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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
The three areas we will look at are:
Where to get reliable weather information?
How we can interpret that information to help us plan our route.
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.
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 threetimes 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Writing something like a “best of” list is such a subjective thing, but also such a great thing to get a discussion going.
From writing the previous VS list I know I have a new list of climbs to add to my ever-increasing wishlist.
To my shame, I have climbed very little in Donegal. I daydream of trips to Cruit, Gola and Owey. Climbs like The Donkeys Pelvis looks like it could make this list with ease, but I haven’t climbed it yet, so I can’t comment.
I’ve been to The Mournes plenty, but mostly for work and lower graded climbs so I’ve not even started ticking the climbs I want to do there personally.
But pretty much from the day I bought The Mournes guidebook Parallel Lines and Sweetie Mice jumped out at me and I cant wait to get on them too.
The 5 Best HVS climbs in Ireland
So below is a list of the 5 best HVS climbs in Ireland that I’ve climbed, so far. They may not be your best, but they might inspire you to get out and try a new route.
They make my list not solely because of their aesthetic qualities, amazing location or popularity, but because of who I climbed them with and at what stage in my climbing I did them.
I look forward to hearing suggestions for other routes I should add to my list.
Pangur Bán, HVS 5a, 36m, Farrangandoo
No surprise that the best HVS in the country should be at the best crag in the country. But putting aside my blatant love and bias for Fair Head for a moment, this is still a really amazing climb, best saved for late in the evening when the setting sun is on your back.
The moves just feel fantastic and the gear is good. I’ve had the pleasure of climbing it once on lead and once on second and I can’t recall a HVS that I’ve enjoyed as much.
Sarcophagus HVS 5a, 5a, 5a, 84m, Glendalough
I don’t think I’ve ever had an un-enjoyable day climbing at Glendalough, but the first time I did Sarcophagus was one of the best ones.
Really good sustained climbing, on solid rock with plenty of gear. The feeling of being high above the Glendalough valley floor amplifies the experience.
Its variation finish traversing into Left Wall is one of the top routes in the country too, but as its E1, that’s slightly off-topic.
Cuchulainn HVS 5a, 30m, Gap Of Dunloe
One of Cons fine routes and one of my first climbs at HVS. I remember being so absorbed in the moment and loved every bit of it, once Id topped out.
I seconded Ferdia immediately afterwards and it probably got the cooler moves going through the roof, but for some reason, Cuchulainn lives long in my memory as being an outstanding climb at the grade.
Hells Kitchen, HVS, 5a, 5a, 66m, Fair Head
Back to Fair Head and what an epic line. The first time I lead it, I kind of hated it. A really hot day, wearing too many layers and fluffing the top moves, I got cooked in the kitchen.
The next time I tried it was a much more enjoyable one and I’d happily do it again in the morning if there weren’t so many amazing routes at FH that I haven’t tried yet.
Thrust, HVS 5A, Dalkey
Originally recorded as a 2 pitch route, it’s now commonly climbed in a single pitch. Whichever way you do it, its a classic and for me the best HVS at the crag.
Good gear and a strong variation of climbing style from start to finish, its just so much fun to climb. Tucked away, it can be a great option on a busier day at Dalkey.
Below is a link to a good video of Thrust being climbed, thanks to Conor for letting me use it.
Honourable Mentions for best HVS climbs in Ireland
Out of my reach, Gap Of Dunloe (a brilliant route and not reachy at all, as per Con the naming of it had nothing to do with climbing rocks).
The term Prusik knot or Autoblock is often used to generalise a number of different friction hitches that we use regularly in climbing.
Below are three friction hitches that I use a lot, their pros and cons and when or where I might use them.
The Prusik Knot (aka Original Prusik, Classic Prusik)
Developed by Austrian mountaineer Dr Karl Prusik, this hitch works by threading a cord around a rope and back through itself, usually 2 or 3 times, to provide a locking friction hitch that is difficult to release under load.
It’s useful as its quick and easy to tie and can be used in both pull directions. It uses the least amount of cord to make, which can be handy if you want to connect the Prusik to your harness without having to extend it with a sling.
Its less effective on wet or icy ropes and you should never use a sling for a Prusik Knot.
Perhaps its best use is for a scenario like escaping the system, where you don’t want the hitch to release under load, but don’t intend to slide it or move it along the rope much.
This hitch works by wrapping the cord around a rope multiple times and passing the bight from one end of the cord through the bight of the other end of the cord.
It locks really well, in fact, it can be practically impossible to slide when weighted if used properly. It can be released easily and a sling can be used as well as a cord (see below).
However, it only works in one pull direction and its too catchy to use as a back up for abseiling.
Because it grips so hard, it works really well when used in an unassisted haul set up, for escaping the system or when ascending or descending a fixed rope.
