Intrepid pair determined to fulfil polar dream

After an escape from danger on the North Pole, two Irish explorers are already planning to return to the world’s most hostile environment.

Adventurers Clare O’Leary from Bandon, Co Cork, and Mike O’Shea from Dingle, Co Kerry, had hoped to be the first Irish people to walk to the North Pole.

However medical doctor Clare and rope safety expert Mike, who are due to fly home from Canada this weekend, were forced to turn back just a week into their 778km trek.

The pair, travelling on skis and pulling sleds carrying their supplies, had endured some of the most severe weather the region had seen in 30 years.

Typically, the area would be hit by just one or two storms per season — they battled four in the space of a week.

Their journey was expected to take about 50 days.

However, due to the harsh climate and preparations required, they will have to wait until next year to have another go.

Mike explained they could only get onto the ice during a weather window lasting about seven or eight days.

“Planes cannot land on the ground until there is about four hours’ sunlight and also depend on a scientific base, run by the Russians, which closes around Apr 20 every year.”

Mike said they decided to turn back on Friday Mar 9, not because of the weather but because their plans to share charter logistics with other teams fell apart.

Had they continued they would have had to pay up to €180,000 for supplies and a plane pick-up.

Mike said the trip back to base was scary because the storm had caused the ice to move very fast.

“Over two days, we travelled 10 nautical miles but lost the same distance in drift so we headed inland,” he said.

“We ended up getting trapped between the fixed ice and the moving ice — on what people would call an ice flow,” he added.

At one point the ice started rotating and breaking up and the pair had to move really fast to get to safety.

“We had no time to plan; we just had to use our initiative. It was really touch and go there for a bit,” Mike said.

They ended up running across a mixture of water and ice and jumping onto an embankment.

“It took us another four days to get back to a place where we could get picked up. If we had got into trouble, it could have been two weeks before we were rescued,” he said.



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