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
This day began early, as a taxi brought me through flooded streets to the 98FM Radio Studios at the Malt House, Grand Canal Quay. The leaden Irish summer skies weeped a deluge and mirrored my mood as we drove through the deserted early morning Sunday streets. Laughter and tears followed as friends and colleagues gathered on air to pay tribute to the lionhearted legend that was Johnny Lyons. For 20 years I worked and fought with this amazing man. Luminous and effervescent in his passion, brilliance, and extreme love and curiosity for life. He challenged me, he thrilled me, he infuriated me and he never let me down. So cruel and heartless. Snuffed out and snatched away at 49, when he had so much living left. Continue reading
I love mountains and I love to swim, but I rarely get to combine the two – until now.
I don’t consider myself a great swimmer, but when I start thinking about my watery moments, I’m suprised to see how much a part of me they are.
I’m not a great swimmer but I swim a great deal.
The Eastern Bay Swimming Club take to the sea at High Rock Malahide every Sunday at noon, and I join them when I can. This year I’ve been feeling Continue reading
I’m off on a new adventure and I don’t quite know the way. I’d grab a map, but I can’t seem to find a grid reference. Menopause is something all women experience ‘at a certain age’ and yet I can count on one hand the number of women who have ever mentioned it to me. I’m now getting a taste of these life changes myself and I have a suspicion that I’ll be talking about it a lot!
No night sweats or massive mood swings as yet, but I’m definitely more scatty and forgetful than usual. My cycle is shifting and I got hit with cramps and illness that sent me back to bed last Friday and robbed me of a trip into the hills with the girls. Very annoying.
Realising that my body is changing, I hesitated before posting about it on Facebook. I think I felt embarrassed, I felt perhaps I was getting old. The notion lasted all of ten minutes. A few hormones didn’t ruin my transition from chick to hen, and they’re not going to stop me getting my butterfly wings.
I am glad I decided to talk about it. Within the hour, my friends on Facebook had put me wise about nutrition, remedies like red clover and vitamin B, and I had been put in touch with a very uplifting website called www.mysecondspring.ie. A site dedicated to supporting and celebrating women entering menopause.
I lost one day on the mountains, but that didn’t last long. I’ve had a wonderful few weeks; the 33k Walk The Line for Dublin Wickow Mountain Rescue, a beautiful full moon hike with MountainZone on Slievenamon, an 18k trek across the Wicklow Mountains with JuJu Jay and a lovely trot up Brown Mountain and Scarr with climbing buddy Vera Baker.
This beautiful sunny Easter weather has also served as a reminder of how wonderful Ireland is, and how beautiful our natural resources. I can’t feel bad with all those green rolling hills calling to me. Nothing like a brisk walk to reset a girl’s perspective. New shoes and a fresh new haircut didn’t hurt either! Control, Alt, Delete; that’s my reboot right there. Come on second spring; let’s be having you.
I’ll let you know how I get on..
If you’ve been big, like me, you probably have whole years of your life without a single photo reference. When I was writing my book, after escaping from the prison of my 23 stone body, I had to beg for ‘big’ photos from my friends and relations to document the ‘before’. I’d cleansed them you see, completely erased every large unflattering print of myself, to complete my denial that I was obese and getting bigger.
The Power Within…
Lately I’ve been bouncing out of my skin with delight at my growing fitness and strength. After a dodgy winter with the weight piling back on, I’ve been back out on the wilderness trail, climbing mountains and running; working hard to reverse the damage. Finally this week, the results began to show. I felt the power building in me, my lungs burning less when I run, my calves burning less when I climb. On Friday I joined a night-hike on the Sugarloaf with the Oldtown Road Trailbreakers. On Saturday myself and some old mountain buddies climbed Leinster’s highest peak, Lugnaquilla, with Ronan Friel from Irish Guided Walks, surprising ourselves by finding snow at the summit. I stayed overnight in Wicklow to join the mighty JuJu Jay from ‘Mud, Sweat and Runners’ for a beginner trail run on Sunday, and accepted an invitation to go sea-swimming at the 40ft in Dublin for St Patrick’s Day.
