The Pathway To Becoming A Mountain Leader

Becoming a Mountain Leader remains to this day one of the most rewarding things I have done.

It allowed me the opportunity to start and grow my business, to travel abroad working as a trekking guide and to continue my education in the outdoors, progressing on to higher qualifications.

I get asked on a regular basis what is the pathway to becoming a Mountain Leader? While I would love to have the time to chat to each person who enquires individually, that’s usually not practical for me and I thought the best way to answer this was with a blog post detailing the process and my experience and timeline through that process.


Start With Mountain Skills

The best thing you can do is start your Mountain Skills training as soon as possible. Doing both your MS1 (2 days) and MS2 (2 days) is absolutely fundamental to your start in the industry. These two training courses arm you with a lot of navigation skills, but also with the foundations to make solid decisions about hazards, route choice, planning, that you will hopefully use one day in the industry as an ML
Once you have completed both MS courses, you will enter your first consolidation period, where you must ensure you embed the skills learned so that they are automatic and when this is the case you come back for your 2 day MS assessment.

Can I exempt Mountain Skills Training? 

Yes, if you have a high degree of personal skills already, experience in line with what would be required to pass the 2 day Mountain Skills Assessment, then you can apply for an exemption on the training.
Being an avid hillwalker who has never received training in navigation or personal mountain skills isn’t usually enough to gain an exemption. The type of person who gains an exemption are usually those who have received training via the Defence Forces or The Scouts.
There is no exemption on taking the Mountain Skills Assessment prior to taking the Mountain Leader Training.

What Happens After The Mountain Skills Assessment?

Once you pass your MS assessment, this entitles you to go forward for your Mountain Leader Training. This takes 5 days in total. ML1 (2 days) and ML2 (3 days).
Once you finish this you enter a second consolidation period and a much longer one at that, one that will take about 2 years to complete all the practice requirements, if you are committed.
Once you are ready, then you put yourself forward for your 4 day ML assessment with Mountaineering Ireland, upon passing which you will be able to take people hiking in Ireland and the UK under your own insurance or work as an ML for someone else. The ML is a minimum requirement to do this type of work.
There is no exemption from ML training or Assessment.

How Long Will The Whole Process Take?

All of the above will take you a minimum of 3 years, if you are committed.
You might be wondering if there is a quicker way to complete it all. It’s a question I get asked alot. Unfortunately, no, there isn’t a quicker way to being an ML, but then I also always tell people that they shouldnt aim to or want to arrive at being an ML any quicker. A good house is built on solid foundations and the same can be said for a good ML.
The level of responsibility you are tasked with, the decision making acumen we need to attain and the experiences we need to go through, good and bad, will take time. If you are confident that you want this more than anything, then time won’t be a hindrance.
The best advice I can give you to get started is to do your MS1 and MS2 and start training for the MS assessment. By the end of the process you’ll really know whether you wish to progress to ML and if you do then that’s awesome, but if you don’t, then you will have been trained and armed with a ton of useful personal skills.
My own journey wasn’t a quick one. I started MS in Early 2011 and passed ML in late 2014. I didn’t stop there, as I continued with further courses such as my MCI in 2018 and have just started my International ML (of use if leading groups in the Alps and Internationally). It was hard graft and continues to be, but has been extremely satisfying and also continues to be.


6 Mistakes To Avoid On Howling Ridge

Howling Ridge is one of the few really good mountaineering routes in Ireland and as such its popular. If you’ve not climbed it before, it can feel a little daunting to try, but if you have the right skills, it shouldn’t be.

Hopefully this blog gives you some ideas on what not to do if you are considering climbing it.

  1. Don’t Climb It in Rock Shoes

Even though Howling Ridge is given a rock climbing grade of VD, 99% of the route is scrambling/mountaineering and can be done easily in boots.

There is a 10 metre section on The Tower where it might be nice to have your climbing shoes on, especially if you’re not used to technical climbing in your boots, but other than this you are moving fast over scrambling terrain.

  1. Push, Don’t Pull.

The sedimentary sandstone rock on Howling Ridge is very loose and extremely dangerous if pulled loose. Dangerous to the leader, the seconds and to hillwalkers below.

Climbers with less experience often resort to pulling down hard on handholds, but as anyone that’s ever taken a climbing lesson will have heard: climbing is more about pushing with your feet than pulling with your hands. Nowhere is this more apt than on an extremely loose and chossy ridgeline like Howling Ridge.

Practice mantling and pushing in on holds, which should hold them in place, rather than pulling out too aggressively and have the discipline to stick to this style of climbing, even when faced with the exposure on the narrow and steeper sections.

This sounds simple, but I’ve often seen climbers resort to just trying to pull hard when they cant figure out a move.



  1. Place Enough Gear.

There are four main reasons why a lead climber/Instructor/Guide would place gear.

  • To keep themselves safe
  • To keep their seconds/clients safe
  • To show their seconds/clients what direction to climb (and where not to go!)
  • To teach them

You will hear some leaders/Instructors say that they don’t need to place any or very much gear to keep themselves safe on a route like this, especially as they “know the route”. This may be the case, but it shouldn’t be all about the leader, especially if their seconds/clients are novices.

On traverse sections, gear can be used to protect the seconds/clients from swinging in the event of a fall or slide.

