I’m really proud of this friend of mine. She’s celebrating her 50th birthday this year by chucking off her clothes – for charity. Some people find nudity a breeze, others don’t and for my mate Averil Larke, this is an emotional journey which is a real challenge and a real tribute to both her, and the charities she supports. She’s doing all five of this year’s ‘Dip in The Nips’ for Irish Cancer Charities. Inspired by her bravery, I decided I’d also take the plunge, in Cork. But blow me, being starkers must have gone to my head, ‘cos I just did it again in Sligo!
When I say my friend is brave, I really mean it. Because dropping your clothes to the ground and making your way into the ocean in front of lots of other people can be a daunting experience. I swim all-year-round at Malahide in Dublin, so it’s not the thought of the cold that made me shiver in my flip-flops at my first ‘Dip’ in Cork. It was the thought of bearing my bits. I used to be 23 stone and I’m still overweight for my height, so I don’t have the best body image. The thought of putting it on display made me quite uncomfortable, and not for the first time. I posed for a nude art exhibition for Concern in 2012 and although I was pleased to do it and had no regrets, it was a really big challenge for me.
Surprisingly; I found the Cork Dip In The Nip absolutely empowering. We were very much protected from prying eyes as we ran to the sea, we got a countdown to the big ‘reveal’ and then scarpered into the surf as fast as long and short legs could go. There was an official photographer on the beach, the lads were up one end and the girls and couples in other separate spots, so it felt like a relatively safe environment. Once ‘under-cover’ in the water we splashed and laughed and swam through the gorgeous, fresh, salty, sun-kissed waves and felt almost high with the happiness in the air. Then I noticed the bodies. I wasn’t being voyeuristic in any way, but as we all left the water, we all seemed much more relaxed as we made our way back to our clothes. The startling revelation for me was that every single body on the beach was beautiful. I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t just mean that the emotion of the moment had got to me. I mean genuinely, that every body looked wonderful. Sun kissed and salt splashed – big and little, gravity pulled at everyone’s bits and their bodies swung around as they moved in a ballet of form, totally natural and totally ‘right’. Even the slenderest of ladies showed the effects of gravity; big or little, our bodies all ‘moved’. I suddenly realised, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to match my appearance to the flat, one-dimensional images, that we gaze at on TV and in print. But our bodies are so much more than that, we move, and sway and our muscles ripple and our bone structure shows and guides our form. We are so much more beautiful that what we can see on screen. You know when you try to photograph a beautiful sunset and you just can’t capture it – that’s the way these bodies seemed. It is a realisation that will hopefully last me a lifetime. Ladies we are beautiful.
Sligo saw both Averil and me back at full circle and taking our clothes off for charity again. It’s so important to raise money for cancer charities. We have all felt Cancer’s chilling touch in some way; our Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Husbands, Daughters, Best friends; Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But I also believe that the men, women and couples taking part in the ‘Dip’ are ringing a bell for all those survivors who have fought the brave fight and come out shining. Hair loss, operation scars, all beautiful trophies to having tackled the odds and won. Shining and strong and fair play to every one. This crusade to the water’s edge is a celebration of life; a gift of thanks and pride for the legs that carry us, and lungs that breathe and eyes that see.
If you want to join in this wave of love and support – register for the next ‘Dip in the Nip’ – there’s just one left this year, in September. Come and Skinny-Dip for loved ones, or for those you’ve lost, or for you. Whatever your reason, join thousands of others who have peeled off for the cause. Or help me fundraise. You can make a donation of any amount on the PayPal button below.
*Frances Muldoon Photography
Back to my running club, Le Chéile AC tonight, for the first time in months. Parking the car in the dark of the night was a sharp change from the lovely warm evenings when I was here last. Heading down to the new running track to say hello to old friends and new, I remembered coming here last Feb – again braving the dark cold night and spits of rain to get started on the club’s Couch-to-5k programme.
