So the challenge was to climb the beautiful but often brooding Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain at 1.039Mtrs/3,123Ft. But in fact, my climbing and Concern/Uganda buddy, Vera Baker and I were to summit two of the highest peaks in Ireland, in just one day.
Along with a group of close to 60 walkers we approached this weekend’s Concern training walk with a certain amount of trepidation. Both Vera and myself were aware that we were a little deficient in training times for this big climb. It wasn’t due to any laziness or lack of organisation on our part, but we had needed to devote time to learning to Kayak and building up miles on the bikes for our multi-challenge adventure in Uganda for Concern this November, and getting out on the hills had suffered as a result.
Today we would find out exactly how much work we had to do. The route chosen for the climb is considered to be one of the easier, or at least ‘safest’ ascents to Carrauntoohil. We were staying on a completely different side of the mountain to the much talked about ‘Ladder’ route, which was badly eroded, and had been turned into a virtual river of mud and rock in the recent rains. With such a large group, a solid route was vital.
This was Vera’s first attempt at Carrauntoohil, and though I am a familiar visitor here, this approach from the West side of the mountain, was a first for me too. We drove up in pouring rain, resigned to a long, wet and misty hike – well wrapped up for the weather and determined to enjoy ourselves despite the wet and damp and the lack of views. Our walk began by following The Hydro Road, presumably named for the resevoir that we shortly passed by, and after a while we realised that the heavy rain had been replaced my a light mist. I joked to Vera that my iPhone App which had defiantly been declaring sun all morning, might in fact be right. I didn’t for a moment believe my own humour, as the long range forecast had confirmed the rain was down for the day.
After an initial sharp climb on road, we made our way for close to an hour across steaming bog and took a break and food, before bracing ourselves for the sharp ascent to summit Caher Mountain, we were about 45 mins away from the top of Ireland’s second highest peak at (1001 m/3000 ft). Reaching the Summit and congratulating Vera, we discovered we needed to wait on top for the group to catch up, I hurriedly fleeced up as the gusting wind whipped around my gortex shell, chilling me extremely quickly.
Caher Ridge was the next challenge. The spiny, winding, dinosaur tail that stretched beyond into the wildness of the Kerry landscape before sweeping up to our most majestic peak – our final destination – Carrauntoohil. Stepping down the exposed narrow descent from Caher Mountain to the ridge was not for the faint hearted, with severe drops falling away to our left. However the mist which had spoiled our views up to now, proved to be our friend – masking the depth of the fall on either side, and allowing those with a less than even head for heights (me) to make our way through, in blissful ignorance of what lay below. Although I’d been in these hills long enough to know instinctively that careful footwork was a wise precaution! As we gained the more level passage of the ridge itself the wind magically gusted the mist away and we grasped an emerald flash of green – swept away in seconds, before other climbers just seconds behind us, had a chance to raise their heads. This ‘peek-a-boo’ through the mist continued as we made our way along the ridge, gasps of amazement, foiled by almost instant sighs of regret as the views disappeared – cloaked again by the cloud, as it played out its burlesque peep-show for the climbers making their way to the summit.
And then we were there. We’d been speeding up for the last 15 mins with the huge iron cross that marks the highest peak in Ireland ever-present as conditions continued to clear, drawing us closer to it, faster and more confident. We’re laughing and congratulating each other, as our group of 40 climbers pass through a descending group of around 20, as we embrace the summit in bright sunshine, with superb views in all directions. I’ve been up here often enough to know how lucky we were to see conditions clear like this, and I congratulated Vera on her first, highly successful Carrauntoohil summit.
Lunch with Vera has to get a mention here – this is the only time I’ve had a multi-grain salad with a chocolate mousse on top of this mountain – and Vera can take care of the lunches for ever into the future! We were the envy of the mountain, and I apologise to all those who salivated at our fare! Food played a huge role in our climb. There was more stopping and more eating than I’m used to – because of the size of the group and the need to keep us all together. I found it difficult, because I’m used to plodding off and up and getting there, without breaks – and I found that halting my progress and getting cold was more difficult for me. But I’d never climbed in a group this large, and I learned a lot about managing a large number of people in uncertain territory. The leaders were skilled, confident and cheerful, and I’m hugely impressed at how they kept us all moving as one. We made it up in 4hrs 15 and heading back across the ridge the way we had come, it was close to the same to come down.
8hrs is a long time on the mountain, but apart from a few stiff ankles and general tiredness, we were in pretty good condition. It was a good day, we tested ourselves well, and we learned a lot. Not least, we learned that we haven’t done nearly enough to prepare us for climbing the extinct Volcano, Mount Elgon, in Uganda this November. So it’s back to the hills and back to our lovely Spink Mountain in Glendalough to step up the hiking part of our training regime. We’ve got about 6 weeks left. It’s enough. Perhaps we’ll see you out on the hills this weekend?…