Lugnaquilla

Catherine, I, Conor and Donal went for a walk up Lugnaquilla recently on a fairly damp, gloomy day.

We took a fairly unconventional route – again thanks to Lonely Planet’s Walking in Ireland – starting at the footbridge in Glenmalure, up the road to the bigger car park and the youth hostel, up through Fraughan Rock Glen onto the eastern spur of Lug, to the summit and back to the start via Clohernagh.


Looking Back Down To Fraughan Rock Glen and Glenmalure

Once we climbed up out of the boggy Fraughan Rock Glen, I really enjoyed getting up onto the spur and finding the summit in the dense mist. Lug is a bizarre place in low visibility; a flat grassy summit with serious drops on either side – the North and South Prisons – and lots of people milling about, having their lunch on the cairn marking the summit.


Top Of Lugnaquilla

The sun made an appearance as we started down from Clohernagh which is probably what made us go a bit wrong. Rather than taking a northern spur down to Art’s Lough, we went down the eastern spur and ended up at the opposite side of the forest from where the zig-zag path to footbridge begins. Full of beans, we started ploughing through the dense forest thinking it wouldn’t be long before we came upon the path. A good 45 minutes later, we finally made it through, scratched to pieces and with a nice collection of pine needles in our clothes.


Conor, Me and Donal

Unlike the rest of us, Donal – the one who wanted to turn back half way up – seemed to love this part. The quote of the day was definitely his “every day should have a moment when you feel like Rambo” …

Cardiff and Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Walk

Last weekend Catherine, Janina and I visited Vanessa in Cardiff.

Catherine and I went over Thursday morning and stayed in the lovely Vale Hotel in the Vale of Glamorgan, had a massage, wandered around the golf courses, ate, drank and generally just chilled out.

For the rest of the weekend we stayed in Vanessa’s place, close to Bute park in the centre of Cardiff.

On Saturday, Vanessa brought us for a classic Brecon Beacon’s walk where we started at the bottom of Craig y Fan Ddu, around and up to Fan y Big, Cribyn, Pen y Fan, Corn Du and back via the upper Neuadd Resevoir.

It was a long enough walk – maybe six hours at a decent pace – but we were rewarded by stunning view after stunning view. It’s hard to describe the geography of this area of the beacons … it’s like a series of peaks joined by a ridge, the north side of which is a pretty sheer drop and the south side made up by a series of glacial corrie. All that makes for lots of ups and downs and walking along cliff edges.


Cribyn – Humphrey The Camel

“Humphrey the Camel” … WTF? I can’t post that picture without also posting this:


Who’s at the top of Cribyn! – Humphrey The Camel

Strange goings-on seems to be the norm around here – just as we got back to our car, we could see a group of fell runners blithely tearing down the steep slope we had climbed at the start, while at the bottom one of their group was wildly waving his arms pointing another direction. Looks like they’d come down the wrong ridge and the poor buggers had to trudge back up and go down a different way to their cars.

Anyways, it was definitely one of the most enjoyable days walking we’ve had in quite a while. Our appetite has been whetted again for hard walks. Back to Lugnaquilla next weekend!

Lately

What’s the most common mistake made by bloggers? Starting out with a flurry of posts and then letting them dwindle until there’s only one in a blue moon. Yeah, well …

Skiing

Early in March, a group of eight of us went skiing in Sรถll, Austria. As usual, we had a great week. Lots of skiing, lots of eating, lots of drinking and lots of laughs.

I’d only ever been skiing in Meribel, France before, and I found I didn’t enjoy the skiing itself in Sรถll quite as much. The Ski Welt area (of which Soll is a part) is pretty huge, so there is plenty of opportunity to explore. Our main problem, though, was that it took us ages to figure out the piste map enough to get out of the immediate Soll area and across towards Scheffau and Ellmau. We weren’t the only ones confused.

Most of our group did group lessons nearly every day, so Marie, Paula and I spent most of the week exploring together. Steve, the owner of our Hotel, the Gansleit, also took us out a few times during the week, which was pretty cool. Nice to have someone in the know guide you rather than having your nose buried in a piste map the whole time.


Me and Marie

As for the apres-ski part … well, we didn’t go too mad this year. Most days we came straight back to the hotel where there was a really nice sauna, steam-room and solarium to chill out in. Much more civilised than heading straight to the pub. Some nights we stayed on in the hotel for drinks after dinner, other nights we headed down to one of the bars in the village. One night we found ourselves in a low-ceilinged bar, heaving with locals, singing “The Irish Rover”. Bizarre, but good craic.