It felt a bit like deja-vu walking across the carpark tonight; out of the night and into the lights, and I briefly gave myself a mental kick for not keeping it up after reaching my 5k. But then I realised I was smiling, I realised I wasn’t grumbling away to myself, as I had been back in February when I made this walk. So something has clearly changed. I may have lost my running fitness a bit, but at least now I know that I’ve done this before and I feel more confident about doing it again.
Meeting running buddy Sharon Ashmore, and our coach – the talented Irish Ultra Runner John O’Regan – on the track, it’s grins all around as the warm-ups begin.
I’m 5 mins jumping up and down and I realise that the ‘girls are loose’. Gentlemen, just tune out now, while girls, appreciate that good harnessing is vital for this kind of lark, especially when there are ample assets to contain! Enough of that. John announces that we are going to have a bash at sprint-relays; there were a couple of groans and a couple of grins, while I remained neutral, unsure of what that entailed.
We split into teams and took up positions on the track, got our briefings and the whistle blew. I was the 2nd runner in my group. Sharon was my ‘number one’ and she was sprinting the first 100 metres to me, while I got ready to grab the baton and dash for the 2nd 100.
As I saw Sharon’s 100 metres disappearing, the cold of the night disappeared, and despite myself, I felt a burst of adrenaline. I’d been telling myself I was going to slow down the team and be a disappointment, but then I suddenly realised, I hadn’t tried this sprinting stuff before and for all I knew, I could be nursing a secret talent; there could be a burst of speed under the hood after all.
Sharon approaches, I start to run, we join hands over the baton, I’ve got it and I’m away. Speed’s up, chest up, breathing deep and pushing towards the track. I’m 50 metres gone and feeling good, when something odd happens. I feel my running pants loosen around my hips, and as they continue to slip, my petrified mind freezes; ‘they can’t go any further’ I think to myself, they’re lycra! There’s only 40 metres to go…. just keep running. But as my hips roll, my pants slip further, and then to my horror, my belly pops out over the waistband – the point of no return. I look ahead, 30 metres. I grab my belly, still firmly hanging onto my baton, I grab onto my pants, and I keep running. Catherine’s number 3, and blinded by the spotlights, clearly can’t see my predicament. ‘C’mon – run Teena, run’ she shouts. I’m running and shouting back and laughing and just about holding it altogether as I fall towards her and she grabs the baton and runs off into the night. Collapsing in a giggling heap as I sort myself out. Now that’s a belly laugh…
Standing stretching and checking my harness, modesty restored, I try and figure out what went wrong. I’ve run in these pants before, although not this sprinting business. Before long the wave is returned back around the track and Sharon is running back down towards me, baton outstretched. I start to run, we switch possession of the baton, and I’m off again. Confident this time – having discovered what the string in my waistband is for!
Running down the track I concentrate on being fast, until the wave of other runners sweep past me and I’m back running into Catherine’s screams of ‘C’mon, run Teena, Run’. Ah well, maybe not the Olympics then.
A friend of mine once told me I have the head of a racehorse and the body of a mule, because I always want to be fast, although I’m not really constructed that way. But I think I’d prefer to think of myself as a Shetland pony, because in fairness, it’s not that I have a mule-like stubbornness against running, it’s just that I don’t do it very well, although that John O’Regan fella is determined that I develop a decent little trot.
The main thing about tonight is that I’m back. Back at Le Chéile and back running, and even if I can’t run fast, I can always run faster! So I’ll be turning up for my Parkrun 5k on Saturday morning, and I’ll be turning up for the Run in the Dark on November 13th, and I’ll be back for my next Le Cheile training session with John and Sharon and the gang. But next time, this particular Shetland Pony will have her harness and tackle checked and ready to go, and her girth tightened beforehand…
Well this evening was lovely. Bracing, but lovely. Very choppy, and the air was cold, but when you were swimming for a while the burning bands of ice around your chest relaxed a little and allowed you to breath… the slap of being dropped from the top of the waves to the sea below as you tried to breath under your armpit kind’ve helped to keep you warm too…. yes. Bracing.
