News 2020


Title:  2020 Lynam Medal Awarded to Dr Clare O Leary
Date:  15/12/2020

Dr Clare O’Leary, the renowned Irish mountaineer and adventurer, was presented with the 2020 Lynam Medal in October 2020 by Mike Maunsell, Chair of Mountaineering Ireland’s Lynam Lecture Working Group, in her home town of Clonmel.

The Mountaineering Ireland Lynam Lecture was inaugurated in 2011 in the memory of Joss Lynam (1924-2011), one of Ireland’s best-known mountaineers, in recognition of his enormous achievements in hillwalking, climbing and mountaineering in Ireland and overseas over some sixty years. During his lifetime, Joss initiated numerous developments in these different areas of our sport and was an inspiration to a number of generations of Irish mountaineers.

Joss Lynam’s achievements included participating in many mountaineering expeditions to the Greater Ranges and an outstanding voluntary contribuion to the development of adventure sports in Ireland. Joss was known to many Irish and international walking enthusiasts for his many hillwalking guidebooks. He was also the Editor of the Irish Mountain Log magazine for more than 20 years. Joss continued as the Literary Editor of the magazine up to the time of his death.

Since it was inaugurated in 2011, the Mountaineering Ireland Lynam Lecture has been delivered by leading national and international mountaineers: 2011, Harish Kapadia; 2012, Dawson Stelfox; 2013, Stephen Venables; 2014, Clare Sheridan; 2015, Ines Papert; 2016, Paul Swail and John McCune; 2017, Frank Nugent; 2018, Paddy O’Leary; and 2019, Sir Chris Bonington. All of these have been inspiring lectures that have reflected on the development of various aspects of our sport and how it might progress in coming years.

In light of the ongoing restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was decided to that it would not be possible to organise a formal presentation for this year’s Lynam Lecture and that the 2020 Lynam Medal should be awarded to Dr Clare O’Leary on merit alone. The first Irish woman to summit on Everest (8848m) in 2004 and the first to climb an 8000m peak, Clare has continued to push the boundaries ever since then of what has been achieved by Irish mountaineers.



Her first attempt at Everest was in 2003, when, ironically for a gastroenterologist, she had to turn back between Camps 2 and 3 because of a stomach upset, gastroenteritis, as she might say!

Clare returned in 2004 with the Irish Wyeth Everest Expedition, when she succeeded in climbing Mount Everest via the South Col route with Pat Falvey, Pemba Gyalje, and four other Sherpas. Prior to that success, she had already climbed Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mount Cook and Island Peak to see how she reacted to altitude and to hone her high-altitude climbing skills. In general, she has not experienced any serious problems at altitude, apart from perhaps developing mild headaches on summit days.



The Seven Summits

After climbing Everest, in 2005, Clare went on to be the first Irish woman to complete the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent. She climbed Denali, Elbrus and Kosciuszko, and finished with Mount Vinson in that year, having already climbed Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Everest itself. That put her among the twenty women worldwide that had completed one or other of the Seven Summits lists by that time. In 2006, she became the first Irish woman to climb Ama Dablam, an iconic peak near Everest in the Solu Khumbu in Nepal.

In 2007, Clare skied across the Greenland icecap. The next year, at the age of thirty-five, Clare became the first woman to ski to the South Pole. She went there with Pat Falvey on his Beyond Endurance Expedition, together with Jonathan Davies and Shaun Menzies. The team of four undertook the two-month-long expedition, hauling all of their gear in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, with sub-zero temperatures and constant snowstorms. Clare’s attempts to reach the North Pole have all unfortunately been thwarted. Her fourth attempt was in 2014 with fellow adventurer Mike O’Shea. If successful, Clare would have been only the second woman to climb the Seven Summits and reach both poles. Since 2014, with climate change and the melting of the old ice at the North Pole, it has become almost impossible to ski there, as the new ice is unstable, insurance is unaffordable and it is impossible for planes to land on the ice in an emergency.


After their 2012 attempt to get to the North Pole was called off, Clare and Mike O’Shea began an ongoing series of expeditions, which they called the Ice Project and in which they intended to make crossings of all of the world’s major ice caps. This has included crossings of the Greenland ice sheet, the Northern Patagonian ice field and Lake Baikal in Siberia. However, this has also been impacted by climate change and they have had to abandon the project. In 2016, they cycled 2,500km through China, finishing in Tibet. The following year, Clare climbed Baruntse (7,129m) and Mera Peak (6,500m) in Nepal. In 2018, she did the Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan, 350km over thirteen high mountain passes, and last year she was climbing in Peru.

Looking to the future, Clare, who still trains five or six days a week by running or cycling, says that she has turned to ski mountaineering as a way of continuing to explore the world’s remote places.

With such an impressive list of achievements, Clare O’Leary’s endeavours have already been acknowledged variously in Ireland and she was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by NUI Galway. Mountaineering Ireland is now recognising her contribution to our sport and to the participation of women in mountaineering and exploration by awarding her the 2020 Mountaineering Ireland Lynam Medal.

Following the presentation of her medal in October by Mike Maunsell, Chair of the Lynam Lecture Working Group, Clare said, “It is a very great honour to receive such a prestigious award from Mountaineering Ireland. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world on expeditions in the past number of years. These have often been physically and mentally tough, but I always loved the challenges they presented. On each of these expeditions, I worked as part of a team and I always had the support at home of great training partners, mentors, family and friends. I am grateful to all of them for their support. Thank you to Mountaineering Ireland for awarding me the 2020 Lynam Medal”


Written by Patrick O Sullivan - Irish Mountain Log Issue 136






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