I am not climbing Carrauntoohil today. I am in Kerry, I am in Killarney, I am staying at the Mountain Lodge of explorer, adventurer and mountain mentor Pat Falvey; but I am still not climbing Carrauntoohil today.
Pat has a group going up alright; all anxious and excited with crampons and ice-axes, in search of snow and ice in Curved Gulley. I envy them a little, but I am not going with them. I haven’t been on a hill for a couple of months, and halfway through a six hour hike in winter conditions is not the time to discover you’re not hill fit. Especially when you know the answer before you start.
I did get the invitation to join them though, and I couldn’t resist the lure of at least walking in to the foothills.
I had a late and sociable night, finally rolling into my duvet around 2am. When the alarm kicked up a racket at 7am it was still inky dark outside. I shivered, punched my pillow, and considered rolling back into the arms of sleep. A little part of me wondered ‘what was the point of joining the hike if I wasn’t going to climb the mountain’.
The smell of Continue reading
“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.
The Australian walkers checked a few local routes with us before heading for the hills 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.
Off 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.
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.
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.
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.
Well the challenge is on. In the next two months I need to pour 6-months of training into just 8 weeks. In July, I travel to Russia with Pat Falvey Worldwide Adventures to try and reach the summit of Mount Elbrus – the highest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits.
I’ve been planning the climb for close to a year, but falling and slicing my knee open in February wasn’t part of the plan. At this stage I’m not nearly ready, and have only started to resume the training plan that I should have been working on for the past three months.
I don’t know if I’m going to be ready in time, but the knee has healed well and is taking weight – and with two months left, I’m not saying ‘no’ just yet. Tips, hints, suggestions about rehab and healthy eating will all be very welcome in the coming weeks, as I crank up the race to be fit.
At some point I’ll have to make a decision about the safety of joining an expedition on a mountain where unpredictable weather calls for endurance, fitness and the ability to move quickly if nature throws a curveball – and all this at altitude. For now, I’ll just concentrate on getting fit. I feel like I’m 23 stone all over again. I have a mountain to climb.
Elevation: 18,510 feet (5,642 meters)
Prominence: 15,554 feet (4,741 meters)
Location: Caucasus Range, Russia. On the border of Asia and Europe.
Coordinates: 43°21′18″ N / 42°26′21″ E
First Ascent: 1874 by Florence Crauford Grove, Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, Peter Knubel, and Ahiya Sottaiev (guide).
Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia. At 15,554 feet (4,741 meters) it is also the tenth most prominent mountain in the world, and one of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Mount Elbrus lies on the geographical dividing line between Europe and Asia, but most geographers consider it to be the highest mountain in Europe.
‘Climbing.about.com reports that Elbrus is considered one of the world’s most deadly peaks with a high ratio of climber deaths to climbers, as many as 30 in a year. Considered an inactive volcano, Mount Elbrus is perpetually snow-covered with an icecap and 22 glaciers. Lava flows cover the mountain as well as 100 square miles of volcanic ash and debris. Pyroclastic flows of ash and mud, indicative of a powerful eruption that melted ice, also drain off the mountain. An 800-foot-wide snow-filled volcanic crater is on the mountain’s western summit. Elbrus last erupted around 50 A.D.
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….
Back in February, six ordinary people from around the country met with myself and a production crew from Athena Media. We went for a short walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, while we discussed our plans to get out and get active in the great outdoors. It was our first day of filming for a six-part television show that will be broadcast on Setanta TV this September. In the months that followed, we ran and trained, climbed mountains, cycled bikes, learned to swim, took part in triathlons and became firm friends.
When I started this project, I was widely enthusiastic, exhilarated by the opportunity to preach my message once again – that if I could lose 13 stone and get healthy, anybody could. For me, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle have exploded into a life full of passion and colour and I can’t help but get carried away when I talk about the joy of waking up each day with my new-found health. I hoped my group of six ‘Get Off The Couch’ participants would have a similar experience; but I could hardly have imagined the outcome.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re not just talking about six people who got fit and healthy, we’re talking about new jobs, a return to college, a major sports deal, giving up smoking and whole families changing the way they spend their leisure time together.
