It would take more than a short blog post to cover such a big topic as What is mountaineering? but lets give it a go anyway.
To me the essence of mountaineering is that it provides the adventurous with truly rewarding experiences, sometimes only enjoyed to its fullest when safely off the mountain.
But what exactly is mountaineering? Could it be simplified as saying its a cross between hill walking and rock climbing? In theory yes, but to simplify the skills involved in mountaineering is to possibly not understand it.
The dictionary again gives a simplistic explanation: “The sport or activity of climbing mountains.”
For me this doesn’t go far enough to explain the complexity of what true mountaineering is all about. To me, its about having a multitude of rock and rope skills, fitness and experience and putting all of this together to make quick but safe decisions, in an extreme environment.
Technical skills take time to learn, but with mountaineering, knowing when to use the right skills for the right terrain is as important as knowing the skills themselves.
If you are interested in learning more about mountaineering and its skills, but are unsure of where to start, or if you have a particular mountaineering objective like climbing The Cuillin Ridge or Howling Ridge, then get in contact with me by clicking here.
“The mountaineer is the person who drives their body where, one day, they’re eyes have looked.”
On monday 17th September 2018, at approximately 8.40 am, I summitted Mt Kilimanjaro for the 6th time.
I cant really describe how amazing it feels to summit. There is no greater prize in life than the reward for hard work. Its a tough ascent, starting at midnight and climbing in the dark for 6 hours. But meeting that challenge head on and pushing yourself through it is the key to any success.
For me, the feeling of reaching Uhuru never diminishes, it might feel different each time, but the sense of achievement and the profound nature of standing higher than any point for as far as the eye can see, at the highest point on the African continent, is truly awesome.
Apart from my own personal satisfaction at summitting, the professional satisfaction of seeing clients get to the top is a profound one too. To be able to walk beside clients in those last few steps as they approach the summit sign, is one of the most rewarding experiences I can ask for in my job.
Typically, some have it easier than others, but maybe those that have to push a little harder enjoy the summit all the more. At 5895 metres above sea level its certainly not a walk in the park.
I could write for hours about my experiences in Tanzania to date, but all the writing in the world wont do justice to what its like to summit.
In January 2019 I’ll be leaving for my 7th expedition, guiding for Earths Edge. Its fast becoming a healthy addiction and a great way to kick-start another year working at this amazing job.
How will you kick-start your year?
I work as a guide for Earths Edge, an Irish owned and ITAA bonded adventure travel agent. If you are interested in climbing Kilimanjaro or interested in high altitude trekking in another far flung corner of the Earth, get in touch with then by clicking on this Link. They have an excellent customer service team, based in their office in Dublin, who are happy to chat to you about any of the treks they offer.
Its mid June, I’m mid route and there it is mid crack. In-situ gear. Crag booty. You beauty!
Ive accumulated a wide range of retrieved or found goods in my time. Just like a professional gambler, I hope Ive got more than Ive lost.
Sometimes its a cam, the dark art of removing same among one of the finest games that can be played out on a rock face, apart from actually climbing that is. But on this occasion its a singular nut, stuck but moving ever so slightly inside a crack. Its not been here long and there’s no obvious sign of rust. It looks like it might come out with the right amount of persuasion.
Decisions, decisions. Its a reasonably tough climb and I’m mid lead, but Ive done it many times before, I’m in no hurry and its a pleasant day. Do I clip and move on, leaving my second a gilt edge chance to retrieve or give it a quick go myself?
A complex game ensues. To start, I convince myself that the person that left it there had an inferior ability to me in the art of extracting gear. I tentatively investigate the movement of the gear, using guile, but mainly a nut key. I move the metal around in its range of motions. Probably in the same pattern its all ready been moved 100 times previously. The tentative changes to aggressive. The aggressive progresses nothing. I shake out arms and concede that my second will certainly have an easier time, whereas I had to contend with keeping balanced, they’ll opt to hang on the rope and have the free use of two hands. Surely that’s the only obstacle to success. Ive no more to offer. I admit defeat.
I announce the plan aloud to my second, as if to seem selfless and that I wish them to have a go at the fun, but really all I want is to avoid further pump and increasing fear.
“Ive two of that size all ready sure, who needs three of anything?” I fail to convince myself. Its not about getting extra gear though.
There’s nothing quite like an airy traverse. Questing rightwards for what seems like an age, but really isn’t, its impossible not to be affected by the exposure high on Faill Ceol. Three of the climbs on this high crag are given three stars and I’m on one of them, the amazing Kudos.
