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)