French Prusik (aka The Autoblock)
This knot is tied by wrapping the cord around the rope and clipping the bight at both ends of the cord together with a carabiner.
Its advantage and disadvantage is the same thing, it can be easily released, even under pressure.
As this is often used as a “fast-moving” hitch a sling isn’t advisable here either as it could slip/slide more easily and melt.
This makes it perfect for using as a back up when abseiling when lowering someone on an Italian hitch or as a clutch when using a haul system. It would not be an ideal friction hitch to use as a primary safety when ascending a rope, however.
Why do I need to know this? (couldn’t I just use a mechanical device?)
While there are purpose made devices out there like the Tibloc, there are a whole host of reasons as to why knowing how to make/use a friction hitch is a good idea. Below are just a few:
Cord is cheaper and weighs less than metal
you can wrap a friction hitch around two ropes
you can use a sling for some setups (please see below)
It can be untied and used for tat to abseil off
it causes less wear to your ropes
it can be used easily in descent
it could be used to make a runner with two crabs if you run out of quick-draws
How do I tie a cord for a friction hitch?
Use rated cord somewhere between 60 – 80 % of the diameter of the rope. 6mm cord covers most scenarios. If the cord is too thick, it won’t grip the rope, but too thin and it could melt or deform quicker.
Approx 1.2/1.3 metres of cord is needed.
Tie both ends of the cord together using a double fisherman’s knot and make sure there are no twists in the strands before tie-ing.
Make sure there are sufficiently long tails, so the cord doesn’t pull through the knot when weighted.
Can I use a sling for a Prusik?
It is absolutely best practice to use a rated cord for friction hitches, but a sling can work too, if used right, let’s look at when or why.
A Dyneema sling (least resistant to heat) or a Nylon sling (slightly more resistant to heat) are poor choices for Original Prusiks or French Prusiks, but if you were stuck, could be used as a Klemheist, especially in a scenario where they are butting up against a larger rope knot and are prevented from slipping, like when built behind the master point.
Aramid slings have a high melting point and I have successfully used them as a back up French Prusik when abseiling, without any damage or melting. This makes them suitable for all types of friction hitch.
Advanced uses of friction hitches
In this article I’ve spoken bout some advanced techniques liked hauling, escaping the system or ascending fixed lines and about knots which may be unfamiliar to some climbers.
Whether it’s building an anchor or placing it while on lead, how can you tell if your trad gear is safe or not?
Luckily there are 5 golden rules for deciding if your gear is bomber without having to take a nervy fall to find out!
Placing Trad Gear in the Direction Of Pull
If the piece of gear you placed is only good when pulled up and you are going to fall down, then it’s not very likely to hold. Now, this might seem simplistic but it gets a little more complicated when you add in horizontal cracks on traversing routes.
If you place a piece in a horizontal crack that pulls right, but you are about traverse left, then a fall or even the rope could easily dislodge your piece.
And remember, when placing a cam in a vertical crack, make sure the stem is angled at a 45-degree angle to the cliff (towards the ground) and not at a 90-degree angle to the cliff, otherwise under load, it could move or pop quite easily.
Quality Of Rock
If the quality of the rock you are placing trad gear in isn’t good, then it may not matter how well you place your gear.
We should investigate thoroughly the quality of the rock, both in the crack itself and the overall quality of the rock in the local area of the crack.
If the rock has hairline cracks around it could it be friable and have potential to move or crumble under a heavy load? Remember a piece of rock only has to move a millimetre in order for your gear to pop.
Flakes: I have seen gear placed behind suspect/loose flakes as a psychological piece to get through a movie. While this might be helpful to you on lead, if you fall it’s not just you in danger but your belayer too. Risking a bigger fall might actually be the safer thing here.
Surface Area Contact
This one should be simple but so often I see climbers not fully understand it. The aim is to get maximum surface area contact between the side of the nut/hex/cam-lobes and the side of the crack its placed in.
We can achieve this best by looking for a constriction on a crack, placing trad gear in where the crack is wider and sliding it towards where its constricted or narrowing.
Constriction alone isn’t good enough though, as maximum surface area contact between the piece and the rock ensures better hold and less movement of the piece by the rope.
Yes, bigger is better, but not at the expense of surface area contact.
If you have the option of placing a number 3 nut with 100% perfect surface area contact or a number 11 nut with 70% surface, then size doesn’t matter and go with the size 3 nut. It’s more than strong enough to hold and should be trusted.
If you have the option of a size 3 nut or a size 11 nut and they both have similar surface area contact in a good quality crack, then yes, choose the bigger piece.
Deeper is better
The deeper we can place the piece inside the crack the better, however, again only if it doesn’t compromise the surface area contact.
Often we don’t have multiple depth choices with a nut as they rely more on an element of constriction. Cams however can work better in uniform/parallel crack.
