Sunday, October 20, 2013

Coomloughra Horseshoe In Kerry

Today I went with Frank to have another hike in the Kerry Mountains. The weather forecast wasn't great with plenty of heavy showers predicted and with the cloud covering the tops it seemed that that was the way it was going to be. I left it up to Frank to decide where he wanted to go and I was delighted he opted for the Coomloughra Horseshoe. This is one of the best circuits in the area and takes in the three highest peaks in the country. We had our customary coffee and set off and after about fifteen miles we parked up in the excellent new carpark by the "hyrdo road" on the east side of the Reeks.

The hydro road had a charm that is well buried under the rough concrete surface and is best dispatched as quickly as you can. It is a steep-ish plod that rises straight from the car but once you reach the turn to the right the gradient eases and it allows the opportunity to take in the ever expanding views to the west and across to the Dingle peninsula. We opted to do the round in an anti clockwise direction as this means that while the ascents are steeper the long descent from Caher is much nicer and a fitting finish to the day. Once we reached Scregmore we were in the mist and there was a damp chill to the stiff breeze but it didn't matter as we were well wrapped up and we are well used to a lot worse. We made good progress and stopped for a bite of lunch on Beenkeragh before crossing the ridge and easily climbing the 400 ft to the summit of Carrauntoohil. On the way up we passed a couple of guys who caused me to do a double take before I believed my eyes, they had ice axes. I couldn't pass without asking and it transpired they thought that there might have been snow in Central Gully and one said he would have used it to make an anchor for the rope in the gully. I was a bit dumbfounded and decided to press on before I said something I regretted. My God the incredible ( lets be charitable and say) silliness of some people never fails to surprise. I mean it was fifteen or sixteen degrees at the car and there hadn't been a cold day yet this autumn, how did they think snow would be there??. Anyway onward over Caher and we were back under the cloud soon enough. The views were a delight and we stopped frequently to take a few pics and enjoy the array of colour and beauty. Back at the car in a little over five hours and we were really pleased with our day. We were dry once we emerged from the mist and the weather had improved throughout the day, result.
Looking in from Lough Eighter

Feeling the pressure

Looking west on the way down from Caher

A wee bit wind blown

The way up

Stunning Landscape

Monday, October 14, 2013

Valentia Island Half Marathon Weekend

I returned to south west Kerry this weekend to take part again in the Valentia Half Marathon. It had been two years since I last did it and after my (for me at least) good showing in the Killarney Adventure Race I felt that I might have sufficient left in my legs to have a good race here. I was mistaken.

Quaint clock tower.
I left home after work Friday afternoon and enjoyed the almost two hour drive to the excellent campsite at Mannix Point in Caherciveen. This is is a beautifully situated very well equipped site where it is possible to pitch your tent right by the waters edge. The weather was great and set fair for the whole weekend so I was more than a little surprised (and delighted) to have practically the entire site to myself. Not another tent was on view. I know its late in the season but with such super weather I thought that more people would be taking advantage of conditions. Still I wasn't complaining and I enjoyed a lovely sunset and a bite to eat and relaxed in the excellent sitting room for the remainder of the evening.
The view from my tent

I slept really well and the only noise to break the silence was the occasional haunting cry of passing seabirds. The morning was overcast and there was a slight chill breeze but it was dry and there was no hint of rain, always a bonus in the middle of October. The race wasn't until mid-day so after a good breakfast of porridge and coffee and cake I went for a stroll into the sleepy town of Caherciveen. For a town situated on the famous Ring of Kerry, it is perhaps the least celebrated in the area. Its fair to say that it perhaps lacks charm in places but there are some wonderful bits, not least the very impressive RC church and the "Old Barracks" museum with more than a hint of a fortification from the Rhineland about it. Of course it is easy to miss both the good and the not so good as you will probably be enchanted by the stunning landscape that surrounds you.
The Old Barracks

