A MAN WITH A PLAN:
I lost a pound and a couple of inches off my hips last week, which was week 3 and my third weight loss in three weeks – which has a bit of a ‘Power of Three’ ring to it.
I could actually have done better, but I strayed off the plan midweek after losing the will to live while knocking out some 4am starts for work!
Still I’m heading in the right direction and that’s a good thing, because I don’t want to incur the wrath of ‘the man with the plan’ – Irish Defence Forces soldier and sniper, Peter O’Halloran.
My PPT Fitness & Nutrition plan for this week is simple… increase the water intake, keep eating the right food, and get some consistency into my exercise. I had a tonne of exercise at the weekend, but I had a sore bum for my trouble…
I had a chance to join a bunch of gals cycling along the Greenway in Waterford at the weekend, which was brilliant and definitely something I’d recommend. For some reason though, I rented a bike instead of bringing down my own and I paid for it with a bruised bum. I’m sure if I wasn’t carrying an extra 8 stone it wouldn’t have mattered, but after 10k the unfamiliar saddle was making itself felt, at 20k I was no longer able to sit down, and at 25k, I was calling it quits at the halfway mark and promising to return again another day. In fairness to myself, I had actually woken up at 5am on the morning of the cycle with a tummy bug, so the universe had rather stacked the odds against me.
On this occasion I don’t regret bailing out. I’m not normally a quitter, but I was too uncomfortable to enjoy going any further. This way, I loved what I saw and I’ve got something to look forward to achieving in the future. It was really good to meet up with the girls too and it reminded me how much fun we lot had, hiking out in the hills together. That’s something else to start doing again.
HARBOURING A CHALLENGE:
The rest of the weekend was taken up with the world of swimming and kayaking. I was helping out with some social media for the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Race, as part of the Leinster Open Sea swim series,. My Lough Erne wingman Stephen Turner was back out on the water doing rescue cover for the 2.2k swim course, which sweeps out across the mouth of the harbour. It was a stunning day, flat calm, hardly a jellyfish in sight and even a burst of sunshine from time to time. It was lovely to bump into so many of my swimming friends and kayaking friends, and the atmosphere was really fun and uplifting.
Everyone kept asking me why I wasn’t swimming, and I confessed that I’ve always been quite nervous of the Harbour Swim. It’s a big swim, with big currents and frequently choppy swells out near the harbour mouth. I really am in awe of the swimmers who finish the course, not to mention the elites who carry handicaps of up to SIXTEEN MINUTES before setting out after the rest of the field.
I wouldn’t have to win it of course, I’d just have to complete it. As quite a few people pointed out to me yesterday, I can no longer use the excuse that the distance is too long, after managing the 5k Lough Erne solo in Eniskillen a couple of weeks ago. So I guess I have just selected my first challenge for 2018!
There is this wonderful moment when your hand runs across warm, rough, weathered rock – your skin listening carefully for every bump and hollow; fingertips seeking out small imperfections, your roadmap to the sky. It’s like an artist, lovingly running sensitive hands over a beautiful sculpture. There’s a naked, raw, powerful beauty in the moment. A bond, forged in sunlight, wrought by nature over thousands of years.
I felt none of that. I’m sitting at the foot of a rock in El Chorro, Andalucia, Spain. The scenery is stunning, the team of climbers are funny, enthusiastic and helpful, the instructors knowledgeable and supportive. For the moment I am happy to let the gang burn off their climbing fever and head for the first ‘routes’ that go up; while I enjoy the view.
There is lots to enjoy. It is our first morning in Spain with Wicklow based company Giddy Gally Adventures. The rain that greeted our arrival in Malaga Airport yesterday evening has blown away to blue skies and warm sunshine, coaxing fragrant perfume from wild sage and lavender that is growing all around us and waving out plumes of scent in a gentle breeze.
Dane Galligan (El Boss) and the ridiculously talented Lloyd O’Mahoney are lead climbing and setting routes on the bolted rock, while I’m basking in the morning sun. See how I did that? how technical am I? If you haven’t climbed before, let me explain. If you have climbed, skip the next paragraph or read on and forgive my humble attempt at explaining the basics of sport climbing. My example is just a rough sketch and should on no account be used as a manual for setting up a climb!
Sport Climbing involves climbing on ‘bolt-protected’ routes
There are several different types of climbing traditions and purists who prefer each; and some who love all. Here in El Chorro with Giddy Gally Adventures, we had signed up for a week of ‘sport climbing’ – which is climbing on routes that are protected by bolts already drilled into the rock. Dane and Lloyd would ‘set’ a route for the rest of us, by ‘lead-climbing’ up a line of bolts, ‘clipping in’ their rope to the bolts with metal clips or ‘quickdraws’ as they climb. Each bolt provides a protection in case they fall. The rope that runs through the clips attached to the bolts, is at one end attached to their personal harness that fits snugly around their waist. The spare end is run through a ‘belay device’ attached to the harness of their partner on the ground who feeds them rope and takes in slack wherever necessary. When the lead climber gets to the top, they clip on a safety, fix the rope through the top anchor and then climb back down, removing the quickdraws along the way but leaving the rope attached at the top – and providing a ‘top-roped’ climb for the rest of us.
