climbing

Teena Gates – Rock Star?

IMG_2715There 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 IMG_2419are 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 FullSizeRenderthe 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 IMG_2565everyone 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.

IMG_2573Over 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 IMG_2597‘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)

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Second Spring on a Mountain…

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Love Heart Lake, Wicklow

I’m off on a new adventure and I don’t quite know the way. I’d grab a map, but I can’t seem to find a grid reference. Menopause is something all women experience ‘at a certain age’ and yet I can count on one hand the number of women who have ever mentioned it to me.  I’m now getting a taste of these life changes myself and I have a suspicion that I’ll be talking about it a lot! 

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Slievenamon sunset

No night sweats or massive mood swings as yet, but I’m definitely more scatty and forgetful than usual.  My cycle is shifting and I got hit with cramps and illness that sent me back to bed last Friday and robbed me of a trip into the hills with the girls. Very annoying.  

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JuJu Jay & friends, Mall Hill

Realising that my body is changing, I hesitated before posting about it on Facebook. I think I felt embarrassed, I felt perhaps I was getting old. The notion lasted all of ten minutes. A few hormones didn’t ruin my transition from chick to hen, and they’re not going to stop me getting my butterfly wings.  

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Vera Baker on Scarr

I am glad I decided to talk about it. Within the hour, my friends on Facebook had put me wise about nutrition, remedies like red clover and vitamin B, and I had been put in touch with a very uplifting website called www.mysecondspring.ie. A site dedicated to supporting and celebrating women entering menopause.  

I lost one day on the mountains, but that didn’t last long. I’ve had a wonderful few weeks; the 33k Walk The Line for Dublin Wickow Mountain Rescue, a beautiful full moon hike with MountainZone on Slievenamon, an 18k trek across the Wicklow Mountains with JuJu Jay and a lovely trot up Brown Mountain and Scarr with climbing buddy Vera Baker.  

IMG_2095.JPGThis beautiful sunny Easter weather has also served as a reminder of how wonderful Ireland is, and how beautiful our natural resources.  I can’t feel bad with all those green rolling hills calling to me.  Nothing like a brisk walk to reset a girl’s perspective. New shoes and a fresh new haircut didn’t hurt either! Control, Alt, Delete; that’s my reboot right there.  Come on second spring; let’s be having you.

I’ll let you know how I get on..

The Photo of a Thousand Knives….  

Before and After…

If you’ve been big, like me, you probably have whole years of your life without a single photo reference.  When I was writing my book, after escaping from the prison of my 23 stone body, I had to beg for ‘big’ photos from my friends and relations to document the ‘before’.  I’d cleansed them you see, completely erased every large unflattering print of myself, to complete my denial that I was obese and getting bigger.  

The Power Within…

Lately I’ve been bouncing out of my skin with delight at my growing fitness and strength. After a dodgy winter with the weight piling back on, I’ve been back out on the wilderness trail, climbing mountains and running; working hard to reverse the damage. Finally this week, the results began to show. I felt the power building in me, my lungs burning less when I run, my calves burning less when I climb. On Friday I joined a night-hike on the Sugarloaf with the Oldtown Road IMG_9218.JPGTrailbreakers. On Saturday myself and some old mountain buddies climbed Leinster’s highest peak, Lugnaquilla, with Ronan Friel from Irish Guided Walks, surprising ourselves by finding snow at the summit. I stayed overnight in Wicklow to join the mighty JuJu Jay from ‘Mud, Sweat and Runners’ for a beginner trail run on Sunday, and accepted an invitation to go sea-swimming at the 40ft in Dublin for St Patrick’s Day.

Then came the photo of a thousand knives. Casually taken and innocently posted on Facebook, it was a photo like the photos that had haunted my past. Caught at a vulnerable moment, legs akimbo, muscles slack, crudely placed limbs facing into the camera, and worst of all, a glimpse of pain and discomfort in my eyes as my rusty old joints complained at their treatment. A horrible image that burned into my heart and soul and poked open the scars on wounds considered long healed.

Lycra or Bust…

I am often asked how I exercise when I’m heavy, if I am embarrassed, or how can I bring myself to wear Lycra or a swimsuit? Yes of course there is an element of ‘cringe’. If I am out running and kids jeer me, it hurts; but I’m usually too out of breath to answer back! Besides, the best response is to just keep running.