The disused Railway Viaduct

The imposing RC Church

After killing enough time I set off on the drive to Knightstown and arrived in good time for the off. I like this little village and the quaint clock tower on the quay only adds to the feel of the place. There was a fair number of people milling about but it was also clear that there hadn't been a big explosion in the number since I last took part. This was something of a surprise to me as it is surely one of the most beautiful routes anywhere in the country, but I suppose the serious runners would be put off by the substantial hills in the course that preclude having a very fast time. Anyway I checked in and collected my timing chip and number and soon enough we were gathered for the off. I set off at a steady good pace and was feeling quite good as we left the village and commenced the gradual but long climb up to the slate quarry.  As you go along the views to the north get better and better. Down to the rugged shore below and beyond to the Dingle peninsula and the Blasket Islands. I was surprised to see that there were no mile markers and the first marker was at two kilometers. I was still feeling OK and I pushed on. Alas after about four kilometers I was starting to feel a bit whacked but I reasoned that once I reached the quarry in another kilometer I would be turning back downhill and I would recover then. It was more than a bit disappointing to discover that the downhill was difficult as well. By the time I turned for the next short hill I was starting to wonder if I would be able to finish the run. I'm afraid I had to slow down and try and find a rhythm that I could maintain and try to concentrate on getting to the end. I guess you could say I found a level of distress that I could live with and eventually the miles passed and I could envisage the end. For the last few miles I felt as if I had completed a full marathon and I was mightily relieved to finally reach the finish line in the village. I finished in 104 minutes and I was pretty disappointed with that but once I had recovered a bit I began to feel pleased that I had stuck it out and finished the run. A great spread of soup and sandwiches went a long way to restore my spirits and at after a while once I was sufficiently rested I left for a hike on Bray Head at the westernmost extreme of the island. This is a short six kilometer hike out to the impressive rugged end of the island that affords stunning views in all directions, not least out to the gorgeous Skellig Rocks. Oh dear I was weary but I reasoned that the gentle climb and easy hike would be a good warm-down for my tight leg muscles. I took a fair few pictures and returned to the campsite where I enjoyed a long hot shower and a good feed. It had been a tough day but ultimately a rewarding one.
Bray Head

Panoramic view towards Caherciveen

Panoramic view from my tent

Valentia late Quarry

North from the quarry

Puffin Island

The Skellig Rocks

Signal Tower on Bray Head
I awoke Sunday morning after a decent sleep and was pleased that I had largely recovered from the day before. I obviously felt some after-effects but I was actually looking forward to going for a cycle on what was another great weather day. So after a light breakfast I suited up and set off for a circuit that I had planned on doing a couple of years before but hadn't done it due to bad weather. Now I had no excuses so off I set, a bit gingerly at first, in the direction of Waterville and the plan was to head into Ballinskelligs, onwards to St Finnans Bay, up over the big hill behind and down into PortMagee and then back to Caherciveen. A total of 52 kilometers but it was the 250 meter climb out of St Finnans Bay that I was dreading the most. Still that was some way off and I was enjoying  myself, relaxing and taking in the views as I pedaled along. The roads were lovely and quiet on this sleepy Sunday morning and I was able to enjoy an almost solitary experience. Soon I reached the turnoff for Ballinskelligs and after the village there was the 100 meter pull to the col where, once you pass the crest you are presented with the most delicious vista from the delightful bay to Puffin Island and out to the iconic Skellig Rocks. I had to stop and try and capture the scene with my excellent camera phone.
St Finnans Bay

Puffin Island

A crowded beach
A lovely downhill stretch follows where I focused my attention out to sea and tried to ignore the the ever larger bulk of the hill behind the bay that I had to somehow climb over to reach Portmagee. There was nothing foe it but to give it a go. Perhaps I am overstating the size of the challenge a bit but it does involve a steep 250 meter climb where at times the gradient is well over 10 degrees. I wasn't in the mood, or indeed able, to try any heroics so I popped the bike into its lowest gear at set on up. It went pretty well but higher up where fatigue and steeper sections arrived I struggled and at times I was going at barely a walking pace, but I was still going. At last the top arrived and a well earned rest to enjoy the view. There followed the fastest mile I have ever done on the bike on the equally steep descent towards Portmagee. It was an ample reward for the test of before and I was in the village in no time. Now came the final eight miles back to the campsite where I enjoyed another healing shower before packing up and heading home. The day wasn't finished giving yet though as I came back via the lovely Ballygisheen Pass. This afforded me the opportunity to enjoy the best that the stunning Everagh Peninsula has to offer. I stoped at the pass and climbed up a couple of hundred meters and jut enjoyed the majesty of it all. The Reeks loomed large to the east and many of the other beautiful mountains that I have been lucky to explore added to the vista. I returned home very content with another visit to the very special southwest of Kerry.
Above Portmagee

A new windfarm

Panoramas from the pass

Looking east

Looking West

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


There must be a touch of the masochist about me. After the torrid time I had completing the Rough Diamond adventure race last week what did I go and do??, yes that's right I went to do the Killarney Adventure Race this weekend. Ah well I'll get some sense someday I suppose.

Friday October 4th;

Trevor Woodgate (a friend and workmate) and his brother Gavin joined me in Killarney on Friday evening to register for the race in the Gleneagle hotel and collect our goodie bags and to drop off our bikes at the race starting point at Kate Kearney's cottage. The registration went like clockwork and despite the huge numbers competing there were no hitches or delays. There was a real buzz about the exhibition centre as people milled about the various exhibits and stands. I met up with a few people I knew and chatted awhile and then after we drove the eight miles to the bike drop we returned to the town and had a nice meal followed by a couple of beers (tut tut) and settled down for the night.

