Monday, September 30, 2013

Rough Diamond Connemara...A Real Gem

This weekend I went with Kevin for a weekend away in fantastic Connemara and to compete in the Rough Diamond adventure race. Its fair to say that I hadn't had much in the way of proper training and after the tummy bug of a few days earlier I was a wee bit apprehensive at the prospect of a race that stretches out to 72 kilometers. On the other hand I was really looking forward to another weekend away with Kevin in Clifden and once again it didn't disappoint.

Friday September 27th;

We set off from Mallow in the afternoon and straight away the banter was good and lasted right through the 250 kilometer  drive. The traffic was bad but the weather was fine and it looked set fair to last through the weekend. The race itself was based in the little village of Letterfrack about 15 kilometers north of Clifden and we were booked into a hostel there for the first night. After a very nice feed we retired early to bed. Sleep was interrupted by some drunken oafs arriving at almost 2am and another dolt roaring obsenities at 4 am so all in all a less than perfect sleep was enjoyed but we both rose in good spirits to a warm humid and dry morning. All was set for a great day.

Saturday September 28th;
The Race;

We finally met up with two of Kevin's friends, (Terrance Hoare and Anthony Holmes who had arrived late the previous evening) who were taking part in the sport version 45 K of the event. I was surprised by how few people were about. I had expected this event to be heavily supported and the numbers that were competing in the "expert" course appeared to be less than 100. Still the day was lovely and only the midges were a problem. Soon the allotted time of 09.30 arrived and we were off.
Stage one is an 8.5 kilometer run from the village to the summit of Diamond Hill, a stunningly beautiful little mountain of around 450 meters. We wound our way up past the visitor center and out onto the wild open mountainside on fine wide well built paths of stone and timber. Unfortunately it was evident pretty quickly that I was struggling. even after only a couple of kilometers I had to break out of my run and I was reduced to walking. The gradient wasn't that steep but I was feeling terribly leaden and even a bit queasy. Thankfully Kevin (who had promised to stay with me for the entire course) decided to take off and run at his own pace. If he stuck with me he just wouldn't get the kind of workout he deserved after all the effort of driving up to the west. I kept going and eventually reached the top. On the descent I was in more comfortable terrain and while I still felt like pish  at least the going was easier. I was really unsure just how I would manage to keep going for the entire route, I was after all only just at the beginning. Down down we went and eventually I reached the visitor center again and the run continued on a lovely winding trail through woodland back into the village. Even here I had to walk some of the short little uphill sections, oh dear. My spirits were buoyed  however by the wonderful welcome back into the transition area and to my delight and dismay there was Kevin waiting for me. Delight because his enthusiasm and good humour are always a joy and dismay that he had thrown away the chance to really compete in the event, especially since, even after hanging back with me for some of the run, he still came fifth in that section.Still there was nothing for it but to grab the bike and hit the road.

I had been really looking forward to this cycle before the event as the route travels one of the most beautiful sections of road in the country, now I was dreading it. While it is comparatively flat there was a surprisingly strong headwind that made for tough going. The route travels on good roads for almost all its length before eventually winding it was along a little lane to the next hill run at Maumeen thirty kilometers away. First it went along past Kylemore with its beautiful abbey before turning right and travelling through the stunning Inagh valley where the Twelve Bens are on your right and the Maumturks are on the left. The great weather (wind notwithstanding) and glorious views helped somewhat to alleviate the agony of the cycle. I wasn't too bad on the flat but when it came to any bit of a hill I struggled mightily. My mood wasn't helped by being passed out by so many others who seemed to fly by at their ease. Kevin flattered, coaxed and cajoled but it was no use, I just didn't have it in me to maintain a decent pace. He was in mighty form and every so often he would leave me and catch up with the people who had passed me and then slow right down to let me catch up. I felt so frustrated both for him and myself and eventually, three quarter way through I had to tell him in the most direct language possible to leave me behind and have some fun for himself. Perhaps it was the way I shook my fist at him or the hysterical timber of my voice as I roared FUCK OFF at him (which I'm sure startled birds off the water from the lake a kilometer away) but it worked and he set off alone into the distance. I was never so glad to see the end of a cycle and at the transition I unceremoniously dumped the bike and set off in the direction of the pass in the Maumturks called Maumeen.

