Members of the Ballyvaughan-Fanore Walking Club recently completed the Four Peaks Challenge and, while climbing Carrauntoohill, they were instrumental in saving a man, who was stranded near the Devil’s Ladder.
With 6.30am starts each day, the group, led by chairperson Mary Clarke and mountain guide Gerry Reidy, from Ennistymon, criss-crossed the island of Ireland in three days, from June 3 to 5.
Gerry has more than 20 years’ mountain-climbing experience, having completed four or five of the seven summits, including Denali in Alaska and Mount Elbrus in Russia.
The weather was against them over the few days and, on their final challenge, Gerry recalled the difficult conditions and meeting a man in severe difficulty.
“There was a waterfall coming down the Devil’s Ladder against us, but we worked as a team and got everyone up and down safely,” Gerry said.
When they came across a fallen runner, on his own, wearing only a singlet and shorts, who was suffering hypothermia, one of the group gave him a spare jacket, gloves and hat.
“All he had was a t-shirt and shorts and it was a bitterly cold day. He followed us some of the way and his intention was to run but he didn’t know where he was going because you couldn’t see your hand at the top of the mountain because of fog and rain. That’s not unusual, it happens a lot,” he said.
Gerry said he didn’t want to have to wait for the rest of his group to get this man to safety, in case he would go into shock.
“I split our group, and I brought him to the point on the mountain where you come down and I delegated a couple of our people to go down with him, and I went back for the rest of our group,” Gerry said.
“We were the last group on the mountain that evening. We saved his life,” Mary said.
Two Englishmen, who had never climbed Carrauntoohil, were also assisted by the group and, later, emailed the club to express their thanks.
Gerry said it is normal enough on Carrauntoohill to meet someone in distress like that.
“I think we were the only ones on the mountains that day, it wasn’t safe to be there. We had three of the mountains done and, if we weren’t going to complete the fourth, then we were going to have to start again. We were going to move mountains to ensure we did all four,” he said.
The club is 10 years in existence and he said it was a great achievement to get 15 of the group up the four of the mountains and down again, although challenges like this are nothing new to the club, who completed five peaks in recent years.
“We did Carrauntoohil and Donard consecutively, as part of the Five Peaks Challenge in Ireland and the UK, two years ago. I had done each of the peaks before, but not all five consecutively,” he recalled.
Setting off on a bus from Ennistymon, the first stop on the Four Peaks Challenge was the highest mountain in Connacht, Mayo’s Mweelrea (2,670ft).
“It was a beautiful climb, straight up from the beach, with fantastic visibility into Killary Harbour,” said Mary.
From there, the group travelled into Northern Ireland to Newcastle, County Down, and stayed overnight, before climbing Slieve Donard (2,790ft), the tallest peak in Ulster.
From there, it was a dash to Wicklow to scale Leinster’s highest mountain, Lugnaquilla (3,035ft) on the same day. The weather changed and became foggy and challenging at the top.
Eileen Walsh, who is 65 and the oldest member of the group, loved the ruggedness of Donard but didn’t like Lugnaquilla.
“We were pulling feet and poles out of the muck,” she said.
After an overnight stay in Glendalough, the group headed to Carrauntoohil in Kerry (3,414ft). Weather conditions here were wet, windy and very unfavourable.
Despite the weather, Eileen was thrilled with her achievement. “I loved every minute of it. Later this year, I am going to have a go at Kilimanjaro, so this was good preparation for it.”
In the meantime, her next adventure is the Galtee Challenge, spanning 31km across the Galtee Mountains.
“Everyone was looking out for each other and we all got there. There wasn’t a drop of blood or a bruise between us,” she said.
All three agreed it would never have been possible without the club’s events organiser Mary O’Brien, who put the whole trip together.
Mary said the expedition offers up “a personal challenge” to club members. “You stay healthy, fit and active and you have a close bond with the group. Great friendships are formed. I was on a high for three days after coming back,” she said.
For someone contemplating a similar outing, Mary recommends a mid-week hike and a serious weekend hike, like the Comeraghs or Maumturks.
Eileen advises that you need plenty of training to prepare. “Flat walking is not of great benefit. You have to do hills,” she said.
Gerry stressed the importance of having someone who is familiar with the routes up the mountains and is able to manage people.
“There will be a range of capabilities in any group. You want to get the best out of everyone and some need more support than others. No individual can do it on their own,” he said.
Ballyvaughan-Fanore Walking Club is 11 years old and has 140 members. They hold a club walk most Sundays, all year round.
In May, the club held its 10th annual marathon, which attracted 1,200 participants. In March, the club did the full Burren Way, and their next event is the Peaks Festival in September, with easy, medium and difficult guided walks across the Burren.
Some members are also in training for the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, Peru, in October.
Eileen says the club is an amazing group of like-minded people. “They are in it for the love of walking and the love of the hills.”
For more information on the club or upcoming events, visit www.ballyvaughanfanorewalkingclub.com.
By Carol Byrne