#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 11°C Friday 15 October 2021

Here's why the first ever Irish trek to the North Pole could be the last ever by humans

Daytime temperatures of minus 50, costs that could run to €100,000 plus, and at least 780km to cover (depending on the temperament of the Arctic ice)…


Clare O’Leary [The Ice Project]

TWO IRISH ADVENTURERS will fly out to Canada next Friday to begin their assault on what’s regarded as one of the most arduous expedition routes in the world.

Described by renowned adventurer Reinhold Messner as being “ten times harder than Everest” —  the walk to the geographic North Pole has only been completed by 132 people.

Far more than that number have visited the top of the world, obviously — but to be regarded as a proper Pole walk, it’s accepted that an expedition must set out from land.

And with the sea ice receding year-on-year, there’s a chance that the 780km journey planned by Kerry mountaineer Mike O’Shea and Cork adventurer Clare O’Leary could be the last ever such crossing to take place.

“That’s the big thing — the ice is just getting so unstable it’s getting more and more difficult to make it across every time,” O’Shea told TheJournal.ie.

“In a few years it may not be possible.”

imageIce floes float in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland above the Arctic circle on July 10, 2008 [Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/PA Images]

O‘Shea’s climbing career began at the age of 13 when he started climbing the McGillicuddy Reeks. As part of his ‘Ice Project’ missions alongside O’Leary he’s also completed a 640km trek across a frozen lake in Russia, an expedition to Kilimanjaro, and a gruelling 19-day trip across the North Patagonian Icecap.

In addition to her Ice Project adventures, O’Leary also became the first Irish woman to climb Mount Everest in 2004, and has skied to the South Pole.

They know what they’re doing in other words.

So why the North Pole? Because it’s there, really:

“I suppose the North Pole is a natural progression. We’ve been wanting to do the it for a long time – it’s a bit like the World Cup of expeditions.”

It’s a second attempt at the task for the pair — they were unable to complete their 2012 trip after plans to share charter logistics with another team fell apart.


Mike O’Shea [Image: The Ice Project]

The issue of transport costs is also a major factor this time around — if the duo manage to reach their destination as planned in the week of 21 April they’ll be able to charter a plane out with the Russians at a cost of €30,000. If they miss that window, they’ll have to travel to a Canadian science base further along the ice — and a flight out from there would cost €100,000.

O’Shea and O’Leary have been fundraising intensively ahead of take-off this Friday — and have raised enough to cover their basic costs, including a ‘food-drop’ along the projected route. However, O’Shea’s still appealing for other sponsors to come on board, as he says a second supply drop would increase their chances of making it “by 30 to 40 per cent”.

(Youtube: Outsider Magazine)

The pair fly into Ottowa this weekend. From there, it’s a trip the northernmost Canadian territory of Nunavik. They’ll spend a few weeks adjusting to the conditions in the region, before flying to the remote outcrop of Ward Hunt Island — from where they’ll launch their assault on the Pole.

The team will burn up to 9,000 calories per day and are expected to lose up to 44lbs in weight over the duration of the journey. (The expedition is the energy equivalent of running two marathons daily for around 50 days consecutively).

And all that bad weather we’ve been experiencing is good news for O’Shea and O’Leary — changes to the jet stream this year mean better conditions for the attempt, and there’s been a  ”good freeze” in the Arctic Ocean in advance of the duo’s departure.

“Last year no trips took place, as the ice was in such bad nick,” O’Shea said.

“We got the call over three weeks ago that conditions were good for this year, that this could even be possible — we’ve been going all guns blazing ever since.”


[Image: The Ice Project]

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

The journey will take around 50 days to complete — and in addition to the cold, snow, ice (and whatever else the elements might throw at them) the pair will also be waging a frustrating battle against ‘Arctic Drift’.

What’s that, you ask? The team have explained all on the expedition website:

In a single day the ice can drift up to 18km away from the pole — meaning that on a day where you really push hard and walk 15 – 17km you could end up further away than when you started.

The ice is moving and shifting all the time, even when we sleep. It can be very disheartening to wake up further away from your goal than when you lay your head on the pillow.

The map below shows the drift of individual marker buoys on the ice over the course of a year:


[Image: arctic.noaa.gov]

And just how cold will it be?

“Minus 50 to 55 during daylight. We don’t take the thermometer out at night — it’s just too cold.”

Mike and Clare will be busy with preparations over the coming days as launch date approaches — they’re even spending the night in an industrial-sized freezer in Dublin’s Docklands on Tuesday night to check their sub-zero gear is working properly.

Expect to hear a lot more from them over the coming weeks as the adventure progresses: the support team will be providing updates over at theiceproject.org.

And just in case you weren’t already feeling guilty enough for putting off that Sunday morning run, you’ll pleased to learn that the intrepid pair are already thinking about future expeditions.

The list includes a “full crossing of the South Pole”.

So… Nothing too taxing then.

Read: Irish North Pole duo forced to turn back after facing €120k bill

Read: Survey to give fascinating glimpse into life on barrier reef

Read: So, what are the chances we’ll see an Irishman (or anybody) head to Mars?

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

Read next: