Sunday, December 13, 2009

Knocklmealdown Mountain

Today, for the first time since October, I went for a walk. The objective; to summit Knockmealdown mountain. I woke and immediately peeked out of the bedroom window to find the sun shining and a hard frost on the lawn, an auspicious start to the day promising perfect walking conditions and fine views. It felt great to be back on the hills again and at 794m high, its fairly large by Irish standards.

The views from the top were extraordinary as expected, straddling the border between Tipperary and Waterford, the sea can be seen to the south and the Galtees to the north west, Slievenamon and the Comeraghs were also clearly visible roughly east. Underfoot the ground was easy and dry, I would perhaps go so far as to say Knockmealdown from the Vee gap offers some of the best ground in the country. No bog was encountered on the entire route.

The route itself was a doddle, following a low stone wall from the Vee all the way to the summit, passing Sugarloaf and Knockmoylan along the way.  As I said the height at the summit is 794m but the fact that the car park at the Vee sits at 300m, the actual ascent required is vastly reduced. A walk can be completed from the bottom of the Vee and I plan on coming back to complete the entire Knockmealdown range next year.

Total route time, from the Vee to the summit and back; 3.5hrs although we stopped for a good 30mins for lunch and since the views were so good, we stopped frequently to take them in. Ill leave you with a couple of examples of those views.



Friday, December 11, 2009

A hill walking diary 2009

Its coming to that time of year where people are starting to think about new years resolutions and perhaps beginning to plan their holidays for the year ahead and im no different. There was one guy i used to work with who would come into the office after the new years holidays and immediately hand in his holiday request form using up all of his holiday entitlement. Now that was a guy that worked to live, not the other way round.
This morning i found myself looking over the photographs from my trips in 2009. Its been my most active year from a walking point of view. It would be interesting to see just how many miles i covered in this time, maybe an exercise for a rainy day...

The years walking really began in February in the Mourne Mountains, the hills had been covered in snow, so much so that parts of the Mourne wall leading to the summit of Slieve Donard were completely covered. I spent two days up there, the Saturday being bright, cloudless and chilly with wondrous views and no wind. The Sunday was the polar opposite, complete whiteout, below freezing temperatures and fierce winds to boot. Hard to judge which day i enjoyed more though as i had just as much fun in the whiteout as the sunshine.

February also saw my first ascent of Slievemore on Achill Island. Its no giant at 671m but its a good climb, the mountain is shapely and the views i hear are superb but ive yet to sample them as that trip along with another ive done there since were completed in thick fog.

In March i only had one real trip to speak of, a miserably wet 18km trek through the Mournes, i got so wet so quickly on Slieve Donard, i never even bothered to put my waterproof trousers on.

My girlfriend and I headed to Spain in April for a week to begin our Camino de Santiago, an 800km walk from St Jean Pied de Port in France, over the Pyrenees and finishing in Santiago near the west coast. We didn't get far, 70km or so and only 3 days walking in total due to illness and an unplanned diversion to Bilbao. The highlight of the trip was camping out during a thunder storm at 1200m in the Pyrenees as we shared a one man Hilleberg Akto whilst I continually spewed out sulphurous burps due to some sort of stomach bug. It was a deeply unpleasant 9 hours for both of us.

May was a busy month too, we headed back to Achill with the intention of climbing Croaghan but the weather was so good we scrambled out to Achill head and sunbathed instead. Achill Island is such a beautiful place, I love it there. A couple of weeks later we took a trip across to County Kerry where we visited the Macgillycuddy's Reeks, again the weather was sublime. We took in 6 summits that day including Carrauntoohil, we didn't reach there until late evening and had the whole mountain to ourselves to enjoy the sunset.

I returned with a good friend just a week later with a view to traversing the full length of the ridge, the route can be completed in a day but we planned to take our time and do the ridge plus the Coomloughra Horseshoe over two days, breaking it up with a wild camp somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately this time we weren't so lucky with the weather and we were literally forced to hightail it off the ridgeline on the first evening.

Our plan B consisted of descending to the Hag's Glen and camping low down, continuing again the next day, when we reached the Glen though, the entire area was swimming in water and there looked to be no let up in the storm. We eventually resorted to staying in the hostel a few miles away but not before we completely soaked ourselves crossing a dangerously swollen river. The decision was made that night to come back another time.

