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.
This is a long overdue log entry, the first in a serious backlog of entries. But – HEY – keeping up to date is always A problem with log entries! So, Here goes.
The TMC level 3 walk on Sunday April 22 2018 was led by Maeve Higgins. The walk took in a wide arc to the north of Anascaul Lake (Map 70 OSI Discovery Series), taking in Stradbally (798), Beenoskee (826), and Binn an Tuair (592). A total distance of 15.5K.
A sunny day was forecast; a well established to the south west kept low pressure (rain and wind) to the Northwest. It turned out to be a perfect day for mountaineering.
THE ROUTE / WALK
Maeve Higgins led and 11 other members of Tralee Mountaineering Club (TMC) took part (see photo). The walk started at the carpark at Anascaul Lake, crossed the river northwest of the lake and headed up the steep southern slope of An Ré Mhór (Reamore), before heading to a cairn at the summit (500m).
From there we trekked to spot height 346 at the centre of the large plateau above Gleann Tí an Eassaig. Then straight up for 453m to the summit of Stradbally for lunch. On to Beenoskee, where three of us decided to descend.
The remainder (red line on the map) headed for An Com Ban and on to Binn a’ Tuair. They descended to the ford on the Macanabo trail and followed the trail back to the carpark. The other three (green Line) descended the long spur to the col between Machanabo and Anascaul and headed south to a steep gully below An Com Dubh. We joined the trail about 500 metres from the carpark
Both walks walks covered roughly the same distance, 15.5 kilometres over 5hours approx. Total ascent to Beenoskee was 939m and 1,140 in total for the red route, 971 for the green route.
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 heightandprofile on the mapto 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
at sea level or on top of a mountain?
on level ground or a steep slope?
on the top of a hill or in the bottom of a hollow?
in a valley or on a spur?
The answers are fairly obvious: Just look around you. What if
you are planning a recce and need to plot a route through unfamiliar terrain?
you are in the mountains and the weather has changed, leaving you with little or no visibility?
Take the following scenario. You are heading into to Loch An Duin from Kilmore Cross (Q52294 08919), intending to climb toAn 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)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
A quality Mountain Day.
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.
I was going through Tom Finn’s (1927-2007) slide collection today and came across this photo, probably taken back west. We are not sure who the men are, let alone the nuns they seem to have rounded up. We think the men are Tom’s climbing buddies Brian Daly, Denis Switzer, and Bill Edwards. If anyone can confirm this, we would be delighted.
Tom was a founding member of the club, a pioneering mountaineer, and a keen photographer. He usually had his camera with him when he went mountaineering and illustrated details of all climbs were entered into a club logbook or a personal journal. These provide a fascinating insight into the development of mountaineering as a sport in Kerry, as well as the history of Tralee Mountaineering Club.
If you have any ideas about what was going on in this photo, or a suitable caption, get in touch!
“You know the nun in the square wimple is wearing a habit like Auntie Pat’s but I don’t think it’s her. In the early days she had to stay in a convent – she used to stay at Pres but I don’t recognise any of the nuns. I think it’s definitely Denis, Bill and Brian.”
“I like the symbolism of the nuns on the mountains on today February 1st the feast day ‘Saint Bridget’ which traditionally marks the beginning of spring representing rebirth and renewal, hope, youth and growth.”
Picking up on Mags’ point about Lá ‘Le Bríde or Bridget’s Day, just in case people think that it was a man only club “back in the day,” women were just as involved in the development of TMC from the beginning, as this early photo of a climb on Brandon shows: