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……