Real Adventure Starts Here
I looked at the icy slope leading downhill away from me and shuddered. I knew I could go no further unless I tackled my terrors right here. The snow was hard-packed, shiny and hardened into ice. I could see the imprint of the boots that had passed before me and wondered if my feet would hold as well. Smothering all thought of what lay ahead, I took a deep breath, forcing the thin air into my lungs. I reached forward and gratefully took our leader Pat Falvey’s hand, and like a child I slowly and cautiously followed him inch- by-inch down the slope. Terrified of the drop to my right and concentrating firmly on Pat’s orange down jacket, glowing like a beacon ahead, step by step, until we finally reach a makeshift platform. Pat leaves me here with a grin, and thankfully I hug him, assuring him I can take it from here. I step forward on my own into the dark of the drop-house and breathe a sigh of relief as the smell of human waste engulfs me, finally, I can go to the loo…
Why Climb Every Mountain?
I don’t know why people climb mountains. I don’t know why I do myself; and frequently when I’m climbing them, I promise I will never climb them again. Then I see clouds drift across a lofty peak or a movie with the hero stepping confidently in crampons across the rock and ice and suddenly my breath catches in my chest and I think ‘that’s me’. The reality is somewhat different. I stumble and slip in my massive insulated boots, I move awkwardly across the snow in massive down jackets, with freezing fingers squeezed into multiple pairs of gloves, trying to hold onto an axe and make it work in a way that will save your life. It’s not pretty, it’s not an average holiday, and yet we spend weeks of our lives to seek out high, frosty, deadly places to climb. Why? Perhaps in a world which is both easier and harder, the immovable presence of a mountain gives you a benchmark to pit yourself against, to measure yourself against the forces of nature and find out who you are and what you can achieve. As one of the lads said in the safety of basecamp last night “If I can do what I did, and go through what I went through up there and come out smiling, what am I capable of back down below in the real world?” Perhaps it’s that simple, mountains make me feel alive.
Sleeping My Way To The Top
We all spent months preparing for this trip, all in our various ways. Hiking at home, cycling, running, swimming, gym work. All trying to be fit enough to justify our place in the team. You don’t just sign up for a couple of weeks on a mountain, you sign up for a six month campaign of attrition. My own preparation was a nightmare. I travelled to Scotland in January to practice ice skills, shot off to Norway in February to get a taste for how to dress against the bitter cold, I ran, swam, cycled, and then I fell, badly. I needed 14 stitches in my knee, two month’s rehab and then 6 weeks frantic activity to try and get my weight down and my fitness back. In doing that, I pulled a lateral Meniscus in my ‘good’ knee. I’d blown it – I was heading off to the mountain overweight and with both knees in braces. I was feeling weak and feeble as we went through our
acclimatisation walks and ice-drills on Elbrus, waiting for the moment of truth. I had massive doubts. But I knew others had concerns too; there were worries about altitude sickness from the light air, lack of energy, reaction to food, concerns over gear, how cold or warm would we be on the mountain. We all had our niggles and worries, and the team pulled together and reassured each other as best we could. Finally summit day approached with Pat our expedition leader and Artem our Russian guide locking heads over weather patterns and forecasts for the days ahead. The weather was difficult and local knowledge vital for interpreting conditions on the mountain. But we had worked hard as a team and acclimatised well, with walks up to 5,100m, and sessions practicing ice skills and ice-axe arrest techniques on the surrounding slopes. We were strong and we were ready. Despite a storm blowing with thunder and lightening just minutes apart and wind shaking our flimsy hut, we finally got the word that we’d go the following morning. Maybe.
We checked our gear and then prepared for an easy day. I slept. I ate breakfast, prepared my pack and clothes for the summit, and went back to bed. We had lunch in the communal hut and discussed the weather and the chances of going and then I went back to bed and slept again. We had our ‘last supper’ together as a team and I went back to bed, rolling into the row of mattresses that I was sharing with 7 other people, and slept again. I knew I had trained all I could, eaten all I could, hydrated all I could, doubted all I could, prepared all I could, now all I had left to do was rest all I could. In my mind, I was ‘sleeping my way to the top’.
“At 4am with temperatures of -20 and 35k winds, when the cold punches through your ‘top of the range’ down-jacket like a bullet through paper – you know just how fragile you are.”
2am had come and gone and the team thought the trip was off. But two hours later the call went up. With remarkable skill and daring, Pat and his local experts had spotted a weather window and the game was on.
