Ken Casey North Pole
Globe-trotting adventurer and Marin CPA Ken Casey points to where he'll be traveling on his upcoming arctic expedition.

Taxes? What taxes?

There is no tax season at the Arctic Circle

April 17, 1995

By Richard Polito

MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL

Friday morning Ken Casey will leave his home in Larkspur and board a plane for a journey north.

At every stop he’ll climb into progressively smaller planes until be reaches a world of ice beyond the crudest outposts of civilization. Then, by ski and by dog sled, he’ll push north once again.

He’ll keep traveling north until there is no more north to travel.

Ken Casey is going to the North Pole.

“There’s a whole world up there that’s unbelievable,” he says. “That whole chunk of land with absolutely nobody there.”

Seated behind the elegant desk in the polished wood panorama of his office, the 48-year old Casey would appear to be the most unlikely of adventurers. His suit is crisply pressed. His tie is silk. The office wall is lined with tax codes and other tools of his trade.

Casey is a certified public accountant.

At least until he leaves on his next expedition.

This latest trek is easily the most ambitious in a long list of outdoor accomplishments.

Casey has tugged himself to the top of most North America’s peaks. He’s climbed the face of Yosemite’s Half Dome – twice. He’s paddled rafts through some of the planet’s uncharted whitewater, making first descents on rivers in Siberia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. He’s dog-sledded, cross-country skied, kayaked, backpacked and lived through an encounter with a parachute that wouldn’t open.

He’s done it all – or most of it – but the North Pole maybe the ultimate test. “That’s a whole other world,” he says. “It’s like going to the moon.”

The North Pole may not be the moon but getting there is nearly as difficult. The very top of the world was one of the last spots on earth to be touched by human exploration.

Schoolchildren learn that Admiral Robert Perry reached the pole in 1909, but many modern experts dispute his claim, saying it has never been verified. Some say the North Pole wasn’t reached by nonmechanical means until Will Steger and Paul Schurke led a successful dog sled team expedition in 1986.

This year, at least four expeditions will make for the Pole. Casey’s group will be one of them. Depending on the success of the other teams, they may become the fourth team in history to make a nonmechanized trip to the pole.

The expedition, organized by The Northwest Passage, a Mid-western adventure travel company, will take 15 people, including Chinese explorers, a 16-year girl and a 69-year old man, onto the arctic ice.

It will be a journey of unparalleled hardship, a 100-mile crossing marked by subzero temperatures, 12-hour days and no fires or external sources of warmth. As lead “musher,” Casey will be shoving, pushing and otherwise guiding a 1,000-pound dog sled. Together they will pick their way through a broken maze of crackling ice ledges and pressure ridges, the fear of breaking through to the churning arctic sea a constant anxious backdrop.

And with all their preparations and training there is no guarantee they will reach their goal. There is no guarantee they will survive at all.

Casey likes it that way. He needs it that way.

His search for a world beyond the edges of comfort and security has ruled much of Casey’s life, but it was not the life to which he was born. Growing up in New York City. “The biggest animal I ever saw outside of a cage was a squirrel,” he says.

He discovered the outdoors in his early 20s when he would escape work on Wall Street for weekends in the woods. He lived for these escapes, for the big slices of wilderness that set him free.

He remembers one all-night drive west with friends, waking up in New Mexico and crawling out of the back of a van to a sunrise like nothing he’d ever seen. “I almost fell over on my back,” he says. “I didn’t know spaces like that could exist.”

It wasn’t long before he moved west, settling on Marin as a basecamp for further exploits.

He took up mountaineering, rock-climbing and then river rafting, always aiming for the highest peak, the roughest whitewater, the remotest spots on the globe.

“I don’t limit myself at all. I just do it.”

Its is the same attitude, he says, that he brings to his business life. He runs a tax and accounting firm in San Rafael.

He has been well rewarded. He owns the homes in Larkspur and Stinson Beach where he lives with his wife Charlene. He is a success.

Some of that success, he says, is due to the lessons he’s learned in the wilderness. They are lessons of perspective, lessons of responsibility and utter commitment.

The world Casey lives in during the week is, for him, as much a game as a reality. The world he finds in the wilderness, outside the infrastructure of human imprint, is the world he trusts and believes.

