On Saturday I got to join the Roving Soles Hill Walking Club for part of their Glenmalure Challenge. I got to finish 6 summits and around 24k in 7hrs – they went on to complete 10 summits and 33k. We started from the Glenmalure Lodge, Drumgoff and headed south on the Wicklow Way, taking a forest road for our assent of Carrawaystick Mountain to Corrigasleggaun, to the Saddle of Lugcoolmeen, and up to the summit of Lugnaquilla, Leinster’s highest peak at 931 metres. We descended via Cannow Mountain to Camenabolologue, and I cut out at Table Track for Glenmalure, as the group continued on their way. Thanks to everyone for such a warm welcome on the hill, especially with me hobbling along with my knee braces and sticks. Extremely lovely group… and the bubbles were a bonus!
From Wicklow, I drove to Cork city, catching dinner with a friend before heading on to Youghal where I camped near the sea, ahead of an early 6am start for the DipInTheNip. Close to 200 people joined on a beach near the town to drop their kit and run for the waves, in aid of cancer charities. Old radio buddy PJ Coogan from Cork 96FM led the charge. After a breakfast roll on the beach, I headed for Kerry, pitched my tent in view of the mountains, met briefly with friends, took a two hour stroll in Tomies Wood and finished off a perfect rest-and-recovery day with a plunge into the beautiful ice-cold O’Sullivan’s Cascade, a stunning series of waterfalls and grade 5 kayak route plunging down through the mountains to the lakes of Killarney. Always a magical place for me.
On to the Galtees on Monday, for a tough 8.5hr training hike over 5 mountains with Tony Nation, in preparation for my challenge to climb Elbrus in Russia next month with Pat Falvey’s Irish and Worldwide Adventures. Tony had warned me in advance that today would be tough and he certainly delivered. It was an arduous route, but so incredibly beautiful that it was hard to feel anything other than joy to be out on the hill. We made our way up on to the mountain with a tough climb onto Temple Hill, and climbed up and down around the horseshoe across Ladhar an Chapaill, Carraig na Binne, and Sliabh Chois na Binne, over to Galtymore and exiting down the BlackRoad. Later we heard on the news that a couple of climbers had been rescued after getting caught in a Rhododendron forest, not too far away on the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was a cautionary tale, as I’d been admiring the purple flowered shrubs all day, but Tony had been warning me about their rampant, vigorous growth across the mountains.
Tuesday brought another adventure, when myself and a friend provided kayak-cover for a group of swimmers who were making a crossing from Malahide to Lambay Island, as part of a top-secret art project. We had kind permission to land briefly on the island, which is a nature reserve, and it was a wonderful privilege to have just a fleeting glance at this wonderful, magical place. It was a beautiful day as we headed off into a clear, calm sea, and the crossing was delightfully uneventful until moments before we reached the island. A sea-mist sprung up in seconds, shrouding our landing point in mist. Our approach was marked by dozens of curious seals who heralded our arrival and followed us in to the star-fish spangled beach. We stayed just moments before slipping back into the sea and leaving the peaceful island to it’s misty mystery. A magical experience to add to my list of special memories of Ireland.
A good weekend of training, celebrating friendship and being glad to be alive. Reality returns when I visit the physio tomorrow and get some advice on my injured knee. The Elbrus Clock continues to tick.
My thighs hurt, my calves hurt, my shoulders hurt, my ankles hurt, my fingers hurt…. what’s wrong with me? Oh yes, I’m back from training in Kerry’s high peaks. My neck hurts too.. in fact, the only thing that doesn’t hurt is my knee – which is great news, because that’s supposed to be my weakest bit. So I’ve kept my dodgy knee safe, and worked everything else. Result.
I have 31 days left, before I head off to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus with Pat Falvey Irish & Worldwide Adventures, and after getting injured earlier this year, I’m really running out of time. I’m back in the gym, doing yoga, cycling, using weights, running and swimming – I’m doing everything I can to be fit in time. I’m fairly confident that I’m fit enough to train properly now, but I’m running out of time to get hill-fit, and every day counts. All my friends have been called into action, to give me company out on the hill. It’s all to play for, and I’m not giving up.