Strictly speaking, we finished filming back in June. But on Saturday we met again, to catch up, and because I wanted to show them my lovely Spinc Mountain that I had been bragging about throughout our months of training together. They were invited to bring friends and family, but I was a little concerned when I saw the youthful bunch that turned up – our youngest walker was just 4-years-old, and I confess I didn’t think they’d last 5 minutes. To my amazement, they hopped around the mountain covering a 9km hill-walk with a climb of 380m in just under 4 hours; and 4-year-old Charlie was the most energetic of all of us. It just goes to show that sometimes our kids can be limited, not by their lack of strength or maturity but by the preconceived and erroneous notions of us boring old adults.
Thanks to my GOTC gang for a fabulous day – to the kids for the life lesson – and to Joan Kavanagh (local historian and member of the Glens of Lead Project) who met us on the trail along the way to introduce us all to ‘Paddy Byrne’ (wooden miner model) and to tell us about the history of the old lead workings and mines at Glendalough.
After a ‘Last Supper’ with the team, several of us went back out on the hill again for a night climb on Spinc – as part of my climbing mate Vera Baker’s preparations for a Concern hike to Kenya later this year. Staying in Wicklow overnight, the Concern trainees were back out on their bikes for some cycling exercise on the Sallygap on Sunday, and then I was back up on Spinc for a 3rd and final climb on Sunday afternoon, before I returned to the city and prepared for work and the gym on Monday.
My own training intensifies next week. I’m preparing for the Liffey Descent kayak and cycle challenge that I’m doing this September with ‘Mr Kayak’ Kipper Maguire, to raise funds and awareness for LauraLynn Hospice – Irelands ONLY childrens’ hospice. If you have a few bob, please drop it into our MyCharity page here – and please pass it on….
Today kind’ve hurt the body, but fed the soul. But I knew in advance it would be like that, and it was a glorious day in the snowy Wicklow hills. I’d been sick and my fitness left a lot to be desired, but the snow was here and that was just too good an opportunity to miss.
A group of hardy hikers, we set off from the Glendalough Visitors’ Centre, trekking through the parkland then across the carpark and back out to cross the road, and then simply headed up into the woods in the direction of the snowline and the Camaderry summit.
The first incline through the trees was pretty steep and pretty slippy, and I danced over my boots, carefully picking where I placed my feet to avoid an unexpected slide. My breathing was pretty rough, a witness to my lack of presence of the hills lately. My dodgy knees felt well though, although I was using sticks to help them and I could feel the tension in my shoulders from the poles and my rucksack. But as we found our rhythm, old muscle memories came back and the skills picked up in the hills in the last couple of years kicked in. I shortened my stride, relaxed my shoulders and lifted my head a little to help the air to reach my lungs. I’d forgotten how good this felt, when your body lines up with your mind and works as a team, at one with yourself and the mountain around you.
As we reached the snowline, the chance of slipping eased and the new challenge was to step over the deep snow and into the footprint of the climber ahead. The snow was 9 inches deep in places and the joke was who would come looking for me, 5″foot tot that I am, if I completely disappeared in the snow. Such sympathy and empathy from my climbing buddies!
We got the ‘science’ along the way from Everest Summiteer Ian Taylor and Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel. As we got higher, our boots crunched through hard-crusted snow to sink deeply to the ground below. The height and cold was freezing the top layer of snow, and the lads explained how layers of soft and frozen snow can build, become unstable, and depending on the incline and what lies below, can cause an avalanche. But not today in 9 inches of snow in Wicklow. Thankfully.
As we left the treeline the mist cleared and gave spectacular views across Glendalough. I always think views like these are the reward for the hard slog, but you don’t always get them, and that makes them extra special when you do.
Within moments the snow had descended again and we pushed on towards the summit in a white-out. I’m always hugely impressed at the skills of people like Ian and Ronan, who can unerringly find their way to a chosen point regardless of the weather and visibility. I’ve got my MS1 and should be able to navigate, but I’m not; mainly because I’ve been too lazy to practice. That’s something I must tackle this year.
On cue, the stones that mark the summit, pushed up through the snow covering them and the mist surrounding them. Time for snow angels and lunch, as we grab fleeces and layer up. So quickly the chill sets in when you’re not moving and before long we were striding out again, back towards the treeline.
Today wasn’t a long hike and it wasn’t a particularly hard one, but it was hard for me. I wasn’t panicking about that though. I haven’t been able to exercise properly for nearly a month, and I realise that it’s natural to expect a lack of energy after surgery, a fever, and weeks of drips and pills. The main thing is that the mountains haven’t gone away and there’s a whole year ahead to get fit and strong again and enjoy these hills and others.
Today was a very good day.
