Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Croagh Patrick....Finally.

Croagh Patrick, (pronounced Croak Patrick) is a 2,500 ft. bald mountain in County Mayo, Ireland, and is considered to be the Holiest Mountain in Ireland.
I’m so glad you asked.
St. Patrick, (yes, THAT St. Patrick) is said to have spent forty days of fasting on top of the mountain, and it is said to have been a pilgrimage site for over 5,000 years. Legend also has it that this is the place from which he banished snakes from Ireland forever. Since I’ve yet to see one snake in all of my travels to Ireland, I’m prone to believe that. 

Well done Patrick.
Each year, on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as "Reek Sunday", a day of worship in honor of Ireland’s patron saint. As many as 30,000 climb the mountain that day, some even climbing barefoot, as an act of penance. After having witnessed the rocky road to the top, this is beyond my ability to even fathom.
Croagh Patrick terrain
On the short drive from the small town of Westport to the foot of the mountain, I chatted with my taxi driver, Michael, about my goal to climb to the summit. Locals refer to the mountain as “The Reek”, which, according to Michael, means “pointy place.” And as we turned the bend and I caught my first view of Croagh Patrick, I could see why.
The mountain was forbidding. Huge. I wasn’t sure if there was an actual point, as the summit was swallowed up by clouds. I had a brief thought,  Maybe this time I had bitten off more than I can chew.
As Michael chatted with me in his thick Irish brogue, he talked of the mountain as if it were an old friend. Smiling, he said he had climbed The Reek about 30 times in “his younger days.” He hesitated slightly here, and as he looked at me, he hesitantly said, “You’ll do fine.” 
I’m not sure who he was trying to convince, himself or me.
I paid him his fare and he deposited me at the bottom of the mountain, where I was able to go into a little shop to rent a walking stick, and purchase a poncho. I had a feeling that beneath those clouds at the summit, a poncho might come in handy.

The first part of the journey is pleasant and easy enough along a paved walkway. 

Soon you hit some short steps, which take you up to a statue of St. Peter. 

I think this might be the point where you have the opportunity to change your mind. But for me, it wasn’t an option. I’ve wanted to climb this mountain for three years now. I may never have another chance. Still....

Just about then, my phone buzzed with a message:

Good luck today Joyce with your mountain climb. Take your time & you will get there, I know you’ll do it!

That was pretty much the kick in the bum I needed to skirt around the statue and start my trek. Thank you Daniel.

From here I will take you on this 2,500 foot, 7km, 4.5 hour journey with me through pictures. I would add videos but have been unable to transfer them from my phone to the computer. I will also, try and tell you how I was feeling at each point of the way.

I hope you enjoy your climb. It will, no doubt, be much easier than mine. Slainte!

The first third of the journey is not difficult, but footing starts to get a bit precarious. This was the most beautiful part of the journey, with waterfalls and heather in every direction. I tried not to see The Reek looming ahead of me. 

This couple were from County Tyrone and were speaking Gaelic. They were out for a morning run and decided at the last minute to climb the mountain. They were unprepared - no walking stick, or water. I gave them some of my water, and although it was the right thing to do, it would come back to bite me later. They made the trip though, I passed them as they were coming down.
Still climbing, the heather starts to become scarce, the terrain rocker and more unsteady.

The land starts to slope off, and the wind picks up. Still feeling pretty good here.

I look behind me to see how far I've come. The statue of St. Patrick is the white spec on the bottom right of the screen.
Rockier and with a very difficult slope.....I'm still climbing but looking back to see my progress. At this point there is no opportunity to look at anything other than where I'm putting my feet. 
These two men were brothers, one lives in England, one in Ireland. They had never tried the mountain before and were struggling. I passed them later on, coming down. They had not made it to the top. They warned me that it was steep and difficult.
What happened to that beautiful heather??? Loose rock impossible to avoid. Clouds are getting thicker the higher I get. Wind is brutal enough to knock me over but I keep my footing. On the way down, this was the most difficult part, and I did loose my footing three times. Gravity pulling, wind pushing. I laughed out loud at how crazy this all was. 
 At one point I look up and see this...people had used stones and rocks to spell their name on the bottom side slope of the mountain.
Here I am at the summit - the dampness from the clouds made pictures almost impossible. I made it to the top of The Reek in exactly 2 hours. This is average, in fact a little less than average! At this point I'm feeling great, but tired. On my mind is the trip down. I know what's ahead of me and I'm not looking forward to it. I would rather climb uphill any day then down. I'm sweaty and cold here. The wind at the top was absolutely brutal and I would guess the temperature was just shy of freezing. 
I almost tripped over this goat at the summit. He jumped out in front of me and stopped before I could see him, the clouds were just that thick. We stared at each other for a few minutes and I just cracked up. Adorable and perfect.

The trip down the mountain took 2:15. It was the hardest thing I've ever done - every step was purposeful and slow. I slipped three times - about average from what I could see around me. About halfway down my left leg cramped up from thigh to ankle, I was in agony, so I drank the remainder of my water. I knew it was going to be hard but I kept moving. You don't get anywhere standing still. 

Kept meeting the same people along the way, some made it, and some turned around. Overall, it was a journey I'm glad that I took. Would I do it again? No. Absolutely not. 

So how did you do on this journey?