This is the second weekend I’ve spent in Kerry. Last weekend, Pat Falvey and Alpinist John Higgs, invited me to Carrauntoohil for a ropes and crevasse rescue course. This weekend Pat and instructor Tony Nation had me back out on the hills – this time at 2am, beating back the rain and mist to find sunrise over the Kerry Reeks, after many hours of climbing and ploughing through bog. I was piggy-backing with a gang of girls who are training for a trip to Kilimanjaro. It was tough going, and when we reached the summit of Cnoc Na Braca, all I was fit for was huddling into the rocks and feasting on a tuna-wrap, which tasted a bit like mana from heaven.
Six hours of hiking through darkness into a relentless Kerry rainstorm was enough to test the best of gear and spirits, but as we got to the top, the rain eased, a brief shimmer of sunlight emerged and the mist lifted just long enough for a few photos while we ate lunch, giving us a tantalising glimpse of the beautiful view over the Black Valley, before closing in again, shutting down, and punishing us the whole way back down the hill. Kerry can be a bit like that at times. I found going down harder than going up, and was relieved to reach the valley floor and head back to Pat’s Mountain Lodge for a full Irish cooked by the boys, which was a truly unexpected treat!
For a while I thought I’d made a mistake going out with the group. I’ve been letting my leg heal for a few months now and I was worried that perhaps the long haul over the uneven, soggy, bog, would have caused new damage. But I woke up this morning, stiff everywhere else, but ‘sound of knee’, so I’m relieved, and ready to keep stepping up the pressure.
It could have been a lot worse of course. Pat had ‘threatened me’ with his ‘Survival on Carrauntoohil Bootcamp’ to help with my fitness. I got to see how that looked when the Adrigole GAA team turned up on Saturday morning at Cronin’s Yard. The guys were faced with Pat Falvey, Tony Nation and two Military Instructors who put them through their paces. I watched as they carried ‘casualties’ across the mountain, using shovels and pick-axe to dig out channels, dragging under camouflage canopies, and struggling through icy mountain streams, as the mist and rain beat them back into the bog. Those lads were WICKED.
Parting shot from Pat as I left the lodge? “Goodbye now girl, and you know, you could try climbing a few mountains…” I guess I’m heading back to Kerry next weekend.
I’m getting up in a few hours to drive to Kerry to climb Carrauntoohil and undergo a fitness test with Pat Falvey Worldwide Adventures. It’s a training weekend to see how my fitness is shaping up for climbing Mount Elbrus in July.
Already things have not gone smoothly. The plan was to drive down from Dublin this afternoon and get up early tomorrow, fresh and well-rested to tackle the challenge ahead. However, heading out on the N7 in the height of rush-hour, my 23-year-old car ‘Little Red’ got a bit hot and bothered and I ended up stranded in Dublin for the night.
So tomorrow I get up at the crack of dawn, drive to Kerry in a borrowed car, and climb a mountain – then on Sunday I climb it again ‘against the clock’ – and then head back to Dublin, to run the Flora Women’s Mini Marathon on Monday.
If I sound a bit sorry for myself…. I’m not, but I do feel a bit nervous.
I’ve been dogged by injury since February and I’m carrying extra weight, and I haven’t got enough training under my belt to tackle Ireland’s highest mountain. This has not been an ideal preparation; so I know tomorrow will hurt, and Sunday will hurt. I don’t mind if I find it tough – as long as I can do it.
Ok, scrap that. Rewind, change the record. Let’s put all this in an entirely different way. Tomorrow I WILL climb a mountain.
I’ve often thought that learning the basics of anything, is the toughest part of the gig! Learning to ride a bike, or ride a horse, or balance in a kayak – they all involve periods of instability and discomfort, while you learn the basic skills. Then once you’re rocking and rolling – you have two choices. Continue practicing the basics PROPERLY or rush to the next stage of having fun, the adhoc way, just making things work to get further and faster, as quickly as possible. The second option is probably the easiest – but then you end up running out of steam when the going gets tough. Like throwing a javelin badly, it arcs high and falls short, and unless you go back to examine your grip and body position, you’re not likely to improve.
I felt a bit like that when I ended up on a snowy hill with Keith McDonnell from ExtremeIreland.ie. I’ve walked with crampons and ice-axe before, and I’ve walked on snow and ice. But I knew my winter skills needed work ahead of my big challenge on Elbrus later this year. Heading out to my first Munro after flying into Edinburgh a couple of hours earlier, I was amazed to see how quickly we drove from green fields to snowy mountains.