Saturday October 5th;

Race day!!. I was up at 06.40 and had a light breakfast and made my way to the exhibition centre in good time to catch my bus to Kate Kearney's. Again the organisation was seamless and bang on time we were off to the race start. I was in the third wave to start and the two hundred people were broken into two groups who started ten minutes apart. I was a bit apprehensive after my experience of last week but also delighted that I actually felt quite good, a feeling that I didn't altogether trust. Anyway off I went in the second group and soon we were huffing and puffing up the narrow lane that wends into the Gap of Dunloe. The first section of the route is up Strickeen Mountain, an eight kilometre run on good tracks that zig zagged up the mountainside until you reach the broad boggy plateau of the spur that is the easternmost extreme of "The Reeks", Ireland's highest mountain range. The gradient is not too steep and I was able to run a fair bit of the way and walk strongly the rest. This year the route didn't go all the way to the 440 meter summit but stopped a couple of hundred meters short. This I think was a great idea as beyond this point the trail (such as it is) is across boggy ground and the damage that a thousand + people stomping up and back over it would have been too great. I was delighted to find that my feeling of well-being wasn't a false one and I was actually enjoying feeling reasonably strong. I turned back down and on the return passed a fair few as I suppose my previous experience of trail running gave me a bit of an advantage over some. I reached the transition area and quickly picked up my bike and set off for the next leg.
One of the waves starting

On Strickeen

Great views

A few bikes

This leg is a thirty five kilometer cycle back through the Gap of Dunloe, onward through the Black Valley before climbing Molls Gap and then on to Torc for the next stage. This is a beautiful route with about half the route on narrow twisty bumpy roads and it has a couple of tough climbs thrown in as well. Right from the start there is a short hill that gets the blood pumping but soon enough you pass over a narrow bridge and a welcome flat section offers some respite and a chance to get the legs into bike mode. As per usual a fair few passed me at speed but I was somewhat heartened to see most were from cycling clubs and so would have more miles done on the bike than me. All too soon you are past the lakes and the first brutal climb begins. While it isn't very long it gains about eighty meters in a few very steep steps. Almost everyone struggles here and I was no exception. My biggest objective was getting to the crest without having to dismount and this I just about managed. Another flat kilometer in stunning, savage scenery passes in a flash before another forty meter climb to the head of the gap. Now comes the most exhilarating and dangerous section of the route. A steep descent on a potholed, twisty road requires complete attention. It was sobering but also inspiring to see the young Polish chap, who had been paralyzed in this very section just two years before act as the official starter for the race. He was cheerful and fit looking in his chair and it put my petty fears about my poor form into perspective. The descent passed in a flash and thankfully without incident and soon I was pedaling along through the wonderful Black Valley. I was going fairly well and feeling strong enough to enjoy myself a bit. Last year I was cramping quite badly by this section and it was a relief not to have to contend with that problem today. Next up comes the long climb from the valley floor to Molls Gap. Its fair to say that I wasn't looking forward to this bit but I managed it fairly well. I didn't push a big gear but again I managed to stay on the bike for the duration and eventually joined the main road at the Gap. Oh the relief to hit the downhill section on a good road surface. I love this stretch and it offers ample reward for the pain suffered during the climb. I was barreling along until the speed is interrupted by a short bump by Looscaunagh Lough before another fantastic downhill stretch at Derrycunihy all the way down to the Upper Lake. Any illusions that you have that its downhill all the way to Torc are quickly dispelled and some surprising little hills slow the speed right down. I was delighted however by how I was feeling and I pushed on all the way to the transition area in the Muckross Estate. A few hundred meters of rough narrow track is a bit of a shock to the system as were the big crowds of (lets just say not terribly quick) cyclists that were doing the 27 K route. I dropped my bike and set off on the kilometer run to Muckross Lake to do the kayak section.
Grabbing my lifejacket

A steep hill

Lots on the water

The day was now warm and sunny and there was a real sense of excitement in the air as people of all abilities mixed with tourists strolling through the grounds. I used the jog to try and find my running legs again and soon I arrived at the controlled chaos of the transition to the kayaks. I was paired with a lady who had never been in one before and it was something of a struggle to make progress. I was disappointed to see that the route had been shortened again this year due to choppy waters but with the progress we were making perhaps it was just as well. So ten minutes later I was back on dry land and setting off on what is perhaps the toughest leg of the race, the 18 kilometer run on Mangerton. I was mindful that I hadn't drank an awful lot so far in the race so I collected my little backpack and decided to  run whiles't holding onto my camelback 3/4 liter bottle. This allowed me to nearly finish it by the time I reached the waterstation above the impressive Torc Waterfall where I refilled it,I also fueled up with plenty of jelly babies and all in all I wasn't doing too bad. The route winds it way through forrestry for a few kilometers before finally reaching the base of the mountain where the climb proper begins. I was able to run nearly all this section but now I was quite content to walk up the steep steady climb. I slogged steadily up to the 550 meter contour and passed a fair few who were struggling. From here a fairly flat traverse allowed me to jog all the way until you pass a stream where the the trail turns once again uphill towards the "Devils Punchbowl". I had to again walk a lot of this but it was a great relief toreach the lake and be able to turn around and face downhill.