Juju Jay Hugz

Juju Jay Hugz

Mostly I just breathe deeply and get on with it. Knowing the freedom of being strong enough to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, is worth the effort. But occasionally there are setbacks when it all seems pointless, when I see defeat looming and feel the temptation to lie down in front of that wave of sadness and just give up. This was one of those moments. In the middle of a busy, active, fun weekend; my heart leapt and my breathing caught as I fought to keep my eyes from watering. My personal ‘pity-party’ gathered pace as looking at this horrid image, my confidence disintegrated around me. Is this how I look in my unguarded moments? A ridiculous caricature of the person I see in the mirror. Chewing on my upset, a timely call from a good friend gives me a chance to vent my sadness. Heading to bed somewhat earlier than expected, I suddenly feel tired and old and foolish.

Waking up this morning in Wicklow where my soul usually soars, I started out for my run with JuJu Jay with a stubborn reluctance in my step.  It felt pointless. ‘Fat people can’t run’ I told myself. Except a sneaky voice in my head insisted that if I ran, I’d feel better.

I got JuJu’d…

JuJu’s chirpy greeting and jokey instructions have me loosening up my joints and my mind, before I have a chance toIMG_9224.JPG bolt. Within minutes we’re running.  Beginners trotting out into the woods, at different levels and stages. When my breathing gets heavy, JuJu’s practical advice cuts through my embarrassment, and before long my head is up, my pace has slowed and I’ve found my rhythm.  Not fast, not slow, but just right. Like Goldilocks, I’ve found what works for me.

Sometimes life knocks you out of rhythm, and like trail-running up a hill through a forest, you need to tune out the confusion, focus on the stillness, give yourself a hug and learn to breathe again. Thank you for today Juju Jay, and for helping me to breathe again.

 

Blog: Mulhacén – On Top of The World in Spain

 group with danny

Sierra Nevada Mountain Range: Mulhacén – @ 3,478 metres (11,411ft)

shrineIt wasn’t on the itinerary, but the mountain was there, perched behind our beautiful Hotel Finca Los Llanos and thanks to Travel Department for adding on the extra and making it happen.  Our walking holiday in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range has come to a spectacular Continue reading

Elbrus 2014

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….

TeamElbrus are:

William ‘Wildfire’ Shorthall
‘Gregor’ Mulligan
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

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Final Countdown to Elbrus…

Have you ever wondered “What have I got myself into?”

elbrus 2I’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.

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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

Turning the Galtees Upside Down

Galtee Ferns“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.

Wherever You Hang Your Map, that’s my Hill

The Australian walkers checked a few local routes with us before heading for the hillsme and karen 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.

Castles in the Sky Can Be Beguiling

Castle Rock 1Off 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.

No Cushy Number for ‘Bear Gates’

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.stream

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.

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Galloping Across the Galtees

IMG_3704Climbing The ‘Big Hill’

Swinging off the M8, we park ‘Blondie’ my dad’s car on the ‘Black Road’ near the village of Skeheenarinky. This is the starting point for the normal route up Galtymore. In Irish, Cnoc Mor a nGaibhlte is the appropriately named ‘Big Hill of the Galtys’. This is Ireland’s 14th highest peak, the tallest inland mountain in Ireland and the only inland peak to exceed 3,000ft (919m).

Slamming the car door and grabbing my kit and boots, I turn my back on Galtymore and jumping into my climbing buddy Tony Nation’s car, we drive away in the opposite direction. My heart is a missing a few beats as I wonder just how tough this day is going to be. We are not heading up the Black Road to climb Galtymore, instead we’re going to climb 4 other mountains first, hiking our way around in a sweeping crescent, to finish on the ‘big hill’ and reclaim our 1st car. woodland1

Dreamtime meets Denial

Tony, my long-time friend and climbing guide is chuckling a little as we drive towards a glen nestled beneath Temple Hill. As we leave his car and start to boot up, tie on gaiters and check our packs, he comments again that we have a long, day ahead.  I don’t really need the reminder. I’ve climbed Galtymore several times before. It’s not difficult, but it’s steep and a good hike. I can see the length of the ridge ahead of us, and I can hardly comprehend that we will be covering all that ground on foot before the day is out. I remind myself that biting off too large a chunkCottage is the easiest way for my mind to give up. So I break it down and put the knowledge of what lies ahead on hold. Being in denial can have its advantages!

