Polar extremes | SierraSun.com

Polar extremes

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunKim Raess pulls a tire down Northwoods Boulevard Thursday morning. Raess is training for an expedition from the South Pole to the North Pole, and pulling the tire simulates dragging a sled across the frozen continent.

Kim Raess is all about adventure.

One can gather as much through the narration of her many journeys ” stories of adventure in far-away lands, tales of hard-earned leadership skills gained in the Great Outdoors and talk of epic travels that have yet to be experienced.

Come November ” after months of training and fundraising ” the 25-year-old Squaw Valley ski instructor will embark on her biggest, most dangerous and ambitious adventure to date when she and her hand-selected team of eight journey halfway around the globe.

Their starting point: The South Pole.

Their ending point: The North Pole.

Means of travel: Cross-country ski, sailboat, bike, kayak and foot. That’s it.

The human-powered voyage is a project of The Pole to Pole Leadership Institute, its intent to educate and inspire young people to take action on pressing issues in the world today, primarily climate change.

“We’re putting an awfully big footprint on the world right now,” Raess said, explaining that she hopes to help reverse that trend through the Pole to Pole voyage and its message.

Raess’ team ” made up of six men and two women from the United States, China, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand ” will travel through some of the areas most affected by glacial and ice shelf melting, deforestation and drought.

“Basically, this expedition from Pole to Pole is not just an opportunity of a lifetime, it’s an opportunity of several lifetimes,” said Raess, a native of Indiana who moved to from San Francisco to Truckee this past November. “I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this project and very grateful to be given the chance to see and do so much.”

Raess and teammates are sure to experience quite the variety of landscape, not to mention weather extremes, between the southern and northernmost points of the planet. And they have some serious ground to cover ” roughly 20,000 miles, Raess said.

Starting from the geographic South Pole, the group will travel by cross-country skis about 600 miles to the Antarctic Peninsula, where they’ll board an 80-foot sailboat sailed down from Chile by an experienced captain, Raess said. From there they face about 1,200 miles of sailing across the southern Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town, South Africa.

“I’m probably most concerned about sailing,” Raess said. “[The fact that] it’s 1,200 miles is somewhat daunting to me, just the sheer enormity of the situation.”

While the sailing portion is weighing most on her mind, Raess knows the 600-mile trek across the frozen continent will be no be a cakewalk, either, especially since each member will be dragging a 150-pound sled loaded with gear.

“That’s why I’m not messing around with this training thing,” Raess said, referring to the training regimen she is supposed to follow leading up to the trip, which includes running while pulling a tire in order to simulate the weight of the sled.

To shorten the travel time, the team intends to harness wind energy by way of kite surfing, which also is included in the training regimen. By spring, the group figures to hit the open water en route to South Africa, a trip Raess expects to last approximately 50 days.

At that point Raess and company will meet up with a guide who’ll trail them on their bikes while carrying their gear in a support vehicle. The guide will also serve as the group’s liaison when crossing national borders, as well as protection from large animals that may view team members as meals.

About the inherent danger element, “It’s creeping into my mind as it gets closer,” Raess said. “But we’ll have the medical training we need.”

And the guide.

Cycling on roads while making stops along the way, staying in villages and meeting with locals to spread their message, the team will travel north hugging the east side of the continent through Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, Raess said.

Before reaching Kenya, however, Raess’ group will convene with another Pole to Pole adventure team at Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, where members will have the opportunity to summit the 19,335-foot volcano.

This point in the expedition ” one of the highlights for Raess ” marks a virtual passing of the torch, as the second team will continue north while leaving all but two members of the original team behind, providing a continuous connection from one Pole to another.

Raess is confident she’ll be one of the two who goes on.

“I’m pretty positive I’ll continue,” Raess said. “It’s been a dream of mine to do the whole thing.”

Assuming she is one of the lucky two, it’s onto another sailboat to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, where the team will continue on bikes into France, then to London, England, crossing the English Channel via kayak or sailboat, Raess said.

After the side trip to London, it’s back to France, then Germany northeast to Russia and north to the Arctic by way of sailing and skiing.

According to the Pole to Pole Web site, http://www.poletopoleleadership.com, the adventure team should arrive at the North Pole about 18 to 20 months after launching from the other end of the world.

Raess can’t wait.

“I think the main catch for me was the novelty and challenge of the expedition,” she said of the Pole to Pole project. “But I’ve learned a whole lot more about why this needs to be done.”

Pole to Pole was conceived by world-renowned expedition leader Martyn Williams, the first man in history to lead successful expeditions to the worlds three greatest extremes: The North Pole, the South Pole and Mount Everest. His goal in creating the Pole to Pole journeys and the Pole to Pole Leadership Institute that organizes them, is to inspire, motivate and inform youth throughout the world about how they can take positive action in their lives, in their communities and on a world scale.

Several years ago Williams trained and led the first international team of youth on Pole to Pole Journey 1. This first Pole to Pole expedition inspired millions of youth world-wide and initiated the concept of the Pole to Pole Expedition Team giving presentations on leadership and inspiring young people to take action on local social, economic and environmental initiatives.

Thousands of schools followed the team’s progress on the Web and the Pole to Pole Journey 1 Expedition Team spoke to 20,000 students at schools along the way about the power youth have to make a difference in the world. The team collected millions of promises of action from youth worldwide, such as commitments to clean up bicycle paths, to recycle, or to volunteer at Mother Teresa’s Orphanages in India.

After this first journey the potential to mobilize far greater numbers of youth to take action was clear and so current plans are for Pole to Pole Journey 2 to have even more impact. This second journey aims to motivate one million youth to be involved in leadership initiatives that will result in positive change in their communities and their world.


– Begin November in Antarctica – Ski and kite surf to the coast.

– April 2008 – Sailing the Southern Atlantic Ocean

– May 2008 – Begin cycling from Cape Town, South Africa

– June 2008 – Zambia

– July 2008 – Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. From the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Team 2 continues the trek to the North Pole.

– August 2008 – Ethiopia

– September 2008 – Egypt

– October 2008 – Sail the Mediterranean Sea

– December 2008 – Paris, France

– April 2009 – Start towards the North Pole

– June 2009 – Reach North Pole


Raess is faced with the task of fundraising $50,000 for her Pole to Pole journey. To donate funds to her cause, contact her at kimraess@gmail.com.

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