Very soon there were 3 or four routes set and the fun began. Dane and Lloyd instructed us on safety and how to belay. Whether you were experienced or not, the lesson was interesting. There were extra hints and variations included, along with tales of climbing across Spain, snippets of history of Andalucía, and frequent bursts of Spanish from Lloyd, who has only been learning the language a few months, but to me at least, sounds like he’s speaking like a native. I love the gentle ease with which the lads get us up on the rock; working safety and instruction into the climb, without killing the fun and sense of adventure. Before long they notice I haven’t had a climb and I’m encouraged onto the rope. I am a bit nervous and my hands are shaking a bit, but everyone is really easy-going. There is no pressure, just a gentle enthusiasm and before long I’m tied onto the rope and looking around for my first toehold.
It was not a perfect union of rock and climber, more of a scramble with perhaps an occasional expletive. I’ve put on a lot of weight since I last made a roped-climb and I can’t help being pretty hard on myself. I have known the feeling of ‘dancing across rock’ jumping from toe-hold to toe-hold and finding the ‘invisible’ grips that the rock reveals the higher you climb. I just wasn’t getting that feeling, but it had nothing to do with the rock. The difficulty was all in my mind, because the more I compared myself to a previous model of me, the tenser I got and the less I relaxed into the rope and the rock. I knew this. I told myself this. I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax and enjoy the climb. I felt a flash of triumph when I made it to the top. I hung there for a few minutes, supported on the rope by my ‘belayer’ below, savouring the view for a while, before sitting deep into my harness, pushing off the rock and abseiling back down to the ground.
We broke for lunch, which was the first of many banquets to come at El Chorro. Giddy Gally Adventures brought their own chef with them from Wicklow, who quickly became known as Austin ‘El Cheffo’. We learned to stack our plate and then STAY AWAY FROM THE TABLE because it was so tempting to keep nibbling at the variety of tapas and salads and meats and cheeses….. a total delight and guaranteed to make your harness tighter for the afternoon session.
Piling back into the minibus after a long and leisurely lunch, we fought the desire to snooze and headed back to another ridge for another 4 hours of climbing. You can clearly climb all day here. We did – we climbed all week. But what I really mean is you can climb your heart out and still have climbing left to do. It is a climbers’ paradise. Warm rock, easy access, antiquity, culture, great food, tapas, wine and I haven’t even mentioned the prices. Heading off to the local taverna in the evening, I found it incredibly difficult to spend a tenner. Beer was €1.20, a glass of Rioja €1.40 and a clay pan of prawns in boiling oil and garlic, just €2.50.
Our worst prisons are the ones we build for ourselves
After the 2nd day I realised that my head was really getting in the way of my enjoyment. Instead of climbing all the wonderful routes that were being set, I was curling up in the lavender and watching everyone else. I was very happy, but I kept comparing myself to ‘the former me’ and ‘the climber I used to be’. I kept judging the routes and studying everyone else climbing, slowly convincing myself that I wouldn’t make it to the top and it would be too embarrassing to try. I worried about my weight, I worried about my belly pushing out over the harness, I worried about whether the belayer would be critical of how heavy I felt on the rope. Total rubbish, all of it. Nobody cared. Except me. Throughout my little ‘Princess and the Pea’ routine, Lloyd and Dane kept gently encouraging me to climb. There was no pressure but they never stopped making the invitation. Finally, heading back to the villa on day 2, I had a stern talk with myself. I knew the only thing stopping me from enjoying these wonderful rocks was me. So I decided to stop over-thinking things. I decided then and there in the minibus, that tomorrow I would climb the first route that went up.
Of course the first route that went up on day 3 was the most difficult one of the week. Isn’t life like that? There was an awkward start, there was an overhang, it was tough. But a promise is a promise, so up I went. I started up to the left of the route and got about half way, but couldn’t make it any further. I abseiled back down, but then I spotted another way and so I went back up along the right hand side. I still didn’t make it to the top, but abseiling back down I decided to have yet another crack and attempted going straight back up the middle. After three goes, I still didn’t make it past the overhang, but my gosh, I had certainly made it past my mind. With my mental block now gone, I was ‘rock and rolling’ all over the place. Yep, I was quite literally rolling all over the rock. I was leaping for cracks and jumping for gaps, and failing and slipping and having an absolute ball. All considerations for my poor ‘belayer’ below were gone; as long as he was hanging onto me and I wasn’t falling, I was having a whale of a time, not just feeling like one. I was dancing across the rock again – I may not have done justice to Anna Pavlova but I was doing a damned good Riverdance.
Eventually with my arms shaking and my knees knocking like Elvis, I gave up and came down. This wasn’t really giving up though. This was about giving it a go, your best go, having a bash, having a blast, enjoying every second of it and knowing that there’s plenty more where that came from. I learned a valuable lesson, which I’m pretty sure I had learned before, but somehow I had forgotten. We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, we should be afraid of never trying. Our worst prisons are the ones we build for ourselves.
The scariest walk in the world
On one of our climbs, we passed through a pine forest to reach a rocky platform high above three beautiful turquoise coloured lakes. From here we could just about see the Caminito del Ray or ‘Kings Little Pathway’. Once known as the most dangerous walkway in the world, this heartbreakingly high path has now been restored and runs along the cliffs that hug the lakes, created by a dam across the dramatic 200m high Guadalhorce River Gorge or ‘Garganta del Chorro’. The lads will also arrange for a hike along the walkway, which isn’t as scary now that it’s been restored. But it needs to be arranged in advanced, and as we picked the busy Easter Holiday weekend for our trip, we decided to give it a miss.