As well as a leader may know a route, I’ve often seen them not place enough gear, which resulted in their seconds not knowing where to climb and going off route. This can be lethal on a mountaineering route where the less travelled sections of the ridge are loose and break off. This can be amplified by strong winds, which blow the ropes off route and confuse the seconds as to where to go.

Learning to lead on howling ridge
  1. Avoid Large Groups Or Climbing In Large Groups

Howling Ridge can be popular and rightly so, its an amazing experience, but quite often it can be climbed by multiple parties of the same club on the same day. Each to their own and I understand not everyone’s schedule allows it, but Id prefer to climb it on a less crowded day, so I always try to avoid weekends and stick to climbing it midweek. This can make for a more enjoyable experience and a feeling of adventure, as opposed to waiting in line for your turn.

I also only ever climb Howling Ridge as a party of 3. Rockclimbing and Mountaineering most commonly happens in pairs and some times trios. Any more than 3 people and climbing a mountaineering route becomes less authentic and more of a tourist experience. While it is possible to ascend a roped scramble as a large group, for me, its not how I like to experience the mountains.

I was asked once by a group of 4 to lead them up the route. I knew one of the 4 had climbing experience, had been on HR before and knew how to place gear. So I convinced him to lead 1 of the group on a separate rope to me, trailing behind while I lead the other 2. This was empowering for him, with me in close proximity if they needed, he had the confidence to push on and lead the route himself. This speaks to how I wish to engage in the mountains, in a transformative and not transactional style. If you are ready and have the skills, I would much prefer to push you towards being self sufficient.

Aeriel view of Howling Ridge
  1. Topo

Do your research, learn the route and get as familiar with the topo as possible before you attempt Howling Ridge.

There are enough good photos, videos and guidebook descriptions out there to be as familiar with the route as possible prior to trying it. While the top of the route isn’t that complicated in terms of route finding, perhaps at the start or middle section, there are places where climbers can drift to the sides of the ridge. One recent incident resulted in a party of climbers getting lost on the ridge and having to spend overnight on the ridge while waiting for Mountain Rescue to come for them in the morning for this reason.

If you are on lead on the route and feel like you have taken a wrong line, there is always potential to retrace your steps and consult with your climbing partner(s), even if this slows you down in the short term, it could mean safely summitting.


  1. Take Your Time

If it’s your first time on Howling Ridge, slow and steady will win the race, better to be sure of your gear placements/anchors/route finding. Its not the Alps and the walk off the top of Carrauntoohil shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to someone capable of climbing HR.

While climbing Howling Ridge can be a long day out, it’s not as serious as in the Alps or Scottish Winter and getting up and down as fast as possible shouldn’t be the goal of your day. Enjoy the climb, have fun and soak in the experience! Better to be efficient and calm rather than racing up it and making mistakes and errors of judgement.

If its outside summer months, pack head torches, maps and a compass and have the ability to use them. Getting home to the cars as it falls dark can be part of the overall experience rather than another thing to race against.


If you are interested in learning rope skills, gear placement and techniques, perhaps this might interest you

Mountaineering 3 Day Course

Tactics Of Navigation 1

This blog is written primarily with the Mountain Leader (ML) trainee in mind, but can be useful to any person looking to refine their navigation skills.

One of the big challenges that faces a ML trainee is the transition from Mountain Skills (MS)  style navigation to ML style. The big difference between the two is that as an MS candidate you are tasked with thinking about your own personal navigation and safety on the hills, while as an ML you should be focusing not just on your own safety and enjoyment of the hills, but also that of your group.

To do this effectively, where possible, we should be aiming to spend less time with our entire focus on a compass, head buried in a map and pacing every metre of the entire day on the hills. A more “heads up” style of navigation allows us to cater to the needs of our group and respond to any changes in character from them that might signal discomfort, unease or nerves.

Most of the time it just allows us to be engaged with our client, providing an enjoyable day for us and them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying give up the tried and tested hard skills you’ve already attained. There is definitely a time and place for using every tool in the navigation “toolbox”, but if visibility is good and we have defined navigational aids to assist us with direction, we can train ourselves to not rely on pacing, compasses and timing as much as we might think.

A strong ability to interpret contours and their scale and proximity in relation to other features is as strong and important a tool as any.

Lets look at an example:

In the map above, we have parked at A and are going to attempt to find the spur at B. There are stepping stones at the carpark that allow us to cross the river straight away. Once crossed, we can have two “handrail” directional aids that allow us to walk in the correct direction. The first and obvious one is the river on our right hand side and then on our left hand side should be a reasonably steep uphill slope, as indicated by the three contour lines quite close together.

We will follow the river for approximately 300-400 metres and although we pass a few large bends in the river along the way, the point marked by the blue X on the map is the first point where the river creates a complete S bend, turning back on itself. As river bends can sometimes be obscured by banks or growth, we can also determine that we are at X because it happens at a close proximity to the uphill contour on the south side of the river. Prior to that the, two previous bends in the river were not in close proximity to the uphill contours to the south, with flattish ground either side of the river.

In addition, the 3 tightly packed uphill contours south of the river that we were using to handrail have started to open out and we should expect to see an easing of steepness of the ground, giving way to a series of uphill re-entrants.