This eight kilometer run is on a rough trail track and rises relatively gently for about 100 meters to the pass. This is a place of pilgrimage and there is a tiny little church and stations of the cross but aside from religion there is much to draw you to this lovely spot. I hadn't a hope of running up hill so I walked the majority of the route to the pass. I was still struggling and the legs were a bit rubbery but at least I was off the bike and using muscles that were more frequently in service. I suppose I shouldn't expect any different as it had been over seven weeks since I had been on the bike at all and I hadn't done a lot on it previously either. Up and over the pass and then down fairly steeply along the western way for another two kilometers. I met Kevin coming back against me and was relieved to see he still had a smile for me and was still rooting for me. I don't think I have ever been on this side of the pass before and it was lovely. Spectacular craggy bluffs soared over 300 meters on either side and since my competitive streak has long since fizzled out and I was now intent on just getting to the finish line I relaxed a bit and tried to enjoy the majesty of my surroundings. Down and turn about and up and over and I jogged the final couple of K to the bike. A stop for a good drink and some of the tastiest orange segments I have ever had and I was off again. I had been dreading getting back on the bike but now the wind was to my back and progress was somewhat easier. I didn't exactly fly along but I was only passed by two on this 18 K section. Eventually Kylemore arrived again and I dismounted and braced myself for the assault course.
Kevin doin the business

This proved to be a delight. Not difficult, occasionally a bit challenging and always interesting, it twisted its way through scrubby woodland, out onto open moorland and back into the woods again. All along the way there were problems to overcome, from walking across stacks of wobbly tyres to crawling through blacked out muddy tunnels to crossing swinging rails to rope bridges. One of the highlights was the pair of "Sumo Wrestlers" replete with giant padded suits that you had to try and run past. Cresting a rise there they were about fifty meters in front of you. I stopped and gave them as deep a bow as my crocked body allowed which they reciprocated with surprising grace and off I set. I didn't have a plan but my shimmy worked and I got by unscathed and beaming. Twas great fun. Eventually I was through the course and back to my bike for the final eight kilometers to the finish. Now I was buoyed by the knowledge that the end was near and I pedaled as well as I could to the finish. Eventually the full 72 kilometers were done and I crossed the finish line pretty much whacked. Here I was reunited with the others and after congratulations all round and a short rest we left and headed to a nearby beach for a dip in the sea. Man the water was cold and it took me several attempts before the pain in my feet subsided enough to allow me to wade in as far as my hips. The cold water did however work its magic and when I re-emerged the ache in the legs was much better. Terrence and Anthony were much braver and went the whole hog and "enjoyed" a swim in the freezing water. We decamped to Clifden for a rest...after all the day was only half done.
Terrence venturing in

Beautiful beach

Anthony and Terrence looking   refreshed

Clifden is one of my favorite places and it is always a delight to visit. Once we were once again ensconced in the excellent Hostel we settled down for a lazy snoozy rest for a couple of hours. This worked well and by seven pm we were ready to head out and have a bite to eat. The town was buzzing as our arrival coincided with the culmination of the week-long arts festival in the town. A beautiful balmy late summer weather day only added to the good vibe about town. All the pubs were packed but we managed to find a space by the bar where we ate the last time and enjoyed excellent pizza. Re-hydration was  really important after the exertions of the morning and we set about that task with some relish. I had only very briefly met with Terrence and Anthony in the past but they are great guys and so easy to get along with. The stories and banter were great and time flew by. There was a delightful parade of colour and spectacle that evening and the sense of "Carnival" pervaded the night. After a few beers we decided to take a break and we went to see what else was happening. A considerable crowd had gathered in the square to see a band rocking the night. It was great to see the mix of revelers milling about with tourists of all ages mixing with families of young and old and everybody smiling and enjoying themselves. The band were great and with just a base and lead guitar and a drummer the sound was loud and tight. It took me a while but I eventually recognized the singer and it was none other than Rob Strong, a veteran of the Irish scene for many years whose powerful vocals made him rightly famous. Man these guys could rock it and soon the lure of the music proved too much and...well lets just say that the next two hours passed in a haze of groove and dance that meant me dusting off moves I hadn't tried in years and perhaps should have been left in the recess' of the past..but maybe not.
Re-hydrating....tiz vital

More re- hydrating

American movers

Two American ladies of a certain vintage (lets just say they could probably tell you where they were when Kennedy was shot) still had the moves and I bet they will regale their friends at home about the night they rocked Clifden. One in particular fell prey to the Kevin Ring "lasso"  and her shimmy as he drew on the rope was such a delight. Music of the highest quality was abundantly accompanied by dancing that completely counterbalanced it but nobody cared. Great fun was had by all. At around midnight after the band were done I hit something of a wall and I decided to call it a day. The boys continued the revelry into the early hours while I enjoyed a good sleep. I was wide awake by 7 am so I got up and had a wander around the sleeping town. All traces of the previous night were gone and it was a perfect time to reflect on the previous day and feel grateful that I was able to be here in such a great spot and have such a good time. I picked up a few bits for breakfast and as I retreated to the hostel a woman of similar age to myself was looking directly at me as we approached. When I got near she smiled and in a French accent told me I had danced very well last night. I too had a smile as I passed. We ate and left early for home, another little adventure over and more great memories in the store. Lots of laughter filled the car as the tale of my F U moment was relived and the drive passed quickly.Despite the strain of the race I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A short visit to wonderful Snowdonia.

Well I'm back home again after a slightly abridged visit to one of my favorite places..Snowdonia. On Saturday morning after I finished my night shift I did my usual thing of train and ferry and arrived in exotic Holyhead at 16.30. Train again to the Llandudno Junction where I "enjoyed" my first experience of Kentucky Fried Chicken fine dining and then the final leg into Betws y Coed where I gratefully crashed in a B&B for the night. A long much needed sleep ensued.

Sunday September 22nd;

Looking towards Crib Goch
I emerged into the town on a bright warm morning and did my usual trick of sticking out my thumb to try and get a drive to the mountains. There was a bus due in a while but why wait. I tend to be very lucky and this time was no exception as I was being driven to Capel Curig within two minutes. I actually hadn't a definite plan in mind even at this stage. I had thought about the Atlantic Slab but my drive was only going as far as Capel so I made a spur of the moment decision to start my day from here. I was a little disappointed to see that there was a fair bit of hill cloud about but I was fairly confident that this would burn off as the day progressed. I decided to head up the broad boggy ridge that leads to Gallt yr Ogof and continue along over the Glyders. I had done this before but in pish weather so I reckoned that it would be a worthy outing in today's conditions. The cloud was lifting all the time and soon only the higher tops were concealed. I hadn't done a lot of hill walking lately but I was quite pleased to find that my legs felt fairly strong and I made steady progress.

Happy chappie

Tryfan's east face

Cantilever Rock

Castel y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

Looking back to Glyder Fach
Tryfan West Face
One of the reasons I picked this walk was that I didn't want to experience the "madding crowds" that come with this part of the world on a fine Sunday. The massive population that lives within a couple of hours drive of this beautiful place ensure that some of the more popular spots can be really really busy. My route is initially somewhat off the beaten track and rises in a series of steps before a steep push to the first significant top Gallt yr Ogof at 763 mtrs. The bit of cloud that had hidden the top had by now cleared and I could see all the way along the route as far as Glyder Fach. The next top is the broad and rather featureless Y Foel Goch and I then dropped down to the wide saddle before Glyder Fach with its cluster of little lakes. Here is a great spot to stop and enjoy the stunning views across to the majestic east face of Tryfan. Here there are rock-climbs a plenty and the promise of great future days out but today I was in hiking mode and I set off up the rather tedious 200 meter climb to reach the other-worldly summit plateau of Glyder Fach. The day was now glorious, with warm sun, which felt more like a mid summer day than one in the middle of Autumn. Still I wasn't about to complain and I basked in the heat of the day and enjoyed a bite to eat on the summit blocks in blissful solitude. The summits of the Glyders are really quite unique. The large shards of rock (some up to 10 mtrs long) give the impression of crystal formations or are like something from a superman movie.

Truly Fine Mountain Scenery

Final mountain of the day.

Into Llanberis Pass

Spoils of Slate mining

I lingered a while before setting off for the next summit Glyder Fawr 999mtrs. This soon passed and I made the steep loose descent to Llyn y Cwn above the "Devils Kitchen" and them set off on the deceptively stretchy drag to Y Garn 947 mtrs. Here I rested a while and had a second bite to eat and I was to have a beautiful Raven alight just eight meters from me and regard me with a speculative eye while I ate. They really are a majestic bird and surprisingly big. Its luxuriant pitch black coat glistened in the sunshine and the huge strong beak looked like it wouldn't have any difficulty tearing the flesh from the carrion from which it survives. It was a real treat to get such a good look at it and it buoyed my already good spirits further. I had decided not to descend to the Ogwen Valley and I opted instead to continue north over Foel Goch and from there across to the next 3000er Elidir Fawr and then to descend to Nant Peris. This added considerably to the overall distance and climb, but the day was so good it seemed a shame not to make full use of it. All the while the weather and views remained stellar until finally I made my way down south towards the road. On the descent I was treated to the sight of a few Red Kites soaring above and as I got lower the huge mounds of spoil from the extensive slate quarrying that was done here  dominated to my right and to my left the stunning vistas that bound the Pen y Pass were an inspiration. So after 18 kilometers, 1700 meters of climbing and six and a half hours I reached the busy road. I walked the fifty or so meters to the bus stop and saw that there was a bus in an hours time to Betws y Coed. Rather than wait I once again stuck out my thumb and lo and behold the first car that came along gave me a lift back. Result !.

