Saturday, January 30, 2010

Daydreams - A visionary fantasy experienced while awake....

I've been sat at my desk now for a couple of hours, hankering for a trip. The full moon has outed itself once again and its inducing all sorts of butterfly type feelings in the belly as I dream of mountain solice, at home and further afield.

Next week, I'm jetting out to southern Germany for a course on sustainable, eco, renewable, responsibly sourced, energy efficiency stuff. While I'm there, I plan on frequenting some of the wonderful mountains they have to offer there. Where I'm staying is only a short drive from Oberstdorf, one of Germanys premier ski resorts situated at the foot of the Allgau Alps. It also offers some of the finest hiking in Germany and seeing as the snow has made a hurried retreat in Ireland, I'm looking forward to padding around in the white stuff once again.

That's the fun for February sorted but I have more on my mind today.

Since last summer, I've been seriously thinking about taking on a multi day trip through Connemara and south Mayo. I'm still in the route planning stage, but already I'm so excited by it. The route itself is staggeringly ambitious, it will meander through five separate mountain groups and will probably work out at around 100km long, over roughly 30 summits with a combined ascent of over 12,000m.

Of course, the precise details are to be confirmed and a few "reconnaissance" trips will be required before I settle on a definite route through this immense landscape. Needless to say, the trip will be scheduled for the summer where longer hours of daylight can be availed of and I'll be carrying everything I'll need for it in the aul 'over shoulder gear holder' from the start.

I. Cannot. Bloody. Wait.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January Sales Joy

I hate it when an advertisement from a gear retailer states, "biggest ever sale" or "top brands at lowest prices" only for you to arrive and find all they have are Craghoppers fleeces at half price (which you can normally find for even less at any time of year), The North Face Venture Jacket for 40 quid but only in XXS and XXL and a pair of mens, size 14?? Scarpa Mantas for 50 quid suitable only for Krusty the clown and Andre the giant.. Non of it any good to man nor beast.

This year however had been a revelation, for me at least. I've found some great bargains this month and taken full advantage. The current glut of online retailers really makes it possible to stretch your hard earned cash and get hold of the best gear for a lot less than the rrp.

The fruit of this months bargain hunting has been my most successful yet and here it is below:

                                                             Price Paid            Usual RRP

Rab Powerstretch Zip Top                        40                           50
Mountain Equipment Lightline Jacket       75                          150
Smartwool Midweight Zip Top                  30                           55
Scarpa Charmoz GTX boots                    120                          230
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe                  60                           80
Bridgedale Precision Fit Ski sock             12                            15
Roclite 370's                                          30                            85
Source Hydration Bladder                        12                            17
Primus clip on windshield                         8                             10
                                                  Total        387                          692

    That's a huge saving of over 300 squid!! A few of these items came from The Outdoor Shop which have had a fantastic sale on over the past few weeks, if I had the dosh, I would have spent twice the amount!

    Sunday, January 24, 2010


    Well, today saw us head out the door for a quick dander up a mountain (or 'walk' to those of you of a non Irish disposition). I had never climbed Slievenamon (721m) before despite it being an hour away from the front door. It also ranks as one of the most climbed mountains in Ireland due to its good access and well trodden path to the summit. Perhaps this is the reason I've never bothered with it until now, the lure of the Kerry and Connemara mountains are often too great for me. The other reason being that I had to work this morning and was limited in my options for anything further afield.

    Slievenamon in Irish, roughly translates as 'Mountain of the women'. Legend has it,  Fionn MacCunhaill (one of Irelands most famous mythical figures) sat on top of the mountain while women raced to the summit to win his hand in marriage. The crafty bugger didn't want any old womans hand though, he had previously shown his great love, Grainne, a shortcut to the top and she of course, won the race.

    I hope you enjoyed the story behind the mountains name because the walk wasn't anything spectacular. I took the "yak track" up and down as I just didn't have time for a longer walk, whereby I would have knocked off a few of the subsidiary summits. The views of the nearby Comeragh mountains were superb though, in fact visibility was so good, Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs mountains could be seen easily to the east.