I had a conversation recently about three star ratings on climbs. My friend suggested that the rating is mis-used and considering the three star shite we were climbing at the time, I agreed.
But then climbing is a very personal thing and perhaps not everyone would love the scenario I find myself in on Kudos. My last piece of gear is a size 1 DMM wire, the small purple one. Its a good few metre’s off to my left, not brilliantly seated, in a small crack. Each move away from it is so easy, technically, but when faced with a long swing on small gear, my mind stalls my limbs a little.
A shout from below reminds me I’m well able and I spot good gear coming soon. I’m blown away by the scenario and quality of the climbing and despite the little stall I’m loving the adventure. Or so I tell myself.
We abseil off and move onto Scairbhn. It seems odd not to try Meltdown, as if it and Kudos are symbiotically linked, but the wind has picked up and some more shelter would be nice.
Vicki takes the crux pitch this time and dispatches it steadily, but I still get full value from the bottom pitch, well protected and safe, but with its moments.
That wraps up the first day of the Gap Meet for me and I head off to Con Moriarty’s campsite to see who’s about. The crowd is gathering and I bump into Martin. A plan is hatched for the next day and with it an early night.
Saturday morning is dry and sunny and we head for the main face getting on Out of my reach. Its hard to fathom the steeliness and guile of the first climbers on these cliffs, climbing ground up on-sight in a time when the kind of small cams we have these days weren’t at hand. Again, the sense of adventure is high.
After lunch Martin sends The Stoop with panache. I battle with Bats, with less elan. Ill be back again for a less awkward ascent.
We catch up with others at Kates and share a drink in the evening sun. Everyone is in good form, from those who sent their first 7C boulder problem to those who did their first trad lead, all sat at one table.
Later, back at the campsite, we settle in the communal room to hear Cons talk. Sixty slices of apple tart await 20 mouths and the odds are looking good.
What happened next though was the highlight of the weekend. Not sure what to expect, but having seen plenty of boring climbers talking about climbing, it was apparent early on that wasn’t what we were getting.
A tale of history and culture, the past and the future, of the Gap and its surrounding environment, it was one of the best talks Ive ever heard, delivered with a quiet passion and comedy. I could have listened to Con well into the night.
Maybe that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but then talks, much like climbing are a personal thing. A three star rating.
Its been eerily quiet for about 5 minutes now. Or maybe longer. Its about 5 am and the physical and mental effort of summit night is wholly obvious to the group right now.
Im holding up fine. Im feeling the incline like everybody else, but my legs and head have been in this situation before. I know where to go with it. I indulge in a little introspection. Another 5 minutes go by and with the help of Feargal Sharkey im cruising…
“I hear a lot of stories, I suppose they could be true All about love and what it can do for you..”
Im having a love/hate relationship with Feargal for the past 7 days or so. The last song I heard playing before I boarded the flight and its become something of an ear worm.
“High is the risk of striking out, the risk of getting hurt And still I have so much to learn..”
Its a long time before sunrise yet, but something dawns on me and not just that the puns here are as cheesy as the 80s lyrics.
“Well I know ’cause I think about it all the time..”
Its not my role to be introspective and just coax myself to the top, so I throw a few words out, a hook looking to engage the group in conversation. Get something sparked off here. Monosyllabic replies let me know I need to try a little harder.
“I know that real love is hard to find.”
I dont know where it comes from, Im by no means a good singer and theres plenty of witnesses to that right now, but I throw a couple of lines of Feargals out there for the group to hear. Thats when I realise I dont actually have the full song in my head. Just the same verse over and over. Thats going to wear thin pretty quickly, so I go back to the drawing board.
I come up with The Streets of New York. An odd choice, but sure I’ll run with anyway. A couple of lines in and I cant help feeling like im dying a death. Give me burning calves any day. Just when Im considering dropping this as an idea, in pipes Michael with a couple of lines and I dont feel so isolated any more.
A couple more songs get croaked out in the dark. I couldnt tell you what they were and Im pretty sure I got the words wrong on them all. Others join in from time to time and we keep trotting on.
I dont know how they went down with the group, am I one verse from getting pushed off a mountain? I dont know and dont really care. What I do know is some time has passed since the eerie silence and the distraction is as good a rest, well, kind of. It wont last long, but the suns coming up soon and that’ll do more for moral than I can.
Thats if it does rise, eh Brian!