Monday September 23rd;

Before I left home I put a shout out in UK Climbing asking for someone to climb with and I was delighted to get a reply from a man living near the area called Paul Harvey. We agreed to meet at 9 am and we set off for a crag called Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass. Our objective was the VDiff route called Flying Buttress. This is supposed to be one of the best climbs of the grade in the area and I was really looking forward to it. The weather was warm and humid but the cloud was hanging low in the sky, indeed we were enveloped in the mist as we drove over the Pen y Pass. Paul brought all the necessary equipment and once we selected the necessary gear we set on up the steep unrelenting 100 meter climb to the base of the crag. Safe to say we were both quite warm by the time we arrived at the start of the route. We were also the first here so there was no need to queue for the start. Paul didn't have a lot of experience so I was happy to lead the route.

The steep first pitch

The second pitch and the upper Buttress

Cenotaph Corner, a bit beyond me I'm afraid
The first pitch runs to about 25 meters and rises fairly steeply to a pleasing point high above. I set off up and was pleased to find that despite the very polished rock there is an abundance of lovely big jug holds that inspire confidence. I don't like placing cams in polished rock so I relied on wire placements of which there were plenty to choose from. Progress was fairly rapid and I arrived at the first luxuriant belay point. Paul easily followed and I set off on the next short pitch. This is an almost horizontal one that passes a couple of small pinnacles before dropping into a notch where the main body of the crag rises steeply skyward. The next pitch is also fairly short and it forms a rising traverse rightwards onto the exposed main face of the cliff. Here the exposure is considerable but there is superb protection and I was really able to enjoy the situation. The belay is on a narrow ledge with good spikes offering easy sling placements. From here it is straight up the face before another exposed rising traverse to the right to the base of a chimney that leads to the top. The  start of the chimney  is quite awkward but a few strenuous ungainly moves, that I'm sure aren't to be found in any instruction books, saw me established in the chimney and it was easy from there to the top. We made great time and we were both delighted with the route and we were sorry that it didn't keep going for another few pitches. It is a superb 90 meter route that did indeed live up to its star billing.
Paul at the start of pitch 1

The excellent final pitch follows the ridgeline from right to left

Trust me its steeper than it looks
Looking up the first pitch

On the more broken middle section.

Well pleased after the last pitch
We descended the couple of hundred meters back to the car and as the day was still young we headed for the Qgwen Valley to a climb I had backed off of the previous November with Frank due to damp soapy rock and matching boots called the Sub Cneifion Rib. This is another VDiff route of 110 meters in length. A quick bite to eat and a decent coffee from the new cafe by the carpark and we were off into the huge and beautiful Cwm Idwall. The base of the climb is at about 500 meters so we had a bit of a climb to do again to reach the start and we were ready for a rest when we arrived in to humid heat of the early afternoon. The earlier mist had now burned off and wonderful views were once again the order of the day. Paul was once again happy for me to lead and I set off up. As you approach the rock seems quite laid back but it is steeper than it looks and is of a very different nature to Flying Buttress. All the lovely reassuring hand and foot placements are now gone and smearing and crimping are more the order of the day. I must confess to have found it much more difficult than the earlier climb. I ran the first pitch out to about 35 meters and I was quite relieved to finally reach the belay. About ten meters below after climbing up to a notch in the slab there is a climb up and to the left over a steepening and a fingery section above that I felt were very hard for a VDiff.
  The next section is little more than a scramble and is very broken and somewhat spoils the climb but a traverse to the right leads to a lovely line of clean rock to the top of the climb. This I did in one forty meter pitch and it was great. There is a tricky move out of an overhanging notch onto the ridge-line and afterwards the route continues (steeply at times) in a leftward slant to the top. This section I really enjoyed as perhaps I was getting more used to the different style and demands of climbing required by this more slabby route. The big smile on Paul's face as he followed me up told me all I needed to know about how much he was enjoying himself. He followed on each pitch with apparent ease and only needs a little more experience to get the confidence to make a fine lead climber. We had now completed two fine VDiff routes and we retreated to the car well pleased with our day. Paul was great company throughout the day and I am indebted to him for coming along and making it possible to have a great days climbing. We parted with the promise that we will have other days in the future.