If it is a long way up it certainly is a long way back down. The descent is quite steep and technical in places and requires full concentration despite the fatigue, if a painful slip or fall is to be avoided. Again I managed to pass a few on the way down but by the bottom cramp was beginning to raise its ugly head. Once back on the forestry trails the problem eased and I was delighted to reach the steps back to the base of the waterfall and then back to the transition area, the end was not too far away now. It took me a few minutes to find my bike among the hundreds there but eventually I got it and set off on the final five kilometer dash to the finish. I don't know whether it was adrenalin of excitement at knowing that I was actually going to finish the race, but I fair flew this leg. I was pumping those pedals hard and soon I could see the impressive footbridge that had been constructed across the busy road to enable competitors to safely reach the finish line in the hotel carpark. So on under the bridge and a couple of hundred meters later I dropped the bike and set of to jog the remainder to the finish, or at least that was the plan. As I have said cramp had begun to become an issue and as soon as I tried to run my left calf just seized. I bent down and pulled back my toes and watched in a kind of horrified fascination as the muscle twisted and contorted to an amazing extent as it spasmed. Eventually it loosened out and I was able to gingerly finish the race. Impressive the footbridge may have been but the three flights of steps up were a bit of a sting in the tail. I crossed the line in 5 hours 33 seconds and was delighted despite the obvious fatigue. I drank copiously from the water provided and ate a banana and once I was sufficiently recovered I went and enjoyed the great atmosphere in the "tented village".There was a super buzz about the place as hundreds milled about in the glorious warm sun and ate the food, listened to the DJ, had a massage or enjoyed the hot tubs. I changed and met with Trevor and Gavin and we congratulated each other on our efforts. We were all content with out achievement, ( Trevor finished in the top 20% in the 59 K race despite using a mountain bike which must have added nearly half an hour to his time) and once we had eaten the tasty beef stew and rice dish and sampled enough of the after-party the boys said goodbye and headed home. I had other plans and I went and booked myself into a B&B nearby as I was meeting Frank on Sunday for a hike. A long hot shower went some way to restoring my well-being and after a brief rest I returned to the venue for "the barbecue". I was disappointed with this as the DJ was done for the day and most of the people had left. Things were in wind down mode and after I ate the "burger" I left and returned to my room as there wasn't really any reason to hang about. I returned for the prize giving and party but perhaps I had been spoiled by Clifden the week before but this time the band didn't float my boat and I left for an early night. All in all though it had been a superb day.

Trevor trying to look cool

Sunday October 6th;

I didn't sleep very well in the stiflingly warm room and it was somewhat of a disappointment to look out the window and see the stellar weather of the day before had given way to low cloud and rain. I enjoyed a leisurely morning and a voluminous breakfast and set off into town to meet Frank. It had been a couple of months since we had been out together as Frank had an injury to his foot. He was a bit concerned that his hard won fitness might have suffered but nevertheless we opted to climb Carrauntoohil. It seemed only fitting to follow perhaps the best adventure race in Ireland with a climb of Ireland's highest mountain. With the weather being as pish as it was there wasn't any point in doing a nice ridge or anything so we opted for the "tourist route", the Devils Ladder. It had been a fair few years since I had climbed the mountain this way so it was something of a novelty route for me. Franks company is always a pleasure and the time flew by as we chatted and made plans for future days. The walk to the base of the Ladder is long but it enters deep into the rugged heart of the range. Waterfalls crashed down the moody east face of Carrauntoohil and the wide loose gully that is the Ladder resembled a stream. Still we set off up and made good progress. Once we crested the gully we were exposed to the stiff wind and rain so we got a proper drenching on the 300 meter slog to the summit. Frank needn't have worried about his fitness as we maintained a steady pace as we climbed and didn't stop once until we reached the cross. In these conditions there wasn't much point in staying so we about turned and headed back down via the Heavenly Gates. I was pleased with how I was feeling and while I could feel the effects of yesterday I wasn't too bad and there was still some strength left in the legs. It felt great to finally arrive back at the car 3 hours 45 mins after we set off and change into dry clothes and we sat in the car and enjoyed the delicious sandwiches which Frank had made earlier. So back into town and we said our goodbyes and I returned home. It had been another great weekend. I wonder what I'll do next.

Grinning through the pain

Impressive footbridge

Lovely evening in Killarney

Francis Jan

The Ladder

Long way back