It was 1.30am before I said good night to my book and bottle of wine. Probably not the ideal night time prep for hiking the highest mountain in Ireland, but hey, the book was The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss and the wine was a fine Malbec from The French Table, I never had a choice.
Upon the the mini heart attack sustained from my alarm squawking at 7.20am, a flood of thoughts streamed through my mind. “The Guys won’t mind if you don’t go, it is Saturday after all, you have hiked this mountain loads of times, no need to go again, you have had a busy week, doesn’t the bed seem even cosier this morning!” After a quick shake of the head and some deep breathing, I somehow broke the spell and untangled myself from the quick-sand grip of my bed sheets (Not without checking when all the others would be arriving and calculating how much extra few minutes I could steal in the love lock of my bed before we united!)
I was fairly organised. Bags back and ready to go from clever preparation the previous night. I had spent 2 hours out at Sean’s house chopping wood to bring with us for the camp fire. I say this like it was a chore but really it was time to spend with my friend and time to feel like a man.
There are few things you need to bring on a hike, but those few things are the difference between a joyful experience and a “I never want to do this again” experience. A good pair of shoes/boots are essential. The on point quote from Nate Green applies here – “Buy once and buy right” Your feet are your foundation and need to be treated with the same respect as the foundation of a good house. If not fully sported, kept dry and taken care of, they will hamper the upper part of the structure and possibly end up sinking! Keeping dry on a hike is essential to add to the longevity of the trip (Unless you purposefully want to get wet, I shall get to that part later) Anyway enough about my boot rant, anyone who knows me know how much I advocate a good pair of boots. Everyone go out and buy a decent pair, they last for years, if you have a pair you are more likely to use them, they will not only protect your feet but also add stability to your whole upper body and those tricky ankles. They are also my favourite companion at any music festival/rave for all the above reasons. (There is a significant cross over between raving and hiking but that blog is for a different day!)
Going with the trend of keeping yourself dry, a suitable pair of water proof pants and jacket, gloves, hat, scarf, good socks, a back pack with wide straps, a bottle of water, flask of coffee/tea and some food and you are ready for your adventure. (Irish coffee optional)
With all these being packed from the night before, I quickly made a breakfast of scrambled duck eggs (thank you Sean 😉 )with chopped bacon, shallots and tomatoes. I added this to a French baguette I purchased from The Coffee Pot in Killaoe, Co. Clare. If anyone is ever in that region and likes eating extremely high quality produce, hit that place up. Kenny was the first to arrive, followed closely by Ciara and Andi ( Danke for the coffee ). After our formal greetings and swapped stories of why we were up this early, we hooked up with Peter, Eimear and Sean. Sean drove in his campervan, kitted out with other essentials and full with wood chopped from the previous night. I rode shotgun with him while Eimear, Peter, Andi, Ciare and Kenny followed behind in the mighty Toury! With Ab-Souls new album serenading out ears, with cruised down to Kerry as smoothly as his flow. Carrentoohil was our destination.
Carrauntoohil (Corrán Tuathail) is the tallest peak in the McGillycuddy Reeks mountain range of Co. Kerry at 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) and is the highest peak on the island of Ireland .
Before arriving , we stopped for valuable camping/hiking supplies in LIDL, Killarney. Nuts, fruit, vegetables, steaks, milk, water, juice, beans, bacon, bread, beers, gin, Prosecco. After a brief de briefing, it was onwards to our location of sleep and tranquility for the night, Carrauntoohil Eco Farm.
For those who have never visited Kerry, sort your life out! Although without sounding harsh the great thing about never visiting a certain place, not trying a new type of food, wine, beer, coffee etc, or not watching an epic movie is that you have all those things to look forward to. Just make sure you get around to doing them at some stage. Variety is the spice of life after all. (Well after smoked paprika that is ☺ ) Kerry is picturesque, a suitable setting when describing the “real Ireland”. Only my own opinion of course. It is always disappointing for me when I hear tourists saying they visited Ireland, but never left Dublin. Dublin is fine but the authentic Ireland is all about the West Coast baby. Long story short, get to Kerry.
We reached the Eco farm at 12.30am. A very kind friend of ours Vikki Cullen (who owns and runs the farm) let us use her beautiful facilities for the weekend. Adding to the above rant about getting to Kerry, if you are going there please stay at this farm! It is located at the foot of Carranuntoohil, in one of the most beautiful ,isolated, untouched and actually humbling parts of the country. You will not find Wifi here but you will certainly be connected. Apart from Vikki and her human family, the other residents on the farm consist of chickens, donkeys, Shetland ponies, sheep, goats, alpacas and some extremely friendly cats! (Peter the Cat Whisperer!) After we had collected our jaws from the ground, it was time to set off on our hike.
