Well this memory thing is harder than I first thought but I think I’ve had some success.
I’ve always been active. Jack of all trades which is a nicer way of saying I’ve never really been good at anything but I’m passable at much more. I ended up at college in a city away from my friends and wanting to try something new. Rock climbing, its that activity you get to try at an adventure camp for kids or if you’re lucky, you know someone who’ll bring you out. In Ireland that is. I knew plenty of hikers and got brought out loads but this college club, the UL OPC, they gave me a shot.
I went to their second weekend trip, climbing at the Burren in Alliedee. It was fun, I got to try out a few of the climbs and do an abseil. Met lots of people and was encouraged. I’d been a bit nervous at the climbing wall but showing up at the club runs as well as training nights, I started to get more into it. The first inkling I’d gotten of this was when climbing at Ballykeefe quarry, a couple of the lads, namely Mac and Garion, got me and another Irish lad to try a harder route. As well as that, Garion started teaching me to belay and getting me to practice while some of the others toproped.
So when our big weekend trip for Killarney rolled round I was quite pleased to be approached by Mac and asked about seconding on Howling Ridge. There’d be four of us on the rope but he was confident about it. I’d never done anything like this before so jumped at the chance for some mountaineering.
Howling is a classic route on Carrauntoohil, our highest mountain at 1041m. It starts above the poetically named Heavenly Gate and tops out at the summit. It’s also notoriously loose and slippy, something I was to remain unaware of!
The walk in was pleasant, its called the Hags Glen and the day was clear. Its relatively flat for the first part and you gain height steadily when you veer off. Even if you’re not pushing it too hard, you’ll generally summit Carrauntoohil in about three hours.
The Hag’s Glen
We got to the top of the Gate without incident and I was mildly perturbed when I enquired when we began the climb and was pointed straight up at this massif. You have to remember, I was 18, never climbed before. This VD looked like it was sheer. Mac was fairly relaxed about it, he got the rope out, took in coils and took great trouble to explain to us how the system worked. It was him, Aidan, me and then Niall on the rope. I was told that as I came to gear, to just reclip it to the rope trailing behind me and leave it to Niall to sort out.
I loved the climb. Gahan was leading a rope of three further on and we followed now. I learned that day what I know now, never to go four on a rope, its a bloody nightmare with time. Myself and Aids were both novices albeit nimble. Niall was experienced, albeit more of a…sedentary build and he struggled on some of the harder parts.
Now it was we came to the part where I nearly exiled myself from the club and its taken just about 5 years for the furore to die down. I’d not been told Howling was famous for loose rock and being somewhat over-enthusiastic was grabbing at just about anything. A big block was over my head and rather than detour around it, I placed my hands on it and began to haul myself up like you would out of a swimming pool. I felt invincible, I was on a rope, what could go wrong?
It started moving. The block shifted and rather than ease off it, genius here decided to continue over it. It moved more and more as my weight got on it but Ferg being nimble, Ferg being quick, I scooted over it, my heel’s leaving it as it began its spiral downward.
Poor Niall. I roared “BELOW!” and he probably had his life flash before his eyes as this gravestone sized lump of rock shot past him. It kicked off a landslide and everyone was silent clinging to the rock as we heard it rumble down below. Shouts sounded from above to check were we fine. We were.
Progress was slow. A little shaken, I moved carefully as if treading on eggshells. Niall also slowed down, no doubt feeling that the person above him was a contractor attempting to accelerate his progress to the afterlife. The route in the end was anticlimatic after all the drama.
It was late in October and it was dusk by the time we got up. I was a bit stiff and sore (o the tenderness of youth) but there was a little surprise for us as we dumped the kit. Mac had a small hipflask with jagerbombs readymade. Again sweet innocent Ferg gagged a little on the taste despite there being only enough for a couple of swallows apiece, symbolic value solely.
My first night descent, I was on a bit of a high though I was to discover on this trip that while Mac has a great eye for the ground and finding a trail, his lack of a sedate disposition means he is unable to stick to it! The weather closed in and it was miserable and wet as we moved down the track, making it below the Eagle’s Nest. Here we were stumped.
Still we were in high spirits. We had spare clothes, plenty of food/water, we were warm and relatively dry. If worst came to worst, we could just walk back a hundred metres or so to the emergency hut. We’d miss the carousing in Killarney but so what? Mac left the three of us on the lee side of a boulder while he went for a gander.
Huddled together, Niall quelled Aids quavering cry of “We’re all going to die” and with Mac coming back through the night, we followed him off down a little track. Making it back to the carpark around 8pm, we exhaled in delight.
I was slagged mercilessly. Even lads who didn’t know me when introduced in the club would go “Ah you’re Féarghal then!”. Still I learned my lesson, always check for loose rock!
The author post-climb in the hostel. Sometimes all you can do is get drunk.