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.
I 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”.
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.
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.
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!
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, 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.
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.
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 blackened 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
Nestled beyond Kerry’s beautiful Gap of Dunloe, perhaps it is the dark and brooding look when the rainclouds hang low over the Black Lake that earns the Black Valley its formidable title? Perhaps the black name was uttered during bleak famine days that ripped the valley of its tenants? Perhaps it is the more recent account of it being the last place in Ireland to be connected to power and phone networks, because of its remoteness? I’m not really sure how the Black Valley got its name. But this Bank Holiday weekend there was little ‘black’ about the valley that saw my exercise regime bring me walking 3k to the first of the lakes, with my 88 year old dad stepping out by my side. We dodged the showers under heavy bushes and overhanging crags, giggling like kids as we studied the clouds that brushed over Purple Mountain – timing our dashes between the dry spots – and watching with delight as drenched walkers passed us by, after displaying worse timing or worse luck than us. Heather glowed pink and purple, ferns and mosses were multi-hued, green and glowing in their post-shower celebration, sunshine sparkled on rain-washed rocks and roads, and everywhere the sound of water, gushing from the mountains to the lakes and rivers at our feet. The mountains and valleys, living and breathing all around us, playing with the music of sunshine and showers. Enjoying all this with my energetic, healthy, octogenarian dad. A little black magic perhaps?
Following our walk in the Black Valley, dad’s taxi to Kate Kearney’s Cottage was of the four-legged variety. The pony and trap turning up to surprise him, just before lunch. Thanks to Bob Ferris for the ride and the craic about his ‘one-horse-power’ cab. King of the Mountains, Pat Falvey, also had a great welcome for dad at his Beaufort Mountain Lodge; and the Malton Hotel rounded off the weekend in style, with swimming in the pool and a lounge in the hot tub. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my weekend in Killarney with dad; sharing with him my love of mountains and listening to his tales of growing up in Cavan and Belfast. It is great to exercise and have a passion for hobbies, health and fitness, but it is great to be able to share your passions with your friends and family too. I am thankful that with all my training and running around the country, I haven’t sped up so much that I walk too fast for my lovely dad.
I’m back in Killarney again this weekend. I am a little stunned to announce that I am proud to be an Event Ambassador for the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race 2013. I will be taking part in an Adventure Race Training Day this Saturday in Killarney and preparing for the race itself on October 5th. I watched these adventurous mud-spattered warriors stampeding past me in The Gap last year and I promised I’d find out more about it. I never thought I’d end up being involved to this level, but life can be funny like that. In case you are thinking that it is not for you, let me insist; there are three different routes for all levels of fitness, so you have no excuse. Join me and register here: http://www.killarneyadventurerace.ie/index.php and I’ll see you in Killarney in October! 🙂
What a fabulous weekend. I needed a good long hike to stretch the legs as part of my training for climbing Mount Elgon with Concern in Uganda this November, so I headed down to Killarney to my old mentor, adventurer and mountain man extraordinaire, Pat Falvey. I’d climbed Carrauntoohil a couple of weeks ago with my Concern buddies, and it’s been 2 years since I last climbed Purple Mountain with Pat – and that was in the dark! So when he suggested an amble across Purple and Tomies, he didn’t need to twist my arm. I’ve always been intrigued with the beautiful Purple Mountain, that gets it’s name from the fabulous sandstone that glows purple tones at a distance, when conditions are right.
The morning dawned magically misty, and I caught my breath as I peered out my window at the mountains in the distance, my head slightly under the weather from my Killarney reunion the night before with glasses of chiraz the size of buckets down in Beaufort Bar. A good breakfast under my belt and a spring in my step – I took off for Pat’s new shop, beside Kate Kearney’s cottage. It’s an Aladin’s cave for hikers… you can top up your gear, pay hundreds of euro for a top of the range down jacket, or poke around in the bargain bucket and come up for air with deadly gloves for a tenner, like I did… you can also book a hike in the hills, a boat trip or climb – or even look further afield to plan an expedition in the world’s exotic high places, before relaxing next door to plan the finer details over a pint of plain…
Heading up to the Gap the wisping mist had suddenly thickened to a heavy fog and I’d resigned myself for another wet one; but as I strapped on my gaiters and checked my pack for waterproofs and extra gloves – the fog suddenly blew away as fast as it came, and my heart sang as bright sunlight unexpectedly poured into The Gap. Avoiding the 1300 athletes who were milling through the gap for a running, cycling, kayaking adventure race – we headed up into the hills, quickly dropping layers and shoving hats and gloves deep into our kit bags, as we picked up a rhthymn, breaking into a light sweat, laughing with the sheer joy of being alive, and rejoicing in the music of the mountains, with the sound of water trickling over mossy rocks, and catching my breath in puzzlement to see fish jumping in lakes high in the hills. How do they get there?
It was a nice, steady pace, four of us in the group and no-one in a hurry. Laughing sometimes, silent for long spells, listening to the sound of breathing, of boots sucking in soft peat, and the clickety clack of poles tapping on sandstone. A picnic sitting on a warm stone with stunning views as the mountains fell away all around us to the sea, the comaraderie of good friends. My heart full of the joy and simplicity and beauty of a sunny hill. We pushed on, and up to Tomies Mountain, leaving the sandstone stepping stones behind, and making the summit to push down into spongy heather. Pleasant at first, and then a bit of a menace, as the legs continued to push through it’s springy depth, finding footholds – or not. Quite a few bottoms were kissed by the Kerry mountains this day….. down from the heather fields and into ferns, as my imagination took flight and I was beating through bush in Borneo…. until I met the beautiful ash-tree that signalled the end of our hilltop adventure – 5 minutes later, we’re on hot tarmac, and dodging pony-traps as we skip back up the road to Kate’s. A good six-hour trek, a beautiful day… and another training milestone on the road to Uganda. Does life get much better than this? 🙂
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……
I’m climbing the beautiful Carrauntoohil in Kerry, on September 16th, with the Concern team that are heading out to Uganda for their tri-adventure challenge this November.
The charity has said we can invite some friends along to climb Carrauntoohil with us – if they fill out a sponsorship form and raise some squids for Concern.
It’s the highest mountain in Ireland, so it’s definately worth raising a bit of sponsorship – it also requires anyone tackling it, to be hill-fit with decent gear, boots, waterproofs etc.
There probably won’t be that many spaces available, because we’ll need to match numbers to guides etc… so if you have your boots greased, and you fancy joining me, don’t hesitate, email now and let me know on: email@example.com