Wicklow climbers celebrate arrival at North Pole with Scotch and cake

Bill Roberts and Myles Campion plant the Tricolour after gruelling trip to North Pole

Irish flag unfurled at North Pole:  Wicklow climbers Bill Roberts and Myles Campion complete their difficult trek.

Irish flag unfurled at North Pole: Wicklow climbers Bill Roberts and Myles Campion complete their difficult trek.

 

Two Co Wicklow-based climbers planted the Tricolour on the geographic North Pole earlier this week and celebrated with a shot of single malt Scotch whisky and some chocolate cake.

Bill Roberts (57) and Myles Campion (50) reached the 90-degree latitude mark on Monday and said the temperatures, at minus 35 degrees, were far colder than anticipated for this time of year.

Mr Roberts, a Scots-born non-executive director of fund and management companies, and Mr Campion, a buyer and product marketing manager, are neighbours in Delgany.

They were participants in a Norwegian commercial trek across the Arctic’s “last degree” to the geographic North Pole. They were among a group of seven international clients who paid almost €38,000 for the Ousland expedition, led by a Swiss mountain guide Thomas Ulrich.

The trip involved flying from Spitsbergen to a floating Arctic ice camp and trekking for almost a week over ice and snow for some 111km.

“It was about 10 degrees colder than anticipated for this time of year, and so it was minus 35 degrees when we reached the North Pole,” Mr Roberts said. “The upside was that the breaks in the ice were less hazardous, and they tended to be frozen over.”

Barneo ice camp

Several Irish people have already undertaken the “one degree” trek, involving a five to six day journey from Barneo ice camp, set up by Russians, at 89 degrees latitude.

Recent attempts by Irish adventurers to complete the 800km trek from a land mass, as in northern Canada, to the North Pole have been thwarted by a combination of injury and failed logistics.

Mountaineer Reinhold Messner has described the 800km trek as “10 times harder than Everest”.

On both approaches, patience and endurance can be tested by the fact that ice can drift up to 20km a day in the opposite direction.

Mr Roberts and Mr Campion have undertaken previous expeditions together, including recording ascents of 10 previously unclimbed peaks in eastern Greenland.

Between them, they have climbed Gunnbjornsfjeld, the highest mountain north of the Arctic circle, Mont Blanc, the Eiger, and numerous 4,000m-plus peaks in the Alps.

In 2005, Mr Roberts skied the last degree to the South Pole.

“However, this was far tougher,” he said, speaking en route home from Spitsbergen. “There were some nine groups approaching the North Pole, and people in four of those groups had to be evacuated due to risk of frostbite.

Arctic fox

“We were also warned that one group was being tailed by a polar bear and cub . . . We didn’t see it, but we did see the footprints of an Arctic fox which tends to track polar bears to feed on their leftovers, such as seal meat.”

The expedition camped, each participant pulled a pulk or sledge weighing 40kg, and lived on freeze-dried food, cooked with ice that took several hours to melt.

Mr Campion described how they had to eat and drink constantly, to supplement the 5,000 calories a day they would burn.

Mr Roberts discovered jelly babies do not freeze, due to the gelatine.

They spent just one night at the North Pole, in almost 24-hour daylight, and were then picked up by a Russian aircraft.

“There can’t be too many places in the world where everyone looks forward to the sound of a Russian helicopter, but these pilots are the most experienced in the world when it comes to landing in ice,”he said.