After the Reek's debacle Mark and I decided to try another long walk, the Mourne Wall. Again, not being too interested in breaking speed records we went for the two day option. This time everything went great, the wild camps and views were awesome and i even came home with a sun tan.
I returned again to the Mournes a couple of weeks later for a wild camp and a short trek over 3 of the 4 highest peaks in the Mournes.

July saw a day walk up Galtymore and Galtybeg and we completed the Joyce Country Challenge in Galway. The route was 31km in length and took us around ten hours, there was plenty of ascent and descent during the day which meant tired legs at the end. The gourmet burger we each had in Leenane afterward was probably the best meal we'd ever had.

We took the kids to Wales in July too and decided to take a trip up Snowdon via the railway. The weather was so bad though even the bloody train couldn't get past 600m. There wouldn't have been anything to see from the top anyway, we were in cloud before we left the station!

I had plans to go to Slovenia in August and an attempt on Triglav, the highest point there. Circumstances dictated that that didnt happen so Mena and I decided to return to our Camino de Santiago instead.

We had the whole month to ourselves so we took full advantage and spent 26 days in Spain, starting off from where we had left off in Pamplona back in April. We took our time and walked for 21 days, getting as far as Leon before taking off to Madrid to do the tourist thing. This trip was the most fantastic of my life and the best thing is, its not over, we still have another 200km or so to go before reaching our destination in Santiago.

Not long after we returned to Ireland, I was out again, up Doan Mountain in the Mournes for a quick wildcamp. (You can read about that trip a few posts below)

All year I had been longing to climb Mweelrea in County Mayo and in October the opportunity arose so I took off with Mena to bag it. We did the horseshoe from Delphi Spa and it turned out to be one of the best walks we did all year. The trip also provided the greatest sight we had witnessed all year, a circular rainbow that we saw beneath us from the ridge. That walk was truly spectacular.

A week later i was back on Achill Island for the third time in 9 months. I did Slievemore again but continued over the other side of the mountain this time instead of retracing my steps like I did in February. Again the cloud was low and the wind was gale force. I needed to use my compass to get off the summit plateau as visibility on the top was practically zero.

Once I found my way, i descended into the "deserted village" at the foot of the mountain, I took off then to a lookout tower on the lower slopes of Croaghan before heading back along the Atlantic Drive to Keem Strand. Bizarrely for me I somehow got it into my head that the walk I had done hadn't been strenuous enough and so I ran the last 4 miles to Keem Strand, stopping only at the point where a 19 year old man had driven off the clifftop road to his death a day before.

All in all, a fantastic year, over 4000 photos that will last a life time and a truck load of memories although all I can think about is what sights i'll see during 2010...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ed Viesturs - No Shortcuts to the Top

Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks

Ive just finished this great book, the first book I've read for a while that i literally have not been able to put down.

As the sub-heading suggests, it centres on Ed Viesturs attempts on reaching the summits of the highest peaks in the Himalaya and Karakoram, without the aid of oxygen, what he calls, his 'Endeavour 8000'. The book details part of his private life outside of the mountains too but not to a great extent and what he does talk about, is only to explain how it affected his mountaineering life.

He describes his ascents of K2, Everest and Annapurna in great detail which is fascinating, especially for wannabe Himalayan Mountaineers like me. My heart rate increased as he got further and further up the mountains, he didn't reach the summit of all the peaks on the first go so the ending of each account isn't a foregone conclusion before you begin. He does of course get there in the end but not without plenty of drama, and tragedy.

One thing that shocked me was the sheer number of friends he lost in the mountains, i'm not sure what the books death toll is but it would probably put some Stephen King novels to shame.

One thing i loved was the amount of depth he goes into about the logistics of climbing an 8000er, the gear required, the food required, how the money is raised, the training involved, the skills needed etc.

I hadn't heard of Ed Viesturs before reading the book so i had no knowledge or pre-conceptions of him. He comes across though as a thoroughly driven, ambitious mountaineer who never let his ambition allow him to die on the mountains, something he sums up well with his saying, 'getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory'.

Anyone who has read Into Thin Air may also enjoy Viesturs interesting account of the '96 Everest tragedy, he was on the mountain that year making a film about climbing the mountain while the events unfolded.

