Today kind’ve hurt the body, but fed the soul. But I knew in advance it would be like that, and it was a glorious day in the snowy Wicklow hills. I’d been sick and my fitness left a lot to be desired, but the snow was here and that was just too good an opportunity to miss.
A group of hardy hikers, we set off from the Glendalough Visitors’ Centre, trekking through the parkland then across the carpark and back out to cross the road, and then simply headed up into the woods in the direction of the snowline and the Camaderry summit.
The first incline through the trees was pretty steep and pretty slippy, and I danced over my boots, carefully picking where I placed my feet to avoid an unexpected slide. My breathing was pretty rough, a witness to my lack of presence of the hills lately. My dodgy knees felt well though, although I was using sticks to help them and I could feel the tension in my shoulders from the poles and my rucksack. But as we found our rhythm, old muscle memories came back and the skills picked up in the hills in the last couple of years kicked in. I shortened my stride, relaxed my shoulders and lifted my head a little to help the air to reach my lungs. I’d forgotten how good this felt, when your body lines up with your mind and works as a team, at one with yourself and the mountain around you.
As we reached the snowline, the chance of slipping eased and the new challenge was to step over the deep snow and into the footprint of the climber ahead. The snow was 9 inches deep in places and the joke was who would come looking for me, 5″foot tot that I am, if I completely disappeared in the snow. Such sympathy and empathy from my climbing buddies!
We got the ‘science’ along the way from Everest Summiteer Ian Taylor and Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel. As we got higher, our boots crunched through hard-crusted snow to sink deeply to the ground below. The height and cold was freezing the top layer of snow, and the lads explained how layers of soft and frozen snow can build, become unstable, and depending on the incline and what lies below, can cause an avalanche. But not today in 9 inches of snow in Wicklow. Thankfully.
As we left the treeline the mist cleared and gave spectacular views across Glendalough. I always think views like these are the reward for the hard slog, but you don’t always get them, and that makes them extra special when you do.
Within moments the snow had descended again and we pushed on towards the summit in a white-out. I’m always hugely impressed at the skills of people like Ian and Ronan, who can unerringly find their way to a chosen point regardless of the weather and visibility. I’ve got my MS1 and should be able to navigate, but I’m not; mainly because I’ve been too lazy to practice. That’s something I must tackle this year.
On cue, the stones that mark the summit, pushed up through the snow covering them and the mist surrounding them. Time for snow angels and lunch, as we grab fleeces and layer up. So quickly the chill sets in when you’re not moving and before long we were striding out again, back towards the treeline.
Today wasn’t a long hike and it wasn’t a particularly hard one, but it was hard for me. I wasn’t panicking about that though. I haven’t been able to exercise properly for nearly a month, and I realise that it’s natural to expect a lack of energy after surgery, a fever, and weeks of drips and pills. The main thing is that the mountains haven’t gone away and there’s a whole year ahead to get fit and strong again and enjoy these hills and others.
Today was a very good day.
I’ve just finished my last procedure at Dubin’s Beacon Hospital after my Kidney Stone drama over the New Year… and now another ‘beacon’ is calling me. The lure of my mountains is proving almost irrisistable. I sometimes can’t understand how I spent over 40 years on this planet without realising how much I love the hills and how good and strong they make my spirit feel. I may not be physically at my peak right now, but I know that a day out there – regardless of weather – will renew my heart and mind and shape me up for the weeks ahead. I’d hoped to head up Lugnaquilla tomorrow (Leinster’s highest peak), but the roads are icy and as the rescue services are busy enough the hike’s been changed to the more easily accessible Glendalough, climbing Camaderry and Turlough Hill. It’s still a 5/6 hour hike, and will probably push me a bit after weeks on drips and painkillers etc.. but I know in advance, that however hard it is, it will be good to be back. 🙂