So if you have the option of placing a cam 1 inch inside a uniform crack or 3 inches inside a uniform crack then obviously the latter is the better option. Just make sure you don’t put the cam so deep your second cant release trigger.
Scoring Systems for placing trad gear
I have seen people use scoring systems for deciding whether a piece of gear is good or not. I don’t use these systems for a few reasons, but mainly its because it can be totally redundant if not fully understood.
A piece of gear scoring badly on point number one (direction of pull) but brilliantly on all the other points is still likely to pull out under fall.
I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.
Logging Quality Mountain Days (QMD’s) after your ML training is one of the core requirements of your consolidation.
It is important that this list of QMD’s is diverse, provides plenty of challenging moments for you and shows your dedication to becoming a well-rounded ML.
What constitutes a Quality Mountain Day?
A QMD should entail the following:
– The candidate is involved in the planning and instigation – The walk would last at least 5 hours and take place in an unfamiliar area – The majority of time should be spent above 500m, distance should be over 16km with over 600m of height gain during the day and cover a variety of terrain – The use of a variety of hillwalking techniques – Adverse weather conditions may be encountered
– Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in the Irish and UK hills
Criteria for a Quality Mountain Day
The walk should be both physically and mentally challenging for you. A tired brain and legs are always a good sign that you pushed it on a day out.
If you arent tired by the walks finish, then perhaps you should have tagged on that extra peak along the way.
Exploring new terrain and getting out of our comfort zones and the hills that we walk regularly is a great way to consolidate. We won’t be relying solely on memory to navigate and it will stimulate the all-important decision making parts of the brain.
Remember, we aren’t aiming to be a “Kerry ML” or a “Mournes ML”, we are aiming to be an ML, able to work anywhere in the UK and Ireland.
Both the weather conditions and the underfoot conditions should provide a challenge for us. We need to be practised in all types of both so that we can be assessed and work on all types of both.
Murphy’s Law will dictate your assessment will happen on a weekend of atrocious weather, I know mine was. You have to build up that toughness and resilience along the way, so don’t only be a fair-weather trainee.
When going to walk in a new area, figuring out where you are going to start/finish your walk, where you will park and if there are any access issues is a skill in itself.
These logistical skills will be invaluable for when you are working as an ML and have the expectations and requirements of real clients.
Quality Mountain Day Examples
The context of any QMD is important. Weather conditions, time of year/daylight and underfoot conditions play a huge part in the context of any of these examples.
Maybe that’s where the description in your DLOG can provide additional info to just distance, height and time travelled. It’s worth noting this before giving examples.
A: Starting at Glendalough, you climb Derrybawn, Mullacor and Lugduff and continue along to Turlough hill. At this point you have 4 likely options:
B: descend the spur to the Miners Path, and take the trail back to the car park. This would be the weakest option and although you would have hit the time and distance for a QMD, I personally feel it wouldn’t count as the latter part of the day doesn’t provide any navigational challenge.
C: Descend via Camaderry, providing additional time spent on the hills and possible navigational challenges if the visibility is poor. A solid enough QMD.
D: Take the St Kevins way back to the car park. While this is more rugged and broken than the miner’s trail, it provides little challenge navigationally and I wouldn’t consider it a good QMD.
E: By dropping down to the Wicklow Gap and ascending Tonglegee and The Brockaghs, you have chosen a committed day out on the hills, will utilise lots of skills and will have logged an excellent QMD.
Most leisure walkers who climb Tomies and Purple Mountain either stop on Purple or at the Glaslough and retrace their steps to the car or drop down to the Head Of The Gap and walk home via the trail road.
While it may look like a small area on a map, both of the above would be full days out the distance and time-wise, encompassing steep terrain, major peaks and navigational challenges less obvious than it first seems.
However for the purposes of logging a QMD, retracing your steps (in this particular instance) would be a little contrived, unimaginative and personally I think a softer QMD.
Walking via the Gap Of Dunloe trail road (B) is one of the most scenic and beautiful walks in the country, but it’s not ML terrain, even after a tough climb of Purple. Not a QMD.
However, if you headed up Drishana (C) from the Head of the Gap, then down the Ballagh Pass to Strickeen, it would be a solid QMD, covering lesser travelled areas of the Gap.
Perhaps a lesser-visited part of the Connemara Mountains, climbing the Devil’s Mother and around Maumtrasna would make for an excellent QMD.
Steep ground, awkward underfoot conditions, potential difficult navigation across the plateau in bad weather and not a trail in sight. A great day out.
Perhaps not the usual way to climb Donard, but by utilising the Mournes Shuttle Service or carpooling, a really great day out could be had by starting at Carrick Little.
From memory, it felt like a big day on the legs and a way in which you can encompass one of the provincial highpoints while still attaining the distance required for a QMD.