“Out there, there’s no park ranger. There’s no government. There’s nobody,” Casey says. “We don’t have that feeling in the world anymore. That feeling doesn’t exist back here.”

“It’s a very primitive kind of feeling.”

Out there he knows the tax codes that line his office and the money he earns from knowing their intricacies are nothing more than paper. Such knowledge gives him a grounding. It gives him perspective.

In the closing days of the tax rush, Casey is at ease. There are no dark circles under his eyes. There are no piles of urgent paperwork. “I have tax season in perspective,” he says. “Going out to that other world gives me that perspective.”

“I have to be one of the mellowest CPAs in the business.”

But going to the world of the Arctic will give him more perspective than he may ever need or want. It is the most difficult of journeys. His 25 years of outback experience can only partially ready him for what he will encounter.

To prepare for the trip, Casey has been working with dog sleds for the past three winters; he recently returned from 10 days training with his team in the frozen expanses that border Canada’s Hudson Bay. He runs in his snow boots across the silty sand of Stinson Beach to build up his legs. He wears ankle weights to the office, strapped beneath his wool slacks.

Still, he does not know if what he has done is enough.

“You know it’s going to hurt,” he says. “I’m anxious about it but I’ll do it. In my mind I’ve already done it.”

Casey has lived his life in the focus of such challenges. The 70 or so bones he fractured are a testament to his chosen extremes. He will travel to the North Pole because he is drawn there, because he cannot turn away.

And when he is done, there will be something else. Some new challenge.

“The South Pole of course,” he says.

In the News ...

TEEN WARMS UP FOR TREK ACROSS ARCTIC

FEBRURAY 28, 1995

By Lynn Van Matre

For months now, Oak Brook teenager Geneve Hein has strapped on a 40-pound backpack before climbing on the stair-stepper machine for her daily workout.

Frigid temperatures didn’t deter her from running from 1 to 5 miles daily. And when she wound up falling fully clothed into freezing water, it was a planned plunge.

For Geneve, 16, the preparations are all part of achieving an ambitious goal: to be the youngest person to reach the North Pole by dog sled and skis, crossing 150 miles of frozen tundra and icy ocean waters in temperatures that could dip to a frigid 40 below zero.

Geneve, a junior at Hinsdale Central High School, will join a polar party of 15 travelers from the U.S. and China on a two-week trek across the Arctic, which begins April 21. She will be the only female on the expedition.L ed by Rick Sweitzer of Northwest Passage, an Evanston-based expeditionary travel company that claims to be the only outfit in the U.S. offering overland treks to the Pole, the adventure will cost each participant $23,500. Geneve’s parents are paying for her trip.

Sweitzer noted that his son, Christopher, had arrived at the North Pole by plane at the tender age of 18 months during a 1993 Northwest passage expedition.

“Geneve definitely will be the youngest person to reach the North Pole traveling overland, though,” Sweitzer added. (The Guinness Book of World Records does not include categories for “youngest” adventurers, so official word on the matter is difficult to come by.)

In addition to realizing her personal goal of mushing to the Pole, Geneve hopes to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society by soliciting pledge contributions for each mile traveled. The teenager also has volunteered to take frequent temperature readings in the Arctic Circle for the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“The notion of taking temperature measurements at frequent intervals around the North Pole is a very simple one, but it will be useful to us,” said John Walsh, a professor of meteorology at the university.

“When the greenhouse warming effect is predicted, the region that warms the most is the Arctic, so that certainly is one region we want to monitor,” he said

JUNE 4, 1995

By Donna Chavez, Special to the Tribune
Geneve Hein
Geneve Hein (age 16)
Burt Meyer
Burt Meyer (age 69)

Polar Pals

On Sunday, April 23, a team of 14 people with four sleds and 20 dogs was airlifted via three Twin Otter sea planes from Resolute, Northwest Territories, in Canada. They were set down at the 88th parallel on the frozen Arctic Ocean. The team, comprising six Americans, one Venezuelan and seven representatives of the Peoples Republic of China, hiked more than 150 miles to the North Pole. 

While many of his contemporaries were motoring back to Illinois from winter retreats in Florida and Arizona, 69-year-old Burton Meyer of Downers Grove hiked across the frozen Arctic Ocean with that group. At his side was 16-year-old Geneve Hein of Oak Brook, who chose the Arctic trek over more traditional adolescent options such as spending spring break in Florida. 

