Moving Mountains - Carrauntoohil 3414 feet- With Teena Gates 98 fm Also listen to podcast Moving Mountains
Pushing over the top of the ridge I gasped in surprise "you kept this a secret" as the grey slatted rocks that I'd been climbing up like stairs fell away to a ridge that slipped over the edge of the world - with green and grey and golden waves rolling off into the clouds below to crash on rocks as old as the world itself.
Arriving at the Mountain Lodge of adventurer Pat Falvey, I wear my enthusiasm for the climb ahead like a badge, or a sheet of armour; as quaking in my climbing boots I wonder whether I can really make it to the top of Carrauntoohil, 3,500 feet and Ireland's highest mountain. I dread the thought of slowing down the group going out. Was walking in the Wicklow hills enough preparation, or will I be hopelessly outpaced, and mortified in front of strangers? Listening carefully to the briefing, I spot the change of tone as the larger than life Pat switches gear from wise-cracks and fun, to sober comment, host turned leader, as he talks about the need to keep up when push comes to shove. There are only so many hours of daylight to climb a mountain. Another snatched, silent conversation with myself and what now seems like the lunacy of being here; I breathe deeply, commit myself, and we're off.
Walking past the memorials in the carpark at the foot of Carrauntoohil, I'm reminded that we're approaching a sleeping giant sweeping calmly up in front, glowing green and purple, serene in the sun but ready with a fickle flick to change the odds in a heartbeat. Crossing the first of a number of bridges on the way up, our guides explain about flash floods that came off the mountain snatching the life from one young woman within sight of the very carpark we'd just left. It's sobering, but we push ahead and despite being nervous, my spirits soar as my muscles warm and I break into a light sweat, learning more about the other climbers in the group, and feeling relief as I discover I'm not the only one here for the first time. There is huge reassurance in that, company for the challenge ahead. Approaching the first of 3 lakes, we stop to catch our breath, and catch up on more from the guides about the history and folklore of the hills around us.
Shortly afterwards we came to a halt at what, to me, seemed to be an impenetrable sheet of rock. "3 points of contact - up" announced Pat, and he was up and climbing - no ropes, no carabinos, no clips, no dress-rehearsal... no way. "Are you mad?" I scream silently, as I toy with the thought of running as fast as my walking boots will take me in the opposite direction. Breathing deeply, another silent conversation with myself as I call on my personal mantra for tough times, 'one foot in front of another & breathe'. I focus, find the foothold Pat points to and looking up, the rocks above begin to take on new images of hand-holds and potential grips. Swinging up to my 'three-points of contact' I look again and see and find, and reach and stretch and find my feet. Confidence growing I move again, switching weight, muscles engaging, responding, reacting. My breath deepens and I find a rhythm; I'm 'scrambling' and a smile bursts across my face as I realise I'm loving it.
A couple of hours later, after climbing over rocks, picking through moss and heather, and the trudge of putting 'one foot in front of another' on tired legs, the seasons change again and bright sunshine gives way to biting icy rain and a piercing wind. As the elements kick off, I rip out fleece and coat, and hat and gloves. How quickly a warm body can turn to deathly chill on a mountain, a chilling nudge from the idle giant. Measured breathing and a steady pace allows for conversation with my colleagues, it's nice; they're good people and we exchange tips about breathing and walking and I learn small, subtle things, that make sense on a mountain.
The mist closes in as we close on the summit. The light is creamy, silver and unusual. With the dark rocks below my feet and hands, and the rain dripping from my nose and hair and stinging my eyes, I feel like I'm walking in a plastic bubble, that I can reach up and punch through to the daylight outside. Conscious again of the flow of my breath, of keeping a rhythm, of putting one foot in front of another. Then a cross looms out of the mist and the wind whips my face, as I recognise the scene from photos poured over in recent days. We've made it, I've made it.
Standing at the top, hugging, laughing sharing smiles and joy with other climbers coming over the edge, I'm humbled and proud, conflicted; torn between the contradiction of the power of the mountain beneath me, and the power of the body that brought me to stand on top of the highest peak in Ireland. Without warning the mist clears, I'm bathed in sunlight and a sudden movement pulls my eye down off the peak to the rocks below. Clouds are flying past at speed below me, and I wonder in amazement as I watch, feeling slightly dizzy, as if someone put the world on 'fast forward'.
The descent is tough, weight thrown down on my haunches, but knees and ankles bear up, and nothing can wipe the smile from my face. Buzzing, hooked, knowing it's the start of new adventures and challenges. Carrauntoohil has not seen the last of me, and I have not seen the last of it. In the weeks ahead working in the gym, grappling with the final few minutes on the treadmill, or groaning over floor exercises and stretches, this Kerry mountain will be flashing through my mind, a reward and a promise and a lure to pull the extra mile from the rowing machine. That peak, that feeling of reaching the summit has left Kerry and travels back to Dublin with me on my journey. Today, I have moved mountains.