I picked up the text from ‘Get Off The Couch’ swimming mentor and Eastern Bay swimming club Chanimal (for swimming channels) Fergal Somerville, just as I finished a 45 minute sweaty weight-lifting work-out with gym guru David Dunne. Feeling nice and warm, I headed over to Malahide in bright sunshine, and persuaded myself to ‘just get in for a dip’. I wanted to brave the sea without a wet-suit, just for the hell of it. As it turned out, the camaraderie from the other swimmers at High Rock was so encouraging that I ended up swimming for 30 minutes which is a bit of a record for me. I made it from High Rock to ‘The Wall’ (for those in the know).
Climbing up on the rocks afterwards and reaching hungrily for Mag’s famous Eastern Bay energy biscuits, I pondered that leaving the Irish Sea at sunset is getting to be a bit of a habit.
Last week I was getting an introduction to scuba diving at Sandycove with the dream team of Brendan Homan and Martin Durcan – diving instructors to the stars… 😉 I’m winding them up a bit, but if you heard the slagging they gave each other, you’d know I have to! Seriously though, Brendan literally took me by the hand and brought me fin over fin into the depths of Dublin Bay and as experiences go, this was really special.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved it – from bursting into giggles as the lads quite literally bounced me into the very heavy and awkward gear – (and thanks to the girls for the loan) – to the moment of inching into the water, when the clumsiness disappears, the sandy bottom falls away beneath you, and all of sudden you feel you’re flying. Pushing out from the shore, the depth of the water increases sharply and you find you’re floating over craters and rocks, and it looks like you’re sweeping over canyons and cliffs – like a somewhat ungainly heavy, rubber-suited bird. Perhaps a penguin, clumsy and heavy on land, but transformed into a graceful work of art in the right environment.
The sounds hit me first, my heart seemed to beat a noisy audible pulse; merging and moulding with the tide and the current swelling above and below. I could hear my breathing; short and fast at first, then longer, deeper and more regular as I began to relax. The light was muffled, softly dappling the shady sea around me, and piercing fingers through the forest of seaweed, no longer flat and brown, but reaching lazily upward, waving in the ebb and flow, with kaleidoscopic purples and greens, changing hues in the fading light. A moving, liquid, enchanted world where life looks so different and your own transient nature is so clearly felt with each pull on your air.
I’ve had lots of scary experiences in the past 3 years – some quite terrifying – but I’ve got through them, and even got to like some of the things that scared the pants off me at first. But here, 8 metres down, I felt no need for bravery. It might sound strange, but I wasn’t nervous here, I wasn’t scared, it felt calm and wonderful and absolutely natural. I can’t wait to go again. (hint hint).
So it’s September 10th now – and that’s just 18 days away from my big charity challenge for LauraLynn – the Liffey Descent and Cycle Challenge with Kipper Maguire. I’m strong, my kayak skills are improving, and I’ve spent hours in the water padding against the tide in my Sásta Fitness sponsored river boat. It’s looking good. Except I’ve let the running training slip a bit – (a lot actually) – and the realisation has just hit me this evening that I’ve got a forgotten challenge ahead this weekend. I’m signed up for WAR in Powerscourt. The cycle and kayak, I’m confident I can do – but how the heck do I clock a 6k run with the Sugar Loaf in the middle of it? Gulp! I’ll let you know how I get on….
“Ninja Midges” – that’s what we dubbed them, as the dying throes of the soon-to-be infamous ‘Summer of 2013 Heatwave’ burned deep into the reddening Roscommon skyline. As we gathered around the citronella flares that marked the heart of our Wild Water Kayak Club tent village, dodging dive-bombing beasties with fangs – I scratched lazily at the rising bumps on my legs and arms – and pondered that my weekend in Cootehall would be memorable to me for a host of reasons.