Their unique vacation made Hein and Meyer the youngest and the oldest individuals ever to hike overland to the North Pole, according to Paul Schurke of Ely, Minn., co-leader of the trip. Hein was the only woman among this group. She is also, according to Schurke, only the third woman to travel by foot to the Pole. 

Hein, a junior at Hinsdale Central High School, said she wanted to do this because it presented an interesting adventure. Meyer, a retired toy designer who got involved in adventure travel only 10 years ago, saw the polar journey as the supreme challenge.

Both called this a life-altering experience. Schurke called it “the ultimate, the cutting edge. I don’t know how you get a more extreme experience than this.”

It was an experience that took the hardy companions where there are no phones except one low-frequency survival radio, no pool but 5 million square miles of endlessly shifting sea ice, and no pets, save 20 stalwart sled dogs. Indeed, the closest toilet was 1,000 miles away. 

There were chills. En route the explorers encountered huge leads (surface fissures), shifting ice floes, gigantic pressure ridges, sub-zero temperatures, even colder windchills and desolate expanses of gray where overcast skies dissolved into the oceanic horizon. They luckily never came face to face with polar bears. 

There were thrills. Seventy-five-foot leads would open up next to the sleeping group’s tents in the middle of the night. The campers crossed them via bridges constructed of ice blocks bound together by rope. Southerly shifting ice floes added miles to their trip. 

“When we went to sleep the night before we got to the North Pole, we were 10 miles away. In the morning we were 12 miles away,” Meyer recalled. They tracked their precise location using GPS, which fixes a location by using global positioning satellites in outer space. 

Breakfast was hot cereal and dried fruit. Lunch was chocolate, dried fruit, beef or elk jerky and nuts eaten while on the move. There wasn’t time for leisurely meals with 150 miles to cover in 13 days. Supper was always some kind of stew made with a base of melted snow, Hein said. 

Melting snow was a priority when the team established camp, she said, because the dogs needed water. Without it they would drink the ocean’s salt water. 

There were spills. Hein got wet up to her knees only once. But dog sleds tipped over often as they cruised over craggy pressure ridges. Meyer’s gloves got wet toward the end of the outing. This was no cushy excursion. 

Schurke, owner of an adventure travel agency in Ely called Wintergreen, was co-leader of the trip along with Rick Sweitzer of suburban Wilmette. Sweitzer, who owns a Wilmette-based adventure travel agency called Northwest Passage, said plenty of people have flown to the Pole, but very few have withstood the rigors of reaching it by foot over land, er, over ice. 

“This was not a hold-your-hand type of trip,” Sweitzer said, “Both Geneve and Burt pulled their own weight.” Schurke marveled at how wonderfully the pair dealt with the austere conditions. They both traveled the trail and performed tasks around camp like veterans, he said. 

The Chinese, five scientists and two television journalists, were along to conduct atmospheric experiments and to establish a Chinese presence at the North Pole. Eleven Chinese scientists and journalists remained in radio contact with the group from Resolute. The other team members were recreational travelers. 

Some recreation. Instead of sea shells and sand dollars, Meyer’s vacation souvenirs are fingertips blackened by frostbite, thanks to the wet gloves.

Sweitzer said temperatures on the trip ranged between 10 degrees above and 10 degrees below zero. Wind chills plunged to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Not the worst northern Illinois winter, yet imagine it is the warmest you will be all day, Schurke said. 

Hein managed to remain free of frostbite, but she awoke every morning the first week in tears, Sweitzer said. It is a common reaction to being unable to escape the profound cold. 

Despite the unrelenting cold, this was the optimum time to travel the northern reaches of the Arctic Ocean, Schurke said. “There is a window of opportunity between March and May while the ocean is still held in frigid suspension, before the spring thaw,” he said. 

Schurke, who travels–with or without tour groups–to the Arctic Circle each spring, noted that before March the area is plunged in darkness 24 hours a day. In the spring it remains light all day, he said. Although the ice is constantly shifting in early spring, it gets worse toward summertime. 

Meyer’s description of the Arctic landscape as “bleak yet beautiful” is echoed by Hein, who marveled at the pure, raw impact of the stark terrain. 

“There are huge pressure ridges where the ocean would push giant blocks of blue ice 20 to 25 feet in the air,” Meyer said. Pressure ridges could be miles long, so when the group encountered one they would have to find the best area to cross over. Maneuvering dog sleds over pressure ridges was difficult, he said. 

