Postcards from Connemara

 

Members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) in Connemara
Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC ) in Connemara, April 2018. Photo by Noel O’Connor.

 

TMC returned to Connemara in April for a weekend of mountaineering organised by Bertie Hickey.  Routes included the Clencoaghan Horseshoe, which includes six of the Twelve Bens mountain peaks of Derryclare (677m), Bencorr (711m), Bencollaghduff (696m), Benbreen (691m), Bengower (664m) and Benlettery (577m).

The Bens were featured in an early guide to Connemara. Rambles in Ireland: A Fortnight in Ireland; 0r, Pen and Pencil Sketches of a Tour in the Autumn of 1846 was compiled by the Gascoigne Sisters, Mary Isabella and Elizabeth (De Burca Rare Books Catalogue No 96, Spring 2011, pages 84-6).

The guide included illustrations from sketches made on the spot. The sisters promised that travellers would ‘be sure to meet with novelty, incident, and adventure,’ although the ‘accommodation at the inns would certainly admit of improvement; but there is excellent salmon to be had everywhere.’

 

A view of the Twelve Bens, Members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) in Connemara

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The Twelve Bens from Clifton. Photo by Sylvain Kerdreux

 

The sisters spent 15 days travelling through Galway, Mayo, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Derry, and Antrim in 1846, in the middle of the Height of the Great Famine. The sisters were very wealthy. Their family were landlords in County Limerick and owned collieries in Yorkshire. The sisters were noted for their charitable work in England and Ireland. Rambles in Ireland was published to raise funding for relief work in Limerick, which was targeted at Protestant orphans.

The Bens were featured again during the An Gorta Beag or the second famine of the 1890s. Robert John Welch, a naturalist and  photographer, climbed the Bens in 1894 and 1895 and recorded the main geomorphological features of the Glencoaghan Horseshoe. He published the photographs in an album that was presented to Arthur “Bloody” Balfour in recognition of his patronage of the Galway to Clifden railway line.

 

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The summit crags of Bengower from Benlettery by Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Twelve Bens, Connemara, Galway, Ireland. Grid Ref: 53.4915312619, – 9.8343614835.

 

Light railways were built in the west of Ireland to provide employment to the poorest section of the population, who otherwise, would probably have starved to death. Balfour’s brother described it as a political strategy for “killing Home Rule with Kindness.” Maud Gonne, quoting a priest from Mayo, described these relief works as ‘organised famine.’

 

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On the Summit of Ben Lettery  by Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Twelve Bens, Connemara, Galway, Ireland.

 

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A contemporary view of the Bens, looking towards Clifden. Photo by Noel O’Connor, 2018.

 

 

 

Training Matters in Mountaineering

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Members of Tralee Mountaineering on a training run across Crib Goch, Snowdon, 2014.

 

Does training matter? Do challenging days in the mountains enhance members’ experience and contribute to the development of the club? Should the club calendar have all of those elements built into to it?

I come from a tradition within the club that says yes to all of that. In 2014 I led a group of Level 2 Climbers across the Crib Goch in Wales and, with that experience under our boots, we climbed Tryfan on the following day. The Crib Goch is a challenging prospect at the best of times and most of the members involved on the day would never have been considered capable of climbing those routes. Conditions were perfect for a spot of training and everyone completed the routes safely. We repeated the exercise a year later.

 

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Ann O’ Donoghue on Tryfan

 

Thats how we progress, that’s how the club works for the benefit of all members. All it takes is some leadership, training, a bit of teamwork and, of course, appropriate conditions.  For the past three weeks there has been lots of snow in the mountains, conditions that would have provided many opportunities for similar skills development in the area of winter mountaineering.

To take advantage of those opportunities requires a culture of progression in sport, a commitment to training, and, of course,  leadership.  Leadership has been identified as one of the main challenges facing TMC and mountaineering clubs in general. To meet that challenge we need to look at the skills within the club and the quality of leadership that those skills make possible.

We also need to make an audit of mountains skills appropriate to leadership at each level, including associated skills in first aid and rope work. Any gaps that emerge need to be filled by access to training, either on courses or through participation in club activity that has an inbuilt element of training associated with it – rope days, navigation days, or the application of those skills as a routine part of club walks and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the current snowy conditions.

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An introduction to windslab, O’Shea’s Gully, March 4, 2018.

We also need to look  at the way the calendar is put together, making sure that walks  are pitched at an appropriate level and ensure that nominated leaders have the necessary skills to ensure an enjoyable, safe, and, where possible, challenging day in the mountains.  Challenging is main word here.

Attendance on club walks is increasing – there were 25 people on a recent level 2 walk –and it may be that the same walk does not fit all members at a given level. We may need to look at a wider range of levels, intermediate levels with varying degrees of challenge for instance.  We would need to train up even more leaders, encourage greater participation in mountain skills training programmes.

That represents a challenge in itself.

One way of getting around that might be the introduction of a Club Leader’s Award, as a first step for members engaging with the various Mountain Skills and Climbing awards schemes. The rewards are obvious.

 

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TMC on Tryfan 2014

 

 

Next A chance to develop new skills: theAlpine Summer Meet 2018

Mountain Log: Corran Tuathail, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks: March 4, 2018

 

A Quality Mountain Day

Three weeks of snow promised unprecedented opportunities for winter mountaineering. The worst of the weather had passed and the way was open for a day spent practicing on snow and ice in Macgillycuddy’s Reeks

 

 

The Weather

This walk was all about the weather, coming shortly after a red snow and ice alert had been  lifted, and before a widespread thaw had set in.

The forecast was a for slight rise in temperature and,  although temperatures would remain low, a thaw would set in, with rain moving in from the West in the afternoon. Winds would remain light. In the Reeks this would mean continued snow cover, though no consolidation, light falls of snow and uncertainty over visibility.

It was a day for ice axes and crampons.

 

The Team

There were four of us. Bertie Hickey, Andrew Kelliher, John Laide, and Ciarán Walsh. Nuala Finn had to pull out due to illness in her family.  We had done a lot of training in snowy conditions over the past three weeks and were looking forward to a challenging and rewarding day in the mountains.

 

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Conditions

Conditions were perfect. Access roads were clear of snow, except for the final 500m or so up to the carpark in Lisleibane. A number of cars turned around but we reached the carpark without difficulty in  a couple of 4X4s (one was a Honda!).

There was a lot of snow in the Glen. On the last club walk the snow started above Coomeenapeasta Lake. Today, however, there was 3 or 4 inches of snow in Lisleibane, with deeper drifts. It was very mild and there was no wind. As a consequence visibility was very poor and we opted for a straightforward run to the summit

 

The Route

We went straight for O’Shea’s Gully, across the rocky, southern  edge of  Beenkeragh Ridge, and on to the Summit, followed by a straight run (almost) to the Devils Ladder , and down.

 

Route March 4

 

Coimín Íochtarach (1st leve) and Coimín Láir (2nd level) were full of deep snow and visibility was very limited. Dave McBride, Sheila O’Connor, Richard Doody, and Richard Cussen were ahead of us and left a lovely trail of compacted snow. We met three Italian on Level 2, they didn’t have any gear with them and were retreating from O’Shea’s. We geared up at the step below Coimín Uachtarach (3rd level), left the trail and headed up O’Shea’s.

 

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O’Shea’s was full of snow which had formed wide bands of solid windslab.  It was perfect. In some places it felt like a 45° climb, perfect training conditions. A day spent in the Ice Factor in Kinlockleven last October paid off.

Beenkeragh Ridge had deep drifts on the Caher side so we stuck to the rocks. They were covered in hoar ice but going was good. There was some corniching but nothing major. We saw the marks of Dave and Co’s crampons at the top of Curve. They were still ahead of us. There was one other climber on the summit but he returned a short while later with a friend. That was it on the day.

 

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Visibility was vey poor and deep snow covered the trail. We headed down and took a slight detour to the right, corrected and navigated to the Devil’s Ladder. The snow in the Ladder was deep and wet and the ice was thawing, but otherwise descent was straightforward

 

Stats

Stas March 4

 

 

Verdict

A quality Mountain Day.

 

Comments

We have had three weeks of snow in the Reeks, with a lot of opportunities for challenging winter mountaineering and training, skills development and progression. The sort of thing we used to go to Scotland for. Magic.

 

 

Next: Training matters. Taking advantage of snow

 

 

Winter Mountaineering at its Best: Carrauntoohil March 4, 2018

 

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John Laide and Andrew Kelliher, Tralee Mountaineering Club, at the summit of Carrauntoohil on Sunday, March, 4 2018
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Andrew Kelliher, Tralee Mountaineering Club
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John Laide and Bertie Hickey, Tralee Mountaineering Club, heading up Shea’s Gully on Sunday, March, 4 2018
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Bertie Hickey, Tralee Mountaineering Club, getting stuck into the windslab in Shea’s Gully on Sunday March 4, 2018
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Perfect winter mountaineering conditions, windslab at 45 degrees in Shea’s Gully.
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Andrew Kelliher and Bertie Hickey, Tralee Mountaineering Club, reaching the top of Shea’s Gully on Sunday, March, 4 2018
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John Laide, Tralee Mountaineering Club
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John Laide, Ciarán Walsh, Bertie Hickey, Andrew Kelliher at the summit of Carrauntoohil on Sunday, March, 4 2018
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Heading towards the Devils Ladder
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The Devil’s Ladder
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John Laide heading down the Devil’s Ladder
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Wet Snow in the Devil’s Ladder
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Bertie Hickey on the Devils Ladder.
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Bertie Hickey
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Bertie Hickey and John Laide making the best of bad snow in the Devil’s Ladder.
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Bottom of the Devil’s Ladder

 

Dedicated to Nuala Finn, the Snow Queen, who couldn’t

make it on the day due to an illness in her family

 

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CW