I’ve had two days of open canoe fun with old and new friends which has come as a timely kick-start to training for my next adventure – a Liffey Descent and Cycle challenge for LauraLynn Hospice (which you can read about by clicking HERE). I’ve also randomly found myself back near Ballyfarnon, where my dad owned a pub when I was 8. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and I’d nearly forgotten about living here – so a weekend of driving and paddling through this old familiar territory has stirred up a whole bunch of memories. The surprises continued when I met with one of my LauraLynn challenge SASTA sponsors who lives down here – only to find she was also an old school-mate back in the day!
The club’s canoe weekend saw us out on the Shannon and paddling from Cootehall to Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday, which was around 12k of water covered – more if you include the messin! Sunday saw us move the boats to Lough Key Forest Park where we paddled the whole way out to the island with the castle on it, that I used to stare out at as a kid. Then we paddled further again, to picnic on yet another island even further out in the lake. I just love the way canoes open up the waterways to allow for a whole new range of adventures. Someone had camped on the island, or had at least lit a massive bonfire and I stared in envy – wishing dad had brought me here when I was 8. But maybe I’ll bring him, now he’s 88.
I tore myself away from Roscommon with a heavy heart and a whole heap of new questions about how life could have turned out if we’d stayed in the pub. It was known as the Cosy Inn – in case you’ve ever raised a glass there. It’s closed now I’m told. All those laughing voices and clinking glasses faded into memory.
Back in Dublin, Monday brought no muscle soreness, which is a good sign that I’m off to a flying start for my Liffey Descent training. I need to get my cycling legs back now, build on my current fitness, and lose a stone in the next two months. Then I’ll be ready. No problem – Gulp!
These fun-filled, action-packed weekends can only help. Exercising is so much better when you’re having fun with friends. It’s my secret weapon for getting fit and keeping fit. Last weekend I climbed Carrauntoohil for Concern to support climbing buddy Vera Baker who’s heading to Kenya with the charity this year. We followed the hike on Saturday with an adventure on Sunday which saw us in Tomies Wood in the Gap of Dunloe – with legendary Irish adventurer Pat Falvey and Eamon Waldron from ‘Get Off The Couch’, the adventure programme that I’m presenting on Setanta TV this September.
We spent about an hour hiking through some of the country’s oldest oak woodland, breathing in the earthy tones and feasting our eyes on the 40-shades of green mosses, herbs and ferns of this magical ‘Alice in Wonderland’ trek. Thank’s to Pat’s excellent stage-management, we suddenly stumbled with gasps of delight into a shady glade that thundered with the sound of O’Sullivan’s Cascade – 1.5kilometres of waterfall tumbling through the woodland and down to the lakes of Killarney National Park. We girls couldn’t resist taking a dip in one of the ice-cold plunge pools; feeling like wood-nymphs in a fairytale, or maybe the girls in a Tomotei advert. It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you in a magical place like this…
Folklore tells us that O’Sullivan’s Cascade is where the chief of the Fianna, Fionn MacCumhal stashed his personal whiskey store, before a row with invaders saw the precious drop turn back to water. Later, we turned the water back into wine, over a bowl of chowder at Kate Kearney’s Cottage.. 😉
Can’t wait for next week’s adventure.
I ‘Walked The Line’ and I proudly get to wear the T-shirt, and raise the mug – thanks for a brilliant workout from Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue. Their mega annual fundraiser had two challenges, a navigational chase and a straightforward 25k hike for those who were willing to follow the signs! I chose the latter, but the physical demands were no joke. It was a tough, long day out and I came home delighted in just over 6 hours. To be honest, I had a secret weapon, the latter part of the hike was down through Spinc – my favourite mountain. I was actually heard to say ‘this is my patch’ as I trotted down the stones towards the Miners’ Village – and you know I meant it. Yep I guess I’m declaring it. Spinc is MY mountain – so there! (I’m not actually being facetious – that mountain rescued me from being 23 stone and stuck in a cell of my own skin, and my own making. I owe a lot to that mountain). The other benefit from ‘Walk the Line’ was accidentally turning up just 2-minutes before registration closed, and ending up ‘walking the line’ on my own, which I hadn’t really planned. It left me picking out way-paths and finding my way around the hills in a way I hadn’t done before – and I learned a lot – lessons that came in handy later in the week….