Tumbling out of the heavy sleeping bag and silk liner, pulling on my extra layers, my ice-breaker vest, and favourite Columbia Teflon top and leggings, I add another precautionary Blisteze patch to my heel, before powdering my feet and double socking. Next my heavy double-boots go on, with gaiters to keep the snow out, Gortex waterproof layers, down jacket, balaclava, hat, gloves with liners under mitts, goggles, head torch, hiking poles, ice-axe. Moving heavily I tie on my 12-spike crampons and finally swing my rucksack onto my back, with food and nearly 2 litres of water. I’m ready to follow the team out into the darkness, into the weak, golden pools of light from our head torches, as we leave our camp behind.
Magic Peaks Around the Traverse
At 5,100m the air is light and my lungs screaming for oxygen as we begin the long traverse under the East Summit of Elbrus. I wonder if my mind has been playing tricks because I’m sure someone said this was a gradual slope. Nothing felt gradual about the incline pushing up against my feet. But in the cold, against the wind, and with the effort of each step, I’m suddenly reminded of another reason I love mountains. The life giving sun begins to dawn, casting pink fingers across the waves of frozen landscape, merging with mountain and clouds and me. The incredible beauty of nature. Off in the distance across the deadly slope I’ve been trying to avoid noticing; the shadow of Elbrus is cast pyramid-like against the surrounding mountains. It’s like a scene from the movie ‘The Summit’ when the awe-inspiring and deadly K2 casts it’s shadow across into China. I thought views like that were only for the silver screen and now I’m seeing the same effect here, with my own eyes. The sweeping beauty all around embraces me and warms my soul as the team push slowly forwards against the spindrift as the 35k winds throw surface snow against our faces, driving temperatures as low as -20.
We reach the ‘saddle’ between Elbrus’ iconic twin peaks and the game changes again. The sun’s up and blasting us with her fiery UV rays as the cold winds continue to hammer us, trying to steal fingers and toes. We rest briefly, then rope up in groups of 4, before tackling the next steep incline. The hardest part of this gruelling challenge is before us. The grail lies ahead and nothing between us, save this icy slope. “It’s a hill” I tell myself, as I push my shoulders forward into the wind. Ice axe in one hand, walking pole in the other, inching forward. I ignore the cold, the wind, the sun. I’m telling myself I’m in the Galtee Mountains back in Ireland with my training buddies Tony Nation and Karen Hill. It’s my pace and we’re pushing up Temple Hill. One foot in front of the other.
Falling Off The Edge Of The World
I’m kicking into the snow and ice with my crampons. I’m
thinking of technique, thinking of efficiency. I feel like dragging my feet forward but know if I don’t use the spikes to connect, my foot will slide and I’ll have an energy sapping jerk, pulling at my sore knee and forcing me to take the step again. So it’s slow, steady, and precise. The familiar mountaineer’s step. One clear stride, resting on your straight leg before kicking forward again with the alternate foot. One of our guides, Sasha, had been talking to me about pressure breathing. Forcing air into your lungs at altitude, without shallow breathing or hyperventilating. So again I concentrated. One step, one breath. Although I felt I was double-timing. Breathing two deep breaths per step. But I wasn’t stopping. I was still moving forward and that was the key. You eat these mountains bite by bite and step by step. I was up front in a line of 4, and occasionally, I’d shout back down the line “lads we have this, lads this is ours , we’re not going back now” and the shouts of encouragement coming back up the line gave me new energy to push harder.
Finally the slope evens out to one last platform before the final summit up ahead. So close I feel I can reach out and touch it. The rest of the team are already there, spread out in bunches of four. Either back in the dip or just dropping down from the summit. There’s breathless congratulations and high fives and reassurances that the summit is just 10 minutes away. The ropes are off, rucksacks abandoned, and we four are on our own again for one last pull. I’m last, but I don’t care, I’m exhausted but I don’t care, I’m sore but I don’t care. I’m having this. I’m taking this. There is no way I’m not going to reach out and grasp this now. Crampons in, 12 points in, push and breath, breath and push. Step after step, lungs screaming, legs screaming, soul soaring. I’m steps away from the summit and I hear some of the team shouting encouragement across the wind. I find new energy and double-time my steps as I pull myself up to stand at the top of Europe. Against clear blue skies, in bright sunlight, I turn around 360 degrees to take in the view, and with a catch in my throat, I slowly realise that TeamElbrus have made it. I’ve made it. 5,642m (18,510ft) the summit of Mount Elbrus.
