Climbing the highest mountain in Ireland on the morning of the Winter Solstice is a longstanding tradition in Kerry, which was started by Mike Ward, Bronagh Tarrant and Nuala Finn years ago. It was a regular fixture of the Tuesday Night mountaineers, which Tomás Crowley memorably called the “Dawn Raid.” The aim has always been to reach the summit in time to see the sun rise on the shortest day of the year – weather permitting.
In recent years, persistent bad weather has meant that the Winter Solstice climb was more or less abandoned. This year was different. Conditions looked very good on Friday 20, December and Mike Slattery put out a call on Whats App, giving the rendezvous as the Lidl carpark in Tralee @ 4.50 or Lisleibane carpark @ 5.45.
14 mountaineers turned up in Lisleibane, from 11 years of age to 60+. Patricia McGuirk was leading another group of five and there was one solo climber. Conditions were perfect. It was mild, there was some cloud cover on the mountains and a peek-a-boo quarter moon gave some light, but not enough to put the torches in the bag. At 6am we headed for the summit.
the log | weather forecast
06.45 am: the Hags Glen.
07.07 am: Bottom of the Devil’s Ladder.
There was a lot of surface water from melting snow.
07.51 am: Daybreak at the top of the Devil’s Ladder.
08.10 am: heading for the summit.Photo: Ian
08.30 am+: Summit
09.03am Cloud breaks on the summit.
09.12 am: leaving the summit.
09.23 am: heading for the Heavenly Gates.
09.44 am: Crossing Collin’s Gully, above the Heavenly Gates.
10.42 am: crossing the outflow at Loch Gouragh, Hags Glen.
11.32 am: Lisleibane Carpark.
Log | Stats
the mountaineering collective | the Winter Solstice 2019
You may have noticed that TMC Members’ Blog has been offline for a couple of months. In the good old days of terrestrial television in Ireland, whenever service was interrupted, the following words were put up on screen: is donagh linn an briseadh seo. We are taking our cue from this. We regret the break but we have spent the past few months accompanying a family member on their way to the big summit in the sky.
The resumption of blogging is marked with a tribute to Una Finn (nee Sullivan), a pioneering mountaineer and a lifelong member of Tralee Mountaineering Club.
Una left us on 7 August 2007. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
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.
Anyone who is interested in taking part should contact Nuala or Gerry by email before April 27.
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 Sundaysand Thursdays
Milan to San Martino
Car Rental and pooling is very straightforward.
There is alsopublic 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.
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.
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.
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.
Next A chance to develop new skills: theAlpine Summer Meet 2018