This was Clare and Mike’s sixth expedition in what they have dubbed ‘The Ice Project’, an attempt to cross all the major ice caps of the world. The journey took 24 days and covered over 570Km, in a year that saw the greatest snowfall in 20 years and the biggest number of storms. The pair joined up with six others and three teams of dogs, in what was the first use of dogs in a decade. The control of the dogs was under the European Dog Sledding champion from Norway, Sigrid Ekran. The team initially travelled for seven days man hauling the sleds before meeting Sigrid and the dogs, and made slow progress as they were hampered by deep snow and a series of storms.
“It was a tough trip,” says Clare. “I enjoyed working with the dogs but having to look after them as well as yourself made the crossing harder,” says Clare. “They’re trained for hunting, not pulling sleds all day so it was very tough on them too, especially with the ground so soft.”
The temperatures averaged -20 to -30 but got as low as -50+ with windchill. The team travelled between 10 and 16 hours per day, and spent up to five hours melting snow and ice for water for both themselves and the dogs.
The final 124km, over 20 per cent of the journey was covered in 52 hours as there was a Pitteraq (a cold and potentially devastating katabatic wind) forming off the coast. The team travelled with just two breaks totalling eight hours and struggled through 20 hours of deep snow and winds that blew snow horizontally.
“At one stage, one of the tent poles snapped the wind was so severe,” says Clare. “One of the guys got frostbite on his face and another girl got chilblains on her thighs. We lost three days when we couldn’t move due to the weather conditions so had very little sleep in the last few days, covering 120km in 56 hours.”
Clare O’Leary from Bandon is an accomplished adventurer with many seasons on the world’s great mountain ranges and polar regions. In 2012, Clare was named as one of Ireland’s Top 25 Most Powerful Women and awarded the Trailblazer Award by the Women’s Executive Network. As part of the Ice Project she has crossed the North Patagonia Ice Cap and Lake Baikal in Siberia.
Clare hopes to complete the three poles with this North Pole expedition.