A trip to Lough Sheelin cooled my heels after Wicklow – when I turned up to provide boat cover for my brave ‘Get Off The Couch’ colleague Karen Bowers, who swam her first 1k ‘wild swim’ in the beautiful County Cavan lake, surrounded by master swimmers and the fantastic long-distance swimmer, Fergal Somerville, who turned up to coach her, after recently adding an elusive North Channel Crossing to his previous English Channel crossing. That man is inspiration in a set of speedos, and I have permission from his wonderful wife Margaret to say so. (Incidentally that woman is the best power-bar chef this side of either channel!).
A couple of days later I was back in the water again – this time in Donegal. In bright sunshine, myself and buddy Vera Baker ‘Girls on Tour’ headed north with kayaks strapped to the roof of her heroic Jaguar and two bikes jammed inside, along with wetsuits, paddles, running gear, hiking gear, and high heels. What other way to travel? Well as Vera’s son commented wryly as he saw us reverse out – “it wasn’t that we couldn’t do it – but probably that we shouldn’t“!
We hit the ground running when we arrived in Donegal in bright sunshine and instead of heading for shelter and our lovely home for the next three days, we made straight for the beach and launched the boats. It was a good call too; we woke up to winter conditions the following morning, with the mist so thick we could hardly see our boots as we made our way towards Errigal. That solo-navigation stuff in Wicklow helped with my confidence, as we strolled back down the mountain on a bearing and walked straight into the car park to our absolute delight. Boasting to my Mountain Rescue buddies may have been a calculated error however – I’ve been told I’m navigating next time out!
Lots of thanks are due to lots of people after my last set of adventures. Love you all and hugs will be distributed in due course. x
I had a pretty amazing Paddy’s Day weekend. Thanks to the amazing hospitality of mountaineer Tony Nation and the incredible cooking skills of his wife Mary…. I climbed Carrauntoohil in snow on Saturday, and I climbed the Coumshingaun Horseshoe in Waterford the following day – I ate loads of homebaked cakes and bread – with cream – and sank a couple of glasses of red wine… but even the scales gave me a break and I only registered a half a pound increase for all my indulgence.
Then tonight the good times continued at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip.
We are just about half way through their ‘Couch to 5k’ programme and they told us during our warm-up tonight that we’d be running for a full 20 mins without walking. My jaw dropped and to be honest, I wondered if anyone would notice if I grabbed my keys and slipped out the back door! I’d run 20 mins with them last week, but that was running 5 min intervals with a 2 minute break in-between; and I’d thought that was tough!
Setting off into the cold, dark, night, I had a face like a glum trout…. but I concentrated on picking my own SLOW pace and keeping my breathing even. I ended up sort of jogging between two groups, out on my own, but still a part of the gang. I could feel the group ahead pulling me forward and the group behind pushing me on – like I was on an invisible cord.
I realised that if I kept thinking I couldn’t do it, I’d have a mini panic attack and end up walking off. So I started telling myself that of course I could. I told myself I was enjoying it, and matched the words to my pace as I ran slowly along the dark tarmac, occasionally glancing up to see the moon and stars above. At first the moon was ahead but after a while it fell behind and I grinned into the frosty night, thinking I’d just outrun a moonbeam. Do you know, after a while, I really began to believe it. I’m genuinely unsure whether the running became easier, or whether I just convinced myself that it had. All I know is that when the 20mins were up – I didn’t want to stop – and when I saw the lights of the clubhouse up ahead in the distance, I just kept on running – all the way home – on a cloud.
