Expedition duo set for 784km North Pole trek

IRELAND’s first female Everest summiteer Dr Clare O’Leary leaves later this week for her third attempt on the North Pole.

IRELAND’s first female Everest summiteer Dr Clare O’Leary leaves later this week for her third attempt on the North Pole.

Dr O’Leary, a specialist in gastroenterology at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel is undertaking the attempt with Kerry adventurer Mike O’Shea.

If the pair are successful, they will be the first Irish team to complete the 784km trek without the aid of dogs or any mechanical means.

Dr O’Leary, from Bandon, Co Cork, will become only the second woman in the world to have climbed all of the world’s seven highest summits and reached both poles.


She told The Irish Timesthat she had been training for three to four years for this project, having been thwarted by weather on her last attempt last year with Cork adventurer Pat Falvey.

Conditions were too difficult to fly from their base in Iqaluit, Canada last year, and on their first attempt in 2010, one of the party of three, John Dowd, developed frostbite in his fingers and they had to abandon the expedition.

The impact of global warming has made the traverse to the North Pole one of the most difficult challenges for adventurers.

Dr O’Leary and her new expedition partner will be hauling 220lb-sledges with food and gear, while negotiating cracks in the ice and erupting pressure ridges.

Ocean drift close to the pole means that they will have to put in “rolling days” to make up for distance lost when they are carried back south while resting.

“It means you’ve got to make 26- to 28-hour days,” Dr O’Leary said, with 12 hours on, four hours rest, another 12 hours on and then sleep. The pair spent two weeks training in Canada in temperatures of up to minus 30 degrees last December, and anticipate temperatures of up to minus 60 on this attempt on the North Pole.

Mr O’Shea recalled the words of fellow Kerryman Mike Barry, who became the first Irishman to complete the trek to the South Pole in 2004 – almost a century after Ernest Shackleton had been forced to turn back from a similar attempt. “Barry told us you’d have to become a beast of burden for about two months, and that just about sums it up!” Mr O’Shea said.

Dr O’Leary made her successful ascent of Mount Everest in 2004, on her second attempt, and was only the 15th woman worldwide to do so when she completed all seven highest summits.

She participated in a number of further expeditions with Cork adventurer Pat Falvey, traversing South Georgia in Antarctica in November 2006, and crossing Greenland in 2007.

In January 2008, she was part of Falvey’s team which reached the South Pole, four years after Barry’s epic achievement.

Mr O’Shea runs a number of businesses, including Ireland’s largest indoor climbing wall and a specialist company which trains both State and private organisations in access and rescue.

He was one of the first Irish Gaisce medal award winners, in 1991, and has climbed in the Alps, Scotland, Africa, Nepal, Pakistan, New Zealand and Indonesia.

He is a keen skier and an experienced paraglider and expert in paramotoring. He is founder of the Irish Explorers Trust, based in Dingle, Co Kerry.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times