The above is a description of a 20 minute period on the summit night of Kilimanjaro. It focuses on what for me seemed like the hardest and mentally tiring 20 minutes of the whole trek and does nothing to describe the rest of the trip.
How do you sum up a trip like this in a single blog post? Well, you dont even try. It can only be discovered for yourself. If you want to do that, then the first place to start is www.earths-edge.com
It was my first time to work as a guide for the amazing family that is Earths Edge. My first time to meet any of this group. We shared such a profound experience together, it will never be forgotten. I cant stress enough how much Ive enjoyed the company of each and every person on this trip. Each a very different personality and all with so much to offer the group dynamic.
“A good heart these days is hard to find.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro, Feargal Sharkey and Briamox
Climbing Kilimanjaro, Feargal Sharkey and Briamox
Climb It advises that climbing and hill walking are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.
11.35 am. I’m parked outside Straight Blast Gym on the Naas road. Only a hermit would be unaware of standards of excellence that have been achieved inside its walls. I’m a little nervous. I’m unsure what to expect in terms of the atmosphere inside. Will it be cliquey or insular? Overly macho perhaps?
11.40 am. I’m not here to take up MMA or try to get fitter. Albeit if I were, then this would be the place I would do it. I’m immediately impressed. Its an amazing facility and I cant get over how big the octagon is in real life. I cant imagine it feels as big when the gate closes and you’re inside.
My friend Cian coaches grappling at SBG and Ive asked can I drop by and observe him coaching. I’m constantly trying to improve as a coach myself. To find new ways to teach or relay a point, or see how others manage groups.
I’m constantly trying to improve my own climbing standard too. It goes without saying that being able to refine and hone skills personally is crucial in being able to relay those skills to others. But it also goes without saying that just being proficient at something doesn’t make you a good coach.
11.55 am. I cant remember why I felt nerves outside. The signs say it and atmosphere portrays it, there are no egos in here. The welcome is warm and the people I meet are friendly. The underlying mood is one of calm, not aggression and I’m looking forward to watching the session.
12.00 pm. I’m wearing a pair of borrowed shorts and warming up alongside the others in the session. Cian has decided immersion is the best training and I should just get amongst it. He didn’t have to offer twice. The curious side of me is dying to try it out. The cautious side not so.
1.10 pm. Where has the time gone? I’m buzzing with energy and immediately see how grappling or Jiu Jitsu could become addictive. The coaching has been superb. Complicated movement patterns are broken down and Ive had plenty of chances to practice.
The parallels to climbing are many. They are both so deeply rooted in efficient and subtle movements skills, they could be siblings in sport. Yes, strength might help, but power without precision is useless. There’s all ages, genders and body sizes here and its obvious that skill outweighs all.
The physical workout alone is unreal and I can feel all-ready tomorrow is going to be a sore legs day. But its in the movement skills that my mind feels both muddled and sharpened. Ive struggled to execute a lot of the moves with fluidity, attempting to work them out in the static fashion that my mind is used to using. Just like climbing however, the answer isn’t always static. Speed and momentum can be as effective.
The precision of movement and the subtlety of body weight distribution for grappling would understandably take years to master. If I didn’t all ready have a passion in life, I’m pretty sure I’d have found a new one today.
Did today make me a better climber? probably not. Will it make me a better coach. Definitely yes. Ive learned some new tricks and tips for coaching. But most importantly its reminded me as a coach to always have empathy for those you’re teaching. Its good to be in the beginners role again. Feeling like a rookie and lowest on the food chain.
Empathy was shown to me, by the coach and by the others in the session. To learn well, its crucially important to have a positive learning environment. There are so many aspects to learning and assimilation, its often easy to forget some of the most basic.
Its common to hear trad climbing described as an art. Yet I felt more painter decorator than fine artist when I decided to take a trip to North Wales.
As much as I love climbing in Ireland, it takes a lot to beat North Wales and like all artists seeking inspiration, there’s nothing like new environs to inspire.
I arrived at night and parked at a lay-by in the pass. The dark form of Dinas Cromlech standing proud in the night to one side. Meeting up with Helen, Brian and Jon, the discussion quickly turns to aspirations for the trip. The weather forecast says dry, there’s no distraction of work or WIFI and I’m here for 12 days. The possibilities are endless.