There will be plenty of times when you don’t quite hit all of the above criteria but still have a quality day in the hills and are a little unsure whether to include them as QMD’s or not.
I’m firmly of the opinion that if some of your walks hit most of the above criteria but possibly come up short in others, I still think it can be logged as a successful QMD.
Justification of why will depend on your description of the weather, terrain and events of the day.
In addition to the above info, I would add the following advice:
try to log walks on all 4 provinces of Ireland. If you aren’t familiar with the rest of the country then doing the 4 peaks is a good place to start. Just not by the obvious trail. Do the provincial high point one day and a lesser travelled nearby peak the next.
try to get to all the mountainous areas of Ireland at least once.
try tick off major peaks on your walks.
try to get to either Scotland, Wales or England at least once to hike, before your assessment.
get creative with your route planning and look at link up routes.
try log some classic “crossings” of the Irish hills. These take commitment, planning, navigation and logistical skills. There are many to choose from, for example :
– The Iveragh Crossing (3-4 days)
– The Sliabh Mish (2 days)
– The Mournes Wall (1 long day or 2 days with camping)
– The Beara Penninsula (2-3 days)
– The Twelve Bens (1 long day or 2 days with camping
Should I log non-QMD’s?
In short, yes. Log Everything! Include everything you do on your DLOG. Even times when you gave up after two hours of persistent bad weather and retreated to your car with your tail between your legs. It might not be a Quality Mountain Day but it shows the assessor a few things, like:
you were willing to go out on the bad weather days, not just the good.
you know the frustration of what it’s like to fail, pick yourself up and come back for more.
That you are committed to the process of becoming an ML and that you didn’t just do the bare minimum required.
Can I just log the bare minimum before the assessment?
Technically yes. The requirements for Quality Mountain Days are set in stone. Unofficially and in my opinion, it’s a poor reflection on you as a candidate not to have above and beyond the requirements.
An assessor wants to see in you a passion for the mountains, the bare minimum isn’t a good impression.
When you start working as an ML, will you do the bare minimum for your clients or go above and beyond? If your answer to that is the former then perhaps the ML isn’t for you.
If you are interested in becoming a Mountain Leader please click here for further details.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post or other skills or awards.
This post will hopefully give clarity to trainee Rock Climbing Instructors around what kind of problems they will be asked to solve or discuss on assessment. If you haven’t read the problem avoidance post, its definitely worth reading too.
In this post I don’t discuss how to actually complete any of the problems that might arise, for a few reasons:
It would become a lengthy post.
you should have covered these on your training.
I don’t want to encourage the inexperienced to try out these methods.
Figuring the solutions out for yourself or with peers will lead to much better retention.
But please get in touch if you can’t remember how to manage one of these scenarios and have completed your RCI training.
What Problem-Solving Situations Are Covered?
We are going to look at common, less common and complex problems which could occur indoor or outdoor climbing at a single pitch crag.
If time and ability of the trainee allowed, the trainer might have chosen to discuss complex problems. However, there should have been a clear line to identify when a problem is considered too complex and outside of RCI remit.
Examples of common problems are as follows:
Climber stuck on a ledge.
Climber moving off route.
Climber refusing to be lowered.
Climber inverting when being lowered.
Client belaying badly/incorrectly, under supervision.
Client hair/scarf/clothes caught in a belay/abseil device.
Knot on the slack rope below the belay device.
Harness on incorrectly/twisted.
It should be within the scope of all RCI’s to know how to prevent and solve all of the above problems and/or slight variations of them.
Less Common Problems
Examples of less common but still realistic problems are as follows:
second climbing past a runner
The second cant unlock the crab they used to belay you
The second cant remove a piece of gear
client belaying off a wrongly threaded gri-gri
client belaying of a gear loop
climber physically stuck in a crack
compromised/untied knot on a climber
It should be within the scope of all RCI’s to know how to prevent and solve all of the above problems and/or slight variations of them.
I am including these as examples of what a trainee shouldnot be asked to execute on an assessment or while working as a qualified RCI.
Y Hang, snatch or pick up a rescue
any scenario that involves you soloing
any scenario that involves you ascending/descending a rope using a prusik
any scenario that involves you rigging a haul system
Common Problem-Solving Questions
Will I be asked to perform a “Y-hang” or “pick up” rescue?
No. While this was taught as part of the syllabus when I passed my assessment, it is no longer within the remit of the RCI.
To quote the MTA guidance notes directly “prusiking, counterbalance abseils and “snatch” rescues are beyond the scope of the Rock Climbing Instructor Scheme.“
I hope the above gives a decent checklist of problems for you to practice solving, but feel free to get in touch about any scenario you would like further explained
always practice problem-solving in a safe and backed up way or under the tutelage of an experienced mentor if you are unsure what you are doing.
problem avoidance is always better than problem-solving,
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this video or other skills.