25th Feb 2010
Frustration setting in as we are still stuck in YellowKnife. Conditions for last few days in Resolute stormy and not safe for us to leave on route with flight. We have all our gear sitting in a hanger now and awaiting to be loaded on a special charter so all we can do is sit and wait. The clock is ticking and we need to be moving over the next few days to be in position, our window is very limited. Reports about the ice conditions this year are bad. But all of this is expedition life dealing with the unknown.
February 24, 2010
Disappointed today, we made our way to the airport to fly to Resolute but there was a blizzard in Resolute and we had to call off the flight for safety reasons. We are now getting itchy feet and just want to get on the ice. It has been a pressurized time here in Yellowknife getting everything ready.
Looking at all the food equipment now laying in Summit Airs hanger I find it hard to think that we will have to pull and haul all of this to the pole to survive. Concerned now to get to Resolute and be in place to fly to our starting point, I hope that we will get no further delays down here. I have been in situation where weather has blocked us for over a week. The time is ticking and we have to move soon.
Cross fingers for tomorrow, then a few days in Resolute to finalise our charter flight plan with Borek Air and then the real adventure begins.
17th Feb 2010
It feels like the words in an old song. “My bags are packed and I’m ready to go.”
A week of packing...
The last week flew, we didn’t have a minute to relax or even see anything of the beauty of Yellow Knife, we were so busy sorting our gear, equipment and food.
It was a real nightmare as we checked and double check, packed and repacked numerous times to try and cut down weight and also endeavoured to compress the volume that we would have to take on the ice, In doing this we really have to stay focused on not compromising on our calorie intake of food or safety equipment. Its so easy as the weight add up to just leave something behind.
Its amazing to see all gear and equipment at last coming together, 60 days of it. Can you imagine purchasing 60 days of normal food at home, just base on an average persons requirement of 2500 calories and then multiplying this by 3 to 4 time the volume, because you have to eat between 8 to 9000 calories. Now imagine trying to fit all of that into your kitchen cupboards. Now our task was to fit all our gear into one small sled with only one drop of resupply on route.
Now that’s a task of management of logistics for Clare, John and I.
World renowned Irish adventurers Pat Falvey, Dr. Clare O’Leary and John Dowd will complete a historical and icy voyage as they navigate, walk, ski, and swim for two months on a 784km expedition of endurance. Man-hauling their sleds across the rugged, broken, melting Arctic Ocean from Canada, they will be the first Irish team to reach the North Pole without the aid of dogs or any mechanical means.
Traversing the ice to reach the North Pole is now considered the most difficult challenge on earth due to the effects of global warming. The all-Irish team will experience climate change first-hand when forced to negotiate thousands of open leads and cracks in the ice, and to climb erupting pressure ridges and tumbling ice blocks the size of four-story houses, all while dragging sleds and gear behind them weighing 220lbs each. They will also face the very real risk of a polar bear attack.
“The journey is equivalent to 60 consecutive marathons,” says Pat Falvey, “through cold temperatures down to -60 degrees celsius.” The team must travel in order to train in similar conditions, having already completed several trips over the past year. December ’09 will find them testing gear and equipment in Canada, returning again to Canada in February for training, leading directly to an expedition start March 1, 2010.
For both Falvey and O’Leary, reaching the North Pole will mark the distinctive completion of the 3 Poles Challenge. The 3 Poles is an adventure challenge to reach the three most extreme poles on earth: Everest as the highest pole, the South Pole, and the North Pole. If successful, culmination of the 3 Poles challenge for Pat and Clare will place them among only 15 people in the world to complete this grueling achievement.
Pat Falvey is a veteran of over 65 worldwide expeditions while Clare O’Leary is a veteran of 22, and John Dowd a veteran of 12 expeditions. Both Falvey and O’Leary have already completed the Seven Summits Challenge, reaching the highest peaks on the seven continents. Dowd has completed five of the seven summits to date.
Further information and daily blogs will be available in the coming weeks. In the mean time, if you have any queries or would like to find out more, Contact:
The Mountain Lodge
Killarney, Co. Kerry
Tribute to Ger McDonnell by Clare O’ Leary
I first met Ger six years ago while preparing for an Everest Expedition; a couple of months later we were in Dublin airport, bound for Kathmandu. It was an exciting time and the 6 of us on the team laughed a lot, had great ole fun and an amazing experience... that expedition also left us with a close bond to one another – the friendships you make with teammates on expedition – living 24 hours a day in one another’s pockets, working towards the same goal, experiencing and sharing the same beauty, hardship, fear, peace and enjoyment, - is very different and the friendship runs deep.