It’s all in the head isn’t it? I said ‘I can’ – and I did. 🙂
It was a grey, misty start to my first trip to Greystones – but I didn’t mind, I was buzzing with excitement. I was joining the six participants of Setanta TV and Athena Media’s new programme ‘Get Off The Couch’ for a Triathlon Training session with fitness guru Eamon Tilley, followed by swim-coaching with Channel Swimmer and ‘ICEMAN’, Fergal Somerville. This was the first day of a two-day ‘festival of fitness’ for us, with our first GOTC hill-walk together planned for the Wicklow mountains on Sunday with John and Frank at Wilderness Tours.
We’ve only been filming for a few weeks, but already there’s a huge bond forming among the six participants of the show which follows their journey from Couch to 5k – and perhaps a lot further. If you don’t believe in magic, watch ‘Get Off The Couch’ this Autumn and I’ll guarantee you’ll change your mind. The growing confidence, the physical achievements, the dedication and discipline, the healthy bodies and healthy minds, growing stronger every day before my eyes. I’m already stunned by the power of the great outdoors as a life-changer and worker of miracles.
On a cold, wet and misty Greystones morning, the group’s enthusiasm was warming my heart… and if any of us held any doubts about what we were doing, a true sparkle of gold lit up the morning when our stunning Olympic champion Katie Taylor put her own training session on hold to come over to us on the track and wish us well. That young woman inspires in so many ways and every one of us visibly glowed after meeting her, the rain disappeared and the sun shone in our hearts as our souls soared with a growing belief in ourselves and our team. As Katie says, to achieve your goal you’ve got to “plan for success and then do the work to get the job done”. Easy isn’t it. 😉
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. 🙂
I’m feeling quite good and I know that I’m strong, uninjured and pretty fit. The only concern is that with so many different disciplines to tackle, I seem to peak at one sport, at the expense of another.
Myself and my Uganda team-mate Vera Baker have been concentrating on the hills for the last couple of weeks, with Carrauntoohil summited once, and due again on October 6th. Vera’s also been putting the hours in on the bike – finishing a 40-kilometre cycle at the weekend as ‘the first woman home’ which was quite an achievement.
I’ve been pulling out the stops with swimming, but my bike work has slipped this week, simply because I’ve wimped out of cycling 15k into work in this heavy rain. On Saturday morning I had a charity 5k for 3rd Age, and I was a bit worried about that, because my running practice had slipped off the radar for the last couple of months, and with my dodgey knees, if I don’t keep practicing, I end up getting sore when I run. The picture here sees me anxiously looking for the timer display as I head towards the finish. My final time was 38.20 – which for me – isn’t bad. The following day myself and Vera climbed Spink in 2hrs-15, which knocked over an hour off our previous time – so we’re definately progressing.
But you know, it’s happened again. While we were running, cycling, hiking and swimming – we’ve taken our eye of the kayaking!!! So now we’re playing catch-up again. These evenings are getting too dark for river-work, so this Thursday – we’ll be taking our kayaks to the swimming pool…. and learning to roll!
So the challenge was to climb the beautiful but often brooding Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain at 1.039Mtrs/3,123Ft. But in fact, my climbing and Concern/Uganda buddy, Vera Baker and I were to summit two of the highest peaks in Ireland, in just one day.
Along with a group of close to 60 walkers we approached this weekend’s Concern training walk with a certain amount of trepidation. Both Vera and myself were aware that we were a little deficient in training times for this big climb. It wasn’t due to any laziness or lack of organisation on our part, but we had needed to devote time to learning to Kayak and building up miles on the bikes for our multi-challenge adventure in Uganda for Concern this November, and getting out on the hills had suffered as a result.
Today we would find out exactly how much work we had to do. The route chosen for the climb is considered to be one of the easier, or at least ‘safest’ ascents to Carrauntoohil. We were staying on a completely different side of the mountain to the much talked about ‘Ladder’ route, which was badly eroded, and had been turned into a virtual river of mud and rock in the recent rains. With such a large group, a solid route was vital.