Over dinner back at the villa, ‘El Cheffo Austin’ told us how the old Malaga-Cordoba railway line that ran through the gorge, and sections of the scary Caminito walkway, were used in location shots for the 1965 adventure film Von Ryan’s Express. He pulled out his smartphone and tapped into the wifi to show us grainy black and white images of Frank Sinatra standing on the bridge, beside the cliffs that we’d been admiring earlier in the day. I remarked that I’d love to swim in the amazingly blue waters down below. Austin explained that they get their colour from the ice-melt that floods them from the mountains during the spring thaw, adding that they also keep their icy chill. Undeterred I was eager for a chance to get up close and personal with El Chorro’s ‘Lake District’ and the gang agreed with enthusiasm and laughter to head for the lakes the next day.
We climbed in the morning, then headed to the Gorge of the Gaitanes for lunch at a lakeside restaurant. Drooling sadly, I soon realised I had made my one mistake of the trip, avoiding the house specialty ‘BBQ Pork Ribs’ in favour of a ‘Salmon Skewer’ and fitting into my climbing harness. Now the salmon was good but a taste of the ribs confirmed what I already knew, Spanish pork ribs barbecued on an open flame and packed with fresh rosemary is not something that should ever be overlooked by dieting Irish girls. I suppose I will just have to come back.
In the afternoon, we climbed a couple of hundred stony steps down to the lake that I’d been longing for. Local people who had travelled back from the cities to holiday at the lakes for Easter, laughed with amusement as we got into swimming gear and headed for the crazy blue water. Only mad Irish people would dip a toe into water that cold. There were plenty of screams as we walked, tiptoed and plunged into the lake. It was cold. It was very cold. But it was amazing. Reaching long strokes out into the water, feeling the sun on my back and the crack of cold along my spine, I looked back at the beach to catch the looks of delighted surprise on the faces of other less crazy tourists! I swam laps across the narrow part of the lake, parallel to our beach, and I felt I could have swam there all day. It was an ‘into this world’ experience and remembering it will put a smile on my face for many months to come.
The following morning we were back out on the rocks and I had a chance to climb a route that the lads set up through a ‘chimney’ in the rock. In rock-climbing parlance, a chimney is a large crack in the rock that is big enough for a climber to slip inside, as they climb up a route. Chimney climbing or ‘chimneying’ brings with it a whole new style of climbing, from wedging toes and hands against the side and ‘squeezing’ your way up inside inch by inch, to ‘bridging’ or using your body to span the space from side to side. You can use elbows, shoulders, backs, every part of your body. It can feel quite enclosed and I was intrigued to find out how I’d feel, buried inside the rock, high up on a cliff. Somewhat to my surprise I found I loved it. I felt protected by the rock and went about halfway up this particular route, before I decided that things were getting just a bit too tight for me.
There’s another move in rock-climbing where you slide your hand into a crack and make a fist, like a kid with a hand in the cookie-jar. Your hand won’t release while you keep the fist, and the move is called a fist jam. I joked with the gang that I’d created my own move for this rock, a ‘boob jammer’ – I wonder if that’s been used before? Still grinning I let my belayer lower me to the ground and before long we were finishing up our last climbs, coiling our ropes, packing our harnesses and helmets and heading back to the villa for our last supper and final night.
A brighter, better, human being
It was a blow out. We arrived back to see ‘El Cheffo’ had been busy, with local rabbit and chicken broiling away on the bbq. There were salads, vegetable stir fries, home made burgers; it was a veritable feast. We ate outdoors beside the pool and I even had time for another swim. Later we went back into the local town for beers and a sing-song with ourselves and the locals which lasted into the early hours. Flying back to Dublin the following day, I could hardly croak my name, I had sung so much the night before.
It was a fine adventure and I’m definitely going back for more. Whether you are an experienced climber or a complete beginner, this is a trip of memories and I’m pretty sure that if you join the Giddy Gally Adventure boys once, you will repeat the experience again and again. I got a tan, I had a swim, I climbed, I learned something new about myself, I ate amazing food, I met amazing people, and I’d like to think I’ve made some lasting new friendships. Did they make me into a rock star? Yes, in my own mind they did and I think that’s where it matters most. I travelled back to Ireland a braver, brighter, better human being. How much more can you expect from an adventure? www.giddygallyadventures.ie
Our Giddy Gally Adventures team in El Chorro, Spain, were: L/R (below) John Morrissey, Szymon Sieraszewski, Dane Galligan, Luke Prendergast, Teena Gates, Ray Prendergast, Gemma Worrall, David Russell, Lloyd O’Mahoney & ‘El Cheffo’ Austin Galligan (not pictured)
I am not climbing Carrauntoohil today. I am in Kerry, I am in Killarney, I am staying at the Mountain Lodge of explorer, adventurer and mountain mentor Pat Falvey; but I am still not climbing Carrauntoohil today.
Pat has a group going up alright; all anxious and excited with crampons and ice-axes, in search of snow and ice in Curved Gulley. I envy them a little, but I am not going with them. I haven’t been on a hill for a couple of months, and halfway through a six hour hike in winter conditions is not the time to discover you’re not hill fit. Especially when you know the answer before you start.
I did get the invitation to join them though, and I couldn’t resist the lure of at least walking in to the foothills.
I had a late and sociable night, finally rolling into my duvet around 2am. When the alarm kicked up a racket at 7am it was still inky dark outside. I shivered, punched my pillow, and considered rolling back into the arms of sleep. A little part of me wondered ‘what was the point of joining the hike if I wasn’t going to climb the mountain’.