Never Say ‘Never Again’
Later, much later. We’re eating lamb kebabs, drinking local beer and reminding ourselves of the journey we’ve made, both alone and as a team. I’m making my new buddies promise to remind me, never to do this again. So hard, so tough, so demanding and time-consuming. I’ve had it with mountains. I’m no adrenalin junkie, I know when I’ve had more than enough. I’m off trekking in Spain in October with Travel Department but that’s not about endurance, that’s a holiday. Gorgeous 10k walks in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains before heading back to a lovely rural hotel to cool off in the pool. Now that’s civilised. I’m looking forward to walking in Spain. I’ve never done that before. Of course I’ve been walking in other hot climates so I know what to expect and what to wear. I loved hiking in Africa. I climbed Mount Elgon in Uganda before cycling a couple of hundred kilometres over to the Nile to kayak down some white-water rapids. Phyll and Joe from TeamElbrus, they love Africa too. They’ve climbed Kilimanjaro – an amazing mountain they tell me. You know, after Elbrus, and Spain in October, I’d be well fit by next year. Kilimanjaro huh? well maybe just one more mountain….
William ‘Wildfire’ Shorthall
Mick ‘The BIC’ Byrne
Brian ‘Lazarus’ Gallogly
Joe ‘The Snapper’ Byrne
‘Doc’ Phyll Blake Byrne – (My Little Star)
Paddy ‘The Hat’ Lonergan
Noel ‘The Beard’ Garrahan
John Paul ‘Glow in the Dark’ Murphy
Shane ‘I can’t breathe but I’m still coming’ O’Toole
Teena ‘Never Again, Maybe” Gates
Guide; Irish & Worldwide Adventures’ Pat Falvey
Chief Russian guide; Artem Rostovtsev
Time to Get Serious
The team all have their gear packed and we’ve just had our last breakfast in the luxury of our Cheget Base Camp at 2,000 metres.
We move up the mountain this morning and will make base at new camps above 4,000 metres as we move forward towards our summit attempt.
I may not be able to post for a couple of days as there is no wifi signal on the mountain. But my buddy @averillarke has agreed to post updates on my behalf if I can reach her by text!
My main priority now is to try and speed up my pace. I have the endurance, I’ve acclimatised well, and my knee is getting stronger every day. It’s a question of fitness and being able to push as fast as I can through the snow without getting exhausted.
The team have had some minor issues acclimatising, some headaches & a tummy bug, but overall they’re in really good shape and we’re all excited about what the next few days will bring.
Thanks for all your good wishes. Tell the Karma chiefs that we’re looking for fitness, health, acclimatisation & a weather window, in the hope of making a summit bid towards the weekend.
“Ya know, we’re not walking at your pace – we’re walking at the team’s pace”. That’s what Greg Mulligan said to me, as we were coming down the mountain today. He was talking about our latest day’s training in preparation for climbing Mount Elbrus. He’d read my recent blog about my ‘Walk of Shame’ when I got pulled up to the front of the line, because I was slow. Now he was putting me at ease about the pace, and I just thought what a lovely thing to do and way to do it. I’m definitely going to put my back into it even more now. I don’t want to let the team down. That’s what we are you see, we’re TeamElbrus and we’re going all the way.
All the way today, was up in two cable cars and one chair lift, all the way to the snow line, high on Elbrus. The target was to get up into that thin air and accelerate our altitude training, while getting used to all the high-altitude gear. For some, it was a new experience to walk in the heavy, rigid-soled boots. These will protect us from the cold on the ice further up, but take a bit of getting used too. TeamElbrus coped well, walking from the last cable chair lift, up past the Barrels, and towards the huts where we will be staying tomorrow night. The Barrels is the name for a series of barrel-shaped huts, that high altitude climbers use as a base camp for climbing to the summit. There a series of hut-type bases along the mountain’s south side, that offer shelter to mountaineers looking towards Elbrus’ volcanic twin peaks.
We reached just under 4,000 metres today, moving up through the snow at a steady expedition rate. Kicking in and moving upwards, one step at a time. I assumed my now usual position up the top of the line, but I didn’t feel stressed today. My breathing was regular and I reckoned I could have kept that pace up for hours. That’s a really good thing – because on summit night, that’s what we’ll have to do. We could be 13 hours out on the ice. But that’s another day’s work.
The pictures here are: the girlies (me & Phyll), a Greg & me ‘selfie’ in the cable car, and me & Will walking through the snow. The shots are again by Joe, who’s rapidly becoming the ‘team snapper’.
The team handled the altitude well today and even had a dance with a bunch of Russian climbers, out on the ice. For anyone who’s travelled before with Pat Falvey Irish and Worldwide Adventures; you probably have an ‘Aroo-chi-cha’ idea of what went on. The all-girl Russian team were suitably impressed with our musical skill and our lovely strong men with ‘size 12 boots’. I thought the ice all around us would melt and run off the mountain right there and then. But the girls were swept away by a man in a snow plough and our lads had to settle for cheese sandwiches and a baby cucumber before turning back downhill.
