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Parker Liautaud, 19, third from left, is attempting to set a speed record for transiting Antarctica from the coast to the South Pole. The Palo Alto native is also aiming to draw attention to global climate change. To that end, he will collect snow samples and test out a new lightweight weather station during the 397-mile journey.

Parker Liautaud is less than a week into his attempt to set a new speed record for transiting Antarctica from the coast to the South Pole, but the physical demands of the endeavor are already taking a toll.

He has a cough and a rash. His back hurts. But the 19-year-old Palo Alto native's spirits are far from dampened.

"It's a challenging environment, but it's exciting and I'm having a good time," Liautaud wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Liautaud didn't expect the undertaking to be easy. In a recent telephone interview from his dorm room at Yale University, he acknowledged that the 397-mile trek would test him physically and mentally.

To set a new speed record, he will have to ski an average of 18 miles per day in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius all while towing a 200-pound supply sled. Oh yeah, the elevation gain between the Ross Ice Shelf and the South Pole is only 8,530 feet.

"There's nothing spectacular about these expeditions," Liautaud told The Daily News. "It's a grind. I'm not going to lie, a lot of the time being out there on the ice sucks. It's going to be a challenge every step of the way because the conditions don't make it particularly pleasant."

Not one to dwell on the negative, he quickly added, "Then again, it is going to be an amazing experience."

Liautaud will also become the youngest person to complete such a journey if he makes it to the South Pole.

Records aren't the only thing on his mind. He is also hoping to draw attention to climate change. To that end, he plans to collect snow samples and test out a new lightweight weather station during his trek. One of his co-sponsors, EMC Corp., will create data visualizations to help the public better understand the science behind climate change and its importance.

The challenges of addressing climate change and trekking to the South Pole aren't all that different, Liautaud said.

"We do have to take this one step at a time," he said. "And we do have to remember that it's going to be a grind. It's going to be one small victory at a time and one small policy at a time."

An early interest in climate change set Liautaud on the path to polar exploration. He visited Antarctica at the age of 14 and made an attempt to become the youngest person to walk to the North Pole at 15 years old. Poor weather conditions and fast drifting ice forced him to turn back 15 miles from his goal.

Humbled by the magnitude of the challenge, Liautaud vowed to return and do more to further the study of global warming. He partnered with the University of Alberta to conduct a survey of snow thickness and finally realized his goal of standing at the top of the world in April 2011.

Liautaud is aiming to become a leader in climate research and is studying geology and geophysics at Yale.

By the age of 18, Liautaud had completed three expeditions to the North Pole and was ready to tackle Antarctica. As he did for his previous trips, he went searching for a sponsor and found one in Willis Group Holdings, which served as the insurance broker for the first lunar rover.

"It's never an easy process," said Liautaud, adding that he never asked his parents for anything other than moral support. "It always ends up being the companies that you never would have expected."

Training for polar expeditions is just as daunting. Liautaud, who confessed to being the last one picked for childhood sports teams, said he spends up to 18 hours a week working on his strength and endurance.

Back in Antarctica, Liautaud was looking forward to another tough but rewarding day on the ice.

"Everything's all good here," he wrote in the blog post Tuesday, "Good spirits and I think we're going have a long and challenging day tomorrow."

Email Jason Green at jgreen@dailynewsgroup.com; follow him at twitter.com/jgreendailynews.

ON THE WEB
Follow Parker Liautaud's journey to the South Pole at www.willisresilience.com.