The smell of Continue reading
TEENA GATES: More than 20 Nepal earthquake survivors have died and thousands more have fallen sick due to the harsh winter that has gripped the Himalaya this Christmas. It will soon be nine months since the devastating quake that killed 9,000 people and injured 23,000 on April 25th 2015, yet thousands of Nepalese are still struggling to survive in unsecured tents and post-quake camps after their homes and villages collapsed. Two million children are starting this New Year without school, while their families struggle to find fuel to see them through the winter.
My friend; mountain buddy and long-time member of Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue was in Nepal when the quake struck. Ronan Friel’s guest blog takes us back to April of last year – when the world’s headlines screamed of the tragic events that had swept through the Himalaya. At the time, we all promised that we would not forget Nepal when the world moved on. Keep that promise now – and read Ronan’s eye-witness account from Everest, April, 2015.
RONAN FRIEL: A while back I was asked by a friend, Ian Taylor, if I would be interested in going on a trip he had organised. I was to go in the capacity of medic and guide. He knows my background well, as I had worked for his company previously and he vets all who work for him very strictly. Ian’s approach to the welfare of his clients is paramount. My background is as an active mountain rescue medic trained on rope rescue and all aspects of mountaineering rescue.
The plan for the trip was to guide a group of 22 clients to Everest base camp. The group then planned to split with a smaller group of 7 making our way up the Imja Valley to a peak called Imja Tse, more commonly known as Island Peak. We would all then meet up again back at Kathmandu. We would then have a few days of down time to see the amazing sights around the city. It would take 22 days in all from Kathmandu, to achieving our goal and returning.
We met all our clients and soon to be very good friends in Kathmandu in a lovely hotel called the International Guest House. We made all our introductions and went over a brief itinerary and route on a map just to give people an outline of what was ahead of us. As soon as that was over we went straight into business mode. We went through each team member’s kit. What to bring, what not to bring. Whether we can bring luxuries or practical things instead? chocolate or spare underwear? It’s a hard decision when it comes down to it. Ian then introduced me to the Sherpas that we would be working with for the entire trip. They were so nice in welcoming me to their country and hoping that we have a safe and happy trip. Little did I know how much I would have to rely on these few men for so much of the trip. I would consider myself competent in the hills with my abilities but these true gentlemen are on a whole different playing field. Dawa, Little Dawa, Ang Kami, Sonam, Tenbi and Purba, all of these men opened my eyes to what generous and caring people are. We were to leave for the airport at 5 am so we all packed our kit and retired for the night to be ready for our long journey in the morning.
When we got to the airport it seemed as if everyone with a North Face jacket had the same idea, it was organised chaos. Security and customs are a little more relaxed than anywhere else. Everyone was excited but also anxious. If you type Lukla Airport into YouTube it tells you that it is one of the most dangerous flights in the world. I’m a practical person so when I think about things that are out of my control I don’t let them effect my mind, what will be, will be.
After all that we landed at Lukla without as much as a skid, lovely and smooth. There were wonderful views all round of the Himalayas. The second I stepped off the plane, my jaw dropped. Everywhere I looked was a picture. I remember thinking I need to get another memory card for the camera if these are the views from the airport. We had separated into two groups in Kathmandu Airport so I was on the first flight with Little Dawa and half the group and Ian followed behind with Ang kami and the other half of the group. We all then regrouped in a lodge just next to the Lukla air field.
We got our kit together for the yak herders to take and set off up the trail to our first stop called Monju. It was a handy day, a sort of introduction day. Ian and me spread out through the group watching people’s water intake, speed of walking, any signs of needing a helping hand or just reading the group as to better take care of them. It was a short day but it was also a wet day. We were all saturated as we arrived into Monju. We arrived in to lovely cups of ginger lemon tea and milky coffee. It was our first night on the trail and in the lodges so of course the packs of cards got broken out and we all get stuck in to a few games. Everyone brought their own twist to the game. We agreed the game of the trip would be S*#THEAD, which I was called many a time after losing. We would all head to our cots around 8 or 9 to be up and ready by 7am for breakfast and out on the trail for 8. We always attempted to get up early, arrive to the next spot early and enjoy the rest of the day. It also means that if any problems arise we have plenty of light to deal with them.
The next day was going to be a long day. We were heading from Monju up the valley climbing all the time to Namche Bazaar where we were going to be taking 3 days for acclimatization. We would be going on different training hikes gaining altitude each day and coming back down in the evening. We entered Sagarmatha Park that day too. It was a great day; sun splitting the sky and the entire group were gelling nicely. We could see the friendships sparking already. I stayed at the rear as back marker to help or motivate anyone that was finding the going difficult. We always had fun at the back chatting and laughing the whole day along the trail.
We stopped at a suspended bridge along the way to take a break. We were all taking photos and rehydrating. Suddenly, one of the group stepped out of an oncoming porter’s way but inadvertently stepped off the start of the bridge area and down the side of it. I thought when I saw her fall off the bridge that it was lights out. She fell about 12 to 15 feet down into a ditch area rather than the 1,000ft fall just metres away. She had a severe break to her right ankle. As a mountain rescue medic I dealt with the injury and got her assessed and splinted. While I was doing that, Ian was organising an evacuation plan and helicopter evacuation. We also had a doctor and a nurse on the hike with us, so the casualty was in very good hands. We got her back up onto the bridge and then without any hesitation the Sherpas decided that they would take turns and carry her down to a suitable heli landing zone further down the gorge. As they carried her I went alongside protecting her ankle along the way from any more damage. We got the heli in and the casualty out without any trouble and got back on the trail. It was an experience that made the group realise just how things can go from good to bad in a split second. I am happy to say that despite suffering a severe leg injury our group member received excellent care and after being treated in Kathmandu flew home to recover and recuperate.