Tonight at dinner we’re expecting a major briefing to determine the next few days. It’s time to leave our low mountain base and pack up all our gear. Tomorrow night, we’ll be sleeping on Elbrus.
Tomorrow we get serious.
“I don’t like Mondays”
So the head games begin. I wake up this morning and two toes hurt, one finger hurts, there’s a spot of sunburn throbbing away at the back of my neck and if I concentrate really hard, I think I can detect some stiffness in my shoulders.
What’s really wrong with me is that I pushed a bit hard yesterday, I didn’t sleep as well as I should last night, and this morning I’m tired. That’s when altitude kicks your butt. Being tired let’s the doubt in, and small niggling worries become an avalanche of broken dreams. I need to put the lid back on Pandora’s Box and stop the mental checklist. Relax the mind, work the body, accept help when it’s offered, appreciate this beautiful country, realise how lucky I am to be here and get through this day.
You really get to know yourself on a mountain – and you really get to know your team when you have a bad day. Our acclimatizing walk this morning was up a gorge. We had no set height to reach; we simply had to walk towards the sky for 3 hours, turn around and come back. We started with a short bus journey to Elbrus Village and then began a short scramble up towards a trail, high above the river.
Phyll, the only other gal in the group, was right beside me, offering encouragement and telling stories to keep my mind diverted. Each breath was an effort so I didn’t have much to say in return, but I thanked her later. She’s a little Star!
When we got up to the path following the gorge towards the glacier, I noticed the group standing and waiting and then realised what was up. Pat was putting me up front with Artem our Russian guide and making me set the pace. Anyone who’s ever walked with a group knows what this feels like. To be called up the front, is to be the slow one – for me it feels like the walk of shame. On the upside, you’re walking to a steady rhythm just hard enough to be out of breath and it’s a great workout. But you also feel embarrassed and stressed and worried that you’re letting everyone down. I knew I had to shake the negative thoughts away and concentrate only on the job in hand ‘one foot in front of the other’.
For 3 hours I focused on keeping up and keeping going. I concentrated on the scenery and in not being scared at the narrow, crumbling ledges. When I really felt I would have to stop, I pretended I was a little child, out exploring and wanting to see where the river went.
The gorge is beautiful, roaring down below us, its bed cut deep into the hillside. The meadows we are passing through are full of alpine flowers and herbs that fill the air with scent and small black butterflies as we brush by.
Finally we cut through a pine wood and into open meadow, nearly tripping over a herd of chocolate brown cows and a bull all lying down in the purple flowered grass, basking in the midday sun. They paid little attention as we strolled by, until 3 horses up in the distance spotted the visitors and came galloping down towards us; scattering the cows, before losing interest with us and turning to jump and nip and play with each other. The cows lay down again, we passed by, and order was restored.
A little while later we settled on a sunny bank under the spot the glacier used to be. You can still see the gritty deposits, marking the extent of global warming, and its effect on these once icy foothills. Now the snow and ice is confined to the high peaks above the valley.
We had our lunch and stretched out among the flowers to rest, before turning back down the mountain. The hilly climb was even scarier on the way down, and Joe, who’s a Rambler when not rambling in Russia, was really helpful, guiding me down and giving me tips on foot-placement on the slippy, crumbling clay. At one point we were forced to push further into the bank as three local horsemen rode past on the skinny ledge. I gasped with amazement as I watched their narrow legs pick their way along the tiny crumbling trail.
We were now running ahead of storm clouds that had been gathering while we ate our lunch. Again, our hike ended with rumblings of thunder, before the heavens opened and we were drenched. I had waterproofs in my rucksack but I didn’t put them on. This rain was warm and I relished it. Darting down the last of the trail and laughing under the raindrops, I realised that despite the doubts of this morning, today was a really good day.
Today was tough. A 1,000 meter climb in 27degree heat, then back down to our base-camp in a thunderstorm. I was slow but the team stayed with me. They’re amazing, but I’ve got a lot of work to do before the big one #Elbrus.
On the upside, my dodgy knee held out great and I nearly ran down the whole mountain before expedition boss, Pat Falvey, told me to ‘cop myself on’ and mind my knees.
It was a 7hr round trip that brought us up to around 3,000 metres, but without the assistance of a chairlift this time. We’re still playing the acclimatisation ‘game’ – climbing high and sleeping low, to encourage our bodies to adjust to the thin air.