Overall a fantastic read, im really considering reading it again....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Doan Mountain

Ill start things off with a look back at a walk taken this September in the Mourne Mountains, i wrote this piece initially to see if i was any good as a travel writer. Being able to combine work and my love for the wild places is a dream of mine so we'll see what comes of it. It was written as a route description so the style isn't as personal as my writing on this blog will be.

I have spoken to many people over the years about the joys of wild camping; many of whom use it as a tool to enable them to complete more difficult and lengthy routes. For others just starting out though, that may be a step too far at first. Doan Mountain in the Mournes offers a chance of waking up to an awesome sunrise, on an actual summit, without the uncertainty of being miles from civilization, proving that bigger isn’t always better.

If we were to compare the Mourne Mountains to a litter of puppies, Doan would seemingly be the runt of the pack. Under-rated, under appreciated and dwarfed by its larger brothers and sisters, many walkers choose to ignore this peak, opting instead to go in search of bigger prizes around its periphery.

For the discerning walker though, Doan comfortably rides up front alongside its more celebrated neighbours like Bernagh and Binnian. Its position is enviable, sitting at the head of the Silent Valley reservoir, Doan affords the walker with some of the finest vistas in all of the Mournes. As well as the reservoir itself, all of the surrounding 700m peaks can be identified easily, with uniquely unobstructed views.

The Ott car park on the Slievenaman road is our starting point for this route, its close proximity should offer peace of mind to those heading out for their first wild camp. From the car park, cross the road and hop over the stile onto a wide stony path, follow this path to a fork where you should veer right to avoid ascending via the sometimes swollen Shimna River and deep bog. The path is gentle in gradient and winds around the bottom of Ott Mountain, offering a pleasant view of Fofanny Dam further down the valley.

Further up, the path comes to an end but a trail can then be negotiated through wet ground and peat hags to the saddle between Slieve Loughshannagh and Carn Mountain. A ladder stile here over the Mourne wall gives entrance into the inner Mournes, with the bulky Slieve Binnian dominating the view ahead.

Leave the wall to pick up the path again, avoid the broad gully which leads down to the shores of Lough Shannagh, instead contour around Slieve Loughshannagh to the left. The aesthetically pleasing Doan now comes into view to the south east. The narrow track leads gently downhill again to a flat, open area of soggy ground which is easily crossed. A path is now clearly visible leading a direct route to the summit. The gradient is not overly steep and the only obstacle will be an easily negotiated and very short rock step leading to the summit.

The summit is rocky but sports a flat grassy area large enough for a couple of small tents. Make sure that the tent is facing into the prevailing wind as the summit is exposed and the wind funneled up the Silent Valley can be strong.

Once you have your camp set up, have a wander around and explore the area. There is some good scrambling to be had on the southern side. If you have enough time before dark, a stroll around Lough Shannagh is recommended or else nip over to Ben Crom for a peak down its shear walls that fall into the reservoir below. Whatever you do, make sure sunset is spent on the summit, there’s nothing quite like a hot drink whilst watching the sun disappear over Carn Mountain.
As dusk descends you will quickly become aware of the quiet solitude. Doan offers a kind of serenity that you won’t experience anywhere else. Its position in the heart of the Mournes gives a real sensation of remoteness whilst still being less than an hour away from the car. This is what sets it apart from its larger counterparts, for they invariably require a longer walk in, more time to get to the top, more food, more water, etcetera etcetera. It’s accessible all year round and in the summer months, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to set off from the car at seven o’clock and still strike camp before sunset.

For the return journey back to the car, simply retrace your steps from the day before. An alternative would be to bear right at the Mourne Wall and take in the summits of Slieve Loughshannagh, Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Meelmore before heading down a granite path at the col between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Bernagh known locally as Pollaphuca.

The granite paving slabs lead past an old quarry to your right on the slopes of Slieve Bernagh where the granite for the path was taken from. The path leads to a wide stony path known as Trassey Track. Follow the path, keeping the Trassey River on the left until a dry stone wall is reached, travel south west alongside this wall, walking around the foot of the mountains climbed earlier in the day. Skirt around Fofanny Dam and a small evergreen forest before hitting the road for the final 1.5km trudge back to the car.

Hello Welcome!

Welcome to my blog, its looking pretty bare right now but i intend on keeping it well up to date and will be including lots of outdoor related action very soon. Thanks for visiting!