Most of you will know me as a Triathlete but my background is actually adventure sports and it was through this mutual love that I met my awesome adventurer husband Mike Jones. Our 4 year college degree was a Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Education and we got to spend a lot of time in the mountains or on the rivers and lakes of some of Ireland’s most remote and adventurous places.
A Romantic Escape
To say the adventure buzz is a little rife in our house is a bit of an understatement! Mike recently qualified as a Mountain Leader with Mountaineering Ireland and guided his first expedition up Kilimanjaro last month. All went well and he heads out there again this week to take on Africa’s highest peak with another bunch of enthusiastic clients. Between the two trips, we decided to spend some ‘quality couple time’ together and in true ‘us’ style we headed out, not to a nice spa or for a fancy dinner – but for the hills☺
Last week it was decided the ‘quality time’ would be spent in lovely Kerry, specifically in Ireland’s largest mountain range; The Macgullicuddy Reeks. While both of us had climbed Carrantuohill numerous times, Mike had always talked about a route he did two summers ago. It turned out to be one of his favourite – a beautiful, yet challenging day in the Irish mountains. We decided it was time for me to give it a go. I wouldn’t exactly say I am in the best climbing condition, especially not compared to someone who had been living at altitude for the last 12 days but I knew I could hold my own and hoped all the rope work and mountaineering skills that were ingrained in us over the years in college would come flooding back.
Planning the Climb
Most people climb Ireland’s highest peak via a steep gully known as the Devils ladder, however the route we were taking ‘Howling Ridge’ is a multi-pitch rock-climbing route which requires harnesses, ropes and specialist gear know as a climbing rack, which is basically lots of shiny,colourful pieces of metal that get slotted into cracks in the rock, from which safety ropes can take the climber’s weight in case they fall. Many spend years collecting and building on their ‘climbing rack’ and all this shiny gear can end up being worth a pretty penny.
That morning we set out, lunch and snacks in tow, and after a coffee stop in Killarney we hit the car park area at the foot of the climb at around noon. We hit the base of the climb and got harnessed and roped up in good spirits. With multi-pitch climbing you have a lead climber and a second climber. While in my climbing fit days I would have ‘lead-climbed’ today was definitely not going to be that day, and I was more than happy for Mike to lead and me to second. Pitch 1 was fine and all about getting used to the techniques again, the calls, the rope work and most importantly getting into my own personal climbing rhythm. The weather was perfect and I was thinking we’d top out on the summit after five, maybe six pitches as it didn’t look that far away. (Famous last words!) As we got higher the pitches got a little harder, with a couple of challenging moves and I was very glad I wasn’t leading. After five pitches the tiredness and burning arms started to kick in. It was here one piece of gear got stuck. I just couldn’t shift it from the rock!
Trouble on the Rocks?
Annoyed, I ended up leaving it behind and climbing on (which is a real no go for climbers and their precious and expensive gear) so when I joined Mike again and told him he decided he had to go back down and retrieve it! He down-climbed on an Italian hitch and I belayed him back up the same way. Not an ideal scenario and it added to our time on the climb.
At this stage we decided it was time to grab a snack and take a few minutes rest in order to be fully fuelled for the next lot of pitches. “You defo need your wits about you for the next half” I remember Mike saying…YIKES! But I smiled on, though maybe I would have reconsidered the spa option at this point!
Refuelled, we pushed on. Now each pitch seemed to test me a little more. I found a ‘chimney’ section particularly challenging, but hey this is what we were there for – the challenge!☺ Every now and then, when Mike was leading and he went out of sight I would have a slight moment of doubt, but my method of coping with doubt is this; be aware of it, allow it in and then let it out☺ I would also pinch myself and look out across the amazing surroundings and think how lucky I was to be there, doing this incredible climb with the man I love! For the last pitch we just roped up and moved together. This is a technique you use a lot in Winter Mountaineering. It means you can move pretty quickly and cover ground fast and this was important, as both time and snack supplies were slightly running out.
On the final pitch I had mixed emotions. My little arms and body were screaming and wanted the constant pulling and dragging to end, but my mind was thinking – maybe we should have brought the tent and camped the night to extend the fun and do it all again tomorrow! The last little slog to the summit is always exactly that… a slog. When we got to the familiar big cross that marks the summit there was just one other fellow climber who, on seeing us coming from the Ridge side greeted us with “Ah ye took the hard way up!” I laughed at the understatement.
We chose the quickest and steepest descent via the Devil’s Ladder, which is quite worn and loose in sections but we both have sturdy knees and good descending skills, another thing that was ingrained into us in college! An hour later we were at the foot of the ladder. At this stage again my body began to feel really tired, unlike my mountain goat of a husband, so true guide and porter style he took my pack and carried it for the remainder of the hike out. Now that’s my idea of real romance. At this stage we had been on the hills for 8 hours!! But what a wonderful 8 hours☺
So as it is named “Howling Ridge” was it really howling? No, thankfully we had perfect weather conditions, but it was a ridge! Is it the route everyone should take in order to make their way to the top of Ireland? No.But with the right guide, equipment and preparation, it is possible for most.
So whatever the route, my advice is…get yourself to the mountains folks, even if it is your local little hill and it takes you all day to climb, climb it and then enjoy the views from the top!
For more information on The Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Education at GMIT see www.gmit.ie/outdoor-education/bachelor-arts-honours-outdoor-education
For information on Hill Walking and Mountaineering training, courses or to join a club in your area see www.mountaineering.ie
For more info on Trips or Expeditions with Irish Expedition Company Earths Edge see www.earths-edge.com