By Jamie Bufalino
Doug Stoup likes to refer to himself as “bi-polar.” It’s a cheeky bit of shorthand to sum up monumental accomplishments—being one of the few hardy souls who’ve trekked hundreds of miles over grueling, ice-hardened landscapes to make it to both the North and South Poles.
For Stoup, 53, his career as a professional adventurer started with an urge to engage in some extreme sports. “Back in 1999, I wanted to ski and snowboard the highest peak in Antarctica,” says Stoup. “That’s when I fell in love with Antarctica. I was fascinated by the pristine-ness—and the continent is teeming with penguins, seals and whales. Since then I’ve been back 43 times.”
After his second trip to the region, “I was asked to guide a blind gentleman and a deaf gentleman from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole,” says Stoup, who now heads up his own adventure firm, Ice Axe Expeditions. “That’s when things really came together.”
“You learn a lot about yourself,” says Stoup of spending 62 days trekking 787 miles in sub-zero conditions. And though you’re in the middle of nowhere, Stroup describes the experience as a “very civilized” way of life. “You get up, boil ice and snow to get water to be able to eat and drink,” he says. “Then you get out of your tent and start getting your miles done. You don’t think about paying bills or the things you’d focus on in normal society. You just think about survival.”
On that front, there are plenty of terrifying scenarios to ponder. Once, while making his way to the North Pole, “I fell in the Arctic Ocean and I had to break back through the ice to get to where my friend was,” recalls Stoup.
And wait until you hear the tale about his most harrowing polar bear encounter. “It was day two of a 52-day expedition to the North Pole,” recalls Stoup, who was accompanied by two other trekkers—one Norwegian, one Dutch. “I was in the tent boiling water and the Dutch guy, Mark, was outside doing his morning business. All of a sudden I hear Mark scream, ‘He’s going to kill me!’ I unzip the tent and about 10 feet away, there’s a 12-foot-tall polar bear standing on its hind legs with Mark trying to keep the bear at bay with a shovel—all while Mark’s pants are down by his ankles.” A shotgun blast into the air ultimately scared the beast away.
Although Stoup—who’s married and has three sons—thrives on overcoming such dangers, these days the main goal of his expeditions is to help out charities. “I have nothing to prove anymore, unless we’re raising money,” says Stoup, who’s raked in more than $17 million for various causes, including childhood cancer and education.
He’s also raising awareness about the impact climate change is having on the regions he’s grown to love. “I’ve seen a huge difference at the North Pole,” he says. “When I first started going, I saw a lot of multilayer ice; now the ice is super thin.” So as he guides clients through the beautiful terrain, “I’m trying to get people to become ambassadors for these places,” he says. “To help make sure they remain clean and pristine.” iceaxe.tv/expedition