We headed back up the valley on towards Namche and caught up with the rest of the group and had a well-deserved lunch / dinner. The next day we all went up to a museum in Namche. We then visited a memorial to Tensing Norgay. There were amazing views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam all in one vista. It was truly spectacular. I took umpteen photos but after a while I just sat on the grass and let my eyes take it all in. It was for me one of the most beautiful views I had ever come across in my life.
The next two days were spent chilling out in the afternoons after small morning hikes. We all got to acclimatise well and were really fighting fit when we set off for our next stop in Tengboche further up the valley. The days were glorious with sunny mornings and with views that stopped you in your tracks every time you looked up. To our right the whole way up the valley, standing at an impressive 6,814 mts, was Ama Dablam. The mountain seemed to glare down upon us all day screaming “climb me”. Maybe it was just me but I may have fallen for her allure. She certainly could draw you in. I may have a couple of photos of her!
Tengboche up to Dingboche was a lovely walk traversing along the windy valley all the time gaining height. It was at this point that we started to notice people feeling the effects of the altitude. We were driving home the message to people to drink, drink, and drink (water, by the way! No Irish jokes!). A lot of the time it was down to dehydration and once we were taking in around 4 to 5 litres of water per day it helped immensely.
We stayed in Dingboche for two nights and we had an acclimatisation day with a gain of 400-450mts and then back down. That evening as usual we all sat around playing cards and chatting about the coming few days. Madison Mountaineering team happened to be staying in the same lodge and we got talking to Alan Arnette that night about his group which was heading for Everest and possibly with Lhotse included on the same climb.
The next day we all headed for Lobuche. As we got into camp, the weather changed with massive clouds rolling in along with a heavy dumping of snow. The snowfall continued all night. When we awoke there was a solid dump of around a foot of snow. It was unfortunate but after a lot of debating and discussion, Ian had to make the decision based on what was safest for the group. That decision was to descend back down to Pheriche and cancel going forward to Everest base camp. It snowed for a further 3 days after this. It was a tough decision but the safest and correct decision for the group.
The next day 10 of us broke from the main group and headed for the Imja Valley. We were heading up to Island Peak base camp. We stopped in Chhukhung for two days to acclimatise a little more and to pick up supplies for our summit attempt.
In the morning we headed for Island Peak base camp. The day was overcast but with incredible heat still getting through and reflecting off the fresh snow, it was very unusual. We were all worried that if there was too much snow it would put an end to our summit attempt. As we arrived into camp, Ian, Magda, Paul and I got to work setting our tents up and getting everyone settled. After this the Sherpa team had the brew on and we were all supping hot coffee and lemon ginger teas. It’s the little things that matter! That evening we managed to have 6 of us play cards in a two man tent, quite impressive if you saw the tents!
We had a full day of training the next day, firstly ascending the ropes using a jumar then traversing along the top using the same method and on to a descending line using a figure of 8 and safety line. We pushed everyone hard that day even when it started snowing and the weather got very cold; we kept pushing people saying that ‘if you can do it in this weather you can do it in any weather’.
The next morning we packed our tents up and headed for high camp. We wanted to get there just after lunchtime, get to bed, have some sleep and set off for the summit at 12.30 or 1.30 at the latest. It all went pretty much to plan and we were all en-route for the crampon point in good time and in high spirits. We got geared up with harness and crampons, and roped together to cross the crevasse field ahead. Ian asked me to go first and keep an easy pace and he stayed at the rear to keep a good eye on the team. We came through the crevasse field efficiently and headed for the headwall which is around 250 mts of 60 degree ice. Our lead Sherpa had made easy work of it and had gone ahead to fix our own new lines so we wouldn’t have to work with insufficient ropes that may have been damaged. The headwall really put us through our paces and really made us earn the summit which all of us, fortunately, got to sit on top of.
We then headed back to Chukkung for a well-deserved sleep after starting at 1.30 am. We finally reached Chhukhung at 7 pm the next evening. It was a seriously long day! The next morning I woke at 6 am to a very bad situation. In the midst of all the excitement I had overlooked my very cold feet and the next morning they were still icy cold. On closer inspection I discovered I had mild frost bite to both big toes and blistering on the toes on either side. Ang Kami, Ian and me discussed it and decided that the best course of action was to heli out and get medical care for my feet rather than walk out with the risk of more damage. I got a heli ride to the Ciwec Clinic in Kathmandu where I received excellent treatment. I got released from hospital the same day and went to the hotel to chill out and take care of my feet for 3 days while the others made their way out. It was unfortunate but hey I got a lift out and was at the bar before the rest of the group. I was a little frostbitten but what’s an expedition without a little frostbite!
The rest of the group got back after winding their way back down through every village that we had passed on the way up with a bit more pace and with the joy of having reached the summit of Island Peak. It was all relaxing and sightseeing from now on, once back in Kathmandu.
We all went out to a small village on the outskirts of town to see a load of skilled woodcraft artists and have a look at the monasteries. On the same day we went to see the monkey temple and it was lovely, really nice weather and a feeling of peace all around it. It was lovely and relaxing even though it was full of people it just seemed to have a calming effect on me.
The next day, Saturday 25th April, a few of us were going to do a bit more sightseeing and shopping in the local markets. Viktor and Paul were going to go shopping and then meet up with us in Dunbar square. Magda and me were going to go for a decent coffee and then visit the Sherpa shop before following the lads up to Dunbar square. All was going to plan till we came across this little local market and had decided to go for a closer look. Just before we entered we were laughing at how dangerous the roof looked from the outside. The market was of bamboo structure with plastic sheeting over the top and tyres in the sheeting to stop it blowing away.