Then came the photo of a thousand knives. Casually taken and innocently posted on Facebook, it was a photo like the photos that had haunted my past. Caught at a vulnerable moment, legs akimbo, muscles slack, crudely placed limbs facing into the camera, and worst of all, a glimpse of pain and discomfort in my eyes as my rusty old joints complained at their treatment. A horrible image that burned into my heart and soul and poked open the scars on wounds considered long healed.
Lycra or Bust…
I am often asked how I exercise when I’m heavy, if I am embarrassed, or how can I bring myself to wear Lycra or a swimsuit? Yes of course there is an element of ‘cringe’. If I am out running and kids jeer me, it hurts; but I’m usually too out of breath to answer back! Besides, the best response is to just keep running.
Mostly I just breathe deeply and get on with it. Knowing the freedom of being strong enough to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, is worth the effort. But occasionally there are setbacks when it all seems pointless, when I see defeat looming and feel the temptation to lie down in front of that wave of sadness and just give up. This was one of those moments. In the middle of a busy, active, fun weekend; my heart leapt and my breathing caught as I fought to keep my eyes from watering. My personal ‘pity-party’ gathered pace as looking at this horrid image, my confidence disintegrated around me. Is this how I look in my unguarded moments? A ridiculous caricature of the person I see in the mirror. Chewing on my upset, a timely call from a good friend gives me a chance to vent my sadness. Heading to bed somewhat earlier than expected, I suddenly feel tired and old and foolish.
Waking up this morning in Wicklow where my soul usually soars, I started out for my run with JuJu Jay with a stubborn reluctance in my step. It felt pointless. ‘Fat people can’t run’ I told myself. Except a sneaky voice in my head insisted that if I ran, I’d feel better.
I got JuJu’d…
JuJu’s chirpy greeting and jokey instructions have me loosening up my joints and my mind, before I have a chance to bolt. Within minutes we’re running. Beginners trotting out into the woods, at different levels and stages. When my breathing gets heavy, JuJu’s practical advice cuts through my embarrassment, and before long my head is up, my pace has slowed and I’ve found my rhythm. Not fast, not slow, but just right. Like Goldilocks, I’ve found what works for me.
Sometimes life knocks you out of rhythm, and like trail-running up a hill through a forest, you need to tune out the confusion, focus on the stillness, give yourself a hug and learn to breathe again. Thank you for today Juju Jay, and for helping me to breathe again.
It wasn’t on the itinerary, but the mountain was there, perched behind our beautiful Hotel Finca Los Llanos and thanks to Travel Department for adding on the extra and making it happen. Our walking holiday in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range has come to a spectacular Continue reading
Real Adventure Starts Here
I looked at the icy slope leading downhill away from me and shuddered. I knew I could go no further unless I tackled my terrors right here. The snow was hard-packed, shiny and hardened into ice. I could see the imprint of the boots that had passed before me and wondered if my feet would hold as well. Smothering all thought of what lay ahead, I took a deep breath, forcing the thin air into my lungs. I reached forward and gratefully took our leader Pat Falvey’s hand, and like a child I slowly and cautiously followed him inch- by-inch down the slope. Terrified of the drop to my right and concentrating firmly on Pat’s orange down jacket, glowing like a beacon ahead, step by step, until we finally reach a makeshift platform. Pat leaves me here with a grin, and thankfully I hug him, assuring him I can take it from here. I step forward on my own into the dark of the drop-house and breathe a sigh of relief as the smell of human waste engulfs me, finally, I can go to the loo…
Why Climb Every Mountain?