Our target today was a major focal point for miles around; a key observatory nestled high on the Terskol Peak in the shadow of Elbrus. We were looking across at it yesterday when we climbed Mount Cheget and I was secretly worried that I would never be able to make the distance. My personal target today was just to get there, and at least I did that.
I found the going really hard, a steep incline for over 4hrs up, and although it was cloudy, it was very, very warm. I couldn’t help but enjoy the route though, it was stunningly beautiful.
We head out across a noisy, flooded river; picking our way gingerly across a bridge fashioned out of old, discarded doors! We made our way across Terskol Village, through a heavily scented pine forest and into Alpine meadows, with spectacular carpets of flowers reaching up the mountain to the rugged volcanic slopes at the foot of the glacier. Along the way we saw something which must surely be a rare phenomenon – what seemed to be rainbow coloured aurora borealis shimmering under the cloud above Elbrus. The general consensus was that it was something to do with atmospheric crystals, but I’ll have to check that out.
We were hiking up to what Pat tells us is one of Russia’s main astronomical observatories, with telescopes operated by the International Centre for Astronomical Studies, Kiev. We paused briefly there for lunch before heading back down, storm chasing ahead of valley pounding rumbles of thunder and ‘Irish-style’ rain clouds.
One of my favourite moments from today was when we caught sight of a stunning waterfall on the way, which fellow climber Joe Byrne tells me is called ‘The Silver Pigtails’. It’s a natural feature with glacial ice water cascading down over a mushroom shaped ledge in the rock, forming a ‘cave’ behind. Walking under the curtain of water was like straying into a Timotei advert. You have no idea how good this natural shower felt after hoofing nearly a thousand metres up a mountain in 27degree heat.
Day 3 sees us back out again, but with predictions for more of that ‘Irish-style’ rain.
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My heart was beating fast and I found my breathing shallow as I marched up the road with Pat Falvey and the rest of the Elbrus team. We’d just been travelling for 24 hours, taking three flights from Dublin through London and Moscow to arrive last night at Chegret Village at the foot of Mount Elbrus, after a three hour bus ride from Mineralnye Vody. This morning is our first acclimatization walk. For several days we will be training on lower peaks, gaining and losing height on the mountain, to try and fool our bodies and help us to adapt to the thin air, and avoid the debilitating affects of altitude sickness. Symptoms include tightness in the chest and shallow breathing, in fact pretty much the way I’m feeling now, but its not altitude sickness I’ m suffering from, it’s sheer dread at what I know is coming next.
We are taking a chair lift, several in fact, to bring us halfway up Mount Cheget and I’m terrified. We arrive at the hut and Pat tells our Russian guide Artem Rostovtsev that I’m a bit nervous, and he offers to sit with me. I suddenly realise the chair sits two people and some of my fear eases. I’d been Googling chairlifts before breakfast, which probably wasn’t wise, and had been dreaming up all sorts of flimsy structures. This didn’t seem too bad, except you had to stand in front of it and then catch it as it came up behind you, jump on and chain yourself in, while being swept up the mountain, feet and legs dangling over the trees below.
Now if that still sounds scary to you, I’m glad – because it was! Much higher up the mountain we swung into another station and swapped to another chair that would bring us up even higher. This was a single car, so I had to brave it on my own. I got on, chained myself in, ignored all thoughts of falling off or the cable snapping and finally got brave enough to look all around me. It was beautiful. No noise other than the occasional crank of the metal cables above, and the distant roar of melting ice-water flowing from the glacier, sun warm on my shoulders, cooled by the mountain air in my face, flowers and forest below, Cheget Mountain rising above me and icy snow-capped peaks all around. To my right I could see the volcanic twin-peaks of Mount Elbrus, our eventual target, and it reminded me of the task ahead.
The chairlift brought us up to 3,000 metres on the mountain and we hiked and scrambled the remaining 400 metres and along a short ridge to the summit. What a reward, this beautiful country stretching out in front of us under blue skies and golden sun, surrounded by the Caucasus mountain range and Mt Elbrus, our challenge, the highest peak in Europe and one of the Seven Summits. Our first local summit under our belt, an easy hike with lots of help, but a great start to our acclimitization and a great introduction to the beauty of the region. We turned to go and I fairly skipped to the chairlift down, fear all forgotten…
I’m pretty much in the ‘lost and found’ category at the moment. When I decided to climb one of the Seven Summits, I was fighting fit and looking forward to training hard for six-months of mountain prep. The year started well, heading off to practice walking on snow and ice in Scotland in January, heading to Norway in February to play in the snow and check out my gear in some really freezing temperatures. I had a year-planner and Excel chart, all colour-coded, with gym, yoga, swimming, cycling, mountains… it was all going brilliantly and then I fell.