Ideally and in good visibility, we don’t need a compass for a directional aid at this point either, as the re-entrants act as a funnel. We can ascend the mid-line (red dots) of each of the re-entrants by keeping the uphill ground on either side of us, and although wider at the start, by the third uphill contour line we should have arrived at a very defined re-entrant, indicated by a sharp v shaped re-entrant on the map. As this V is so pronounced, we should probably expect to be in a re-entrant no wider than 25 metres.

Continuing along the line of red dots,  we travel through two much larger re-entrants, circa 50 metres wide. These re-entrants are much closer together than the 3 previous and I expect this to mean a steeper uphill climb, before coming to a small plateauing of the ground behind them and a much more rounded or fizzling out of the overall re-entrant feature as it starts to turn into steeper uniform uphill contours.

We should be able to pinpoint the small spur like feature at point B as it is the same contour height as the last rounded re-entrant.

There are other similar small spur contours that seem similar to B, but they should have a different proximity to the various re-entrants we have already identified.

  • If we are standing on B, there should be 1 uphill contour to our southwest, before a short plateau and then multiple uphill contours.
  • If we progress too far uphill and stand on the spur feature one contour line higher than B, then we should have a short plateau behind us, but after that multiple contour lines. Distance wise we will also be too close distance wise to the multiple steep uphill contours to our southwest.
  • If we stand on the spur of the contour line below B, we would have a larger plateau southwest of us, but most tellingly we should have a two contour line large re-entrant to our south east.

There was a chance that having turned away from the river and without the use of a compass, we could have travelled in a more southerly direction (purple dots) into a small re-entrant 3 contour lines up from the river. At first this could even have been mistaken for the V shaped re-entrant we had intended to travel through, but by ascending this line our re-entrant would soon die out completely and we would be facing into a steep uniform uphill climb with no further re-entrants or spurs to tick off along the way. A failure to notice this would of course result in us being off route.

At first, this might even seem like too much detail to remember when pacing, timing and compass bearings are more straightforward.

The reading of contour lines, the characteristics of the shapes that they make and their scale and proximity to the shapes around them are not easy skills to attain and when attained they most be practiced to keep sharp. It was definitely the last part of the puzzle to fall into place for me and its something I continually work on and try improve.

However, once you start to read maps in fine detail like this it can allow for a style of navigation where the focus can be on your clients needs, an enjoyable pace and general conversation.

If you don’t understand the jargon or concepts discussed above, then you might need a more fundamental understanding of navigation. Perhaps consider booking into a Mountain Skills or bespoke navigation training course.







A bit more bouldering in Doolin

Last year during lockdown I wrote a blog about my local bouldering spot at Doolin.

In it I listed 7 boulder problems of varying difficulty, worth travelling to Doolin to try.

Hopefully some people found it inspiring and got some time on rock last summer.

At the bottom I listed a few other classics at the crag to try, but as I hadn’t done them, or was even close to doing them at the time, I felt it would be a little false to recommend them highly.

Well with a winter’s training under my belt and a spell of dry weather I managed to tick two of them and I’m making steady progress with one of them.

So as a nice follow up to last years blog I thought it would be cool to show some videos I took of the problems and some footage of Jono doing Gutbusters, that I’ve been using for Beta.

The Ramp, 6B+

Broken, 6B

Gutbusters, 6B+

Hopefully by this time next year I can write a third installment of Doolin bouldering blogs where I’m working on harder problems again!

If I do, then great, if I dont, well I’ll always enjoy hanging out at such a cool location climbing whatever I’m able for.

Training For Rockclimbing

This post is a long overdue thank you to Niamh and Andres at Sendero Climbing! If you’re a rockclimber and interested in training for rockclimbing, a training plan to progress your grade or to break through a plateau then get in touch with them, I’d highly recommend them as coaches! Find them on insta @senderoclimbing

Training for rockclimbing

I turned 40 last year and decided it was a good time to set some goals for the future. The previous 5 years had been pretty hectic, setting up my own company, obtaining my Mountaineering Instructor qualifications, buying a house with my partner Sinead and working on 15 foreign trekking and mountaineering expeditions for Earths Edge.

With so much achieved in my working life and with my business up and running, I turned my time and energy back towards my own personal rockclimbing, as it had started to suffer.

Back in 2015, I was climbing pretty well, I always felt strong and was steadily making progress into harder grades, but in 2020 I felt weak and lacked the confidence to push on.

I had never climbed E5 and always saw it as a great milestone goal to try achieve. I wasnt happy that I had become stagnant in my personal climbing and I was wary of the trap that alot of Instructors can fall into, where work life takes over and they stop pushing hard with their own climbing. I see it all the time and was sure it would never happen to me, yet here I was 5 years in and it was happening. I always thought of myself as a climber first, then an Instructor, but this had stopped being true and it was time to flip the script.

Getting in lots of mileage at work, but not pushing it hard

There’ll always be a reason why not to try hard, but mostly its because we fall into comfort zones. It can be safer to court the devil you know rather than put yourself forward to risk failure.

I also love bouldering as much as trad and wanted to push my standards on the small rocks as well as the big cliffs. So my training plan had to be build strength, power and endurance. The mental and skill aspects of climbing I’d have to work on too, alot, but this was made a whole lot simpler when my mate and total beast of a climber Jono Redmond moved in next door to me. I now had a regular climbing partner who was was able to give me encouragement, technique coaching and loads of abuse if I skipped workouts. And that he did.