I was shaking like a leaf and the ground was vibrating beneath me..
We were inside the market for just a few minutes when the earthquake hit. The market went completely black, a few moments before the shaking started. As soon as it started we knew this wasn’t normal and that we needed to get out of there. We had passed an exit on our left about 20 mtrs back and I grabbed Magda and we both made a dash for it. There was a lot of screaming and crying, it was surreal. When we got outside we followed a few locals that were congregating just outside in an open area but we were still surrounded by electricity poles and masts. I didn’t feel safe so we kept on moving and found a large square without any buildings and no overhead lines. I was shaking like a leaf and the ground was still vibrating under us. A local man came over to us and calmly asked if this was our first earthquake? He told us to sit down and wait, as there would be aftershocks. We sat for a while in complete shock finding it hard to comprehend what forces could move us like that. It was extremely frightening. After about 20 mins we decided that we should continue on up to Dunbar square as it should only be around five mins from where we were. We wanted to regroup and make our way back to the hotel. En route we had to take a minute to stop and sort our heads out, the adrenaline was still firing around my body in fight or flight mode and I couldn’t stop shaking or even think straight. Having Magda there helped to keep me focused. I had someone that I felt responsible for and that I needed to keep safe.
We continued up an avenue just down the road from Dunbar square when a second shock hit us. We ran down the road to an island in the middle of the road where a lot of Nepalese had gathered away from the buildings. We got talking to two guys on the roundabout/Island and they had told us that Dunbar square was completely destroyed and there would be no point in continuing up to it. We decided we would head back towards the city and assess the situation as we went along. It was complete chaos. Roads had split apart, buildings had been completely flattened; there were people crying and screaming all around us. One siren turned into two sirens until it just sounded like one continuous siren. As we were walking down we were passing a large park and it seemed like hundreds if not thousands were congregating in it. We continued on passing by fallen buildings and collapsed arches until the roads seemed un-passable.
It was becoming apparent this was a lot more serious than we thought…
Walking by the back of some shop or store room we noticed locals were buying water. We picked up some water not knowing how long we may be displaced. We had already been 4-5hrs without water or food. Both of us decided that we should go and sit in the park and try to contact our families to let them know we were alright and then try and contact the rest of the team. Luckily I got one call out to my family as did Magda. It was becoming apparent that this was a lot more serious than we first thought. We managed to get in contact with Ian and he had the rest of the team all together and safe. He was delighted to hear we were safe and well too, you could hear the relief in his voice! It was getting close to 4pm and we didn’t have any kit or gear to take care of ourselves if we got stuck out in the dark. We started making our way back to the rest of the group. Buildings were down all over the place. Every street we went down there was devastation and 100’s of people were wandering around in shock at what was happening around them. We kept feeling tremors, they were only minor but they still made us shake. When we got back to the hotel it was hugs all round, we were so lucky that the entire group were safe and uninjured.
That evening we put a plan together to get all our gear from the rooms one by one and set up a camp in the courtyard. Thankfully, our Sherpa Dawa came by later and was ok too. He and his son, Sonam, were uninjured. It was great to see them. He said he had tents that we could set up in a waste area out behind the hotel with nothing overlooking it.
We had our camp set up and it felt good to be out of the hotel. For the next three nights we stayed in the tents. We ventured out in search of any place serving food or hot meals and then returned to the hotel courtyard. We worried every time there was an aftershock. As we walked around the streets we started to see the amount of damage that had been caused. It’s quite incomprehensible how or where they will start to rebuild. If houses weren’t damaged, adjoining properties were, so they were still unsafe to go back inside. There were complete neighbourhoods absolutely decimated by the whole event. Outside the city was going to be even worse off. The houses weren’t as well built and the resources just weren’t on the ground to help. In the entire 4 days after the event we didn’t see one ounce of government help or aid to any of the locals and we were in their capital city. I could only imagine the damage and lack of resources outside the capital. The only help that was going on was from local to local! In the aftermath of the earthquake a shop that opened for a few hours a day still sold water for 25 Nepal rupees. They never raised their prices. There was no exploitation, no greed. It just shows the character of the people. I am convinced even when they have nothing they would still give you the shirt of their back.
I truly feel guilty about getting out safely. I know that I shouldn’t but I do. I feel for the guys that I made friends with and I worry about their families. They are truly the salt of the earth I cannot speak any more highly about them. I would give them the shirt of my back anytime! This tragedy will go to the back of people’s minds once the news stations decide to pick something new to report. What we do now will define who and what we are. It is human nature to help others, well I think it is and if there is anyone reading this that can or will help please do not hesitate to get in contact with me. RONAN FRIEL – email: email@example.com
If you can help, donate to https://www.facebook.com/golivillagetrust/ or your own preferred charity, but don’t forget Nepal in 2016.
We deserve a medal. 8am on Saturday morning and we’re pouring ourselves out of bed and into leggings and trainers. Elaine tumbled down the steps and across the road towards where I was parked and her expression mirrored my own. I burst into giggles as I caught her eye. ‘Water’. She greets me. ‘There’s a bottle in the back’ I said. Gunning the engine as she drank deeply, I laugh out loud ‘Oh Lord, what are we like? I was so tired this morning I couldn’t even face brushing my teeth’. ‘I’ve just drunk your water’ she replies. ‘That’s ok.’ ‘No, all your water’ she adds sheepishly, as we pull out into the light, early morning, weekend, Dublin traffic.
I’m bringing Elaine along to her first ever parkrun. I’ve been preaching proudly about parkruns for the past 6 weeks, ever since we first began our #Couch2Christmas challenge to run 10k for Aware. The parkrun is such a clever idea. You register online for free, print off your barcode, and are then welcome to participate in a timed 5k run in parks all over the world, every Saturday morning at 0930. It’s all organised by volunteers and the runners are a varied mix, ranging from walkers and joggers, right up to elite athletes. I’ve dipped in and out of parkruns for a year now, according to my fitness levels and I’ve always found a warm welcome, whether I’m running or walking.
We cut down along the Grand Canal and out onto the motorway heading for Celbridge, then turn off at Junction 6, in search of Castletown House. This is a new Parkrun and I haven’t been here before, but our coach, Irish Ultra runner John O’Regan had mentioned how beautiful the trail was. Heading up the drive towards the main house, I could see he hadn’t exaggerated. The stunning Autumn weather is amplified here, where the heavy woodland sweeps down towards the river. Gloriously green fields glow emerald against the copper gold of the trees that weep drifts of brightly coloured leaves at our feet. We park in front of the big house and as we walk away from the car, I feel guilty as if I am trespassing. We pass a groundsman who salutes us with a cheery smile and I stop to talk, surprised, because I had half expected a reprimand. It is the first of many welcomes.
Down to the start and a hug from run director Sharon Ashmore who explained the course and then announced our presence to the group of assembled runners; as Elaine and me stood mortified and wishing we’d stood behind a tree!
You don’t have to win to succeed..
To be honest I didn’t feel much like a winner as I plodded on towards the river. The trail was slightly downhill which helped, but I felt every ounce of the extra weight that I’m currently carrying.
As I watched Elaine’s long legs disappearing around the bend ahead, I felt a flash of envy. Then looking down at my stumpy little tree trunks, I decided that they’d have to do, and I grinned, as I ever so slightly extended my shuffle. The sound of the river renewed my interest. I looked off to my left and considered if I could get my kayak in there, and was still pondering the silver, gurgling, eddies of the river when I got to a bridge, and took a cheerful word of guidance from a Marshal to ‘look out for surface leaves’. I didn’t exactly need to slow down… but I tore my gaze from the shiny river to concentrate on the trail. It took a bit of concentration too, because there was a hill here. Focus, breath, step. A cheery Halloween scarecrow shouted encouragement as I headed into the hill. No I wasn’t hallucinating. This was the Marshal who had believed that instruction to wear fancy dress….
As I prepared to head out into my second loop, I swung out of the way of the flying feet of finishers, coming quickly up behind me. Their 5k was over while I was less than half way through mine. They were pushing hard for good times or PB’s (personal bests). I could hear their breathing, hard and heavy; but still they took the energy and time to call out to me ‘you’re doing great, keep going’. That’s the generosity of spirit that I’ve come to expect at parkrun, and I so admire it. It still quickens my heart to hear real athletes call encouragement to this huffing, puffing, red-faced steam engine, chugging up a hill. If they can believe in me, it’s so much easier to believe in myself.
I love mountains and I love to swim, but I rarely get to combine the two – until now.
I don’t consider myself a great swimmer, but when I start thinking about my watery moments, I’m suprised to see how much a part of me they are.
I’m not a great swimmer but I swim a great deal.
The Eastern Bay Swimming Club take to the sea at High Rock Malahide every Sunday at noon, and I join them when I can. This year I’ve been feeling Continue reading
Dreams really do drive reality in the very best of worlds… My guest blogger, Flora “the explorer” McKnight had a dream, which turned a doctor’s diagnosis into an opportunity; and brought her to another place and time. Read on.
I woke up in a sweat after yet another restless night. “I wish I was in the Antarctic” I muttered to myself while jumping out of bed to rush to stand in front of the freezer.
I showed all the signs and symptoms in my early thirties for “the change” but no doctor would test me. One doctor eventually trusted my instinct and finally, at the age of 38, I was diagnosed with peri-menopause. Many women who have suffered through or are still going through “the change” will understand that the night sweats are unbearable at times. Give me the moodiness or forgetfulness any day but please, not the dreaded night sweats!
So that’s how the journey of a lifetime began for me. As the sweats increased so too did my dreams of visiting Antarctica and as if by magic, a Facebook sponsored story directed me to New Horizon Expeditions website where they were organising a special once off trip to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Excitedly I clicked on the link and was completely drawn in. I had goose bumps reading about it and not only that but the date of the trip co-incided with my 40th birthday! Immediately I registered my interest and as soon as the information pack came back I knew that this was it, now or never, go for it woman, be cool! Booked, deposit paid, no turning back.
I had a year and a half to prepare for my trip. Slowly paying off lump sums, purchasing base layers, mid layers, outer layers, gloves, hats, ski socks etc. I even went to Finland to buy an extra warm down jacket in case I might be cold there. (Heaven forbid!)
Wednesday 28th Jan 2015. I stood at the agreed meeting point waiting for my fellow passengers and group leader to arrive. Now I can be a little bit of a worrier and so obviously thoughts started to enter my head like “what if this is a scam?”, “yer man has legged it with all my money”, “may as well go home now and hide in the fridge for 3 weeks”. Finally I spotted our group leader waving at me from the check in desk; drama over, take me to Antarctica!
