The Ice Project team of Mike O’ Shea and Clare O’ Leary returned to Northern Canada again in early 2014 to attempt to walk to the North Pole, having been thwarted in 2012 due to failed shared logistics.
The North Pole is regarded as the hardest expedition in the world, and has been quoted by Reinhold Messner as being “ten times harder than Everest”. The fact that only 130+ people have ever arrived on foot gives a clear statement of the difficulty of completing this trip.
Having made an extremely strong start to the expedition coving some of the roughest ice they had ever encountered for over 10 days the team unfortunately had to retire due to injury. Read Mikes account of the expedition below to give you a full taste of what they endured.
“As a friend of mine says, “if it was easy, shure everyone would be doing it”
Well that is the feeling the North Pole has left us with, after another 2 years of training, fundraising and preparation we managed to get back to our North Pole expedition. A few weeks in Iqaluit acclimatising to the cold, followed by a week in Resolute waiting for the Charter flight into Cape Discovery (a flight we shared with Yasu Ogita who we also shared with him in 2012) and we arrived onto the ice March 7th.
In short we had an amazing 10 days, our systems worked really well and as a team we had a great attitude to the task we were trying to complete. The environment there is so harsh you don’t have a minute in the day that you can lose concentration or you will suffer for it, with frozen fingers, a nose or cheeks. The level of concentration on survival becomes all consuming from the minute you land on the ice at Cape Discovery.
The reports about the ice this year were that there was a 12-14km bank of extremely rough ice and by the end of day 5 we got word that we were through the roughest ice. The next half day in fairness was excellent, but then we hit the mother load, the roughest ice either of us have ever encountered for the next few days. This meant trying to push earlier each day and travel for a bit longer just to make any distance. We were feeling strong and positive and were driving on hard which on day 9 returned 14km for us. This milage was fantastic and much more than we anticipated at this stage of the trip. Day 10 started out with the same progress, we were geared up to make progess as we were expecting our first food drop the next day. When your sleds are light you try to travel as much as you can, as once reloaded the pace will slow down again, so we were pushing hard to make distance.
The nature of the ground this year was short sections of flat snow and big sections of pressure ridges and ice rubble, some of these can be 4 metres high and several kilometres long, so its a case of pulling, hauling, scrambling or anything to move your sled in a Northerly direction. The work is very physical, trying to pull in excess of 60kg over rubble and sometimes up 2m vertical ice faces. The problem with this and the surface is that you can’t just drop it down the other side, so it involves either lowering or handling the sled down in a way as not to damage it. On day 10 we had a number of these short vertical sections, and generally we help each other so as not to cause strains to ourselves or to damage our equipment. In the middle of the day we had just lowered our sleds down a 4m ice cliff and climbed up about 2.5m up the other side, and my sled (Mike’s) was on top of this, we both positioned ourselves underneath, making sure to sort our ski’s out as they are about 2m long. We were facing each other to begin the process we had completed dozens of times, and as we were getting our ski’s sorted the sled and the ice block it had been sitting collapsed and the whole lot landed on top of both of us,
Basically we were pinned to the ground with the weight of the sled and the ice, we were shocked and feeling really hurt. We spent some time removing everything off us and trying to untangle ourselves from the rope towing the sled and our skis, once up, we were both injured, a back and a knee injury, which we tried to walk off, but it wasn’t happening, so we decided to set up camp, to try to medicate ourselves and rest.
Next morning we awoke at 5am as usual and tried to begin the process of getting sorted. We were both unable to function in any way that was practical to what we were attempting. We had a chat and came to the hard realisation that we just were not going to recover enough hauling the loads we had to, to finish the journey we were tackling. We tried every way to reason how to make it work and to continue, everything was discussed, we didn’t want to have to stop the journey, unfortunately the pain and injuries we had just won out and by 7.30am we had decided we would have to be evacuated. We rang the airline who were to drop the food to us, only to discover that the plane had left. We had said our preferred method of getting the resupplies was for it to be dropped out to us, as finding a landing site for the plane could cost us a whole day, so now the panic began of trying to get the pilot on the phone to request him to land. Fortunately we got a message through on the sat phone and we managed a call while he was refuelling. He managed to land about 1Km away from our position, we made our way to him , and got the flight off the ice.
We really would like to thank everyone for their messages, support in making our dream a reality and we hope that everyone will stick with us while our dream of walking to the North Pole is in temporary suspension.
We are going back, our resolve has not been compromised and our health, well being and families have taken precedent in our decisions. We will return recuperated and with the same resolve we have given all of our trips. Thanks also to Cian & Conall for these roles at base camp and to our Sponsors, who believed in us and our aspirations, and continue to entertain our madcap ideas.”