Dr. Clare O’Leary and Mike O’Shea: Irish explorers heading for the North Pole

Mike O Shea

Mike O Shea

At the time of writing, Explorers Dr. Clare O Leary from Cork and Mike O Shea from Kerry are on the first leg of a mammoth trek to the North Pole as part of their ambitious Ice Project. While this kind of extreme adventuring has been the prerogative of male explorers for aeons, Clare has broken all records and blazed a bright trail across all five continents which clearly states to all would be female explorers – yes we can also do this!

The Life Proof Ice Project will see Clare and Mike attempt to walk across all the major Ice Caps globally, with the South Georgia leg of the journey scheduled to coincide with one of Ireland’s greatest polar moments. “We hope to complete the legacy of Irish Polar Adventure, and to bring to the classrooms of the next generation an understanding of goals, achievements, and perseverance”, Clare and Mike said.

Last week, the pair left Ireland and are currently making their way from Cape Discovery up through Northern Canada from where they will continue on the 778km trek to the North Pole on an expedition which is regarded as the hardest in the world, even ‘ten times more difficult then Everest’ according to Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner.

In fact only 130 people have ever made the journey on foot which gives some indication of the extreme challenges they face in completing the trip. Over the past 100 years, sudden melting of the ice has virtually eliminated the possibility of ever walking there again. However, with the change in the jet stream this year, current conditions have facilitated a substantial freeze, so Clare and Mike may be the last people ever to reach the North Pole on foot.

Preparations for this mammoth task took place over the past 18 months when the pair spent 19 days enduring temperatures as low as -55c, and completed both the fifth crossings of the North Patagonian Icecap and Lake Baikal. As they are widely regarded as one of the strongest teams in the world, their potential to reach their goal is substantial which would make them the first people to reach the Pole in over 4 years, and the first Irish people ever. This is Clare’s fourth attempt and Mike’s second at this daunting expedition.

Claire O Leary

Claire O Leary

Clare, who is a native of Bandon, is certainly an immense inspiration to all women across all walks of life. Along with partaking in immensely challenging expeditions, she also works as a consultant Gastroenterologist/General Physician at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel and has previously worked for several years at Cork University Hospital where she has also been an avid fundraiser for various projects. In 2004, she became the first Irish woman to reach the summit of Everest, and was part of the Beyond Endurance Expedition with Pat Falvey, on the team that reached the South Pole in 2008. She has climbed the Seven Summits (highest mountains on each continent), conquered Ama Dablam in the Himalayas, skied across the Greenland/Iceland cap, and also skied to the South Pole.

Clare’s fellow explorer who is Mike O Shea from near Killarney also has an impressive track record. His love of climbing began at the age of 13 when he began exploring the McGillycuddy Reeks which are home to Carrantouhill, the highest peak in Ireland. He has received several awards which include the Gold Gaisce, and Trailblazer of the Year awards. His achievements include the K2 Attempt in 1993, and Mount Aconcagua. He was the first Irish Para motorist to cross the Irish Sea, and he has also funded and built the Home of Hope in Chernobyl. Recent exploits include guiding seven Irish groups up Kilimanjaro and during his time in Africa, Mike also raised funds and built an Orphanage for local children who were orphaned as a result of the Aids virus.

The objective of this amazingly intrepid pair is to use adventure to inspire, educate, and encourage others to both participate and educate themselves regarding the opportunities that are available for all, and to help with some of the issues humanity is creating in the world both environmentally and socially with particular focus on the present generation of young people.

Their aims are;

  • To cross as many of the worlds icecaps as possible
  • To create first hand accounts about the effects of Global Warming.
  • To encourage others to participate.
  • To educate children about the World, Climate Change and Activity.

Future planned adventures include a full traverse of Antarctica on foot in 2015 (only ever completed by 3 persons)

Crossing of South Georgia in 2016 accompanied by descendants of the original men who did the crossing, three of which were Irish; Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, and Tim McCarthy.

Readers can track Clare and Mike’s progress throughout their 50 day expedition at www.theiceproject.org