Using newly found power on The Ramp

What Andres and Niamh designed in terms of a training plan really worked for me. From the outset I felt like they really understood what I wanted from a plan and also through consultation were able to make it fit into my other commitments. They checked in with me regularly, but not too much, making sure I was enjoying the workouts and not skipping them because I couldnt be arsed with some of the excercises.

The concept of designing a successful training plan shouldn’t have been so alien to me, after all I understand and know all the concepts myself, but I’ve always had a tendency to overdo it when designing a plan for myself and then get burned out or injured too quickly. Less can be more and all that.

Theres also nothing quite like being accountable to someone else when it comes to training and improving.

For me anyway it worked. I stayed the course, put in the hours and stayed true to the workouts. I was successful in headpointing my first E5, have two more in my sights, while also topping out on a number of boulder problems in Doolin that I lacked the power to send before.

Topping out on Ice Queen

But why stop there! The guys at Sendero Climbing made a new plan for me and I’m working away on that steadily but surely, because why limit your goals. Jono will be moving house soon, but has promised to abuse me online if I slack off.

My onsight grade has always been shocking but as the country comes out of lockdown I’ll have more ability to put the psyche and strength to good use and push my comfort zone there too.

With Mirror Wall on my doorstep I’ll have plenty of opportunities to push that comfort zone nicely.

Thanks again guys!

Training for rockclimbing

Training for rockclimbing 

Earths Edge Guest Podcast

I recently spoke to the Irish adventure travel company Earth’s Edge, as part of their new podcast, which launched last December. I’ve worked with Earth’s Edge as an expedition guide on numerous trips, starting off with Kilimanjaro in 2016. Since then, I’ve led 15 expeditions in three and a half years, including many repeat visits to Kilimanjaro!

The Earth’s Edge podcast talks to some fascinating people within the adventure world, including mountain guides, expedition doctors, aspiring climbers and travel enthusiasts. You’ll find out what keeps them going back to the mountains, the adventures they’ve had on some of the greatest peaks in the world, and the challenges they’ve faced.

So far, the podcast has featured…


Debbie Mulhall, a trekking addict who has conquered Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, Aconcagua, Stok Kangri and Elbrus. 


Stephen Ferris, the superstar Ulster rugby player who climbed Kilimanjaro with Earth’s Edge to raise money for injured rugby players.


Yoga teacher Rachel Kiernan, who tackled Mera Peak despite having no prior experience trekking at altitude.


Mark Willis, one of the expedition doctors who accompany every Earth’s Edge trip, who talks about his experience as a medic at altitude.  


Earth’s Edge lead expeditions to some of the world’s most incredible sights, like Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp. As well as these legendary locations, they run trips to some of the world’s more challenging and unique mountains, like Mount Elbrus in Russia and Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America.

They are the only company in the world who send an international guide and a doctor on all the expeditions, while keeping the group sizes small. This means there’s an unrivalled level of safety for every single one of their clients.


You can listen to the Earth’s Edge podcast in all the usual places, including Spotify, iTunes and YouTube. Click here to find out more. You can also read all about the expeditions they run on their website.


Training/Assessment Opportunities For Female Instructors

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to make an income from what I love doing. To work in an industry that has a love and respect for the natural environment and gets to encourage others to do the same.

Along the way Ive received excellent advice and guidance from mentors and those with more experience in the industry. I consider myself lucky that the door was never closed on me when I asked for help.

I’m a strong believer too that this courtesy should be passed forward to the next generation of Outdoor Instructors.

Perhaps one aspect of my industry that I don’t feel positive about is the lack of gender equality, with it still being a very male populated one. Some of my closest friends in the industry are some of the best climbers and Instructors I know, that they happen to be female is neither here nor there.

Gender doesn’t matter when it comes do doing a job, smashing out a tough route, leading a long day on the hills or imparting knowledge to others. What matters is ability and attitude. I can only see it as a positive that more women are encouraged to seek a career in the outdoors and even out the ratio.

With this in mind I’d like to play my part in redressing the imbalance and offer an opportunity to an up and coming female in the industry. Realising that courses can be expensive and mentoring opportunities can be hard to access, I’d like to offer a pathway for them to follow, to assist their progression.

Whats on offer?

I’m offering the following courses, assessments and mentoring opportunities, free of charge, to a female candidate looking to take that next step in the outdoors. You can apply for one or all of the places.

– Mountain Skills Assessment

– Mountain Leader Training (1&2)

– Rock Climbing Instructor Training

– Rock Climbing Instructor Assessment

– Climbing Wall Instructor Training

– Climbing Wall Instructor Assessment

– Mentoring opportunities from qualified female instructors working in the outdoors: (Angela Carlin MCI, Orla Prendergast MCI, others)

Ideally the candidate would already be working in the outdoor industry and have a career plan to become further qualified, however, applications will be considered from those not yet working in the industry or who are in a position to inspire those around them, such as a school teacher or club leader. The courses and mentoring could be held both midweek and weekend and those applying should be available to attend.

How to apply:

– Send an email to detailing your current level of experience and training in the outdoor industry and what aspirations you may have long term.

– Be a current member of Mountaineering Ireland

***** Update 11/1/21: applications are now closed ******

Initially, I had thought that I would award the prize to just one candidate, however, it was difficult to choose just one from the 10 candidates who applied and with this in mind I have decided to divide the prize up and provide a course (and/or mentoring) to each of the 10 candidates who have applied.
Having looked at the various stages of awards already held by applicants and taking into account the long consolidation process that comes with each award, I think this is the most equitable way in which to distribute the goodwill of this initiative.