I consider myself lucky to have been on three expeditions with Ger – and also took a trip out to Alaska to train and hang out with him there – I got to see what a great place Alaska is and more so how much he loved it – his many great and close friends, especially Annie, his band, Last Night’s Fun, and the many places he loved to climb and train.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gone through several of my expedition photos, looking at pictures of Ger. Its amazing how he happy he looks all the time – the outdoors and nature was a real passion for him – it didn’t have to be extreme – even the simple things – like meeting a bear when out on his bike (!) was exciting for him. He reveled in the beauty of the mountains, the camaraderie of teamwork and the simplicity of expedition life.
On the mountain, Ger was exceptionally strong, fast, competent and safe. In all the climbing I’ve done with him, I’ve never seen him under pressure. My sister came out to Everest Base Camp in 2003 and when we met the team in the icefall after their summit bid, she remarked to me – ‘Ger looks like he’s only been to the local shop for a loaf of bread!’ – and it was true; it seemed to take so little out of him.
Ger made friends easily and in him, you knew you had a friend for life. He’s a really genuine, warm hearted, decent guy, full of life, energy and fun. He knew how to enjoy himself and drew people to him – people just enjoyed being in his company – having a laugh, messing about, hearing his stories or listening to him sing or play the bodhran.
For me, one of the things that stood out most about Ger from the start was the warm love he had for his family, particularly his mother. He always spoke a lot about them in a very natural, but touching way. I think that was made me trust him so quickly early on.
Ger’s death has had a profound effect on me and I know also on his many climbing friends. He was and is a very special person, a great inspiration to adventurers and dreamers. Ger’s achievements in mountaineering, particularly mountaineering in Ireland, are huge. Not only that, but his strength and honorability in spending over three and a half hours at 8,300m, attempting to rescue three other climbers, while well aware of the risk to his own life, makes him stand out as a real hero.
I know some people find it hard to understand or accept what draws people to the mountains and such extreme adventure; I think George Mallory sums it up -
‘What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.(George Leigh Mallory, 1922)
It’s hard to believe Ger won’t be coming home again. I hope his family, friends and loved ones can find strength and comfort at this difficult time, knowing that he died doing what he loved, in a place that he loved and having fulfilled a major personal ambition.
May you rest in peace, Ger.
Clare O’ Leary
Bio in brief Ger McDonnell.
Gerard McDonnell, 37 is out on K2 for his second attempt. He reached the summit on Friday 1 August, the first Irish person to have reached it’s lofty peak. He is climbing with a Dutch team under the leadership of Wilco one of the worlds top expedition leaders. He has also been climbing on the mountain with Pemba Gyalje Sherpa who has been a Sirdar on Numerous Irish expedition with Pat Falvey. The Dutch team he is climbing with is called 'Noritk2'.
In 2006 On Ger’s first attempt he got to nearly 8000m on K2 he descended after getting hit by rock fall and pulled out.
Ger summited Everest in 2003 with Mick Murphy, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa and Pemba Rinzee Sherpa as part of the Pat Falvey led Irish Everest expedition to have been the first Irish team to have summit Everest from the original Route on Everst fro Nepal. Ger has climbed Denali 05, Foraker, Broadpeak 06 to name a few amongst many others in Nepal, Scotland, the Alps, Alaska and China.
Ger hails from Limerick, lives in Alaska for the last 10 years having moved there to advance his skills in living in colder climates and to train full time as a mountaineer. He was also a team leader, with Rolf Bae in Antarctic on South Georgia in 06 as part of the Pat’s Irish Beyond Endurance Expedition, that honoured Irish polar hero’s of Shackleton, Tom Crean, Forde, Keohane and the McCarthy brothers.
Living in Limerick are his three sisters, brother JJ and mother. His partner Annie lives in Alaska.
Picture with Irish team on Denali.
Left to right. Expedition leader Pat Falvey. John Dowd, Dr Clare O Leary, Ger playing a tune from the Bodhran and John Roche. (Pat Falvey)
Following a surreal 56-hour stay at the South Pole, it was a relief to see the twin otter arrive to collect us at 23.00 last night. We packed all our gear into the plane and turn around time was less than 1 hour. The forecast wasn’t good and the pilots didn’t want to waste any time.
We were bound for Patriot Hills, – our base camp over 1,120km away. The base team had sent ham and cheese sandwiches for us to eat en route… Our excitement at eating fresh food after so long was childish!
The flight was smooth and despite the cramped space, enjoyable. It was fascinating to watch the route we had trudged over – it was a clear, sunny night and visibility was certainly better than when we had been skiing.