This was Vera’s first attempt at Carrauntoohil, and though I am a familiar visitor here, this approach from the West side of the mountain, was a first for me too. We drove up in pouring rain, resigned to a long, wet and misty hike – well wrapped up for the weather and determined to enjoy ourselves despite the wet and damp and the lack of views. Our walk began by following The Hydro Road, presumably named for the resevoir that we shortly passed by, and after a while we realised that the heavy rain had been replaced my a light mist. I joked to Vera that my iPhone App which had defiantly been declaring sun all morning, might in fact be right. I didn’t for a moment believe my own humour, as the long range forecast had confirmed the rain was down for the day.
After an initial sharp climb on road, we made our way for close to an hour across steaming bog and took a break and food, before bracing ourselves for the sharp ascent to summit Caher Mountain, we were about 45 mins away from the top of Ireland’s second highest peak at (1001 m/3000 ft). Reaching the Summit and congratulating Vera, we discovered we needed to wait on top for the group to catch up, I hurriedly fleeced up as the gusting wind whipped around my gortex shell, chilling me extremely quickly.
Caher Ridge was the next challenge. The spiny, winding, dinosaur tail that stretched beyond into the wildness of the Kerry landscape before sweeping up to our most majestic peak – our final destination – Carrauntoohil. Stepping down the exposed narrow descent from Caher Mountain to the ridge was not for the faint hearted, with severe drops falling away to our left. However the mist which had spoiled our views up to now, proved to be our friend – masking the depth of the fall on either side, and allowing those with a less than even head for heights (me) to make our way through, in blissful ignorance of what lay below. Although I’d been in these hills long enough to know instinctively that careful footwork was a wise precaution! As we gained the more level passage of the ridge itself the wind magically gusted the mist away and we grasped an emerald flash of green – swept away in seconds, before other climbers just seconds behind us, had a chance to raise their heads. This ‘peek-a-boo’ through the mist continued as we made our way along the ridge, gasps of amazement, foiled by almost instant sighs of regret as the views disappeared – cloaked again by the cloud, as it played out its burlesque peep-show for the climbers making their way to the summit.
And then we were there. We’d been speeding up for the last 15 mins with the huge iron cross that marks the highest peak in Ireland ever-present as conditions continued to clear, drawing us closer to it, faster and more confident. We’re laughing and congratulating each other, as our group of 40 climbers pass through a descending group of around 20, as we embrace the summit in bright sunshine, with superb views in all directions. I’ve been up here often enough to know how lucky we were to see conditions clear like this, and I congratulated Vera on her first, highly successful Carrauntoohil summit.
Lunch with Vera has to get a mention here – this is the only time I’ve had a multi-grain salad with a chocolate mousse on top of this mountain – and Vera can take care of the lunches for ever into the future! We were the envy of the mountain, and I apologise to all those who salivated at our fare! Food played a huge role in our climb. There was more stopping and more eating than I’m used to – because of the size of the group and the need to keep us all together. I found it difficult, because I’m used to plodding off and up and getting there, without breaks – and I found that halting my progress and getting cold was more difficult for me. But I’d never climbed in a group this large, and I learned a lot about managing a large number of people in uncertain territory. The leaders were skilled, confident and cheerful, and I’m hugely impressed at how they kept us all moving as one. We made it up in 4hrs 15 and heading back across the ridge the way we had come, it was close to the same to come down.
8hrs is a long time on the mountain, but apart from a few stiff ankles and general tiredness, we were in pretty good condition. It was a good day, we tested ourselves well, and we learned a lot. Not least, we learned that we haven’t done nearly enough to prepare us for climbing the extinct Volcano, Mount Elgon, in Uganda this November. So it’s back to the hills and back to our lovely Spink Mountain in Glendalough to step up the hiking part of our training regime. We’ve got about 6 weeks left. It’s enough. Perhaps we’ll see you out on the hills this weekend?…