The following is the total amount awarded to female instructors as a result of this initiative.

CWI training x 1
CWI assessment x 1
RCI training x 1
RCI assessment x 2
MS1 training x 1
MS assessment x 1
Mentoring x 4


Mountain Skills Training: A Basic Understanding Of Weather

Properly understanding the weather and how it impacts on our day in the mountains is an important skill for us to have.

The following blog will be useful for novice hillwalkers and those who are taking their Mountain Skills training. It should give a basic understanding of what they need to know to make safe decisions on the hills.

Strong westerly winds on Scarr

The three areas we will look at are:

  1. Where to get reliable weather information?
  2. How we can interpret that information to help us plan our route.
  3. How we can notice and analyse changes in the weather in real time.


Where can I get my weather forecast from?

Some sites are more accurate than others and some are more reliable for specific types of weather, rain, wind etc.

So if we are going to put our faith in the online forecast then lets make sure we use reputable sites and that we crosscheck a few of them rather than relying on just one.

Also, don’t just check the weather report for the local town, but for the summits of the local mountains too, as there will always be a considerable difference between the two.

I would use the following sites regularly for weather forecasting and find them to be accurate:

But don’t just take my word for it, get familiar with navigating these sites, screenshot them before you start your walk and then at the end of the day cross check what actually happened with what was predicted. This can give you confidence in using a particular site, but also allow you to learn some of the nuances of mountain weather.


How we can interpret that information to help us plan our route.

In short, it will be colder, wetter and windier the higher we go. We should make sure we are prepared for this and that we take it into account when planning our routes.


Wind Speed:

Of all the elements, wind is the most likely to stop us from completing our hike or force us into making a change of route in the first place. Cold and wet days can be mitigated for with better gear, but wind will stop even the most experienced hikers from making progress or staying safe.

Wind speed increases the higher you go. As the air is pushed upwards by a mountain it is squeezed and increases in speed, making it more difficult to walk and increasing the wind chill factor.

The wind speed on top of a 1000m peak can be two to three times faster than at low level, which on a 25 km/h day in Dingle, could be very unsafe on top of Brandon Peak.

Below is an extremely useful chart for understanding what wind speed means in real time:

We should be aware that some forecasts only give us the average wind speed and not the gust speed. Gusts are short and intense, but faster than the average wind speed. Gusty days can make narrow ridges spicier than we might like.

Wind Direction:

Nobody wants to walk into the oncoming wind all day, especially wind driven rain or sleet.

We can use wind direction to our advantage when planning, so that when we are on the higher more exposed ground we have the wind at our backs assisting us rather than impeding our progress.

We can sometimes use the mountain itself for protection from the wind. On Scarr mountain in Wicklow for example, where strong westerly winds are common, it is possible to approach from the south (red) and contour around the east side (red dash) of the summit ridge, needing only to be on top of the summit for a short period. A good alternative route would have been to travel from Glenmacnass from the north, with the wind on your back and gaining ground on a wide spur (purple).

It is worth noting, that contouring isn’t always a safe option due to the terrain encountered. It can also be energy sapping and ankle jarring to venture off the well walked path, such as the one on Scarr, for the heathery less travelled ground on its east and if overused can impact on a persons overall enjoyment of the day.

Air Masses:

We must also take in the origin of the wind when looking at the wind direction and how this matters. Winds from the north are cold, winds from the south and east can be warm and drier while winds from the west can warmer and wetter.  The graphic below is an excellent concise description of what we need to know about air masses.

The Lapse Rate:

As we ascend in the mountains the temperature will get colder. We can quickly calculate an approximate summit temperature in advance by taking 1° degree Celsius off for every 150 metre of ascent.

To look at this in practice. You are parked at Cronins Yard, at an altitude of 140m above sea level and with an air temperature of 5°. You plan to climb Carrauntoohil which is 1040m at its summit.

We can divide the altitude gain (900m) by the approximate lapse rate (150) 6 times. If we take 6° off our air temperature at Cronins Yard, the temperature on top of Carrauntoohill summit will be approximately -1°, or below freezing.

This will obviously have an impact on how we need to prepare for our hike: the ability and fitness of the group, additional warm layers, extra gloves and hats, perhaps extra food and hot drinks in a flask and how the underfoot conditions on top might be.

Visibly below freezing on higher ground


As moist air is lifted over a mountain by the wind, it cools down, condenses and forms rain, known as Orographic rainfall. This type of rainfall creates a rain shadow on the opposite side of the mountain, with descending dry air. This side of the mountain can be drier and warmer than the opposite side. As per the drawing below.


With Lapse rate and Wind chill we looked at the temperature getting colder, but what about when the temperature is too high?

Overheating and over exposure to the sun are probably not our first thoughts when it comes to hiking in Ireland, but they have to be considered none the less.

On sunny days could we plan our routes to take benefit of the early morning shade from a north facing peak? Or aim for a ridge line walk to avail of whatever breeze is on offer? Or could it be as simple as an earlier starting time, to ensure the bulk of the walk is over by midday? Does my route pass a reliable clean water source during the day where we can refill our water bottles?