I cut my leg badly when I slipped on a rock, out running on Spinc in Wicklow. I got it stitched and thought I’d be back in a flash, but people wiser than me were proved right when I couldn’t really use my knee for the next 6 weeks. Even then it was a full two months before I could train properly.
In the meantime I was starting my own business which was great, but stressful and strangely lonely, because I am used to working in a big office environment and now I am based at home. They don’t tell you about that in ‘entrepreneur school!’ I was sitting at home; bored, sore, stressed and a bit scared – with a fridge sitting behind me and I’m sorry to say that I put on a couple of stone in as much time as it takes to pick up a sandwich! So with six weeks to go, I had to face loss of fitness coupled with carrying more weight.
I hope I’ve done enough. I kept practising my yoga while sitting on a chair and working out in the gym with my leg isolated from the routines, and I finally got back into the sea to start swimming again. I have worked really hard in the last month, balancing training against protecting my injured knee and losing weight. I also got a huge amount of help and advice from friends, colleagues and online through Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention Tony Nation from Pat Falvey Irish & Worldwide Adventures – who literally ‘walked the legs off me’ over the gorgeous Galtee Mountains in the last few weeks.
I’ve lost a stone, but I’m still overweight for my height. Training after an injury was a difficult dilemma to find myself in, with a whole range of advice, which came down to the same thing: “be patient and don’t overdo it”. It was deeply frustrating, and again, I hope I’ve done enough. I just do not know if there is enough in the tank to get me up that cold, icy, incline that will bring me to the top of Europe. I’ve lost fitness, my size 14 shape, and a bit of confidence. I’ve found friends, knowledge, insight, technique, and a new business.
The countdown is almost over. We fly from Dublin to London on Thursday, then fly to Moscow – and the big adventure kicks off on July 11th. I’ll be blogging whenever I have signal and power and I have a friend who has agreed to pass on messages if I don’t get to update Facebook or Twitter for a few days. I’ll report in full by July 25th.
This is the last time I am going to be thinking about fears or failure. Like Pandora’s box, I know I need to put doubt back under cover and lock down the lid. I am as good as I can be and that’s as good as it gets. I am off to climb Elbrus…. x
JuJu Jay has promised to take me running… his Mud, Sweat and Runners group has already brought me on a navigation course; and I keep bumping into Juju when I’m out hiking in the mountains. Last time, he jumped off his mountain-bike to give me a hug as all his mates disappeared over a nearby hill. Another time it was my turn to rescue him, when his dog got bitten by a tick. ‘JuJu moments’ just seem to happen when he’s around and everyone I know thinks he’s just great. When I think ‘Juju Jay’ – I think of sunshine, laughter and mountain air. So I’m delighted to invite this breath of fresh air to share his magic with you as today’s ‘guest blogger’. As Juju would say…. ‘Peace’ (Teena G)
As most of you know I am very passionate about Mountain running and other outdoor sports like mountain biking; hiking, power kiting, cycling and much more…. My love for running and sharing great trails with people resulted in my starting up some group runs, which proved so popular that the M.S.R Facebook Page and Website followed. That’s Mud, Sweat and Runners folks!
My runs can be from 5k to 50k, and I am hoping to do longer distances in future. Our group runs are not just great adventures but also happy times; sharing new friendships along with new challenges – as you can see from the gallery photos on the M.S.R. website.
We are a casual group with no fees and no commitments. The group gives the opportunity for like-minded runners to meet up and run together. Whether you are going for a 5k or a 5 day race, or just training for a particular event, you will meet people in the same boat. There is no need for ego or elitist mentality in our group. We are all equals, no matter what the ability.
Mud, Sweat and Runners is a great way for runners to partner up, stay motivated and stay fit. All running is done at a pace that is suitable to your own level of fitness. You are not obligated to stay or even show up every time and you can turn back at any point on the runs.
We teach navigation skills and pool information about training, nutrition, inspiration, adventures, and swimming; along with sharing knowledge about races and challenges and beautiful places to run, cycle or hike. If you are into pushing out even further into the great outdoors, we also have weekend mini-bus tours to beautiful places around the country.
The structure consists of a choice of two runs; 10 – 20k & 20-50k. We schedule Day & Night runs, and route suggestions are also very welcome.
Mud, Sweat and Runners is based in Laragh, Glendalough in County Wicklow, which is where we meet. So check out details for the next meet on FB or the M.S.R. Website, and let’s all motivate each other & stay fit!
