Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Ballyhoura Mountain Hill Run

On Saturday Kevin Ring and myself decided to have a big old gut busting hill run on the Ballyhoura Mountains. The plan was to run the Ballyhoura Way Trail from Ballyhea village to Kilfinnane. This being a linear route we used both cars and I picked Kevin up in Kilfinnane and headed to Ballyhea. The forecast for the weekend was pants but we were delighted to find that, although overcast the weather was ideal for a run, mild and dry with not too much wind. We opted to start at the wonderfully named Sorrel Gallows Hill where there is a parking sign marked on the map. Silly us actually thought there would be a car park there but after driving along some rutted dirt tracks for a while we parked carefully at a house entrance near the road. A quick check that we had all we needed and we were off.

As is usual the craic was great and we made sure we went slow enough to keep up the chat even though we were going steadily uphill for the first kilometer. Here we entered the forestry tracks and soon joined the waymarked route. All was going well for the next couple of kilometers until we reached a junction at Garrane. The map suggested that the trail went to our right but there was no marker post to indicate if this was indeed the case. We turned right anyway, unsure if we were correct or not. After a while we spotted a very inviting mountain bike trail (which abound everywhere) and decided that this would be a good bet to get us going in the right direction. It was a delight to run, well made and undulating it passed through open ground so we were sure to spot a bike if one was coming and get out of the way. Eventually we reached more forestry trails and we spotted a sign for "Ballyhoura Walk". We were now pretty confident that we were where we needed to be and this seemed sure to at least lead us up to the high ground where we would be sure to meet the trail.

After a promising start the "walk" trail turned downhill in every way. It became an overgrown mucky mess that became worse as we went on. We hoped that it would at least turn back up the hill but alas no, and when we came to a place where a small weathered crucifix and a headless religious statue were to be seen we decided to abandon this route and leave the "Twilight Zone" behind at all costs. By now we were almost down as far as the road again and we had to go up several mucky little fields until we were at the forest boundary where we hoped to rejoin a track that would that would get us back on track, if you know what I mean. A struggle through some prickly gorse, over a few barbed wire fences and across a drain and we found we were indeed on a track. This at least was heading up the hill and to our delight, for once it didn't disappoint and continued in the direction we hoped. Ever upward we went and soon we found ourselves on the top of Carron Mountain where we rejoined the trail. We were only about one third of the way there but we had already covered a lot of ground and rough terrain.

We were now in the cloud and the wind had increased considerably once we arrived on the summit. The terrain now changed once again and we set off across wild open bog. If we thought the main difficulties were over we were mistaken and we found that running was nigh impossible on the tussocky, pitted, ditch riddled route. Step up, down, sideways and jump was the approximate pattern that followed in order to make progress. Still we were relieved to at least be on the correct route and the four or so kilometers until we arrived at the road/track near Seefin summit passed quickly enough. Here we had intended to leave the trail and pass over the summit and descend steeply northeast and rejoin the trail and so save ourselves three K or so but with the mist all about and the trackless terrain looking horrible we opted to stick to the waymarked route. Progress was now rapid and we soon left the open mountain behind and once again entered forested ground. We arrived at another junction in the forest trail network and once again inadequate signage had us confused. After consulting the map we chose the track to our right which thankfully proved to be the correct one. Some improvements to the directional signage are in order I think.

Fatigue was now becoming a factor (at least for me) as we had been on the go now with little respite for about two hours and there was still over twelve kilometers to go. Still the terrain ahead was the easiest of the route and most of the climbing had now been done. We next entered a glorious section on the run on a well made trail that wend and wound its way through native woodland. What a contrasting outing this was proving to be. Tired limbs were forgotten for a while as we negotiated this Eden. All too soon we were through and after another short detour due to confused signage we crossed the tarmac road and descended into the hamlet of Ballyorgan. Another lovely section of track through a sliver of native woodland was followed by a couple of kilometers on tarmac before we turned off road again into forestry at Gooseberry Hill. Fatigue was really kicking in for me and anything with an uphill gradient I had to walk. Still we were on the homeward section and determination overcame all frailties.
 Eventually we descended off Benyvougheila Hill and reached the road again before the final kilometer to Kilfinnane. I shuffled along the road on ever shortening strides and I have seldom been more pleased to eventually arrive at the car in the village centre. We were understandably tired but very satisfied after a tough run of about 28 kilometers across all types of terrain with a very approximate 600mtrs of climbing. All this in a little over three hours. By now we have done a fair few substantial runs in various places. We already have another outing in mind that will be a little longer and should be interesting. A little more training required I think but hopefully it will be done in the near future. I really enjoyed our day and I feel it was a fine start to 2013. Lots more to come hopefully.