    The trek up is along a broad stony track, leading to a relatively flat summit plateau where an enormous cairn awaits, the trig point is situated a short distance away and its hard to distinguish which is the higher point. A flask of tea was shared at the summit whilst admiring some stunning views and an interesting geological feature unknown to me before which I shall investigate further.

    Add to that a vague sighting of a sun dog (see below) and the afternoon stroll was turning out to be a bloody great day out. I can't be sure it is a sun dog although I'll say it is until I'm told otherwise. A quick descent saw us back at the car with barely an ounce of sweat shed but surprisingly, plenty of photos to take home.


    Another new mountain too so that's five now this year, 10% of my target achieved before the end of January, I'm impressed.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Look up!

    Yes that's right, look up, d'ya hear??  I often look up at the skies, on the look out for something stunning, and spending a considerable amount of my time in the hills and mountains, I come across my fair share of wonders, like this nice example of a Lenticular cloud above Slieve Binnian I woke up to a couple of years ago whilst wild camping by Loughshannagh.

    I can't help keeping an eye on this website though, the cloud appreciation society. I know, I know, it sounds like something Ian Hislop and Angus Deayton would take the piss out of on Have I got News For You but some of the images are truly, truly awesome so I encourage more of you to look up some more, you really never know what you might see.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Who needs a compass anyway?

    I have walked many mountains in Ireland now, in different ranges throughout the country, one thing has surprised me though, I have very rarely had to use a compass to find my way. In the whole of 2009, I had to resort to map and compass only once, on Slievemore in County Mayo. I think the only time I ever got lost on a walk was during my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expedition somewhere on Butter mountain back in 1846 and that wasn't even my fault!

    I'm the first to admit, my compass skills are limited, limited by the fact I rarely practice them. The Mournes were my stomping ground for so long with its great 20 odd mile long handrail, more commonly known as the Mourne wall. Of course I'm aware that these skills can be practiced anywhere but another reason for my relative ineptitude is that I have never really been bothered to learn them.

    I have been blessed with a decent sense of direction and before any walk, I do pour over the map and study the details so I have the route memorised. This of course, doesn't count for much when you remember, at the end of the day, I'm a human like everyone else, and humans make mistakes.

    With that admission, I'll move onto yesterdays walk. I chose the Galty Mountains which straddle Counties Limerick and Tipperary. I love new territory and the chance to get more of a feel for a place. I've been living in Tipperary now for a almost a year and had only visited the Galtys once even though they're only an hour away by car and are home to one of Irelands 'Munros', Galtymore (919m).

    From the Knockmealdowns a matter of weeks ago (see that walk and pic of entire Galty range here) I had viewed the Galtys at sunset, conjuring ideas of traversing the full range, from west to east, maybe in one long day, maybe with a wild camp thrown in, who am I kidding, definitely with a wild camp thrown in!

    The route I'd chosen for the day though was to be governed by the amount of daylight available, the late start (11am) didn't help matters. I tailored it to suit the timings, 16km was the distance to be covered. A nice easy stroll over four summits and back the way I came.

    Things started off well, visibility was great, large patches of snow still covered the western and northern slopes and the temperature was relatively warm . Temple Hill (785m), the first summit of the day is home to a fortress of a cairn, with built-in stone seats and protected by large stone walls acting as a fantastic wind break.

    While enjoying a cup of tea, I noticed wisps of clouds beginning to form and flow over the summits to the east, this prompted me to take a compass bearing to the next summit, Knockaterriff Beg (679m). Before reaching the bottom of the col between the two mountains, the stratus cloud had descended, now obscuring the summits ahead entirely. Luckily I had taken bearings to the summit (marked by a steel post).

