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...


  1. Oh my, I love you photography. Especially the pic of the snow! I've also subscribed to your blog. Can't wait to see what else you have to offer!

  2. Thanks Heretic Chick, glad you like it, there will of course be more to come

  3. and the bear climbed over the mountain to see what he could see! and what was there but another bloody mountain not a pub in sight.

  4. Just came across your blog. What you saw on Mweelrea is a Brocken Spectre.


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