Rethinking what to carry on hot days is extremely important. Doubling the water you normally carry is good place to start. Suncream, rehydrating salts, blister packs, sun hats and sunglasses. We can pack and prepare quite differently for the rare sunny days we get, so don’t be on auto pilot when it comes to packing.

In this part of the world, the advice from the medical experts is that we should wear sun-cream if we plan to be outdoors any time between April and September, whether its sunny or not. We rarely think in the long term, but skin cancer is a serious issue and perhaps we should be more aware of the dangers of increased radiation at these times of year.


How we can notice and analyse changes in the weather in real time?


A basic understanding of clouds can teach us a lot. I find the Latin names and multiple varieties of clouds can be daunting and off-putting for those trying to learn, however, if we can understand the 4 main types of cloud, practically all the clouds we need to know are composites of them.

Nimbus: a cloud that carries Rain

Cirrus: high altitude, wispy, formed of ice crystals.

Cumulus: puffy, fluffy, cotton wool like, piles of cloud

Stratus: low level, layers of clouds


Using the 4 main types of cloud above, we can decipher the characteristics of other types of cloud and why we should know them.

Nimbostratus: for example, would be made up of multiple layers of rain carrying clouds, which will produce continuous rain and we shouldn’t expect to take off our waterproofs during the day.

Cumulonimbus: would be accumulated piles of clouds carrying rain. They can bring heavy rain, high winds and even lightning.

Cirrocumulus: these small, puffy and accumulated high altitude, icy clouds can be indication of stormy weather in the coming days.

Cirrus clouds  are high altitude, whispy clouds. When seen alone, they can be fine, however if combined with low stratus clouds, it could be seen as a sign that rain is on the way.

The extremely simple to use and concise “cloud guide” app is available to download for free and I highly recommend it.

Using it to identify the clouds and noticing how these clouds are changing characteristic is a valuable skill in the mountains.



Rainfall can have an impact on our route selection as much as our enjoyment of the day. If you have to cross a river as part of your route plan, could it be impassable due to heavy rain? Even if its not raining today, did it rain heavily yesterday or overnight and will this have an impact on the route choice.

A dry day, but recent rainfall making route progress tricky

Remember, rivers don’t swell in size at the exact same time as it rains, we have to understand the rate at which the rainfall runs off the land and into the river and this can have as much to do with the existing water content of the land as it does with the amount of rain that is falling.

For example, after a period of dry sunny weather, the ground can be hard and impermeable. This can mean that instead of the rain being absorbed by the ground it can run off it at speed on steeper slopes. This collects quickly in rivers and they can swell in shorter periods of time than if the water had “drained” into the river.

Likewise, an extended period of cold or freezing weather can harden the ground and not allow rainfall to soak in, again creating faster than normal run off into the rivers.

Being familiar with the response rate of rainfall to river flow is an important skill to learn. Will the stepping stones you crossed to get up the Hags glen still be above water when you come back that way 4 hours later?

If we fail to analyse or prepare for these possibilities we may be unnecessarily forced into an incorrect choice or action plan.



The MWIS forecast in the UK is great at informing the level of cloud cover. In Ireland we have no equivalent resource. Forecasting fog and cloud clover is not a simple process and probably not one we plan for like we do for rain and wind. Sometimes we wont know what the visibility is like until we arrive at the base of the mountain.

How we react to fog and low visibility is important however, If our route plan was to cover a large distance and/or lesser known ground then we may have to factor in the additional time we will spend navigating throughout and entire day. We may no longer be covering ground at the speed we had planned and erring on the side of caution might be a better option than trying to link up that last peak.

low visibility on Carrauntoohil


You could write a full book about the change that real snowfall and frozen ice makes to our general hiking in the hills, but for the most part a light dusting isn’t going to make that much of a difference underfoot to a regular hiker, but I would ensure my route plan doesn’t cover ground where snow has fallen on steep short grass as it can be extremely slippy underfoot.

Frozen sleet and snow near the summit, but not presenting much difficulty to the group

My main aims in planning a route over light snow would be to stick to wide spurs and gentler inclines when possible and limiting the time spent on rocky terrain where they may have become iced over. We must also take into account where the snow line is on the mountain. Is it just a light dusting on top or is there an inch of snow at the base? Obviously a small amount of snow lower down is an indication of much greater amounts up high.

If in doubt or unfamiliar with the route, play it safe and plan elsewhere.

The planned use of crampons and/or an Ice Axe is a different matter, but best saved for a separate blog.


In summary

We all love to be optimistic in the car park when it comes to the weather,, but we should never become complacent. How often have you started a walk in perfect sunshine only to be soaked by lunch?

Furthermore, if we are changing the route plan because of the weather, either before starting or mid route, we must be sure we can back up our logic and reasoning for doing so with confidence in our decisions.

I hope you find the above information useful. I’ve tried to keep it as basic and uncomplicated as possible. If you are extremely familiar with the above information, then I recommend taking your understanding a step further as part of your ongoing development of mountain knowledge.




Mountain Skills Training Courses – FAQs

I wrote the following post to cover some of the more commonly asked questions from clients looking to book in for Mountain Skills training.

What is a Mountain Skills training course?

Mountain skills 1 and 2 are Mountaineering Ireland approved training courses.

The main focus of the courses are to teach people route planning, navigation and relocation, but there are also parts of the course that teach about equipment, the mountain environment, hazards, how to manage yourself in steep mountainous terrain and how best to respect the mountain environment.

