Nuala Finn, Bairbre hickey, Bertie Hickey, and Ciarán Walsh
Nuala Finn, Bertie Hickey, Bairbre Hickey, Andrew Kelliher, and Ciarán Walsh
This was a 12k walk in the Magillicuddy Reeks (Map 78 OSI 1:50,000 map) by members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC). Taking part were Nuala Finn, Bairbre Hickey, Bertie Hickey, Andrew Kelliher, and Ciarán Walsh. Leadership was shared.
The forecast was for a cold bright day. Bertie and Bairbre could see snow on the reeks so we opted for one of hidden gems of the Magillicuddy Reeks, the Commeenageargh Gully, which is situated halfway between Skregmore and Beenkeragh .
The walk had many of the features of a Quality Mountain Day. Easy scrambling in the gully and on the Beenkeragh Ridged compensated for a relatively short route over familiar terrain. The snow did not present any difficulty but added a spectacular visual dimension to a walk two days before the official start of Summer in Ireland.
A High pressure area dominated, providing bright skies. Temperatures remained low and there was a light covering of snow on the upper reaches of the Magillicuddy Reeks
THE ROUTE / WALK
We started from Liosleibane carpark, and headed to the foot of Knockbrinnea, picking up a trail that roughly follows the 500m contour. We crossed the Kealnafulla and Kealnamanagh streams before skirting around a spur and reaching the Commeenagearagh valley, at the back of which is the gully.
There is a wet step at the bottom of the gully but this is easily climbed. The gully itself is straightforward, but some sections are loose. We encountered some patches of snow at the top of the gully. We headed Southeast, climbing a rocky spur to the summit of Beenkeragh and crossed the Beenkeragh Ridge.
The snow increased after passing the top of Central Gully and there was a light covering at the summit. The weather was fine and the views from the summit were spectacular. We descended the spur running southeast towards the Devil’s Ladder before turning left for the start of the track leading to the Heavenly Gates.
We went down the Heavenly Gates and out under the Hags Tooth Ridge, more properly known as Stumpa an tSaimh (Stump of the Sorrel). We left the track and crossed the Gaddagh River where it leaves Lough Gouragh and headed back to the Lisleibane along the main track.
NAVIGATION MADE EASY 2: RECOGNISING FEATURES ON A MAP
The last blog in this series dealt with grid references as an effective and safe way of navigating from point to point. It stressed the importance of being able to read a map, identify potential hazards, and plot a safe route accordingly. This blog looks at features as an essential part of route planning.
The first part –Identifying Features looks at how features are represented on a map. The second part – Navigating using features –looks at we use features to plan a route and navigate “on the run.”
The blog will look at features in and around Loch a’ Duin, an area that is used regularly by members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) to practice navigation skills.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY A “FEATURE”?
A feature is a distinctive detail in a landscape that can be easily identified on a map and given a grid reference (plotted). Some features are easy to spot on the the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI ) 1:50,000 maps because they are represented by a combination of symbols and colours – a trail (—), a wall (––), a river (––), elevated ground or spot height (•73), a summit (brown circle, spot height, and name where relevant), Special features like archaeological sites (•) are also marked. Some maps (Harvey) have symbols for crags, cliffs, boulders, scree, and other features.
The full list of symbols is given at the bottom of the 1:50,000 map and it is important to be familiar with the key features that are used for navigation in the mountain – tracks and trails, walls, rivers/streams, lakes, spot heights, and summits and so on.
This is the easy bit.
Most features in the mountains are described by contour lines on a map. Contour lines are the continuous lines that represent changes in height in the landscape. Being able to read and interpret contour lines is an essential part of safe navigation.
The section of map above shows contours as they appear on OSI Map 70. The diagram below it shows how contours represent changes in the height and profile of mountains. The third image is a useful representation of the relation between contours and the landscape. Map reading involves using changes in height and profile on the map to identify features in the mountains and vice versa.
This video by Steve Blackhall of the Ordnance Survey office in Great Britain is a good introduction to the contours, just be aware that the maps used in the video are British maps.
NAVIGATING WITH CONTOURS PART 1: IDENTIFYING FEATURES
Navigating with contours involves thinking about the relation between contours and characteristic features in mountain landscapes. There are two aspects to this, knowing where you are and avoiding hazards. The first has to do with being able to read a map and the second has to do with planning and following a safe route (navigating).