I’m really proud of this friend of mine. She’s celebrating her 50th birthday this year by chucking off her clothes – for charity. Some people find nudity a breeze, others don’t and for my mate Averil Larke, this is an emotional journey which is a real challenge and a real tribute to both her, and the charities she supports. She’s doing all five of this year’s ‘Dip in The Nips’ for Irish Cancer Charities. Inspired by her bravery, I decided I’d also take the plunge, in Cork. But blow me, being starkers must have gone to my head, ‘cos I just did it again in Sligo!
When I say my friend is brave, I really mean it. Because dropping your clothes to the ground and making your way into the ocean in front of lots of other people can be a daunting experience. I swim all-year-round at Malahide in Dublin, so it’s not the thought of the cold that made me shiver in my flip-flops at my first ‘Dip’ in Cork. It was the thought of bearing my bits. I used to be 23 stone and I’m still overweight for my height, so I don’t have the best body image. The thought of putting it on display made me quite uncomfortable, and not for the first time. I posed for a nude art exhibition for Concern in 2012 and although I was pleased to do it and had no regrets, it was a really big challenge for me.
Surprisingly; I found the Cork Dip In The Nip absolutely empowering. We were very much protected from prying eyes as we ran to the sea, we got a countdown to the big ‘reveal’ and then scarpered into the surf as fast as long and short legs could go. There was an official photographer on the beach, the lads were up one end and the girls and couples in other separate spots, so it felt like a relatively safe environment. Once ‘under-cover’ in the water we splashed and laughed and swam through the gorgeous, fresh, salty, sun-kissed waves and felt almost high with the happiness in the air. Then I noticed the bodies. I wasn’t being voyeuristic in any way, but as we all left the water, we all seemed much more relaxed as we made our way back to our clothes. The startling revelation for me was that every single body on the beach was beautiful. I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t just mean that the emotion of the moment had got to me. I mean genuinely, that every body looked wonderful. Sun kissed and salt splashed – big and little, gravity pulled at everyone’s bits and their bodies swung around as they moved in a ballet of form, totally natural and totally ‘right’. Even the slenderest of ladies showed the effects of gravity; big or little, our bodies all ‘moved’. I suddenly realised, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to match my appearance to the flat, one-dimensional images, that we gaze at on TV and in print. But our bodies are so much more than that, we move, and sway and our muscles ripple and our bone structure shows and guides our form. We are so much more beautiful that what we can see on screen. You know when you try to photograph a beautiful sunset and you just can’t capture it – that’s the way these bodies seemed. It is a realisation that will hopefully last me a lifetime. Ladies we are beautiful.
Sligo saw both Averil and me back at full circle and taking our clothes off for charity again. It’s so important to raise money for cancer charities. We have all felt Cancer’s chilling touch in some way; our Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Husbands, Daughters, Best friends; Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But I also believe that the men, women and couples taking part in the ‘Dip’ are ringing a bell for all those survivors who have fought the brave fight and come out shining. Hair loss, operation scars, all beautiful trophies to having tackled the odds and won. Shining and strong and fair play to every one. This crusade to the water’s edge is a celebration of life; a gift of thanks and pride for the legs that carry us, and lungs that breathe and eyes that see.
If you want to join in this wave of love and support – register for the next ‘Dip in the Nip’ – there’s just one left this year, in September. Come and Skinny-Dip for loved ones, or for those you’ve lost, or for you. Whatever your reason, join thousands of others who have peeled off for the cause. Or help me fundraise. You can make a donation of any amount on the PayPal button below.
*Frances Muldoon Photography
“New Zealand?” “Nah, Australia mate”. I heard the soft Cork accent of my guide, Tony Nation, chatting to the tanned tourists as I bent down behind the car, to lace up my hiking boots, following the drive down to Mitchelstown from Dublin. “Damn, I always get that wrong” commented Tony “it’s like me going to Nepal and someone calling me English instead of Irish” he added. Strolling around from the back of the car I glanced at the walkers, taking in the scene. Greetings were exchanged and I casually faced our antipodean friends. “Australia?” I asked, with a glint in my eye. “Yep, that’s right” they replied in unison. “Ah, well I couldn’t miss that fine, distinct Australian accent.” A slight pause and the couple burst out laughing. “You were listening” they accused. Tony reaches to give me a clatter, falling just short of my ear. It’s the craic and easy friendship among walkers that helps make these adventures so special.