On our second last night, though, the “craic” ended with a “crack”. Messing about with Derek, I found myself flat on my face, with mild concussion, a fat lip and a sore hand. I still went skiing the next day – even leading the whole lot of us around the place – but by the end of the day, from the pain of dragging my gloves on and off, I realised things weren’t right with my thumb at all, at all. Back in Dublin, at hospital, it turned out to be broken. Dammit.


FAIL

Hiking

Needless to say, with a cast on my hand I couldn’t get up to much for a few weeks, but Catherine and I did manage to go for a few nice walks.

One of those was the Great Sugar Loaf, which we’d passed so many times on the N11, but hadn’t explored. We took the route suggested by our Lonely Planet “Walking in Ireland” book, going up from the north side and coming down the east flank. On the way up, we met only a small handful of people until just below the top where there was crowds and crowds of mainly families coming from a car park on the south side. We couldn’t wait to get down off there again and away from people.

Another weekend we went back to one of our more regular walks, the Tain Way and Slieve Foye in Carlingford. Living on “de northsoide”, it can be much handier to get up there than across the city to Wicklow. That day was a funny ould day for the weather … you can’t beat the Irish mixture of gale force winds, blissful sunshine, hail, sleet and rain all mixed up together. It’s definitely a walk we’ll do again and again, though. I love emerging from the forest towards the end with a view of the lough, the village and, across the water, the Mourne Mountains.


Top of Slieve Foye, Carlingford

We’ve lots more hiking ahead of us this summer as we’ve just booked ourselves in with UTracks to do the northern half of the GR20 in Corsica this September. The GR20 is supposed to be “the most difficult long distance walking trail in Europe”, so we’re in for a bit of a challenge, but it sounds like it’ll be excellent. I just can’t get my head around the fact that a Mediterranean island, 10% the size of Ireland, has mountains up to 2700m. When we’re done with our weeks trekking, though, we’re going to spend another week chilling out near a beach. I’m almost looking forward to that as much as the first week …

Sailing

Since I enjoyed the dinghy sailing courses in Sutton Dinghy Club so much last year, I’ve started the process of looking for a boat. Hugh Gill, club manager, was really helpful one lunchtime when I went down there looking for advice.


Hugh in a Pico

There’s so much to think about, it’s not funny. What type of boat? A Laser, an IDRA14, a GP14? If a Laser, then a full rig or a radial? Buy an old boat for a couple of grand, or spend twice that on a newer boat that would last you longer? If the boat doesn’t have a road trailer or trolley, where to pick those up? Where to store the boat out of season? Towbar for the car? Insurance for driving with a trailer? Insurance for the boat? Joining the club? Getting a boat parking space at the club?

Phew.

I’m leaning towards getting a Laser with a full rig, since it’s single-handed and there’s a fair few adults racing them in the club. I’m right on the recommended weight limit for a full rig, so I’ll probably have a tough time controlling it in strong winds, but maybe that’ll just get me down the gym more …

Now, if I could convince a certain other person that we really wants to take up sailing too, then maybe the slightly more sedate two-handed GP14 might be a good option. We’ll see ๐Ÿ™‚

Mountain Running

With the cast off, and some fitness regained, I’m getting back into running again and doing some hill/mountain running.

A couple of weeks ago, I went along and helped out with the registration at the Wicklow Way 22km and 44km races. It was good fun to go along, meet up with some IMRA folks and “do my bit”. No question that all IMRA runners should volunteer regularly since so much work goes into each race with course marking, registration, timing, marshalling, website stuff etc.

Still, though, it’s good that no-one expects too much from the organisers of each race – at Johnnie Foxes, I was given a list of names and told to give a “finishers mug” to anyone registering who had their name on the list. Next thing, Mike and Lindie had disappeared off to set the ultra runners on the way and I was left with a queue of the 22km runners looking to register. “Right then, how does this registration thing work?” was all I could say before getting the folks in the queue to help me figure it out … ๐Ÿ™‚

Best part of the day was when Mick Kellett came up to me to register for IMRA for the year and I realised this was someone almost in the M70 category about to run 22km across the Wicklow Mountains. Can I grow up to be like him, Mammy?


Mick Kellet – taken by Forrest5000

Wednesday night in Bray saw the start of IMRA’s Leinster League – 12 races, of which your 7 best results count. I was looking forward to it because it sounded like a nice, straightforward little race to ease back into things – 5km with a 275m climb? No problem.

Except, when I arrived in Bray – yeah, I’d never been to exotic Bray before! – it didn’t look so easy. That cross up on the Head looked like an awful long way up. Once we got going, though, it wasn’t so bad after all … I took it easy on the way up to the cross, not wanting to kill myself early on, and then pushed hard to keep on the heels of my nemesis-to-be, Tommy the Tumbler, across to the second hill and back. On the way back down, I managed to pass Tommy and a bunch of others, but I got my comeuppance back down on the seafront when I totally faded on the last 200m, and had to watch them all go past me again.