Lets look at the first part – using contours to identify features. To begin, how do you know whether you are
The answers are fairly obvious: Just look around you. What if
Take the following scenario. You are heading into to Loch An Duin from Kilmore Cross (Q52294 08919), intending to climb to An Starraicín (Q52769 06407) at a height of 456 metres (see map below). Visibility is less than 20m and you have to navigate by map. You have reached the edge of a lake but the map shows two lakes, one on either side of An Starraicín.
How do you know whether you have reached Loch an Dúin or Loch Chom Calláin?
Loch an Dúin is approached along ground that lies between the the 100m and 120m contours, rising 20 metres over a distance of one kilometre approx. The contour formed by the edge of the lake is given as 116 metres; the height of every lake is indicated by the blue coloured number on the “surface” of the lake. To reach the lake you will climb 1m in height for every 50m in horizontal distance travelled, a gradient of 1:50.
Loch Chom Calláin is approached along ground that rises from 100 metres to 230 metres over a distance of 1.3 kilometres approx. The contour formed by the edge of the lake is given as 231 metres. The key feature here is middle section of the route. The contours between 130 metres and 230 metres are closer and more or less evenly spaced over a distance of 600m approximately. This means that you will be climbing 1 metre in height for every 6 metres in distance travelled, a gradient of 1:6. This is a very different profile to the approach to Loch An Duin.
The question now is this:
Did you approach the lake by travelling along relatively flat ground or by climbing a moderately steep slope?
This scenario demonstrates how you can use information provided by contours to identify features and confirm your location. This is a fundamental part of navigation. Certain features have characteristic contour profiles that make them easy to identify, incorporate into route planning, or use when navigating “on the run.”
Here are some examples:
Here are some standard descriptions of each of the features shown above. All the features are on routes used regularly by members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC).
Summit / Peak
This is the top of the mountain. It is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. It is usually marked with a brown circle, a spot height, and sometimes, a name – not all spot heights are summits and not all summits have names, Unnamed summits are usually referred to by the number (elevation) given as the spot height.
a continuous elevated crest running for some distance between summits. The sides of the ridge drop away from a narrow top.
Ground that runs down from a hill to lower ground. A spur is an erosional feature that usually forms the side of a valley. Spurs provide access to and escape from the high ground for mountaineers.
An aréte is a narrow rocky spur which separates two valleys. It is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys.
A vertical, or nearly vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are a real hazard but can be very useful as a “handrail,” a feature that you can follow, at a safe distance from the edge of course.
The lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks, typically providing a pass from one side of a mountain range to another.
This is the side of the mountain, running from the summit to the foot. Slopes can be convex or concave.
A convex slope is rounded like the outside of an upturned bowl, i.e. it goes from less steep at the top to more steep at the bottom; the space between contours gets narrower as the elevation reduces.
A concave slope is rounded inward like the inside of a bowl, i.e. it goes from more steep at the top to less steep at the bottom; the space between contours gets wider as as the elevation reduces.
a small valley like formation formed by parallel spurs. The low ground between the spurs is sometimes called a draw and is usually associated with drainage or a rivers/stream.
A gully is a long narrow valley with steep sides.
There are two types of features that can be used to navigate in the mountains. The first type is marked on the map using a combination of symbols, colours, and numbers and includes tracks/trails, rivers/streams, spot heights etc. The second type consist of formations that are characteristic to mountain landscapes and include summits, ridges, spurs, cols and so on. These features are described by changes in height and profile (shape) that are represented on the map by contour lines.
THE NEXT BLOG IN THIS SERIES LOOKS AT NAVIGATION USING FEATURES (JUNE)
PREVIOUS BLOGS IN THE SERIES:
The above photo shows members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) examining a megalithic tomb in Loch a’Duin on the Dingle Peninsula. The tomb was placed in the valley using an ancient navigational system that was, apparently, centred on the Spring Equinox.
It is located on a small plateau east of An Scoraid river, about 900 metres southeast of the Kilmore junction on the Conor Pass road. The location is marked by a red dot on the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map; red dots signify the location of archaeological features in the landscape.