On our approach to Temple Hill, we drop down through a small patch of woodland, into a lush, long-grassed pasture. Within minutes of leaving the road, I’m walking through a hidden copse, stepping into a snapshot of lives gone before.  A stone-wall cottage, long abandoned, and sunken deep into the earth, buried in memories and pine needles. I stand in the sunken portal where the doorway once welcomed guests and I feel like a giant, dwarfed beside the disappearing house. The light is green and still, the air sharp with pine and moss, and in the distance the crystal noise of falling water. Here stories are made, and written. I want to return with a pad and pen and dream about who lived here and how their lives played out.

Signing the Visitor’s Log Tony

We take a few pictures and wander downhill to meet a small river that marks a start to the climb up Temple Hill. The climb ahead is grassy but steep, to reach 785m. We start off slowly, ‘expedition pace’ comments Tony as we start to ascend.  It’s a truly beautiful day and I know I’m blessed, imagining how different this would be in the mist and rain.  The views are already gorgeous and climbing here is no penance, every step takes me higher and shows me better views. I feel alive and strong and happy and grateful to be out on the hill.

We topped out and then followed a gentle moorland sweep towards a stony area and the summit cairn and trig pillar. Sheltering at the cairn, Tony pointed out something I’ve never seen before on an Irish Hill.  From the rocks, he pulled out a ‘visitors’ book and pen, wrapped carefully in plastic, inviting hikers to leave a note and date their climb. I wrote down my thoughts and returned the book to Tony who careful replaced it for the next walkers to sign.

A Bit of Ducking and Diving

I got here

We pushed down into the saddle and turned our sights on our next target, Lyracappul. Careful not to lose too much ground we ducked the dive-bombing Swifts, who were clearly unimpressed to have their silence disturbed. They puzzled me a little, I don’t know a lot about them, but I know they spend much of their life in the air and don’t like nesting on the ground, so where are they basing themselves? In the cairns?

We began to climb again, and Tony reminded me about taking small steps and keeping my centre of gravity as neutral as possible. I’m training for climbing Elbrus with Irish adventurer, Pat Falvey, later this year; and these steep grassy slopes are ideal for mimicking the gradient of the long climb up the twin-peaked volcanic domes in Russia. I imagine climbing through the heather also gives me an idea of how it will feel to climb for hours, lifting my feet to push through several feet of snow.view galtymore

We summit Lyracappul and take a breather at another stone cairn, higher than Temple Hill, at 825m. We’re sitting in the sun, munching on energy bars, when another party of climbers arrive. There was conversation, craic, and discussion about expeditions and foreign trips, before we all said our goodbyes and pushed off in different directions, leaving the Swifts behind.

We head along the ridge, dropping down and up between Carraig na Binne 822m and Slieve Chois na Binne 766m.  The views of the valley below are stunning and we pick up the 4km Galty Wall as we head up again towards ‘The Big Hill of the Galtys’ for our final ascent to 919m.  I know I’m blessed with these views and I drink in the green sloping valley on our right; while soaking in the corry lakes and cliffs on our left, pondering on the potential danger of stumbling around up here in the mist. You could easily get yourself into difficulty if you strayed too close to some of those sharp edges.view of galtymore

Meeting a Man on a Mission

It is a long walk, but it is very beautiful and I slug into the final stretch, tired but confident. I know we are nearly at the final summit and I’m familiar with the long trek ahead down the Black Road; and every step is worth it. I want everyone to see what I see, but no picture or photograph can recreate this view, you just have to get your boots on and come and discover it for yourself.  360 degrees, with mountains and counties in all directions; on this clear day it is simply stunning. Tony points out the Glen of Aherlow to the north, the Knockmealdowns to the south, and he claims the faint blue line in the distance is my beloved Kerry Reeks.

