Dr Clare O'Leary on her way to the top
Thirty three year old, Dr Clare O'Leary from Bandon, Co Cork was this morning, Tuesday 18th May, the first Irish woman to reach the 29,035 ft summit of Mount Everest.
The Wyeth Irish Everest Expedition 2004 team led by veteran Cork mountaineer, Pat Falvey, who is now the first Irish person to summit Everest from both the Nepal and Tibetan approaches, reached the summit at 6.45 am local time (1.45 am Irish time) after a 9 hour push from the team's high camp at 26,000 ft. Today's success came at the end of two months on the mountain in preparation for the final climb by a team that includes Nepali and Irish climbers.
Speaking on satellite phone from the summit, expedition leader, Pat Falvey said their climb had gone according to plan. He added: "The weather was superb and we held up to savour the immense thrill and history of our achievement where for a few minutes, Clare stood on the summit of the highest peak on Earth - making the first Irish female ascent of Everest. We have done what we set out to achieve and I'm just so excited."
Dr Clare O'Leary spoke to her parents Kevin and Alice and her sister Carol by telephone (her brother Kevin is in Nepal) and expressed through elation and exhaustion just how amazing the experience is, "I set out on St. Patrick's Day with one goal in mind and that was to reach the top and I've done it. I'm really proud to have this honour. We had a very strong team under Pat's leadership and I am very grateful to him and my Nepali team-mates. The experience from our previous attempt has paid off this year and I can hardly express my happiness," she said.
Falvey and O'Leary's second expedition to Everest within twelve months was organised with two core objectives in mind - to achieve the first Irish female ascent and first Irish climber to summit from both Nepal and Tibet.
The final day's climb was made at altitudes know to climbers as 'The Death Zone', where the human body undergoes significant deterioration and where the drive to summit must be tempered with maintaining oxygen-starved minds alert to objective dangers, sudden weather changes and the climbers own physical and mental conditions in order to return safely. Oxygen levels at the summit are just 30% of those at sea level and on this climb, the supplememtary bottled oxygen was used by the climbers on the final summit day at altitudes over 26,000 ft.
Pat Falvey said that his main concern now is to get himself and the team back down to base camp as safely as possible, "The Expedition now down the mountain is a very dangerous one. I am just praying that everyone makes it down safe and well and then we can celebrate with our team here in Nepal before making our way home," he said.
One of the very earliest congratulations to the team came from mountaineer, Ger McDonnell from Limerick and living in Alaska. McDonnell reached the summit a year ago with Mick Murphy from West Cork on a trip led by Falvey, and that saw Clare O'Leary forced to abandon her climb with a stomach bug. Falvey himself suffering from hypoxia was turned around just 60metres and aided to safety by McDonnell. Ger McDonnell said; "My heartiest congratulations to the team, to Pat, the Sherpas, John Joyce and most of all to the first Irish woman to stand on any summit over 8000m, let alone the tallest of them all. Hats off to you Clare O'Leary! I only wish I could have been there to see it."
Mr Emmet Browne, Country Manager, Wyeth said that the company is delighted that the team have reached the summit of Mount Everest safely.
"As Ireland's leading pharmaceutical employer, we are delighted to be associated with such an historic event. It was a tremendous effort by everybody involved and we now wish Pat Falvey, Dr Clare O'Leary and the Sherpas a safe return to base camp," Mr Browne continued.
The Irish expedition left Ireland on St Patrick's Day and over the past six weeks, the team prepared for their summit attempt through crucial acclimatisation climbs on the mountain's lower reaches while establishing camps and storing supplies to aid them in their summit bid.
Four weeks ago, team member John Joyce from Tuam Co Galway was forced to abandon the climb due to exhaustion and altitude sickness. Jet stream winds blowing at speeds of up to 70mph forced Pat Falvey and Clare O'Leary off the mountain last week in order to preserve their strengths at lower altitudes.
For full details of the successful climb check out the Irish Everest Expedition website