There is a more precise way of describing the location of the tomb. View Ranger gives its position as Q 52763 08134. This is called a grid reference, which is an alpha-numerical set of geographic co-ordinates that is used to locate a feature on a map. Grid references are the basic unit of a navigational system that divides the country into twenty 100 X 100 kilometre zones. This is called the National Grid
Loch a’Duin is located in Q, one of two squares in the National Grid that cover the Southwest. This is the first element of every grid reference. It is followed by two set of numbers. The first is called the Easting (52763). The second is called the Northing (08134). These allow the navigator to zoom in on each zone, pinpoint the location of a feature on the map, and navigate towards it with confidence.
This diagram shows the national grids of Ireland and Great Britain superimposed on a global grid, which is known as the Universal Transverse Mercator or UTM for short. It is named after Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish map maker who invented a system of world wide navigation in 1569. The UTM was adapted to provide an agreed system of geographical co-ordinates that could be used in global positioning systems ( GPS) like View Ranger.
The Ordnance Survey offices of Ireland and Northern Ireland adopted a modified version of the UTM in 2001. This was done to increase the accuracy of GPS measurements by minimising distortions in mapping across the island as a whole. This is called the Irish Transverse Mercator (ITM) or, simply, the Irish Grid.
The Irish Grid provides the organisational and geographical basis for navigation in Ireland but mountaineers usually use 1:50,000 maps. The ground covered by these maps is not the same as the area in each zone of the grid; each zone contains more than one map and many maps extend beyond the boundaries of individual zones.
Loch A’duin is positioned on Map 70 in zone Q of the national grid. Iveragh is located in zone V, the dividing line running along the southern shore of the Dingle Peninsula. Grid references for Iveragh – maps 78 and 83 – begin with the letter V. The zone is clearly identified on each map and the boundary between zones is clearly shown.
Each map in the 1:50,000 series uses a grid made up of 30 by 40 squares measuring 2cm and representing one kilometer on the ground. Each square is defined by a vertical and horizontal blue line. The vertical lines are called Eastings and the horizontal lines are called Northings.
Eastings measure distance from west to east. The line dividing East and West is called the prime meridian. This was agreed in 1884 as the line of longitude running through the Greenwich Observatory, near London. Anyone who has visited the Observatory will recall a metal strip in the ground that marks 0º Longitude; the line dividing East and West and the first of the Eastings. The prime meridian used in GPS is approximately 102 metres East of this line. This will read as 0º on satellite based systems.
Northings measure travel northwards from the equator.
Every Easting and Northing on a 1;50,000 map has a value between 00 and 99. On Map 70 the Eastings run from 20 to 60 while the Northings run from 88 to 99 and 00 to 18. Grid references contain two sets of numbers (co-ordinates) that define the position of a feature on a map in relation to Eastings and Northings, the Easting are always given first.
Q 52763 08134 is given as the grid reference for the tomb in Loch a’Duin. 52 refers to the Easting and 08 refers to the Northing. These define a one kilometre square, which is read from the right (East) of the Easting and above (North) of the Northing. The point where these lines intersect –the bottom, left-hand corner – is called the origin and all travel eastwards and northwards within the square is measured from this point.
There is a problem with a grid reference that merely identifies a square on the map. It presents you with a square kilometre of ground to search for a feature that may only be three or four metres in size. The solution is simple. Each square is divided into a grid made up of 100m units. These are numbered 0-9 and are represented by the third number in the Easting and Northing component of a grid reference – Q 52763 08134. This grid reference puts the position of the tomb in a 100m square that is 700m east of line 52 and 100 metres north of line 08 on the map.
This still leaves us with a large area of featureless terrain to search but the last two digits of grid reference Q52763 08134 tell us that we have to walk 63m eastwards and 34m northwards from the origin of this square to locate the tomb. This coincides with the red dot that marks the location of an archaeological feature that is identified as a Tuama Meigiliteach.
Grid references are an essential part of your navigational skillset. They enable you to locate your position on a map, pinpoint features in the landscape, and navigate safely from feature to feature.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Use this system to generate grid references for the following features:
You can use the 1:50,000 scale an your compass (Silva Expedition) to quickly and accurately establish a grid reference. Here’s how:
Q (NATIONAL GRID) 52 (EASTING) 7.63 (100M GRID) 08 (NORTHING) 1.34 (100M GRID)
Here is another type of navigational problem.