With a burst of energy, I gallop up the final few steps to the iron cross that marks the summit of Galtymore. We are not alone. I meet a fellow Dub who has just finished his own personal pilgrimage to climb the highest peak in every county. He did it for galtymore crosshimself, to get fit, to stop getting old and just for the sheer hell of it.  He’s here eating a sandwich, enjoying a lonely celebration and totally at peace with himself and his world. We chat for ages and wish him well before we all prepare to say goodbye to our day’s final challenge.

The county boundary for Limerick and Tipperary runs across this summit.  I’m not exactly sure where the line is – but I fancifully step astride where I imagine it might be.  I am here, standing on the border, with one foot on each of the highest points in two counties. It’s enough for one day.  I take a final sweep around at the view, before following Tony down the ‘big hill’ to the Black Road and home to Dublin. (7.5hrs)

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These Boots Were Made For Walking…

IMG_3789From Stilettos to Scarpa..

Hello ladies…

I’ve been asked a lot about my boots lately; what I like to walk and hike in and what boots I wear for expeditions.  I’m not a gear expert, but I am an expert in feeling comfortable when I’m out on the trail, so I’ll happily share what works for me.

I started out walking in Wicklow 5 years ago with a  pair of Meindl trail boots, on the recommendation of the lads at Great Outdoors in Chatham Street in Dublin. I went back about 4 months later because the boots were looking a bit rough and the guys asked me did I condition and waterproof them? I stared blankly and probably said something sensible like “what’s that then?” The boys replaced the boots, gave me a lecture on how to care for them, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, in fact, my trusty Meindl’s took me up and down the Galtee Montains just last week.

Look After Your Boots and They’ll Look After You

Meindle vakuum_Lady_UltraI clean my boots after every hike and condition them and spray them with waterproofing and it really does make a difference to their longevity and the comfort of my feet.  My Meindl’s are Nubuck leather and have several seams running through them. Regardless of how well the boots are made and how well you look after them, stitchwork will eventually start to rot when you’re trekking relentlessly through peaty Irish bogland. The stitching is breaking down pretty badly on mine after 5 years of hard work, and yet with the boot’s waterproof Goretex lining – combined with a good spray of waterproofing on the outside, my feet are still warm and dry; even in heavy rain and even after forging through streams (with gaiters). They really are quite remarkable and comfy as a glove. As my mum would have said: “They don’t owe me a penny”.

Love at First Sight at Pat Falvey’s

I’m still not ready to throw away my Meindl’s, but I was beginning to look around for another boot for hiking at home here in Ireland. I had a hankering for a ‘single skin’ boot. In other words, I was looking for a pair of boots that were made from one piece of leather, which didn’t have many stitched seams. I overheard a couple of ‘old-timers’ discussing boots over a pint of Guinness and I heard them say that stitching will always rot when you’re hiking in Ireland because of the effect of the bog on the threads. I don’t know if that’s true, but I was willing to test the theory. So enter my new generation of heels; a pair of Zamberlan Vibram Gortex boots.  All deep glossy chestnut and thick, deep sole – I spotted them in Pat Falvey’s Adventure Store in the Gap of Dunloe in Kerry, and it was love at first sight. The boots have a rigid sole and can hold an automatic crampon, which I’ll talk about later. I was a bit concerned the hard sole could be inflexible for walking on long trails; but they felt really supportive and being able to wear them with crampons has it’s own attraction, so I decided to take the chance.  On the downside they weigh over 4lb which is a little bit weighty for me for general hiking. On the up, they fit really well, they’re comfortable, and they’re nicely padded around the high ankle support. I wore them for the first time last weekend when I was climbing Mount Errigal in Donegal. I had intended to wear them for a few short walks first, but when I thought of the scree-slope on Errigal, and the very worn soles on my old boots, I decided I’d chance the support of the new ones. I was glad. They were comfy, solid, edged nicely through the scree and caused me no problems.  A day later I went for an eight-hour-hike in blistering heat in Wicklow, and wore them again. They should have punished me with blisters, but I got away with a single hot-spot on one of my big toes. That’s a really good result.

Ice Cool Social ClimbersBoreal Super Latok ice-climbers

Enter the big boys. My pride and joy are my Boreal’s. I have two pairs, both with rigid soles and both for using on ice with snap-on or ‘automatic’ crampons. They were both sourced through Con Moriarty of Hidden Ireland Adventures.