Navigation is when you know where you are and know where you want to go.

Relocation is when you aren’t sure of where you are and need to figure it out so that you navigate effectively.

Who are the courses aimed at?

The courses are open to everyone. They are aimed at those who wish to become more self sufficient in the hills and have the confidence to get off the beaten track, explore more and help relocate when you lose track of where you are.

How long is each course?

Mountain Skills 1 and Mountain Skills 2 are both 2 day training courses. Mountain Skills 2 has a 2-3 hour night navigation section as part of it

Where do they run?

I usually run my courses in Wicklow, Clare, Kerry and Connemara, but I’m open to teaching the courses in new locations if they are suitable to teaching the course.

When can I do it?

A lot of the courses run at weekends but I often run midweek courses too.

How many can do it?

The course can run on a minimum of 1:1 but no more than a maximum of 6:1. Usually there are 4 or 5 on every course.

How much is it?

The cost of each course is EUR 150 per person.

What equipment do I need to come on the course.

– There is no requirement to bring a compass for MS1, but if you have one do bring it.  For MS2 you would need a Silva Type 4 compass.

– an ordnance survey map for the appropriate area of the course.

– waterproof Jacket AND Trousers are essential

– lots of warm layers, hats, gloves, backpack etc,

– appropriate hiking boots with ankle support (no runners)

– food/water for a long day on the hills

I don’t know if I’m fit enough?

A good level of fitness is desirable as it’ll help you enjoy the course and will be more conducive to learning, but you don’t have to be super fit or anything like it.  While each day of the course might be long, it is not consistently walking all the time. There is a lot of stopping to learn and practice and we need to dress appropriately for moving at this relatively slow speed.

Do I need to do both MS1 and MS2

In general I would recommend both, however you can do one without the other. Of the two I strongly recommend doing MS1. I always say if you learn the skills from MS1 properly you may never need to use the skills learnt on MS2.

On MS1 you will learn the fundamentals and foundations of navigation. Without an excellent grasp of the fundamentals, the skills learned on MS2 can be harder to understand and of little use in a real life scenario. There is no substitute for knowing the basics really well.

What will I learn on MS1?

There are lots of aspects to the course but the primary focus of MS1 is to learn how to navigate or relocate while using a map and not needing a compass. To attain this a lot of the course will be spent on the following key areas:

  • Contour Interpretation (what they mean and what they look like in real life)
  • Using the contours to plan routes and navigate effectively
  • Understanding the scale of features on the map (and why that’s important)
  • Navigational techniques and tactics
  • Setting the map (and its importance)
  • Basic understanding of the compass
  • How to give a grid reference
  • Learning to measure distance through Timing and Pacing

What will I learn on MS2?

Again there are a lot of elements to the MS2 course, but the core elements that we will focus on are:

  • How to use a compass to follow a navigational bearing
  • How to use a compass to relocate by taking bearings from the land
  • Compass based navigational techniques and tactics
  • Night Navigation
  • Efficient movement skills and techniques for steep ground
  • Hypothermia/Emergency scenarios and how to manage them

“I cant come to your courses, can you recommend another provider of the MS courses?”

Absolutely, I’m always happy to recommend other providers around Ireland. I strongly advise looking for providers who are qualified Mountaineering Instructors and members of the Association Of Mountaineering Instructors.

Some providers of the Mountain Skills courses are only trained and qualified as Mountain Leaders, the clue is in the name.


I hope the above info helps answer some of your questions, if you are interested in MS1 or MS2 and would like more specific information or to make a booking, please feel free to contact me here.




Hypothermia In The Hills

If you’ve spent any time walking in the Irish hills and mountains, you will be well aware of what mild hypothermia feels like, even if you didn’t fully recognise it at the time.

Hypothermia doesn’t just happen in the depths of winter, in the upland, it can catch us out at any time of year, especially with the rapid changes of weather we are used to.

Prevention is obviously better than cure, so when we are allowed on the hills again we should come prepared.

Catching Hypothermia in the Hills

No matter what the weather is like when we leave the car park, we should always be prepared to expect harsher conditions and carry the right amount and kind of equipment with us.

At the bottom of the page, I’ve listed an appropriate gear list for hiking in Ireland.

But we can all be caught off guard on the hills, so how can we recognise hypothermia as its happening and manage it efficiently, before it becomes more serious.

Below I’ve listed simple and concise explanations to help us in spotting its onset and managing the outcomes.

What is Hypothermia?

To simplify it, Hypothermia is when our body is losing heat faster than it can create heat.

What Causes Hypothermia:

Exposure to cold weather (wind, rain etc) or any condition that decreases heat production or increases heat loss (overexertion, lack of fuel) or a combination of these things.

Signs and symptoms:

Shivering, confusion, putting on clothes or even paradoxically removal of clothing.

Look out for “The umbles”: Mumbles, bumbles, grumbles and stumbles.

What are the stages of hypothermia?

Mild Hypothermia:

We can arrive at a stage of mild hypothermia quite fast and it can be as simple as having reduced circulation, shivering and feeling in a grumpy mood, which may easily go unnoticed by others in our group.

We are still able to move under our own steam, but we need to take positive action to prevent our condition from getting worse.