There is another way of navigating to the location of the tomb. Open View Ranger, place the red dot marking the position of the tomb at the centre of the crosshairs and mark with a Point of Interest (POI). Then activate the Navigate To function. View ranger will present you with an onscreen, point-to-point route to your objective and will guide you along it in real time. Simple!
Here is the problem.
An Scoraid river lies between the track into the valley and the tomb. To reach the tomb by this route you will have to cross the river. River crossings are one of the most dangerous aspects of mountaineering.
Find the spot where the track is closest to the tomb and read the course of the river in relation to the contour lines. The river is flowing through a fairly narrow re-entrant. Would you consider crossing the river at this point?
Have a look at the flat area north of this, where the river drops from the 100m contour to the 90m contour over a distance of approximately 200m. Does this look like a better option? Remember a 10m drop is equivalent to the combined height of 5 very tall people.
The river is a very dangerous feature between you and your objective, the tomb. You need to navigate to a safe river crossing first, then from the river to the tomb. If you can’t identify a potentially safe crossing, don’t go to the tomb by this route.
The point is this; grid references allow you to pinpoint the position of a feature but you still need to (1) understand the nature of the terrain in which that feature is located and (2) be capable of assessing the risks and the opportunities presented by it. That is where skilled map reading contributes to safe navigation.
Previous: Navigation Made Easy: WEB RESOURCES
Next: Navigation Made Easy: FEATURES (May 2018)
Gerry O’Sullivan taking part in Mountaineering Ireland’s Summer Alpine Meet in 2017. Gerry and Nuala Finn will be leading the TMC team taking place in the 2018 meet.
TMC IN ITALY
TMC members have been climbing in Italy for years. The Dolomites was a favourite spot for some members while Edolo was the base for four expeditions to the Adamello-Presanella Alps and adjacent areas like Val Camonica. One of the highlights was an ascent of the Pizzo Badile by a combined group (Level 2 and Level 3) of club members.
Another highlight was the ice-climbing workshop in Valbione in 2009, in which all sections of the club were represented. This is a short video made on the day (apologies for the quality but it was made long before HD was available on YOUTUBE).
The snow in the Reeks in February and March got us thinking seriously about a return to Alpine mountaineering and Gerry suggested that we take part in the Mountaineering Ireland Summer Alpine Meet in Val Di Mello, which is very close to where the club had been previously.
The decision was made. TMC is going back to Italy and will be participating in the Mountaineering Ireland Alpine, which runs from July 7 to 21. The trip will be led by Nuala Finn and Gerry O’Sullivan – Gerry has participated in four previous meets.
ITALIA 2018: AN OUTINE
The Summer Alpine Meet, as the title suggests, is for members who are interested in Alpine mountaineering. It takes place in the Val di Mello in Northern Italy, about two hours East North East of Milan, not far from Edolo.
The Val di Mello offers lots of hiking opportunities, some via ferrata, snow and glacier routes, and is very good for rock climbing. Basic rope skills will be an advantage and we will be organising workshops and training climbs in preparation for the trip. There will also be opportunities to learn these skills on courses organised by Mountaineering Ireland during the meet.
The meet tends to be very informal and the emphasis is on peer led mountaineering and socialising with mountaineers from other clubs. The food is very good in this part of Italy and will be a big part of the experience.
THE ALPINE MEET
The meets are organised by Mountaineering Ireland and, according to Gerry, they are good fun and cover a wide range of mountaineering activity; everything from walks along valley floors, hut-to-hut ridge walks, snow and ice routes that require crampons and ice axes, and rock climbing. They are usually attended by anything between 20 and 50 mountaineers. Some stay for a few days and others for the full two 2 weeks.
This depends on the weather and on the area but, generally speaking, the meet involves a mix of peer led mountaineering, organised climbs, and courses in a wide range of mountaineering skills. Have a look at the information booklet produced by Mountaineering Ireland for the 2018 meet.
Most of what happens during an Alpine meet is organised informally. People get together and plan daily routes or more extended trips. Flexibility and improvisation are the key elements in planning each day.
TMC members will be organising some activities but there will also be plenty of opportunities to link up with other mountaineers and get involved in alternative activities.
Mountaineering Ireland will also offer a hut-to-hut trek (see the above brochure).