My Boreal Super Latok ice-climbers have brought me to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, Grand Paradiso in the Alps and Mount Elgon in Uganda. They have a fully rigid sole and can take all crampons. They weigh just over 4lb and have a triple thermal insulation and dry-lining.  The manufacturers recommend them for ‘very cold conditions. Himalayan and Alpine climbing. Technical ice and mixed climbing.’ I love these boots. They served me well in Nepal and the Alps, but were overkill in Africa. They’re suitable for cold-weather mixed climbing, but wearing them in the heat was silly. My feet sweated on the inside and got soft. I didn’t get blisters, but I just didn’t need this class of boot in the heat.Boreal G1 Lite

My Boreal G1 Lites brought me through a technical climb on Island Peak (20,305ft) and I’ll be wearing them again this year when I head to Elbrus in Russia. Another super boot, these are the equivalent of the old ‘plastic boot’.  Suitable for extreme cold, they are a double boot, with an outer Neoprene and Carbon Glass boot, and an inner removable dry-line ‘bootie’. For the amount of insulation, they’re a real lightweight, at 4lb 12 ounces.  As a girl, I can tell you, weight really does matter!

What, Where and When

I’ve had my cold-weather boots since 2010 and I’m sure there are a lot more light-weight, warmer, super efficient, ‘go-faster’ materials on the market since then. A straw poll of female climbing buddies recommended Scarpa, Asolo and Keen, which apparently has a lightweight day-hiking boot that comes in at just 1.8lb for the pair.

Probably the best place to start is knowing what you want when you go shopping. Do your research and shop around. You need a cold-weather boot if you’re going to snow and ice at altitude. If you are going to travel all that way, spending lots of cash on the trip and spending months training to make a summit, it’s awful to think of failing because of a shortfall in gear. You need to check the manufacturers’ insulation claims and believe them. In other words, if you’re borderline on whether you should step up a level with gear – step it up. Don’t arrive somewhere and discover you’ve got it wrong. You can rent, but I’d be terrified of finding the boots felt uncomfortable when I arrived, I’d prefer to borrow from a friend at home and get a chance to try them out before I left. I found the Latoks were fine for the Alps,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA but I was super-glad of the G1 double-boots when I arrived on Island Peak. If I’m going to need crampons I would definitely go for something with a rigid sole and have the ability to use snap-on crampons, saving time and energy fiddling with ‘tie-ons’ out on a glacier. Good gear is especially important for me, because I’m a ‘newbie’ and I lack the skills of other seasoned climbers, so I’ll take every bit of help I can get. If you’re not sure about something – ask. There are plenty of great sports stores that will give you advice and who know better than most, what works and what doesn’t. If you’re already an expert, go for it. But when I need a bit of help, I prefer to skip buying online and go and find someone local who can give me advice and support me in my purchase.

I was recently asked about what to wear on Kilimanjaro.  I haven’t been there so I have no personal experience, but from what I understand, you certainly wouldn’t need a killer, rigid, Alpine boot.  The final day is the toughest and it’s mainly scree with some icy patches. I’ve heard of people wearing trail shoes the whole way up, others wearing boots, others wearing runners but switching to boots on the final day. If I was heading off to Africa tomorrow I’d bring a lightweight boot that would support my ankle and grip well on the scree, but wouldn’t be too warm that my feet would sweat and soften – and I’d wear them as soon as the ground got rough, for fear I’d twist an ankle.

If the Shoe Fitshelly

When I first bought my gear I got a really good grounding on the benefits of wearing supportive boots, that would protect my feet and my ankles in rough terrain. I have since tempered the message to my own taste. I now often wear trail-runners rather than boots, particularly during the summer when trails are dry and when my feet tend to sweat easily.  ‘Stay-dry’ linings are great in winter when you’re splashing through a stream but are less useful in summer if your feet are soaking little puddles of sweat. I’ve got two favourite pairs of trail shoes; a pair of pink Helly Hansen trail runners and a pair of very expensive, very swanky, very sporty-trendy Salomons.  I prefer the Helly Hansens, partly because they’re pink, and partly because I think they’re a broader fit and my foot is short, fat, with high insteps and dropped arches. It’s a major point to make – along with getting the right technical footware, it’s vitally important that it FITS.