    From there, after 40m of descent to another col, the steep trudge to the summit of Lyracappul (825m) began. I had taken a bearing to the beginning of the ridge and sure enough came across a vague path leading that way. The ridge begins with a prominent rock outcrop directly overlooking a near vertical precipice. With this found, it was an easy trek to the summit cairn. At this height, it was clear that the cloud cloaking the mountains was very thin as the sun was almost visible and every now and again, the fields and pasture in the valley below would appear in view to the north.

    After another cuppa, the ridge was followed to the summit of Carrignabinnia (822m). From here I debated continuing but it was now just before 3pm and I had to get back. I pretty much backtracked all the way over the ridge to that rock outcrop, took a bearing back to the col below and descended. I made it safely enough but it's here that things took a turn for the worse.

    I took my bearing to the summit of Knockaterriff Beg, directly south and began to follow it. Somewhere though, I went off course and after fifteen minutes I realised I wasn't where I was supposed to be, the summit post was nowhere in sight and when I checked what direction I was now heading, I was shocked. I was now heading north again but I wasn't back at the col.

    I wasn't worried but I found myself struggling to comprehend what had gone wrong. How did I manage to turn full circle following a simple bearing? I'd got it right all day. By now the mist was thick and I was completely disoriented, it would be dark soon enough, I had to get my act together.

    The hardest thing was getting rid of the sensation of anger with myself, it was putting me off thinking clearly. After a while of battling with myself to look at the map and think sensibly, my mind focused and began looking at things logically. I got my facts straight, I knew where north was, I knew my whereabouts within 300-400 square metres and I knew Temple Hills location in relation to this. I trusted the compass totally and headed directly southwest, I figured I would hit Temple Hill at some point, head to the ridgeline and from there, plain sailing.

    It turned out I was completely right, and I got back without a hitch, even hitting the ridgeline only a few metres away from where I had descended from earlier in the day. I had gotten lost, but I'd made sense of my surroundings and found the way again. The walk back through the forest under a rapidly darkening sky sharpened my mind on getting more proficient with a compass, I always have it in my pack. I think I'll sign up for a course sooner rather than later. If the terrain had been more difficult and more precision were required, I may have been in  trouble.

    A positive day all round in my book, lessons learned and 4 new mountains climbed, only 46 to go to reach my target for 2010.

    So, who needs a compass anyway?

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Inov-8 Roclite 370 - First impressions on an impulsive purchase

    I bought these from the climbers shop online store in England last week where I saw them for a paltry 30 pounds. I had been trying on some Roclite 320's in Jacksons Sports in Belfast just a few days before I came across these babies and I was very impressed with the fit, cushioning and weight.

    Ive been thinking about changing the set up I have on my feet when walking for a while now and this is the first step in doing that. Currently I use a pair of Meindl Softline Gtx boots which were great until they recently started leaking, with some Bridgedale socks; comfort trekkers or endurances depending on the weather.

    Im now however coming round to the idea that trail shoes may be suitable for most hilly terrain, certainly in the UK and Ireland. My idea is to wear trail shoes, ie the Roclite 370's with a pair of normal socks as usual and a Rocky Gore Tex over-sock as my waterproof membrane.

    As I said, this is still only an idea and I have yet to source a pair of these Rocky Gore Tex over-socks in the UK (I may have to resort to the US to get my hands on a pair.)

    As for the boots though, they weigh in at around 800g per pair (size 10.5) which is fantastic, made originally for paragliding I believe, I hardly notice they are there when walking. The fit is as good as the 320's I tried on in Belfast and whats even better is the higher cuff on them which gives me a little more security from potential broken ankles when crossing more difficult terrain. The tread is the deepest I've ever come across on any trail shoe and look as though they could cope admirably with wet slippery rocks and steep grassy slopes.

    However, I will reserve more judgement for such time as I have tried them out 'in the field' so to speak, so far they have only covered the length and breadth of my house and a short length of footpath. So far the signs are good but watch this space for a more in-depth review.