I don’t know why people climb mountains. I don’t know why I do myself; and frequently when I’m climbing them, I promise I will never climb them again. Then I see clouds drift across a lofty peak or a movie with the hero stepping confidently in crampons across the rock and ice and suddenly my breath catches in my chest and I think ‘that’s me’. The reality is somewhat different. I stumble and slip in my massive insulated boots, I move awkwardly across the snow in massive down jackets, with freezing fingers squeezed into multiple pairs of gloves, trying to hold onto an axe and make it work in a way that will save your life. It’s not pretty, it’s not an average holiday, and yet we spend weeks of our lives to seek out high, frosty, deadly places to climb. Why? Perhaps in a world which is both easier and harder, the immovable presence of a mountain gives you a benchmark to pit yourself against, to measure yourself against the forces of nature and find out who you are and what you can achieve. As one of the lads said in the safety of basecamp last night “If I can do what I did, and go through what I went through up there and come out smiling, what am I capable of back down below in the real world?” Perhaps it’s that simple, mountains make me feel alive.
Sleeping My Way To The Top
We all spent months preparing for this trip, all in our various ways. Hiking at home, cycling, running, swimming, gym work. All trying to be fit enough to justify our place in the team. You don’t just sign up for a couple of weeks on a mountain, you sign up for a six month campaign of attrition. My own preparation was a nightmare. I travelled to Scotland in January to practice ice skills, shot off to Norway in February to get a taste for how to dress against the bitter cold, I ran, swam, cycled, and then I fell, badly. I needed 14 stitches in my knee, two month’s rehab and then 6 weeks frantic activity to try and get my weight down and my fitness back. In doing that, I pulled a lateral Meniscus in my ‘good’ knee. I’d blown it – I was heading off to the mountain overweight and with both knees in braces. I was feeling weak and feeble as we went through our
acclimatisation walks and ice-drills on Elbrus, waiting for the moment of truth. I had massive doubts. But I knew others had concerns too; there were worries about altitude sickness from the light air, lack of energy, reaction to food, concerns over gear, how cold or warm would we be on the mountain. We all had our niggles and worries, and the team pulled together and reassured each other as best we could. Finally summit day approached with Pat our expedition leader and Artem our Russian guide locking heads over weather patterns and forecasts for the days ahead. The weather was difficult and local knowledge vital for interpreting conditions on the mountain. But we had worked hard as a team and acclimatised well, with walks up to 5,100m, and sessions practicing ice skills and ice-axe arrest techniques on the surrounding slopes. We were strong and we were ready. Despite a storm blowing with thunder and lightening just minutes apart and wind shaking our flimsy hut, we finally got the word that we’d go the following morning. Maybe.
We checked our gear and then prepared for an easy day. I slept. I ate breakfast, prepared my pack and clothes for the summit, and went back to bed. We had lunch in the communal hut and discussed the weather and the chances of going and then I went back to bed and slept again. We had our ‘last supper’ together as a team and I went back to bed, rolling into the row of mattresses that I was sharing with 7 other people, and slept again. I knew I had trained all I could, eaten all I could, hydrated all I could, doubted all I could, prepared all I could, now all I had left to do was rest all I could. In my mind, I was ‘sleeping my way to the top’.
“At 4am with temperatures of -20 and 35k winds, when the cold punches through your ‘top of the range’ down-jacket like a bullet through paper – you know just how fragile you are.”
2am had come and gone and the team thought the trip was off. But two hours later the call went up. With remarkable skill and daring, Pat and his local experts had spotted a weather window and the game was on.
Tumbling out of the heavy sleeping bag and silk liner, pulling on my extra layers, my ice-breaker vest, and favourite Columbia Teflon top and leggings, I add another precautionary Blisteze patch to my heel, before powdering my feet and double socking. Next my heavy double-boots go on, with gaiters to keep the snow out, Gortex waterproof layers, down jacket, balaclava, hat, gloves with liners under mitts, goggles, head torch, hiking poles, ice-axe. Moving heavily I tie on my 12-spike crampons and finally swing my rucksack onto my back, with food and nearly 2 litres of water. I’m ready to follow the team out into the darkness, into the weak, golden pools of light from our head torches, as we leave our camp behind.