Carranuntoohil has many different routes to take you up to her many different peaks. Instead of opting for the traditional route, we decided to take a different passage to a peak we had not ascended before. I am certainly glad we did. Throughout our group the level of experience and fitness varied. We stopped for suitable breaks along the way, enjoying the magnificent views, each others company and for some well needed photographic documentation. We were outrageously blessed with perfect conditions, sunshine with a gentle breeze (Not bad for the 18th of February and sandwiched between 2 days of rain!) The terrain itself was wet and marshy at times, hence why boots are essential (cough cough Kenny). After a moderately gentle slope, we came to out first major elevation. The team spirit and determination was plain for all to see, as we trekd up a very steep incline that would be challenging for the most accomplished hiker. The phrase “is the juice worth the squeeze” resonated through my mind as sweat streamed down my face and into my contact lenses. With some sing songs and sea salt dark chocolate as fuel we bridged the apex. Was the juice worth the squeeze? FUCK Yeah!! We were greeted by the charming surroundings of a Lough Googh, a crystal clear lake surrounded by more peaks and troughs, the perfect place to stop for a well deserved rest and lunch.
After our bellies were full and our energy restored, we set off to scramble up the surrounding areas of the Lough. When I say scramble, I should really say we vertically climbed, because that is what we did! Every metre forward was nearly also a metre up. This wasn’t no stroll in a park. Each foot and hand had to be carefully placed, assuring no loose stone or boulder was sent down crashing on the heads of our comrades behind us. That on top of increasing wind speeds and increasing vertigo, mindfulness and awareness were the key to this success. Next was some more well deserved juice. This peak contained views as far as the eye could see of mountains, valleys, lakes, islands and of course the Atlantic Ocean (told you guys!) Physically being somewhere and actually being present somewhere, are two completely different things. To fully soak up the benefits of being outside in nature, you need to leave everything else behind, thoughts included. We sat for a few minutes, silently taking it all in, the only sounds were those being made by nature, our own breathing included.
After this energising respite, we were off again! With time against us, we decided to head back towards the lake, but not before using the mountain as a jungle gym and practicing some yoga poses and body weight exercises! As we made our way to the lake, we formulated a plan. Let’s go for a swim! Although is may sound strange/crazy/lunacy to sum, swimming in extreme cold waters has amazing benefits. It improves lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation. Reduces muscle inflammation (particularly beneficial after a long hike 😉 ), boosts happiness levels and even increase weight loss. Why wouldn’t you want to go for a nice cold dip!(also a blog for another day!) After all our well guided preparation, we missed the memo about packing swimming togs. Fitting as it was Peter’s Birthday, we proceeded into the water in our birthday suits. Some submerged more then others, some stayed in longer then others, and one person tried an unusual technique of only feet, knee and genital submersion! Either way the deed was done and we were all sufficiently invigorated.
By this time, it was getting dark and our bellies were calling for some well deserved BBQ steaks and brews to wash them down, so we made our final descent back to the the sanctuary of the farm.
Once again it was teamwork personified as there were potatoes (one again kudos to Sean) and carrots to prepare, steaks to marinate (although Ken wanted to serenade them), a BBQ to prepare, a Bon Fire to build and cocktails to mix! We were also joined by our friend Karen (aka Kazzy) and a brief visit from Philip and Domnic (who were on there own adventure around Cork/Kerry). Simple things done well, turn into fantastic things. The food was better then some home cooking I have witnessed, the phrase living/eating like kings was casually thrown around all night. Once we had devoured ridiculously good food (forgot to mention our BBQ asparagus) we headed to the fire pit for the main event of the night.
I would like to consider myself a moderately content and positive fellow, but there are seldom moments I am as happy as I am when sitting around a roaring, open fire surrounded by friends. It was difficult to decide where to lay your gaze, at the wonders of the burning wood or the dazzle of the vivid stars above. Truly epic. As above, so below! To close the evening, we toasted to our health and toasted some marshmallows (thank you Kaz), finished our drinks and made our way to the leabas. Everyone was sound asleep by 12pm.
We were awoken by the cock-a-doodle of the dawn keeper himself. Between rolling over for one more well needed snooze, and contemplating the previous days adventure, we jumped out of bed to welcome the day, and welcome some well needed coffee. After that it was breakfast time, feed the animals, tidy our extremely hospitable hosts place and get the fuck out of dodge. Overall a trip to be remember and cherished. The first of many for this crew of 2017.