After a brief stop half way to refuel, we continued on, reaching Patriot Hills at 03.45am. We were all wrecked and expecting to have to pitch our tents and retire with half-empty stomachs… We were over the moon when the staff here invited us to dinner.. Wow! We started with skewers, followed by steak, potato, vegetables and dessert, topped off with champagne! We really hadn’t been expecting such a welcome and enjoyed every mouthful. We relaxed and chatted until 07.00, before turning in…it was great to finally be on the way home.
Unfortunately, the winds have picked up here in Patriot Hills and it looks like it will be at least 3-4 days before the Illuyshin can come in from Chile for us; we are awaiting up to date forecasts.
13th January Sunday
We are still held in her icy grip!
This is our 75th day away from home. 63 of those days on the ice and we are all getting home sick now, I just can’t wait to be back to the place I love most in the world, Ireland. Home is where the heart is.
The wind hit us hard;
Yesterday was very windy and we could see no end to the katabatic winds that hit us. But this morning to our surprise the winds have eased. So all going well, provided the winds don’t increase again, our Russian aircraft will depart from Punta Arenas tomorrow sometime and make it’s 6 hour journey to pick us up from Patriot Hills here at the edge of the Antarctic continent to bring us back to civilization.
We will then sort out all our gear and leave South America on the 16th January at 04:00am for our journey home. All going well we will be back in Cork on the evening of the 17th January. The first item on our agenda on getting back to South America is to have a hot shower and a good meal. If all goes to plan we will then get all our equipment sorted for shipping home.
A hard life;
Expedition life is a hard one, but it does make you appreciate the simple things that I have taken for granted in my earlier life. Family, friends, those that love us. The beauty of my country, it’s people, tradition and our culture. I’m so looking forward to home, to see Ireland’s forty shades of green, a walk in our native woods, a climb on Corran Tuathail, a pint in Kate Kearney’s Cottage in the Gap of Dunloe, a visit to Tom’s pub, (South Pole Inn) to pay my respects to one of the un-sung heroes; Tom Crean.
Here on the ice, I dream of home and when I get home, I will dream of other my next adventurer. I will reflect on my 62nd expedition in Antarctica and wonder how we could have done better, prepare a new lecture series, start my next book, but most of all plan my next adventure. I’m looking forward to a belated Christmas dinner and a welcome home from my family, friends and supporters. The most important people on the team.
Lets hope all goes to plan and tomorrow we leave this amazing landscape of a heaven in hell or a hell in heaven. That the Gods of Antarctica releases us from her icy grips safely.
It’s not over yet. Lets see what tomorrow brings.
Home is calling...stuck at the edge of Antarctica.
Relaxed after a nights sleep and it is only now that I’m beginning to realise the effort and hardships that we had to endure down here in Antarctic to reach the Pole. We are so releaved to be back at, Patriot Hills base camp. We are ready to go home but Antarctic still has us in her grip. Gale force winds has prevented our plane from leaving Punta Arenas, in Chile, over 2800 km away.
Base camp, is the jumping point for most expeditions here in Antarctica and the season for expeditions and science projects is coming to an end. Our little base camp is filling up with adventurers, explorers and researchers, filing in here preparing to go home.This is one of the most unusual places that I have ever been.
Thanks to those at base camp on the ice.
It takes a lot of logistics to run an expedition down here and I would like to extend a special thanks to all the team at base camp here. To Mick Sharp, Steve Jones, Martin from South Africa, Victoria from Canada and Hans Christian from Greenland in communication.
To Mark, who kept us updated on the weather forecast over the last 60 days. To the pilots of the Twin Otter Monica and Eric who collected us from the South Pole and brought us back to Patriot Hills to complete the first leg of our journey home.
Sit and wait.
We will now sit and wait for the weather to improve. No use in complaining, we are in the most remote and hostile region on earth. It’s cold and windy today and getting frustrated at having to sit and wait. We will have a better idea of when our aircraft will arrive tomorrow or Monday. We are scheduled to leave Punta Arenas on the 15th and be home on the 16th. We may have to postpone our return a day or so if the weather doesn’t improve.
We will keep all our supporters informed over the next few days of our return date. As long as we are on Antarctica the expedition continues.
Photo: Patriot toilet and radio tent in back
Photo: Sir Edmund Hillary autographs hurley and sliothar for Irish Everest Team, taken in 2004.
Pat Falvey and Clare O’Leary have sent this message regarding Sir Edmund Hillary, from Patriot Hills, where the team are currently setting up their tents after they slept for 4 hours following their flight from the South Pole earlier today:
“It is with great shock to hear that this great icon of adventure has passed away. His contribution to mountaineering was of the scale of Everest itself, in particular his devotion to the Everest region in Nepal where he improved the working conditions for the Sherpa and their families and created numerous educational projects there. Our condolences to his wife June, his family and friends. He will be sadly misssed.”