Magic Peaks Around the Traverse
At 5,100m the air is light and my lungs screaming for oxygen as we begin the long traverse under the East Summit of Elbrus. I wonder if my mind has been playing tricks because I’m sure someone said this was a gradual slope. Nothing felt gradual about the incline pushing up against my feet. But in the cold, against the wind, and with the effort of each step, I’m suddenly reminded of another reason I love mountains. The life giving sun begins to dawn, casting pink fingers across the waves of frozen landscape, merging with mountain and clouds and me. The incredible beauty of nature. Off in the distance across the deadly slope I’ve been trying to avoid noticing; the shadow of Elbrus is cast pyramid-like against the surrounding mountains. It’s like a scene from the movie ‘The Summit’ when the awe-inspiring and deadly K2 casts it’s shadow across into China. I thought views like that were only for the silver screen and now I’m seeing the same effect here, with my own eyes. The sweeping beauty all around embraces me and warms my soul as the team push slowly forwards against the spindrift as the 35k winds throw surface snow against our faces, driving temperatures as low as -20.
We reach the ‘saddle’ between Elbrus’ iconic twin peaks and the game changes again. The sun’s up and blasting us with her fiery UV rays as the cold winds continue to hammer us, trying to steal fingers and toes. We rest briefly, then rope up in groups of 4, before tackling the next steep incline. The hardest part of this gruelling challenge is before us. The grail lies ahead and nothing between us, save this icy slope. “It’s a hill” I tell myself, as I push my shoulders forward into the wind. Ice axe in one hand, walking pole in the other, inching forward. I ignore the cold, the wind, the sun. I’m telling myself I’m in the Galtee Mountains back in Ireland with my training buddies Tony Nation and Karen Hill. It’s my pace and we’re pushing up Temple Hill. One foot in front of the other.
Falling Off The Edge Of The World
I’m kicking into the snow and ice with my crampons. I’m
thinking of technique, thinking of efficiency. I feel like dragging my feet forward but know if I don’t use the spikes to connect, my foot will slide and I’ll have an energy sapping jerk, pulling at my sore knee and forcing me to take the step again. So it’s slow, steady, and precise. The familiar mountaineer’s step. One clear stride, resting on your straight leg before kicking forward again with the alternate foot. One of our guides, Sasha, had been talking to me about pressure breathing. Forcing air into your lungs at altitude, without shallow breathing or hyperventilating. So again I concentrated. One step, one breath. Although I felt I was double-timing. Breathing two deep breaths per step. But I wasn’t stopping. I was still moving forward and that was the key. You eat these mountains bite by bite and step by step. I was up front in a line of 4, and occasionally, I’d shout back down the line “lads we have this, lads this is ours , we’re not going back now” and the shouts of encouragement coming back up the line gave me new energy to push harder.
Finally the slope evens out to one last platform before the final summit up ahead. So close I feel I can reach out and touch it. The rest of the team are already there, spread out in bunches of four. Either back in the dip or just dropping down from the summit. There’s breathless congratulations and high fives and reassurances that the summit is just 10 minutes away. The ropes are off, rucksacks abandoned, and we four are on our own again for one last pull. I’m last, but I don’t care, I’m exhausted but I don’t care, I’m sore but I don’t care. I’m having this. I’m taking this. There is no way I’m not going to reach out and grasp this now. Crampons in, 12 points in, push and breath, breath and push. Step after step, lungs screaming, legs screaming, soul soaring. I’m steps away from the summit and I hear some of the team shouting encouragement across the wind. I find new energy and double-time my steps as I pull myself up to stand at the top of Europe. Against clear blue skies, in bright sunlight, I turn around 360 degrees to take in the view, and with a catch in my throat, I slowly realise that TeamElbrus have made it. I’ve made it. 5,642m (18,510ft) the summit of Mount Elbrus.