    Feet in the Clouds - Richard Askwith

    I read this book last year but came across it again on the shelf and remembered how much I enjoyed it. The title is also very similar to that of this blog so I thought I'd write about it as a recommended read.

    The book is unique in that it is made up of several themes that switch throughout the read but ultimately come together at the end: 
    • A diary of a running calendar, detailing the various races that take place throughout the year, not just in Britain but Alaska, the Alps and other foreign destinations where British runners may be competing.
    • A history lesson, not delivered simply as a bunch of facts and records, but written in a style which encapsulates the prestige with which the sport once prided itself on. Some of the stories recalled during these chapters sound almost implausible and boggle the mind to think what physical trauma men put their bodies through in the name of sport. The detailed history of the Bob Graham round is particularly fascinating, and Askwith serves it to the reader in such an enthusiastic way.
    • An in-depth look at the personalities that made the sport what it was, Joss Naylor, Kenny Stuart and Bill Teasdale to name a few. Askwith interviews several of the sports iconic figures in the book which I found to be much more interesting than simply reading a log of achievements.
    All the names mentioned in the book were unknown to me, fell running has mostly been something I see in the hills and shake my head and mutter something along the lines of "look at those mad b&;*%#$ds". (Although I once attempted a run up Slieve Donard and Commedagh recently enough, I did it... though admittedly I did stop rather frequently for breath).

    All in all, I loved this read. On more than one occasion whilst reading, I found myself wanting to get up and get my runners on and head for the nearest hill. I didn't though as I was so engrossed with the book. Theres no doubt, this book is inspiring and its clear to see how much research and effort has gone into retelling the history of the sport. Askwith is someone who has a great passion for the sport and it shows.

    I just wish I had the balls (or the nerve, time, fitness, energy, willpower, drive etc etc) to get into it myself.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    A thank you...

    I logged on this evening to see my list of followers has increased exponentially, and I have Martin Rye of Summit and Valley to thank for it. Ive been following his blog since the middle of last year, anonymously I must say until I found out exactly what the whole blogging thing was all about and started up myself.

    Im still a rookie as it were in the blogging world and talk of 'keywords', 'analytics' and 'linking to others' is still a bit of a mystery. Im a relatively smart guy so I should catch up in time but for me, the most important thing at the minute is that I hit those hills as often as possible and then come back and write about it and share my experiences with you lot.

    So thats what im going to continue to do so I hope you enjoy my blurb.

    Back soon.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Plans for 2010

    This year has got off to a great start, the Reeks and the Mournes failed to disappoint. I now find myself thinking ahead to the rest of the year and what I'd like to achieve. I have some plans already in place, the completion of the Santiago de Camino is probably priority, I hate leaving things unfinished, especially a walk.

    I have signed up for some charity events too, including a cycle ride from Lands end to John O'Groats this summer. I have a charity walk planned for this year too in Ireland but i cant reveal the details as yet because it may not have been done before, at least I cant find any evidence to the contrary so far.

    Charity aside though, I have set myself a target of climbing 50 new mountains this year in Ireland. I set myself this target after looking through the Irish challenge walk diary. Theres a lot of uncharted territory in there, I'm particularly looking forward to exploring some more of Connemara and Mayo hills and mountains, the few times I've traveled through that area, my eyes have been out on stalks at the beauty of the place.

    Donegal is another place I need to see more of, a visit to Slieve League is all I have to speak of so far but the likes of Errigal and Muckish have as yet eluded me.

    We'll see what comes of the target, who knows, I may need to revise my target and up it to 100!! Wishful thinking...

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    The Alps, i mean, erm, The Reeks....

    New years day 2010 will be remembered well. My year began as I fully intend it to go on. The weather reports had shown a lot of snow had fallen in the days running up to the new year but today was to be dry, bright, cloudless and windless but exceptionally cold, wavering between -5 and -7 all day. Perfect conditions for a winter walk.