The next morning we start lazily, but wander up to the base of Dinas Cromlech. A warm up for me on Better Things/Dives and Sabre Cut for Jon. I’m feeling less than fluid and taking some time getting used to Rhyolitic ways. As the climbs are not high in the grades, I naturally search for excuses. Perhaps plying my trade has made me soft. “perhaps this… perhaps that…”. The familiar excuse game. In reality I’m out of shape and out of practice. But lets not cut off an ear just yet.
The frustration continues in the afternoon and for the next few days. Venues and climbing partners change, but my progress is slow to improve, I struggle and punt up climbs I feel I should cruise with ease. A sunny and enjoyable ascent of Merlin Direct in Tremadog gives me hope. Its not all bad I suppose, there’s always work for painter decorators.
Day 4 brings a forecast for showers. We depart from our now homely lay-by and head for the Dinorwic slate quarry. Ive never climbed on slate before, but for some reason I’m confident its a medium Ill enjoy. A blank canvas and a fresh start.
I warm up on Seamstress and enjoy every moment. Deliberate and subtle moves, no aggressive brushstrokes here. Seams the same is directly beside it and I hop on. Its a classic and an amazingly enjoyable climb, with progress being made on unlikely and thin foot placements. I could happily climb here all day, but the showers arrive. With our intentions usurped, we head for the coast and a dry but windy abseil into Castle Helen crag.
Over the next few days we climb at Holyhead Mountain and Gogarth sea cliffs, make our way back to Tremadog and revisit Llanberis and the Ogwen Valley. Every new crag boasts a gallery of masterpieces. I’m cruising now and enjoying every ascent. I enjoy fantastic leads like Breakthrough the barrier and second classics like Vector. The banter and jokes between friends are endless. Standard policy is to induce disabling laughter whenever a new lead is started. Thanks Helen!
By the ferry trip home I’m climbed out and ready for reality again. 12 days sleeping in the back of a small van and pushing my body has taken its toll. I ticked little of what I intended but experienced so much more. Its a week til the Dal Riada Burren Meet and Ive got to rest up. Inspiration and pysche is high. I might sell a painting yet.
Last weekend I visited Fairhead for the annual climbing meet. It was my first time climbing at Fairhead.
Ive been told for some time now of the awe inspiring vista of the cliff and the intimidating nature of the climbs. Ive seen footage from Underdeveloped and listened to brilliantly descriptive stories such as The Dimmest Glimmer.
But nothing prepares you for seeing it in the flesh for the first time. The setting is immense, the walls of Dolerite huge and everywhere you look classic lines and a lifetime of climbing presents itself.
Its been an adventure in itself to get here, having left Clare shortly after 9 am, picked up Brian O’ and Tony along the way, we roll into Seans farm shortly after 6 PM. Weariness is replaced with eagerness though and we opt for a couple of quick routes to get the account going. A lot of lines are busy, but we squeeze onto “Taoiseach” as a team of three. Brian O’ leads off the first pitch, heavily laden with an array of small cams the like of which Ive never seen. But I rationalise quickly hes from the US and such gear is commonplace there. As a mainly Burren based climber Ive no need for as many cams.
The second pitch falls to me and immediately Im glad of my climbing partners predilection for small gear as I get to grips with a thin crack of climbing, hungry for small camalots. A fine pitch, and I shrug off some rustiness with it being my first climb here and with a long drive behind me. The best piece of gear on my rack, self delusion. A quick ascent of another classic, Girona, wraps up the evening.
The next morning we rise early, beat the crowd and get onto Roaring Meg, a classic 100 metre 3 pitch line with the interesting grade of VS 5a for the first pitch. Sounds fun and it doesnt disappoint, the pitch is immaculate and the crux move amazing. A team of three arrive at the base and by the time we all share belay ledges and top out, new friendships have been forged.
The sense of community throughout the weekend is highly evident. I meet old friends, new friends and passing acquaintances each day and with the never ending supply of sun and quality lines, its easy to think of Fairhead as climbing utopia. I dont know many other crags that could sustain 500 climbers and still have room for more.
But back to the climbing, I lead a crack line called Contortions and am absorbed by it. I check the guide book afterwards to see how many stars it has. None. Any other crag and this would have at least two stars, but such is the standard of Fairhead, to stand out you from the crowd, you need to have a special quality.
We dont have to go far to find that quality though, moving approximately 10 metres to the right and abseiling back down the prow, I second Brian O’ on Faith Mo Bhuarta, Mind blown by its crux moves and a good few midge bites, we are done for the day. Its getting on and everyones keen to see Alex.
No one is disappointed and everyone gets in to see the show. Alex Honnolds talk is inspiring and funny, but he lacks the comic timing of the bleating lamb in the adjoining barn, who steals the show.