Tuesday September 24th;

Alas I awoke at four in the morning with terrible indigestion that later developed into a seriously upset system and I had no option but to abandon plans to do the Parsons Arret that day and so I headed for home. The timings for all the trains and ferry worked very well and I was home for five that afternoon, feeling a little better but very very tired. A serious sleep ensued and I look forward to returning and doing more of the abundance of great climbing that the area has to offer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Running Mangerton Mountain

I haven't posted for a little while mainly because I haven't really done anything of any great interest. That's not saying that there isn't a lot going on at the moment but I haven't really gotten out into the hills lately. I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself as well because a planned Alpine trip didn't happen mainly due to the fact that we are in the painful first throes of a house extension, with all the disruption and niggles that that entails. However it is also exciting and seeing the excavations happen and the foundations go in is pleasing as well. The clock is ticking and we are hoping that the rapidly approaching winter will be benign in its infancy and let the work advance without too much disruption. Anyway, enough about my domestic bliss. I have a couple of adventure races coming up in the next few weeks and I have been a bit lax in my preparations as you would expect with all that is going on, so I have tried to get a few runs in over the past week. A good brisk eight miler on my local lanes broke the legs in nicely and a lovely nine mile trail run on Bweeng Mountain a couple of days ago worked out very well. Yesterday was so lovely that after work I decided to drive the forty or so miles to the foot of Mangerton Mountain near Killarney for a proper mountain run.

Mangerton is a big broad lump of a mountain with a near flat boggy plateau that slopes gently away to the west but its northern flanks end abruptly in 300mtr cliffs that drop into the huge and spectacular L shaped "Horses Glen". It also has a decent track that runs from the road-head to the summit which makes it ideal for a run. I brought Ruby with me and she is a delight to run with, she never needs coaxing or minding and she happily gambols along ignoring all and everything we encounter on our way (including sheep). I set off along the flat initial section and the effects of the previous days run were immediately obvious but I pressed on and I was pleased to manage to run as far as the fence which is about half a mile from the start. This section involves a fair bit of height gain and it was almost with a sense of relief that I arrived at steep ground that I was unable to run so I reverted to a fast walk. This isn't really much easier and my heart rate took quite a while to drop as I pressed the pace. Eventually I did recover and after a fairly long steep section the trail levels off and a lovely traverse of Mangerton North follows where you get the first stunning views into the "Black Valley". I managed to run almost the entire section as far as the "Devils Punchbowl" a beautiful tear shaped lake at 670 mtrs nestling under the summit plateau. Here I took the left path and ran in a clockwise direction around the lake and climbed the final steep 100 mtrs to the plateau.

Now at over 800 mtrs the real fun begins. All the painful pumping of legs and lungs are now rewarded by a stunning run along the plateau and then it seems to happen that suddenly, when you begin your descent the views across to the "Reeks" and into the "Black Valley" and of course everything further afield seem framed in such a perfect way that I can honestly say that despite all my travels to some of the most beautiful places in Europe I don't think I have seen any view better. If I wasn't already running I would say that they were breathtaking but you know what I mean. I was pleased at how the legs were coping on the long technical descent. My knees which have been giving me some concern of late were holding up well and I was able to enjoy that exhilarating sense of freedom and well-being that  only comes with great downhill running. I was sad to turn and leave the stunning views of the Everagh Peninsula behind but the views towards Killarney and the plains of north Kerry were a worthy compensation. The descent is a fairly long one and once you leave the traverse section the ensuing long steep section requires full concentration. Towards the end my legs were feeling the effects of the descent and the occasional hint of cramp emerged. However I soon reached the car and after giving Ruby a quick wash in the stream I was off home and basking in the afterglow that comes from a hefty bout of exercise in glorious weather in marvelous surroundings. It isn't an overlong outing, just about three miles up and back but it is pure quality and has almost 700 meters of height gain. I must do more of the same again soon. I didn't take any photos whilst running but here are a few old ones that perhaps capture in a tiny way this great spot.

The final section to the plateau from "The Punchbowl"

The view towards the  Everagh Peninsula

A view to the "Horses Glen"

From Stoompa looking into "The Glen"