-25C on the Thames? Young explorer Parker Liautaud lives in pop-up South Pole to prepare for trip


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The Independent Online

The explorer and climate change campaigner Parker Liautaud puts most other 19-year-olds to shame.

Not only has the Yale Geology student skied to the North Pole three times since he was 14; he is now set to embark on a third trip, this time to one of the harshest environments on the planet, the Antarctic.

The student, who on Monday launched a pop-up Antarctic camp underneath Tower Bridge in London to give the public an insight into the conditions he will endure on his trip, wants to use the expedition to “reignite a dialogue” on climate change.

Liautaud and his expedition partner Doug Stoup will depart from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica on 3 December and ski the 397 miles to the South Pole in what they hope will be a record-breaking time of 22 days.

In preparation for the challenge, sponsored by Willis Resilience, Liautaud spent Sunday night in his expedition tent inside the Antarctic chamber: a large glass box filled with snow, set beneath the bridge.

The campaigner, who described the icy chamber as “pretty cool”, said the great location meant lots of passers-by took notice and stopped to find out more about the mission.

“When you’re walking about in London the last thing you expect to see is a big chunk of Antarctica,” he said. “It was just like our camp in Antarctica, except when I opened the zip of my tent the first thing I saw was Tower Bridge.”

Inside the chamber the temperature hovers around -25C, and Liautaud said the experience was reminiscent of his trips to the North Pole.

“When it gets to a certain temperature it’s a very distinctive feeling,” he said. “It’s very, very sharp and you’re very aware of it.

“Walking out of the tent was a bit like landing in Florida!”

As well attempting to break the world record, Liautaud and Stoup will carry out a series of experiments along the way, to explore the impact of climate change on the frozen continent.

“I saw a big difference between what was, supposedly, an important issue for my generation and what was being done about it,” says Liautaud, who became interested in climate change when he was 13.

“I want to communicate the importance of these changes from the places that are hit the hardest.”

Liautaud, who was born in California but moved to the UK when he was nine, made his first trip to the Arctic when he was just 14, accompanied by the British polar explorer Robert Swan. His latest challenge will require a  combination of mental and physical strength. To break the world record Liautaud and Stroup will need to travel at an average of 18 miles per day, in temperatures which could plummet below -50C.

“I do lots of strength and endurance training, but everything is pretty standard,” said Liautaud, who has designed his training regime to fit around a university gym.

“As long as I’m preparing, training and not kidding myself about the risks, I feel safe in the knowledge that I have done everything I can.”