Never Say ‘Never Again’
Later, much later. We’re eating lamb kebabs, drinking local beer and reminding ourselves of the journey we’ve made, both alone and as a team. I’m making my new buddies promise to remind me, never to do this again. So hard, so tough, so demanding and time-consuming. I’ve had it with mountains. I’m no adrenalin junkie, I know when I’ve had more than enough. I’m off trekking in Spain in October with Travel Department but that’s not about endurance, that’s a holiday. Gorgeous 10k walks in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains before heading back to a lovely rural hotel to cool off in the pool. Now that’s civilised. I’m looking forward to walking in Spain. I’ve never done that before. Of course I’ve been walking in other hot climates so I know what to expect and what to wear. I loved hiking in Africa. I climbed Mount Elgon in Uganda before cycling a couple of hundred kilometres over to the Nile to kayak down some white-water rapids. Phyll and Joe from TeamElbrus, they love Africa too. They’ve climbed Kilimanjaro – an amazing mountain they tell me. You know, after Elbrus, and Spain in October, I’d be well fit by next year. Kilimanjaro huh? well maybe just one more mountain….
William ‘Wildfire’ Shorthall
Mick ‘The BIC’ Byrne
Brian ‘Lazarus’ Gallogly
Joe ‘The Snapper’ Byrne
‘Doc’ Phyll Blake Byrne – (My Little Star)
Paddy ‘The Hat’ Lonergan
Noel ‘The Beard’ Garrahan
John Paul ‘Glow in the Dark’ Murphy
Shane ‘I can’t breathe but I’m still coming’ O’Toole
Teena ‘Never Again, Maybe” Gates
Guide; Irish & Worldwide Adventures’ Pat Falvey
Chief Russian guide; Artem Rostovtsev
“Ya know, we’re not walking at your pace – we’re walking at the team’s pace”. That’s what Greg Mulligan said to me, as we were coming down the mountain today. He was talking about our latest day’s training in preparation for climbing Mount Elbrus. He’d read my recent blog about my ‘Walk of Shame’ when I got pulled up to the front of the line, because I was slow. Now he was putting me at ease about the pace, and I just thought what a lovely thing to do and way to do it. I’m definitely going to put my back into it even more now. I don’t want to let the team down. That’s what we are you see, we’re TeamElbrus and we’re going all the way.
All the way today, was up in two cable cars and one chair lift, all the way to the snow line, high on Elbrus. The target was to get up into that thin air and accelerate our altitude training, while getting used to all the high-altitude gear. For some, it was a new experience to walk in the heavy, rigid-soled boots. These will protect us from the cold on the ice further up, but take a bit of getting used too. TeamElbrus coped well, walking from the last cable chair lift, up past the Barrels, and towards the huts where we will be staying tomorrow night. The Barrels is the name for a series of barrel-shaped huts, that high altitude climbers use as a base camp for climbing to the summit. There a series of hut-type bases along the mountain’s south side, that offer shelter to mountaineers looking towards Elbrus’ volcanic twin peaks.
We reached just under 4,000 metres today, moving up through the snow at a steady expedition rate. Kicking in and moving upwards, one step at a time. I assumed my now usual position up the top of the line, but I didn’t feel stressed today. My breathing was regular and I reckoned I could have kept that pace up for hours. That’s a really good thing – because on summit night, that’s what we’ll have to do. We could be 13 hours out on the ice. But that’s another day’s work.
The pictures here are: the girlies (me & Phyll), a Greg & me ‘selfie’ in the cable car, and me & Will walking through the snow. The shots are again by Joe, who’s rapidly becoming the ‘team snapper’.
The team handled the altitude well today and even had a dance with a bunch of Russian climbers, out on the ice. For anyone who’s travelled before with Pat Falvey Irish and Worldwide Adventures; you probably have an ‘Aroo-chi-cha’ idea of what went on. The all-girl Russian team were suitably impressed with our musical skill and our lovely strong men with ‘size 12 boots’. I thought the ice all around us would melt and run off the mountain right there and then. But the girls were swept away by a man in a snow plough and our lads had to settle for cheese sandwiches and a baby cucumber before turning back downhill.
Tonight at dinner we’re expecting a major briefing to determine the next few days. It’s time to leave our low mountain base and pack up all our gear. Tomorrow night, we’ll be sleeping on Elbrus.
Tomorrow we get serious.