    The Coomloughra Horseshoe was the days objective. To say I was excited on the drive down would be an understatement, and as the brilliant white Reeks came into view on the drive into Killarney i was practically wetting myself. I had seen the Reeks in similar conditions before; on the cover of my 1:25k Ordnance Survey map...

    I had been here before, July 2008 to be exact and had done the entire horseshoe. I still regard it as one of the best walks ive done in Ireland. Today though the mountains looked radically different, drenched in snow and ice,  frozen lakes and a clear sky, something I didnt have the last time.

    We made it as far as 700m on Caher when I decided that this was our limit without the aid of crampons and an axe. A couple who were slightly below us continued a while longer. For me though the slope was too dangerous, the ice was rock hard and our walking boots just didnt cut it in these conditions.

    Not summiting on a mountain top isnt a common practice of mine when out walking, but surprisingly I wasnt too despondent. It was enough for me just to be there surrounded by these majestic mountains and at that moment in time, they were indeed mountains although I said to myself that next time, there will be a pair of spikes in the rucksack.

    We opted to saunter back down to the lake that was semi frozen and have a mooch about. We stopped for a short while to see two kids on the summit of Skregmore, one proceeded to snowboard down while the other inched down on his bottom, a sight rarely seen in this country i'm sure.

    Some lunch was had on Skregmore and we watched the sun go down over the Iveragh peninsula, a cloud inversion that had been brewing all day had begun to really take shape in the valleys below as we began to descend back along the Hydro track. So despite no summit views, an awesome day was had and as Arnie would say, I'll be back.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Snow in the Mournes

    So here we are, 2010, its been a few weeks since i last posted but i've been far from idle. Christmas was a hectic affair this year, shuttling back and forward between Belfast and Thurles takes its toll so before new year we decided to stay at the excellent Meelmore Lodge at the foot of the Mourne Mountains for a couple of days and relax.

    The intention was to walk the first day but a combination of late night poker tournaments, exhaustion and the Cotswold January sale, meant we left it for the second day.

    It turned out to be a wise move, we awoke on the Wednesday morning fresh from a 10 hour sleep, i was hungry for porridge, snow and granite. I got all three.

    The weather was foul outside the hostel, but we were layered perfectly for the job, i had bought a new Rab Powerstretch top from Cotswold in the sale the day before and boy was it a nice piece of kit. Santa had been kind enough to leave me a pair of Primaloft Ice Gauntlet gloves, also from Rab the week before and my hands were the warmest they had ever been but ill talk more on the gear on another post.

    The walk we had planned was simple and relatively short as we had booked ourselves in for a seaweed bath in Newcastle at Soak that evening. It involved contouring around Slieve Meelmore to the Trassey track, up to Hares Gap and then to the summit of Slieve Commedagh.

    We met a guy at the wall on Hares Gap who was not for venturing any further, "you'd be mad to go any further today in this wind" he chirped. Indeed the wind was strong but it was certainly not the worst i had experienced on these fine hills. We hopped over the wall and continued on our way over Slievenaglogh where we met a man who was out looking for his dog, a scottish terrier, a white scottish terrier, in a foot of white snow. Good luck i thought, he had been out now for two days searching for his canine friend.

    As we began the ascent of Commedagh, the wind picked up some more and it began blowing snow and ice particles violently into our faces which has subsequently prompted the purchase of snow goggles in the event of this happening again.

    Aside from this the going was good, my boots bit into the hardened snow well. The granite summit shelter had taken on the form of an arctic igloo with snow drifts up as high as the top of the entrance. We stopped for some lunch before heading back down to the hostel.

    I enjoy reacquainting myself with the Mournes, the hills i spent most weekends bounding over once upon a time. I only have photos of the hills taken from Meelmore Lodge as we didnt have the nerve to bring the Nikon D70 into the storm above and we were right to as there was no let up in the blizzard all day.

    Oh and the bath was tremendous, I really recommend it to anyone after a long days walk in the hills.