The dogs, Canadian Eskimo dogs, belong to Schurke, who trained them. Members of the tour group had a chance to work with the dogs on a shakedown camping trip last January. It was requisite experience to prepare the participants for their North Pole adventure, Sweitzer said. 

Thus, before they would be accepted for the real thing, Hein, Meyer and the others gathered near Schurke’s Ely lodge for five days of frozen fun and frolic at a sub-zero camping experience. 

For Hein the shakedown was “great. It was hard, but you knew it would only last so long so it wasn’t too bad.” 

Prior to the shakedown campout, Schurke remarked that a few of the travelers had doubts whether a 16-year-old girl could stand the grueling reality of Arctic travail. “After January, though, that issue never came up again. She clearly held her own,” Sweitzer said. 

Did her own parents ever doubt their decision? 

Both Tom and Linda Hein had their own take on Geneve’s polar expedition. 

“I never thought they’d let a teenage girl go on a trip like this. So I was confident from the start,” said Tom Hein, who owns Compressor Development Corp., an oil refinery service provider in nearby Addison. 

Linda, a substitute teacher, expressed faith in Geneve’s strength. “As a family we’ve always taken unusual vacations–going scuba diving or bungee jumping or skiing–so I knew Geneve had a taste for a certain kind of adventure,” she said. 

But both parents registered concern as the departure day drew closer. Tom said, “I could see what looked like concern in Geneve’s eyes in the last days before she left.” And he thought if she was concerned, then maybe she was having doubts. 

“I never doubted at all,” Geneve said. “I knew it would be tough, but it was something I had worked hard for.” The spunky teen worked out daily for two years on a cross-country ski machine and a stair climber and frequently jogged carrying a 30-pound back pack. Dad may have written the check for the $25,000 trip, but Geneve earned the bragging rights by her sheer grit and determination. 

Linda said, “We like to give our children opportunities rather than things.” The Heins have one other child, Aaron, 21, who is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois. 

Before the shakedown trip, Meyer pondered whether he would have allowed his own teenage daughter to make such a voyage. The father of three grown children expressed his doubts. But he was reassured by Hein’s courage. They became fast friends.

 “And what a thrill this trek was for all of us,” Meyer recalled. This 10-year veteran of the North American Birkebeiner (a grueling 52-kilometer cross-country ski race from Cable, Wis., to Hayward, Wis.) found the cold temperatures to be nothing new. To him, driving the dog sleds was difficult. 

Each sled was loaded with nearly 1,000 pounds of necessities, according to Schurke. Besides dog and people food, cooking supplies and tents, they carried the Chinese’s scientific instruments, eight beta-cams and other video equipment. There was so much scientific and video gear, the group needed to rendezvous mid-trip with a plane stocked with more food. 

Three participants–one American, a Venezuelan and one Chinese–went back on the plane. Another Chinese journalist took his place. In all, 12 people made it to the Pole. 

“Dog sledding has been described as a cross between riding a runaway rototiller and being drawn and quartered,” Meyer said. Speaking from the luxurious comfort of his Downers Grove home, the sexagenarian was laughing, but the sting of vivid recall showed in his eyes. 

Tanned and rugged-looking from both wind and sunburn on his trip, Meyer confessed that the hardest part of his polar voyage was the pace. “It was like doing the every day for 13 days,” he said. 

Hein commented that the fast pace was what kept her body heat up. 

At 10 p.m. on Friday, May 5, the intrepid Arctic explorers reached the North Pole. Geneve stood on her head, team leaders opened bottles of beverages saved for the group’s ultimate victory against frozen odds, and “we set off flares, then let out loud whoops and hollers to celebrate,” Schurke said. 

Four hours later three Twin Otter sea planes landed to bring the brave bunch home. Meyer conceded that without a doubt the best sight of the whole voyage was those planes. 

Would they do it again? 

Hein said she would. Meyer, though, demurred on another polar adventure, but he is planning a wildlife camping trip across Banks Island (northeast of Alaska) in August. Isn’t so sure, though he’s headed to Alaska this fall.

Join Ken Casey of Novato CA (Marin County) as he shares his unique life narrative of adventure, philanthropic efforts and life lessons with you at KenCasey.com