Medium Hypothermia:

This will be much more noticeable as shivering stops and confusion increases. We will have a lack of coordination, slower breathing, weaker pulse, increased confusion and possibly feeling sleepy.

We will be laboured in our movement and possibly not moving without assistance and we will need to take urgent action.

Severe Hypothermia:

We will probably not be able to move of our own volition or even with assistance.

A weak pulse and difficulty in breathing will be noticeable and we will possibly lose consciousness as our self-defence mechanisms begin to shut our bodies down to protect the brain.

We will be in need of urgent medical attention.

How do I treat Hypothermia?

It’s not as simple as throwing on another layer and that’s it, but there is a simple formula to remember how to treat lesser degrees of Hypothermia

                Fuel + movement = Heat

While this might seem simple, its extremely effective, especially at the early stages, but one without the other is useless. If you give someone fuel but don’t get them moving, then they will continue to get cold.

If you get someone moving, but haven’t given them fuel, they will burn more energy and lose more heat, possibly pushing them into a more advanced stage.

Once in a more developed stage, getting a person moving enough to stay warm might not be easy and I would be seriously considering calling emergency services if this was the case.

If the person can’t move because of an injury or incapacitation, then we should definitely be calling emergency services and making the person as warm as we can while we wait.

Click on this link to read a separate blog about emergency equipment we should be carrying on the hills with us as leisure users.

Treatment for mild hypothermia:

Warm sweetened drinks, food, shelter, warm clothing, physical activity.

Treatment for moderate hypothermia:

Heat blankets, fuel, less strenuous or gentle activity and movement.

Treatment for Severe Hypothermia:

The treatment will have to be administered by trained professionals. A gradual raising of the core temperature, warm IV fluids, peritoneal lavage (a warm fluid-based washing of the abdominal area)

While the above is a concise explanation of Hypothermia I would strongly suggest all active hill users learn as much as possible about the topic.

Early identification of the signs and appropriate treatment is so effective, just please don’t do the “it’ll be grand” approach and solider on.

Id also suggest gaining an outdoor specific first aid qualification too, it might just save a life some time.

I hope the above is useful and please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the points made.


Gear Checklist for Hillwalking In Ireland:

waterproof jacket and trousers. No matter what the forecast is, waterproofs should always be carried. Mountains can create their own weather systems, different from that of the local lowland area. They can also be excellent as a windbreaker layer, even if it’s not raining. The two jackets I use are a North Face Summit Series Goretex jacket and a Columbia Outdry jacket and I really like both. I tend to spend a lot of money on my waterproof jackets and go slightly cheaper on my trousers.

hats, gloves, buff. and spares in a dry bag. I have both expensive items and cheap Penneys items. All will work, just some will work better than others, but the cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.

Baselayer – again you can spend a lot of money or go cheap with generic items, once they are made from material good for wicking sweat then they are good enough. Polyester/merino/bamboo are good, cotton is bad.

hiking boots. On the Irish mountains, we don’t get the perfect quality trails and tracks that you find in other countries so appropriate hiking specific boots with ankle support are essential and runners are just a bad idea. Don’t buy them online either as the fit is everything and a good outdoor shop will be able to help you choose the best fit for you. I personally like La Sportiva boots, they work well for narrower feet, so aren’t for everyone.

warm breathable layers – again you don’t have to buy specific hiking clothing, obviously, purpose-designed clothing will perform better, but any clothing designed to be used for an activity or the outdoors is appropriate, for women gym leggings are a great option instead of trousers. Like baselayers make sure they aren’t cotton or denim. Cotton and Denim don’t dry fast and you can lose a lot of body heat as your system works hard to warm up the cold fabric. This is an issue on a wet day as well as a hot day when sweat covered clothing can sap at our energy levels stealthily.

Spare layers – a warm mid-layer, either fleece layer or a softshell, stored in a dry bag is essential for if the weather changes or if we get cold while stopped.

Hiking socks. Specifically designed hiking socks are expensive, but they last a long time and will help prevent getting blisters and that’s worth any money. I like Bridgedale socks.

food/water/snacks Enough for a long day on the hills, but also consider bringing some “what if” emergency snacks too, in case you are out longer than you intended.

Backpack. A well-designed backpack allows you to carry all the weight on your hips and is designed and cushioned appropriately. It’s sore and frustrating if you carry the load on your shoulders all day and when we are sore and frustrated we make bad decisions in the outdoors. Bad decisions can lead to incidents. I only ever use an Osprey Talon 33 Litre bag for day to day hiking and highly recommend it. It makes sense to buy a bag from a company that only design and make bags as all their research and development goes into that product.

– Trekking Poles. – I always carry a pair when I’m in the outdoors, I don’t always use them, but I always have them with me. At first, they can feel awkward to get used to, but once you are used to them they are excellent for moving efficiently and extending the lifespan of your knees. I use them a lot in descent to assist with a recurring knee injury. They can also be great to give to a nervous companion on steep descents, as a crutch for someone with a light sprain or to use as a splint for an injured arm or leg. I use Black Diamond Trail Poles. All of the above might take some time and cost to put together, so now is as good time as any to start preparing, so that we are ready in advance of needing them. The gear might also seem heavy and restrictive, but the extra weight will soon be forgotten about and will ultimately only make us fitter on the hills.

I hope the above is of some help and I’m happy to answer any questions, so please feel free to get in touch if you do.

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