Footnotes!

When trying on your new boot, it should feel like someone is holding your foot firmly across the instep.  You need a little toe-room, but not enough that your foot is slipping down in the boot when you’re making a descent, or you’ll end up with battered toes and Stinky Feet Not Allowedblackened nails. I generally find my boot is a size larger than my normal shoe size. You need to have enough room in the boot to allow for circulation, for your foot swelling, and to fit a thick sock along with a thin liner, to avoid friction. I’ve been told you need enough room to slip a finger down the back of your boot behind your foot; and I’ve found that rough guide works for me. Consider the shape of your foot, if you need a broad or narrow fit, you may need to try several different brands to get the right fit.  Specialist stores will measure your foot and can even produce moulded insoles that could help. Never be tempted to walk away wearing something uncomfortable in the hope that it will get better later – it won’t. Also, don’t tie up the laces too tightly, and give yourself a chance to break your boots in, or they’ll break you!  I may have chanced my new boots on a long hike without warning, but if you’re depending on comfy boots in high places, you really should be hiking in them for at least 3 months beforehand.

That’s about the size of it for me. Happy hiking – and let me know what works for you out on the hill. I love to hear other people’s hiking stories and recommendations, so send them on.  Email me on:  hello@teenagates.com and remember, if you’re going on a walking holiday with me in Spain this October – Great Outdoors will give you a discount on your gear! Check out the Travel Department advert at the top of the page.

Walking The Line From Donegal…

Erigal

Knee Deep in Pressies, Boots, Sunscreen and Midge Spray….

Tomorrow I’m in the gym at 0730 before catching a lift to Donegal for a special birthday celebration for a really good friend.  A bunch of mates are marking the occasion with a meal tomorrow night, followed by climbing the iconic, volcanic, and mysterious looking Mount Errigal. What a way to celebrate a friendship, which for me covers 4 years of extraordinary change. My friend and I both discovered hills and walking around the same time, and this weekend will be really special.

Will You Walk The Line?

The annual fundraiser for Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue.  It’ll be tight getting to the start in time, but I’ve a fireman driving me, so hopefully we’ll make it 😉

The 25k hike kicks off at 9pm and continues through the longest day/night of the year, to finish well after dawn on Sunday morning. This is a chance for the hiking and climbing community to give something back to the volunteers who are on call 24/7, 365 days a year – ready to pull us out of trouble when we discover our map-reading skills aren’t as good as we thought they were! If you fancy it, the starting point is the Brockagh Centre in Glendalough. Registration opens at 6pm and you can be join a group with a navigator or navigate yourself. Click on the picture below for details.

Walk The Line 2

Presuming I finish up in time, it’s another dash – over to Swords this time, to meet up with my buddies from Get Off The Couch, the TV show we recorded last year. This bunch of adventurers from all over the country got out there and got active, and inspired a whole load of other people to do the same thing. They kept up their adventures, even when the cameras stopped rolling – and we also kept up our friendship, which is wonderful.  They’re having a get-together in Dublin this weekend and I’m dropping in for breakfast to survey the damage….

From Swords it’s back to Lucan for another friendly get together with a mate who’s planned a bit of a spa-break to help me recover from all of the above. It’s certainly going to be a busy weekend – but it all counts as training too; because my trip to Mount Elbrus looms ever closer.  I picked up my Russian Visa earlier this week, and it’s all looking very real..

Clients
  • Communicorp
  • Danone
  • Irish Farmers’ Journal
  • Dublin Airport Authority
  • WeightWatchers, Ireland
  • Limerick City & County Enterprise Board
  • ‘Foot In The Door’ Media Trainer for Independent Commercial Radio, Ireland
  • Clare County Enterprise Board
  • Carlow County Enterprise Board
  • Great Outdoors
  • Adrian Hendroff ‘From High Places’
  • Chernobyl Children International
  • Concern Ireland
  • The Hope Foundation
  • LauraLynn Childrens’ Hospice
  • Travel Department
  • Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race
  • 98FM Dublin
  • Newstalk
  • TodayFM Radio
  • Learning Waves Skillnet
  • BCFE, Ballyfermot
  • Pat Falvey, 'The Summit Book'
  • DSPCA