Thumbs up No. 92 – taken by Darragh Sherwin

I think that’s what I’m going to enjoy about these IMRA runs – I may have only come 95th out of around 220, with a finishing time 145% of the winner’s time, but it was still great fun “racing” against similarly-paced others. Mediocrity can be fun too!

Next week is in Howth. My home ground. Watch out Tommy!


Racing – taken by Darragh Sherwin

(Poor Tommy if he reads this … I’m sure he’ll wonder “who the hell is this guy?”)

Mountain Skills Course

Last weekend Catherine and I went and did Bren Whelan’s Mountain Skills 1 course in the bitterly cold Wicklow mountains. I was pleasantly suprised at the amount we covered over the two days and am much happier with my navigation skills now.

Concentrating Hard

The first day we covered different types of maps and their features, how to intepret contours, hand-railing (i.e. how to use a feature to guide you), different types of slopes, gear, mountain rescue, etc. etc. Aaron Byrne of Mountain Ventures Hostel and Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue was our instructor for the day.

The second day we went up Trooperstown Hill and moved onto a gradual, but detailed, introduction to navigating with a compass, pacing excercises, recovering from errors and “aiming off”. Bren was our instructor and I really liked the way he eased us into the skills, introduced concepts gradually and then did lots of useful excercises to drill them into us.

Both days we were joined by Ian, a trainee instructor, who very quietly added some useful tips and helped keep the atmosphere relaxed and cheerful.

There was six in our group, which was a perfect group size. It was nice that we had a mixture of experience and interests, but at the same time we were all at a similar level so no-one felt left behind or bored.

The Group

Some of the most useful stuff we picked over the weekend was from seemingly random chats between the “real” stuff, but I guess that was all part of the plan, really.

I’d definitely recommend these courses to anybody who likes to spend time in the mountains. They’re extremely well thought out, professional, good accompanying material etc. At the end of the course you’ll feel a lot more confident about what you’d do if something went wrong.

We stayed two nights in Lough Dan House, not far from Laragh, well up in the wild mountains between Scarr and Lough Dan (O 147 032). Sean and Theresa we great hosts and we spent hours chatting with them on Friday night in front of a roaring fire over a bottle of wine. The room was really top notch – newly decorated, big, bright, airy and cheerful – with an en-suite. Plenty of choice for breakfast, with everything from porridge to “full irish” to kippers on the menu. I reckon we’ll be back there as we start heading to Wicklow more often.

Comeragh Mountains

Over the weekend Catherine and I went for a really nice walk in the Comeragh Mountains. We set off from Mahon Falls car park, climbed up alongside the falls themselves, continued on up to Knockaunapeebra and “792” (the featureless high point of the Comeraghs) and onwards to the cliffs overlooking Coumshingaun Lough. From there we retraced our steps back to the falls, but returned to the car park via the ridge on the western side.

Mahon Falls

It was a fun walk, but the gale force winds and poor visibility made it more interesting than it usually would be. Also, the stretch from Knockauanapeebra to Coumshingaun was a bit of a trudge through bogland and bracken. It’s good to see that I’m not totally hopeess with a map and compass though ๐Ÿ™‚

While we were munching on a sandwich above Coumshingaun – waiting for the clouds to clear so we could actually see the lough – we met the only other person we saw walking around there. It turns out he’d come up the ridge to the south of the lough and was returning via the north ridge. Sure enough, when the clouds cleared a bit the view over the lough was stunning and the ridge walk looked like a lot of fun. We’ll be back to do that one, I think …

Mountain Meitheal

At the MCI lecture the other night there was a brief mention of Mountain Meitheal, a volunteer group who give up their time to help maintain some of the mountain and forest tracks (currently only in Wicklow, it seems).


Building the new bridge at Carrwaystick

They definitely seem like a group worthwhile volunteering for if you spend time in the mountains. I really like their “for every seven days in the mountain, how about you give a day back?” approach.

MCI Winter Lectures :: Tim Orr

Catherine and I went along to the first of MCI’s Winter Lectures series last night to see Robbie Fenlon talk about trekking in the Himalayas, but instead we had Tim Orr step in and give a talk that ran the whole gamut of mountaineering.

As two people just getting into mountaineering, Tim’s talk was really interesting. He covered everything from walking in Kerry, to mountain skills courses, to climbing in Dalkey quarry, to trekking in the Himalayas, to winter mountaineering in Scotland, to climbing the Eiger and Mont Blanc, to scrambling, bouldering, rock climbing and more.

The videos Tim had put together on his climb of Mont Blanc with some friends was especially helpful in my quest to convince Catherine that we should book a Mont Blanc ascent for this summer ๐Ÿ™‚