Teamwork gets Falvey through expedition injury

WHEN Pat Falvey named his 2007 South Pole expedition “Beyond Endurance”, he knew he was not alone.

That’s just as well because, a little more than a week ago, Ireland’s most celebrated adventurer was halted mid-stride by agonising back pain and needed all the help he could get.

True to form, his fellow explorers immediately began carrying his equipment as well as their own, as they continue their struggle to become the first Irish group to reach the South Pole.

The team includes Dr Clare O’Leary, 35, the first Irish woman to climb Mount Everest, Jonathon Bradshaw, 36, and Shaun Menzies, 42, who was part of last August’s successful Beyond Endurance Greenland Expedition, the first Irish team to traverse the Greenland polar plateau unsupported.

Mr Falvey’s accident was a simple one but the consequences could have proved disastrous.

“We had just set off for another day in the freezer,” he writes in his internet blog. “Conditions on the ice were good although it was another day of no visibility and travelling in white-out conditions. We were excited at the thought of getting a further 25-27km toward the pole. I had just gone ahead of Clare, Shaun and Jon to film them pulling their sleds. When they passed me, I turned to follow and as I did so, got a shooting pain down my back/buttocks and fell to the ground in agonising pain.”

At that stage the others were more than 50 meters ahead and he knew if he didn’t move he would lose them in the white-out.

“They were too far ahead to shout at and were moving fast, so I needed to catch up with them. They were unaware anything was wrong behind and there was no reason to suspect there was a problem. I knew they would just assume I was following. Every few steps, I’d fall to the ground in pain. I was in agony.”

Eventually Clare O’Leary turned to check her bearing and could see that the team leader was in trouble. “They waited for me to catch up. I knew from the pain, I had trapped or twisted a nerve. Clare gave me an anti-inflammatory tablet to relieve the pain.

Clare, Shaun and Jon distributed some of Pat’s sled weight to lighten his load as he wanted to continue, but eventually the pain became too much for him.

“We pushed on for another half an hour, but the pain was so severe that I had to stop; eventually, after an hour and a half, we called it a day. I felt so guilty at having to make camp after covering only 3km, but if we continued and the problem got worse, I could put the whole expedition at risk.

“To date, this has been my worst day. In 39 days of hauling we’ve covered 751km from the coast; now a simple twist has me grounded with still 389km to go to the pole.”

Since then, he has struggled on with the help of his teammates and his own strength, honed from years of tackling the most dangerous terrain on the planet.

Most of the 2007 team are seasoned adventurers. Some, like Bradshaw, are relative newcomers. Until March he had been working in the IT industry but these days, the only rebooting he is doing is making sure he is properly shod. He is also learning the hard way how to cope with the wind-chill factor.

“When we stopped for a break, I had to rip my frozen face mask from my newly formed beard — I won’t be doing that again anytime soon.”

The expedition is being co-ordinated from Ireland by Niall Foley who is in regular contact with the team via satellite phone. “The two main problems are the cold and cold-related injuries. The main polar plateau has the lowest temperatures and highest winds of any place on the planet.”

Each member of the team is hauling a sledge with up to 150kg of equipment, facing into the infamous polar winds, which can reach up to 100kph.

“The temperature will dip to as low as minus 50 degrees as we approach the Pole,” said Mr Falvey. “To put this in some kind of perspective the average temperature of a home deep-freezer unit is about -7 degrees. If you throw a pan of boiling water into the air at the South Pole it will literally come down as frozen crystals.”

* For more information visit www.patfalvey.com or www.beyondendurance.ie.

More in this section