JuJu Jay has promised to take me running… his Mud, Sweat and Runners group has already brought me on a navigation course; and I keep bumping into Juju when I’m out hiking in the mountains. Last time, he jumped off his mountain-bike to give me a hug as all his mates disappeared over a nearby hill. Another time it was my turn to rescue him, when his dog got bitten by a tick. ‘JuJu moments’ just seem to happen when he’s around and everyone I know thinks he’s just great. When I think ‘Juju Jay’ – I think of sunshine, laughter and mountain air. So I’m delighted to invite this breath of fresh air to share his magic with you as today’s ‘guest blogger’. As Juju would say…. ‘Peace’ (Teena G)
As most of you know I am very passionate about Mountain running and other outdoor sports like mountain biking; hiking, power kiting, cycling and much more…. My love for running and sharing great trails with people resulted in my starting up some group runs, which proved so popular that the M.S.R Facebook Page and Website followed. That’s Mud, Sweat and Runners folks!
My runs can be from 5k to 50k, and I am hoping to do longer distances in future. Our group runs are not just great adventures but also happy times; sharing new friendships along with new challenges – as you can see from the gallery photos on the M.S.R. website.
We are a casual group with no fees and no commitments. The group gives the opportunity for like-minded runners to meet up and run together. Whether you are going for a 5k or a 5 day race, or just training for a particular event, you will meet people in the same boat. There is no need for ego or elitist mentality in our group. We are all equals, no matter what the ability.
Mud, Sweat and Runners is a great way for runners to partner up, stay motivated and stay fit. All running is done at a pace that is suitable to your own level of fitness. You are not obligated to stay or even show up every time and you can turn back at any point on the runs.
We teach navigation skills and pool information about training, nutrition, inspiration, adventures, and swimming; along with sharing knowledge about races and challenges and beautiful places to run, cycle or hike. If you are into pushing out even further into the great outdoors, we also have weekend mini-bus tours to beautiful places around the country.
The structure consists of a choice of two runs; 10 – 20k & 20-50k. We schedule Day & Night runs, and route suggestions are also very welcome.
Mud, Sweat and Runners is based in Laragh, Glendalough in County Wicklow, which is where we meet. So check out details for the next meet on FB or the M.S.R. Website, and let’s all motivate each other & stay fit!
Swinging off the M8, we park ‘Blondie’ my dad’s car on the ‘Black Road’ near the village of Skeheenarinky. This is the starting point for the normal route up Galtymore. In Irish, Cnoc Mor a nGaibhlte is the appropriately named ‘Big Hill of the Galtys’. This is Ireland’s 14th highest peak, the tallest inland mountain in Ireland and the only inland peak to exceed 3,000ft (919m).
Slamming the car door and grabbing my kit and boots, I turn my back on Galtymore and jumping into my climbing buddy Tony Nation’s car, we drive away in the opposite direction. My heart is a missing a few beats as I wonder just how tough this day is going to be. We are not heading up the Black Road to climb Galtymore, instead we’re going to climb 4 other mountains first, hiking our way around in a sweeping crescent, to finish on the ‘big hill’ and reclaim our 1st car.
Tony, my long-time friend and climbing guide is chuckling a little as we drive towards a glen nestled beneath Temple Hill. As we leave his car and start to boot up, tie on gaiters and check our packs, he comments again that we have a long, day ahead. I don’t really need the reminder. I’ve climbed Galtymore several times before. It’s not difficult, but it’s steep and a good hike. I can see the length of the ridge ahead of us, and I can hardly comprehend that we will be covering all that ground on foot before the day is out. I remind myself that biting off too large a chunk is the easiest way for my mind to give up. So I break it down and put the knowledge of what lies ahead on hold. Being in denial can have its advantages!
On our approach to Temple Hill, we drop down through a small patch of woodland, into a lush, long-grassed pasture. Within minutes of leaving the road, I’m walking through a hidden copse, stepping into a snapshot of lives gone before. A stone-wall cottage, long abandoned, and sunken deep into the earth, buried in memories and pine needles. I stand in the sunken portal where the doorway once welcomed guests and I feel like a giant, dwarfed beside the disappearing house. The light is green and still, the air sharp with pine and moss, and in the distance the crystal noise of falling water. Here stories are made, and written. I want to return with a pad and pen and dream about who lived here and how their lives played out.
