will have to swim through, and temperatures that can drop as low as negative 70 degrees.”At the beginning the polar bears are really, really hungry because it is the end of winter and they’ll be looking for food,” Stoup says. “They are one of the few mammals that hunt man.”During the day the trio will have flares, a pistol and a rifle ready in case they are attacked. At night, they will string up a perimeter of wires and pieces of metal that they hope will awaken them if a bear enters the camp. Stoup, 41, is a veteran adventurer who has climbed Himalayan peaks, skied to the South Pole and pedaled a specially-designed bike through hundreds of miles of bleak Antarctic landscape. Tom Day, a Squaw Valley filmmaker who worked with Stoup on an expedition to the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic, says that he knows Stoup is happy to use his athletic ability to help find an answer to one of the major scientific issues of the day.”I think he is really happy that he is working on a project that is going to contribute to mankind,” Day says.
In an extreme expedition where your life can depend on the competence of your partner, Stoup is an ideal partner, says Day.”He’s a great person to be on a trip with,” Day says. “He’ll go out of his way to make sure everyone is safe and sound.” Their partners, Dutch adventurer Marc Cornelissen and Norwegian skier Petter Nyquist, have similar prowess in endurance expeditions.Tahoe trainingYet preparation for this adventure has been a little more taxing than usual for Stoup, who says he looks for philanthropic, scientific or historical importance in the expeditions he chooses. First of all his weight gain program – Stoup will put on a total of 40 extra pounds before the expedition begins, all of which he will lose during the two-month ordeal – has been slowed by a skiing accident that left his jaw shattered. Sipping liquid through a wired-shut mouth is not the ideal way to pack on the pounds, but Stoup’s jaw is healing fast and he will have several weeks to eat solid food before the adventure begins.For training, Stoup drags two or three rubber tires through the Tahoe backcountry on skis for six hours at a time. “My life is training. That’s what I do,” Stoup says. “I want to simulate pulling the sled as much as possible.”On the expedition, Stoup and his friends will put in 10-hour days on skis, pulling sleds that outweigh them through often craggy and uneven ice and snow.
At the end of each day when they camp, they hope that the currents and the wind will be favorable. If the elements turn against them they can end up moving miles backwards as they sleep on the Arctic’s floating ice cap.”You’ll ski 15, 20 miles in a day and while you camp the currents will blow you back five miles,” says Stoup. During a past expedition, Cornelissen and three adventurers drifted 113 kilometers off course during a five-day period. “The North Pole is a very volatile ecosystem,” Stoup says.Eternal lightTheir day of departure marks the first day that the sun will peek above the horizon. During the early days of the trip the sun will circle low in the sky, bathing the landscape in an eternal, dawnish light. Without a strict schedule of rest and travel, the lighting can become disorienting, leaving you lost in time, says Stoup.At every even degree of latitude the team will stop and place a beacon that will beam data through satellites to a research institute in Germany. The roughly 15-pound instruments have a battery life that will keep them transmitting for more than a year, and possibly up to five years.The data will help scientist determine why sections of the polar ice are thinning and disappearing at such a rapid rate. Global warming is often tagged as the culprit, but scientists will also use the data to study currents and the age of the arctic ice to see if large amounts of ice are being redistributed across the polar region rather than just melting. Pressure ridges, where colliding ice floes create mounds of ice, are estimated to account for anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of the polar region’s ice, according to the expedition Web site.
Pole Track, as the expedition is named, is actually a five-year project, and Stoup plans to be at the North Pole once again next year to meet with scientists that will be studying the data. Stoup says he loves the mental and physical challenge that polar expeditions bring. His life of venturing off to the far-flung and remote reaches of the globe is actually just a way of living out his dreams, said Stoup.”I’m a dreamer,” says Stoup. “I dream up stuff and then I try to make it happen.”As for skiing to the North Pole, Stoup can’t wait for that dream to happen. “I’m excited about the expedition,” he says. “I am at the point where I can’t wait for things to start.”Check it outStoup will be showing four short films from Antarctica and talking about my upcoming expedition at the Backcountry slide show series on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at Bar One in Squaw Valley at 7 p.m. Entrance to the show is free.Visit Stoup’s Web site at http://www.iceaxe.tv or learn more about Poletrack at http://www.poletrack.com