Long journey to Buenos Aires for a two day stopover then on to Ushuaia (The End of the World) for another stopover and this was where we boarded our ship “The Ushuaia”. The build-up of anticipation from the airport right to this moment is indescribable. We had all waited so long for this moment and could barely contain our excitement. I myself shed a few tears but put it down to the dodgy hormones! Our leader kitted us out in magnificent “Shackleton 100” body warmers and matching hats. We were the envy of the voyage, everyone wanted one! We felt so special to be part of this wonderful expedition.
That “special” feeling continued as we slowly made our way to The Great White Continent via the notorious Drake Passage. Sea sickness comes in waves… Great, big, 30 to 40ft waves!! Some were affected more than others but luckily I was upright in the bar by later that evening drugged up with ginger capsules and dunking Jacobs ginger snaps in to my ginger tea! I shared a small cabin with a lovely German girl who obviously felt the cold more than I did and kept turning up our little heater full blast. As soon as she was asleep I would creep out of my bunk and turn it down again. This saga continued throughout the whole journey with neither of us commenting or asking “do you mind?” It was just the way it was and we were both happy with the set up!
As we cleared the passage we gained confidence in our sea legs and all were upright by the time a call of “ICEBERG, STRAIGHT AHEAD” could be heard from the bridge. We all rushed out on deck and sighted our very first iceberg in the distance. We were well and truly on our way South.
We made several landings over the next few days. Penguin colonies at Gourdin Island – Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie. We observed them go about their business picking up stones and feeding their chicks. Brown Bluff on Antarctic Sound was our first Continental landing and pretty special for all of us. Hydrugga Rocks, where we saw our first Fur and Weddell Seals. We sailed through the Lemaire Channel with views of massive glaciers on either side of our ship. The most spectacular scenery I shall never forget.
Our most Southerly point @ 65.15 degrees brought us to Wordie House on Winter Island. The house of James Wordie, Shackleton’s geologist, is kept as a historical site for the Antarctic Treaty system.
From there we moved on to Vernadsky, a Ukrainian Research Station. The station first discovered the hole in the Ozone layer! The station had a wee bar where a bottle of whiskey was produced and a rendition of “The little pot stove” was sung by Frank Nugent. (Mountaineer & explorer and member of the Irish South Arís – Irish Antarctic Adventure team which attempted to sail a James Caird replica lifeboat named Tom Crean from Elephant Island to South Georgia.) We were privileged to have him along with us on our trip.
Pleneau Island saw us zodiac cruising through hundreds of icebergs of all shapes and sizes while being chased by Leopard Seals! At Paradise Bay (aptly named) we cruised through the calmest of sea gazing at the huge glaciers all around us. I don’t think a word was spoken from any of us other than the odd “wow” and you could almost hear the gulps as people tried to swallow the lump in their throat.
A visit to the Argentine owned Brown Base, named after Irish born Admiral William Brown (creator of the Argentine Navy), saw us climb to the top of a snow covered steep hill and slide on our bums back down! A truly unique experience and yes, this was the day of my 40th birthday. What a way to celebrate!
On Deception Island we climbed a black glacier covered in volcanic ash. Walker Bay gave us our first sighting of Elephant Seals. Pendulum Cove saw a few brave souls take the polar plunge which of course I participated in!
Antarctica is often imagined to be a quiet, solemn, white continent yet it is far from that. The thunderous echoes of falling glaciers, the barks from the seals, the nattering from the penguins, the blows from whales, the many birds swooping overhead, the clear crisp icy blue of the glaciers, the aquamarine of the sea at the base of each iceberg, the browns and greys of the rocks, the black volcanic ash, the red from the krill, the pink from guana (penguin poo!) all contributed to the amazing sounds and sights of this wonderful, beautiful, inspiring Continent.
I feel privileged to have spent time on this unspoilt continent. Privileged to have spotted Orcas, a Skua attack and kill a penguin chick, a school of dolphins play beside our ship at night disturbing the phosphorescent in the water which gave us a transfixing display that can only be described as the Aurora of the sea. Privileged to have met some amazing new friends and to have gained a small insight to the harsh conditions our heroes Shackleton and Crean endured.
Did I fulfil my dreams? Absolutely. Did I fulfil my purpose? Absolutely. Well, if only for a short time during the polar plunge and sneaky behaviour with a cabin heater but never mind, life blows hot and cold ~
“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all”. Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Guest Blog by: Flora McKnight (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I love my body. Not in a vain, narcissistic way – but with amazement at the body’s ability to cope with everything life throws at it, and just keep on giving. This moment of introspection doesn’t follow any mad achievement or record-breaking feat. It follows a trip to the physio and the news that I’ve strained my Continue reading
I am now a week into the New Year and fair play, the resolution is holding steady. I’ve been open sea swimming several times, climbed a mountain at a cracking pace, walked and trotted around the first #parkrun of the year, resumed my swimming lessons at DCU and returned to CrossFit. I’m not crazy, just Continue reading
I don’t remember not being able to swim. That doesn’t mean I’m a brilliant swimmer or anything, it just means I’ve always swum for as long as I can remember. But I have to say, taking proper swimming lessons with Karl McEntegart at DCU has been a revelation and such a rewarding thing to do.
Over the last few months he’s been ironing out lots of little faults in my swim technique and showing me why I do certain things, and why some things are more effective. I had a long break out of the pool when I was off climbing mountains in Russia and Spain during the summer (tough life) but getting back into training this month, I found my split times were better than when we started and I was really thrilled with that. That’s progress.
Today was yet another Eureka moment, when we had a look at my Continue reading