TRAINING (BEFORE THE MEET)
TMC and Mountaineering Ireland will be organising pre-meet training. TMC Members will be informed of training events once we know who is taking part. It will cover scrambling, rope work, teamwork, and will involve climbing the Hags Tooth and Howling Ridge.
Mountaineering Ireland will be organising a pre-Alpine prep and training day on May 25, 2018. The workshop takes place in Wicklow and costs €50. For info/booking contact Jane Carney at Mountaineering Ireland, tel 016251112.
COURSES (DURING THE MEET)
There are a range of subsidised courses that will be provided by Mountaineering Ireland during the meet. These will cover a range of activities to suit walkers and climbers who want to learn new skills or improve existing skills. They will also cater for people who want to climb or walk independently (see the information booklet).
The multi-day courses must be booked in advance. They are good value and places are limited so early booking is advised.
The half-day courses can be book during the meet.
Val di Mello is a two hour drive East North East of Milan.
The meet will be based in a campsite (camping jack) about a mile outside the village of San Martino, Sondrio (link to Google Maps).
Flights to Milan
Dublin: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly to Milan
Cork: Ryanair flies to Milan on Sundays and Thursdays
Milan to San Martino
Car Rental and pooling is very straightforward.
There is also public transport from Milan (3 hours by train and bus)
Hotel and guesthouse accommodation is available in San Martino.
Air B&B is very limited.
There is a campsite about 2km from the village, it’s basic but has hot showers, a small shop, and wifi.
The club has reserved an 8 bed dorm (3+5 beds in two rooms) in a rifugio in the Val Di Mello and spaces will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.
Did you know that Tralee Mountaineering Club has its origins in the pilgrimage associated with Mount Brandon. The mountain was a major pilgrim site in medieval and early modern Ireland but the tradition of pilgrimage stretches back to pre-historic times; it is associated with Lugh, the Celtic god of light and his dark counterpart, Chrom Dubh.
The Christians exploited this but eventually abandoned the pilgrimage in the 19th century, mainly because of the chaos associated with the “moral holiday” that followed the arduous trek to the top. Many attempts were made to revive the pilgrimage and organised ascents of the mountain in the 1950s indirectly led to the formation of a mountaineering club in Tralee.
The first item on the agenda of the new club was the split. Some members of the club argued that it should remain focused on the pilgrimage while other’s argued that the club should concentrate on mountaineering. The club mass became a compromise solution. It was organised by Seán Kelly every January and continued until 2017, when it was dropped from the calendar of club events.
The decision was taken by the outgoing committee (Chairperson Simon Quinn) and was only noticed when the calendar was published. Some members approached the club’s President (Nuala Finn) and asked to have the mass reinstated. The current committee (Chairperson Shane Mulligan) agreed and the mass was re-scheduled for April 16, 2018. It was a little ironic that the 2018 club mass, which traditionally remembers deceased members of the club, recorded the passing of Seán Kelly in 2017 and his brother Pat in 2018.
There is a wider issue here. The tops of mountains are regarded as spiritual places by many people within and without the mountaineering community. There is extensive archaeology associated with summits, most notably Queen Maeve’s tomb on Knocknarea in Sligo. Many peaks are also marked by crosses, many of which were erected in 1954 to mark the first Marian Year, which was ordered by Pope Pius to promote the cult of the Virgin Mary. Mount Brandon has both pagan and Christian associations.
The cross on Corrán Tuathail was erected in 1976 and was cut down in 2014. This generated a debate about the association between mountaineering and spirituality and whether it was appropriate to mark the tops of mountains with symbols associated with one religious denomination. The consensus seems to be that there is room in the mountains for all believers and none and that the process of marking theses places as sacred is, in the end, a personal choice.
The tension between pagans and Christians is now part and part and parcel of the pilgrimage to the top of Brandon. The Christians climb the mountain on Lá tSin Seáin Beag (June 29th) and the pagans, who revived the Lughnasa festival in 1995, climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July, which is known locally as Domhnach Chrom Dubh.
In 2015 nine of us attended a mass that was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, who was visiting Ireland’s scared mountain. Nuala Finn and I became sherpas for the day, acting as mountain guides and carrying filming equipment for Seán Mac An tSíthigh of TG4. We approached the mountain from the west. A month later over 150 pagans climbed the mountain from the east. To each his/her own.