The Australian walkers checked a few local routes with us before heading for the hills and we were left alone, a group of three. Tony my friend and guide for the day, Karen Hill a fellow walker and Facebook buddy and myself. We head for Lough Muskry and hike begins. We’re chatting and catching up, and we set out at a fast clip on fresh legs. By the time we caught sight of the lake I was already feeling the pull. The sun was splitting rocks, I’m not used to walking in our rare Irish sun and I’d set off far too fast. Fortunately today was going to be a long day rather than a short sprint, so I don’t think the others minded when I slowed the pace a little.
I wasn’t sure of the route and Tony was being a bit mysterious, he was hanging onto his map and all I knew was I’d never seen this section of the Galtees before and I really wasn’t having much luck identifying the peaks around me. Look hard he said, what’s in front of you, what’s over to the right? I felt disorientated spotting what seemed to be Galtymore, with Galtybeg in front of it and on the left. From where I was standing they were the wrong way around, being used to climbing the Galtee’s ‘highest hill’ from the common ‘tourist route’ which is up the Black Road from the M8. Suddenly I realise I’m standing on the other side of the range. Tony had turned his mountain on its head. I grab the map and stare as I realise we are standing to the North of the Galtees looking across to the South. I’m a bit nervous about the distance we’re planning, it’s clearly going to be a loop because we’ve parked all the cars in one spot – but I can see from Tony’s chuckle that he’s planning another long one. Last week he took me from Temple Hill; across Lyracappu, Carraig na Binne, Sliabh Chois na Binne to Galtymore in a massive sweep across the range from West to East. I could hardly imagine what was on the menu for today and I was tired already after the quick march in to the start.
Off we go, veering to our left and heading to Fear Bréige our first summit at 724m – it was a steep pull up, but the warm weather had left the ground dry and easy underfoot. You could clearly see from the dried mossy soup, how boggy it can be under normal conditions. As we reached the top, I was feeling the heat and sweating hard, but we had a sloping recovery before pushing up to neighbouring An Grianán at 802m. From views of the lake, I was now captivated by the conglomerate ‘castle’ I could clearly see in the distance. Descending to O’Lochlainn’s Castle, both Karen and I were hungry for explanations and folklore from Tony – just as the midges descended hungry for all of us. Eaten alive is the best expression, as we battled to steal lunch while beating away the swarms of vicious little flies that were intent on defending their fortress and forcing us on. The ‘castle’ is a natural rock formation near the summit. A conglomerate of sedimentary sand and pebbles, formed long ago, in the same waves and ice that formed the corries and cliffs, carved out of this rich, red, sandstone range. The formation looks for the entire world like a cathedral or castle from a distance, and still looks eerie and out of place when you arrive at its weather beaten ledges. The temptation for a little bouldering on the rough rocks was too hard to resist, and we played for a while like kids in the sun, before moving on our way.
I’m midge bitten, glad of my sunscreen, amazed by the heat, and well aware that I’ve come close to the end of my two litres of water – so it was a relief to skip over Galtybeg (799m) and into the saddle before facing into Cush at 640m. I slowed to a crawl as I pulled up here, lifting my face fractionally to pick up the slightest breeze as I neared the summit. I am hoping to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia with Irish adventurer Pat Falvey next month, and Tony reminded me that a slog like this is something similar to the incline I’ll be facing there. I dug in and kept moving, although I felt it, and was painfully aware of how slowly I was moving behind Tony and Karen. My fitness still leaves a lot to be desired.
Cush is a gorgeous mountain and the panorama from the summit was worth the effort of the climb. Tony was working from his map now, as he navigated a route down a spur to get us off the mountain and through a wooded valley to bring us back to our cars. This is where my navigation falls apart and where I’m so impressed by those who are handier with a map than me. Tony predicted a hill, a river, a crossing, and a woodland trail; and they all appeared like clockwork on demand. I was furiously thirsty now and turned Bear Grylls when we reached the river; wading into the faster flow to fill my water bottle and drink hungrily, if somewhat nervously, thinking of the old, but still identifiable, sheep remains we’d seen littered across the mountain. Tony remarked that the water probably wouldn’t kill me before I had time to get to a doctor for an antibiotic! Comforting words indeed, but I’ll be adding a couple of sterilising tablets to my emergency kit in future.
We spent 8hrs on the mountain and it was absolutely beautiful, but my feet were glad to see the cars emerging from the trail, precisely as Tony predicted. Lessons learned? I was glad I wore sunblock and midge-spray, glad I wore my lighter boots, wish I’d brought more water, will definitely bring sterilising tablets in future on long, hot hikes… and I really want to practice navigating so that I can lead to a point like Tony.