I first met Keith, on my first hike up Lugnaquilla in Wicklow with Mountain Rescue’s Ronan Friel and some other mates. That was a couple of years ago, but ironically, that was a snowy trip too. This time, Keith and me weren’t just hiking – this was a training mission. I quickly realised that Keith is big on basics. We hit the snow line, and Keith showed me different walking techniques for going up and down snow and ice. But we left the crampons in my bag! Now that was tough. No nice, sharp, spikes to grip in – instead it was down to me, my boots, my basic technique and the strength of my kick! Despite the freezing cold wind, I was sweating in minutes and had to lose a layer of clothing before we continued. Before long the crampons and ice-axe followed, and as we got higher, we lost visibility.
I’ve read about ‘white-outs’ and written about ‘white-outs’ – but I realised in Scotland that I hadn’t a clue what a white-out meant, until I was caught out in the spooky, scariness of not being able to see a thing in the distance. Google or Wiki will tell you that a white-out is caused by blowing or falling snow, low-lying mist, or an atmospheric condition where the light coming off the land is equal to the light around it, making shadows disappear, and with them, the horizon.
Unless you’re walking in those conditions, you really can’t imagine how strange it feels. My nerves were stretched tight to screaming point. I felt the snowy ground under my feet would disappear at any moment, into a gaping chasm. I felt any moment that I would walk off the edge of the cliff, and plummet down the 900 metre slope that I knew was lurking out there in front of me….. so I walked behind Keith!
Later I told the poor man that I had a complete rescue-strategy formed in my mind for when he disappeared into oblivion. In other words, I would dig a snow-hole, like he’d shown me earlier, get warm and comfy, out of the wind and mist, and hope that my phone had a signal to phone for help. Lame? perhaps, but at least I was able to tell him where we’d gone on the map – and that, for me, was a major step forward and a credit to his navigation tuition. When it came to navigation, I was seriously impressed. Following a map on a sunny day in Wicklow is one thing, but pacing in a whiteout and finding your way off a spur, around invisible rocks, and back onto a spur to retrace your way back down off the snowline – with no visible markers – that was remarkable. Well for me it was remarkable. I want to be able to do that, to have the confidence to use map and compass, and come out on point. That’s a skill worth having.
Other skills include walking effectively and safely in crampons on ice. I need to perfect these skills before I head to Russia this Summer, to climb Elbrus – Europe’s highest peak and one of the Seven Summits. I need to know how to walk in steep, icy conditions without slipping, and if I slip, I need to know how to safely ice-arrest, and stop my slippery slide to the bottom of a slope. That means being able to correct myself and stop my fall by getting the ice-axe into the snow as a brake – without stabbing myself in the process or letting my crampon spikes catch in the ice to break my legs. I need to be able to do that regardless how I fall or how I slip; that could mean head-first on my back heading down a mountain and gaining speed with every second. Ok, maybe I’ll stop thinking about that for a little while. I’ve made a start, and the next stage is working on my fitness and practicing that ‘digging in’ kick. I obviously don’t have snow to work with here in Ireland, but I have an idea that climbing sand-dunes might give me an opportunity to get the power into my legs.
My first Scottish Munro was an experience, which I’m anxious to repeat. The challenge is there Keith. Next year, I’ll join your regular winter walkers, and I’m determined I’ll keep up. You might even get me to navigate…..
Onwards and upwards….
There’s a reckoning a coming, I reckon….
If I’ve had a difficulty with training this year, it’s about balancing multi-discipline sports. Our Concern challenge in Uganda this November requires me to climb a volcano, cycle for several hundred kilometres and kayak the source of the Nile. Well I bought a bike and started clocking up hours earlier this year, and I signed up with the Wild Water Kayak Club on Dublin’s Strawberry Beds and learned the basics of how to fall in the river! (…and of course, more importantly – how to get out).
Now, as you can imagine, this all takes time – hours of time, and the one thing that has suffered is the activity I had previously been very familiar with – climbing mountains. To get hill-fit, you need to be walking up inclines for between 4 to 6 hours, at least once a week….and I haven’t been doing that. I simply haven’t had time for much more than a quick spin up and around Spink in Wicklow, which is a beautiful mountain, but not the most challenging – particularly when you’re only doing it intermittently at best.
So this Sunday, I’m facing the Goddess. Carrauntoohil in Kerry, at 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) is Ireland’s largest mountain, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I’m heading there this weekend, feeling a bit like a fool – because I know I haven’t prepared, and I know I’m going to suffer. I love this mountain and know her well, but I also know it’s not clever to take her for granted. I’m also pretty certain she’ll be wet and cold and windy. Mountains have a way of letting you know……