We take a few pictures and wander downhill to meet a small river that marks a start to the climb up Temple Hill. The climb ahead is grassy but steep, to reach 785m. We start off slowly, ‘expedition pace’ comments Tony as we start to ascend. It’s a truly beautiful day and I know I’m blessed, imagining how different this would be in the mist and rain. The views are already gorgeous and climbing here is no penance, every step takes me higher and shows me better views. I feel alive and strong and happy and grateful to be out on the hill.
We topped out and then followed a gentle moorland sweep towards a stony area and the summit cairn and trig pillar. Sheltering at the cairn, Tony pointed out something I’ve never seen before on an Irish Hill. From the rocks, he pulled out a ‘visitors’ book and pen, wrapped carefully in plastic, inviting hikers to leave a note and date their climb. I wrote down my thoughts and returned the book to Tony who careful replaced it for the next walkers to sign.
We pushed down into the saddle and turned our sights on our next target, Lyracappul. Careful not to lose too much ground we ducked the dive-bombing Swifts, who were clearly unimpressed to have their silence disturbed. They puzzled me a little, I don’t know a lot about them, but I know they spend much of their life in the air and don’t like nesting on the ground, so where are they basing themselves? In the cairns?
We began to climb again, and Tony reminded me about taking small steps and keeping my centre of gravity as neutral as possible. I’m training for climbing Elbrus with Irish adventurer, Pat Falvey, later this year; and these steep grassy slopes are ideal for mimicking the gradient of the long climb up the twin-peaked volcanic domes in Russia. I imagine climbing through the heather also gives me an idea of how it will feel to climb for hours, lifting my feet to push through several feet of snow.
We summit Lyracappul and take a breather at another stone cairn, higher than Temple Hill, at 825m. We’re sitting in the sun, munching on energy bars, when another party of climbers arrive. There was conversation, craic, and discussion about expeditions and foreign trips, before we all said our goodbyes and pushed off in different directions, leaving the Swifts behind.
We head along the ridge, dropping down and up between Carraig na Binne 822m and Slieve Chois na Binne 766m. The views of the valley below are stunning and we pick up the 4km Galty Wall as we head up again towards ‘The Big Hill of the Galtys’ for our final ascent to 919m. I know I’m blessed with these views and I drink in the green sloping valley on our right; while soaking in the corry lakes and cliffs on our left, pondering on the potential danger of stumbling around up here in the mist. You could easily get yourself into difficulty if you strayed too close to some of those sharp edges.
It is a long walk, but it is very beautiful and I slug into the final stretch, tired but confident. I know we are nearly at the final summit and I’m familiar with the long trek ahead down the Black Road; and every step is worth it. I want everyone to see what I see, but no picture or photograph can recreate this view, you just have to get your boots on and come and discover it for yourself. 360 degrees, with mountains and counties in all directions; on this clear day it is simply stunning. Tony points out the Glen of Aherlow to the north, the Knockmealdowns to the south, and he claims the faint blue line in the distance is my beloved Kerry Reeks.
With a burst of energy, I gallop up the final few steps to the iron cross that marks the summit of Galtymore. We are not alone. I meet a fellow Dub who has just finished his own personal pilgrimage to climb the highest peak in every county. He did it for himself, to get fit, to stop getting old and just for the sheer hell of it. He’s here eating a sandwich, enjoying a lonely celebration and totally at peace with himself and his world. We chat for ages and wish him well before we all prepare to say goodbye to our day’s final challenge.
The county boundary for Limerick and Tipperary runs across this summit. I’m not exactly sure where the line is – but I fancifully step astride where I imagine it might be. I am here, standing on the border, with one foot on each of the highest points in two counties. It’s enough for one day. I take a final sweep around at the view, before following Tony down the ‘big hill’ to the Black Road and home to Dublin. (7.5hrs)