Over the weekend the climbing continues, the highlight for me being Hells Kitchen,which is just another another three star classic. I fail to read the crux move properly on the second pitch and compounded by the midday heat, the onsight goes a begging, taking two attempts to gain the top out. But at the end of the day, Im not too bothered, Ive added another piece to the puzzle, I’m wiser to the style here at the head and there’s 99 other classics still to do.
The entire weekend is a credit to the organisers, Paul Swail, Sean and his family and Mountaineering Ireland. Long may they continue in organising it. I’ll be back again next year for the meet, but ill be back before that too.
The lines are inspiring, the gear is generally good and the sense of adventure is high. What more can you dream of.
Ever increasing climbing aspirations and working full time in the industry takes its toll on my body. Long days on the hill tax my ankles and knees. Long days in a harness affect my hips and lower back. Route-setting kills my wrists. Climbing itself makes me hurt all over.
I know I am not doing all I could to take care of myself. I regularly ignore the advice I give others, on how to warm up properly and be careful of injuries.
Its easy to consider lower grade bouldering or routes as a good warm up. Its easy to ignore antagonistic exercises. Its easy not to do some simple stretching every day. But its time for me to put in more effort, to start looking after my body before the niggles and aches turn into large scale problems.
With this in mind, I booked a session with James Hale of Movementworks.ie. The brief I gave James is that I want to (a) increase flexibility and mobility (b) learn time efficient and appropriate warm up exercises and (c) build up ankle strength, to counteract recurring sprains on both ankles.
First and foremost, James is a climber himself, as well as a climbing coach, so naturally he gets it straight away that I dont want to be told to stop what im doing and rest. No active person wants to hear this. Furthermore, having trained in strength and conditioning, pilates and physiotherapy he has a wealth of knowledge and it would be quite easy to spend a day picking his brains on so many topics.
We didnt have a day however, our session lasted 90 minutes and for this James charged 50 euro. Which, considering how much I learned and how good I felt after just one session, is possibly one of the most important 50 euros Ive spent of late.
James fulfilled the brief on all accounts and more. He takes his years of learning and training and distils it down perfectly and concisely.
I have an array of stretching exercises to do and most importantly he was on hand to offer corrections and input on the correct body positions to maintain through each move. You can find all theses exercises on line if you look, but it takes a trained professional to analyse and point out the nuances of how to complete each one effectively.
I’ve been armed with a host of movements to build supporting strength around the ankle and a massive choice of warm ups that were both challenging and importantly werent boring. I was worried that Id struggle to remember all id learned over the hour and a half, but James followed up by email with a PDF booklet detailing all we’d covered and some additional info.
He even found time to teach me a different and seemingly less injurious way of using a hang-board.
Do you have to be a climber/hillwalker/instructor to visit James? No. Should you visit James at Movement Works? Yes.
Whether you have injuries already or not, are looking for prehab or rehab, do a session with him and find out for yourself.
Last Wednesday I climbed Howling Ridge again. I’ve been very lucky with weather on the occasions I’ve climbed it before and this was no different. While there were some very short downpours of rain and the occasional bit of mist, we spent a lot of the day in the sun. As always we were treated to amazing vistas and absorbing climbing.
Howling Ridge is a multi pitch climbing route on Irelands highest mountain, Carrauntoohill. Its a classic Irish mountaineering day out and while its graded at v. diff and full of adventure and exposure, the real test of nerve on this climb is trusting your hands and feet on less than solid rock. A lot of the hand holds and foot holds are loose and friable and a good sense of judgement is needed.
Climbing alongside my friend and regular climbing partner Vicki, we parked at Lisleibane car park and made the considerable hike in to the Heavenly gates in good time. From there we roped up and Vicki led off on the first of the pitches.
With over 400 metres of pitches to climb and even with us both moving fast through them, time can seem to evaporate on Howling Ridge. But who’s in a hurry. With views like this and good weather, where would you rather be?
The pitches finish with a beautiful airy traverse on a knife-edge section of the ridge. After that if you are comfortable and experienced on steep mountainous ground, you can dispense with the ropes and harnesses and ascend to the summit. I find this final 15 minutes or so strangely relaxing, as you pump the legs for a final hard section before the summit.
Obligatory touching of the cross ticked. Two hours or so back to the car from here. More great memories banked. The epitome of why I do all this: Adventure with friends in the outdoors. I would’nt change if for the world.