No better way to wind down the year than a mulled pie darkness hike from Pine Forest/Tibradden to the Blue Light pub. After last night’s storm, today dawned dry and bright and it was a pleasure to get out into the woods. We had lots of layers squashed into our rucksacks, in preperation for the cold windy bits we’d find at the top, and we needed them – it was like being in a wind-tunnel up there. We all brought head-torches too, and spare batteries; because we knew we’d be walking from daylight into the dark. Thanks to Brian O’d and a score of hardy hikers for a great day (& night) out…
Got to say, when we all set off from Rathfarnham I felt a little grim – that was a hot pace, and there were lots of big people with long legs! I’m just 5″ and those long legged yokes are the bane of my life. 😉
Actually, if the truth be known, I haven’t been on a hill since coming back from Uganda and I simply wasn’t hill-fit. The first 30 minutes were tough, I was sweating like a dog and panting like a cart-horse. I couldn’t understand why I was so over-heating so much. But after a while, I had enough ‘cop’ to take the Santa hat off – and I cooled down a bit. Doh!!!
Well it’s a week to go to Uganda, so if I haven’t trained enough by now, I’ve just left it too late. I’m excited, but I’ve got those pre-expedition ponders – when you just can’t help going over the last few months in your mind, and wonder… if only. If only I’d tried hot-yoga, it would have helped me prepare for the heat. If only I’d spent more time on the hills, more time on the bike, more time in the pool. But in fairness, I drafted a training plan several months ago, and I’ve pretty much stuck to my plan. I’ve cycled 15k into work and back, most days – I’ve lifted weights in the gym twice a week, I’ve joined Wild Water Kayak Club and learned the basics of how to paddle, I’ve got my level 2 cert to prove it. I’ve climbed Carrauntoohil twice, and Purple Mountain and Tomies – as well as several training runs up my beloved Spinc in Wicklow.I’ll know very soon if I’ve done enough to tackle the altitude on Mount Elgon, whether I’ve done enough to keep up with the rest of the group as we cycle over 200k through the African bush, and whether I’ll be able to Kayak well enough, when we get to the Nile and Hairy Lemon Island.
This was my very last weekend for training, and it’s been a howler. A day’s climbing in Wicklow yesterday, followed by climbing at Awesome Walls last night – and a day out on the Liffey kayaking today – and all with a film crew shadowing every move in preperation for “Get Off the Couch”, a programme I’m presenting for Athena Media on Setanta next year, which aims to encourage people to get up and get active and get outdoors into our lovely countryside. Thanks to Barry and Paula and Rob and Helen – you were all brilliant this weekend and I’ve learned so much already from you all.
I really don’t know whether I’ve done enough for Uganda on Saturday – I really hope I have, I hope I do Concern proud. But at least after today, I feel a lot more confident about the paddling. I’ve had a real mental block over paddling over weirs into white water and was gutted last weekend when what should have been my last training session didn’t come off the way I wanted it to. I decided to have one last shot and the guys in the club pulled out all the stops for me and got me in the water again this weekend. Last night I kept telling myself I could do it – even though I didn’t really believe it! Today I told myself the same thing, and eventually when the time came, I popped over Wrens, and stayed upright….then did it again… and again. Andy, my WWKC instructor was with another group downstream, and he told me later they all heard me screaming with jubilation and they laughed as he said “ah, Teena’s made it down Wrens!”
I’m so grateful to Wild Water Kayak Club. To Andy, Aidan and Dave – who first showed me the ropes, to Andy again who never gave up on me, and to John Judge and Sean who took me out today. Thank you to adventurer, friend and mentor Pat Falvey, to Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel, ATI ‘City Kayak’ chief Donnchadh McCobb, to gym guru David Dunne, to my own fantastic radio station 98FM, to Howth Coast Guard and all our ‘forces’, to the most patient dad in Ireland, to my brother who’s prepared a detailed list of all the spiders I need to avoid in Africa, to the Albany Clinic who gave me millions of injections for a very tiny price and no bruises, to Great Outdoors who always support me and who are on P41 of my book!, to swimming ‘Chanimal’ Fergal Somerville, and to everyone who hiked and climbed and encouraged and motivated me over the past couple of months. So many friends, including my FB & Twitter supporters, I’m so very, very lucky. And thank you to whoever told me to fake-it till you make-it… ‘cos today I faked my way over Wrens until I suddenly made it! If it turns out that I haven’t done enough for Uganda, I guess I know what I have to do.. 😉
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? 🙂