Category Archives: Climbing

Crawling Up Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is a mountain in the west of Ireland, not far from Westport. It’s a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage as Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century. Well that’s the guidebook stuff covered – thank you Wikipedia.

Having travelled over to Ireland to visit family for years now, it had been suggested that we all climb the mountain together, on Reek Sunday, which is the one day of the year that thousands of people do it. We kept talking about this, but never actually got organised – until now.

Lady Hughes and myself flew over to Dublin and stayed with family in Slane before driving across Ireland to meet up with everyone else in Clifden. We had one brief stop half-way in Athlone where we met up with my brother Peter and his family for lunch and a quick look at the castle and the Shannon River.

In Clifden we all stayed in the same guesthouse, fourteen of us in total including four small children. It sounds hectic but it was actually very chilled.

On Sunday we drove through beautiful Connemara to the mountain, not really sure what was waiting for us. Most of our group travelled light, in running gear and trainers, but with my years of hiking experience I went prepared, with rucksack, boots, food, first aid and camera kit. This, along with the fact I’m really unfit, meant they all left me for dust within minutes. The only consolation was that they all got mild hyperthermia, waiting for me at the top.

Croagh Patrick is 764 metres high and the climb is classed as moderate. I found it fairly tough, mainly because the upper sections are steep and full of loose boulders as well as the numbers of people on the day going up and coming down – also, did I mention that I’m not very fit at the moment?

In some parts I was struggling to find a solid foothold and all the time people are stumbling and sliding around you. Having said that, the atmosphere was great, we were really lucky with the weather and the views were stunning.

One impressive sight was all the devout Catholics climbing the mountain in bare feet, some of them had painted their toenails specially for the occasion. A more depressing one was when I was overtaken by an 82 year old lady who was being held up by two men – but hey, she didn’t have a rucksack and camera to carry.

On the top there is a chapel and a priest delivering mass from, what looked like a bay window. On one side of the chapel there was a doorway for confessions and on the other a doorway for holy communion. By the time I got up there (approx. 2 hours – not bad going) the summit was shrouded in cloud and the rest of my family were shivering and keen to get moving again. Clare and myself put on our anoraks and settled down for a bite to eat as they all abandoned us for the warmer lower reaches.

As we recharged our batteries, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with gorgeous views over Clew Bay with its 365 islands (one for every day of the year). I strolled around a bit and took a few pictures before we eventually packed up and started the careful descent.

Back in Clifden we had another great night out, celebrating our ascent and swapping stories about the various sights we’d seen, including the English mother, and her son who sat down and refused to move another step. She was trying to get him to stay with the mountain rescue, who had a team every hundred yards, but he was having none of it and they started having a bit of a domestic on the steepest section.

Driving back to Dublin, we stopped off in Athlone again for a bite to eat and a better look round the castle. We said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.

It was wonderful to catch up with all the family, especially my sister Rachel, who had come over from Perth, Australia. Connemara is stunningly beautiful and we had a great time, especially climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday – that’s an experience I’ll always remember. I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new adventure for us all now – but I’ll just let my knees recover from this one first I think.



Walking the Cliffs at Stanage

Last day of my time off work so Clare and myself set off for the longest inland cliffs in the UK – Stanage in the Peak District.

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Weather was hot so Stanage was a good choice for a hike, as you can get excellent views of Man Tor, Win Hill and Kinder Scout without much of a climb.  My fitness needs some work so I was grateful for as little ‘up’ as possible, especially in the summer heat.

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Stanage is a gritstone cliff, couple of miles long, and as such is a Mecca for climbers from all over the world. This day was no exception with bodies clinging to the rock almost everywhere we went. We used to take our boys climbing here years ago and no matter how busy it was you could always find a climb – as long as you didn’t mind a bit of a walk to get to it.

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We would take a picnic and spend the day taking turns to climb the easier grades – good times, I’m tempted to dig out the gear and start again.

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The walking was easy and the breeze took the edge off the sun so we had a great time strolling along the cliff edges and taking in the views.

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We passed climbers and walkers and a couple of fell runners too. We even spotted one guy running backwards and forwards along a lower path. Watching him from above we wondered what he was doing. He’d run fifty yards and then turn back and run not quite to were he started, gradually progressing but covering the same ground several times over. Eventually we spotted a girl plodding along behind him. It must have been his girlfriend and she wasn’t quite as fit as him so he would run off and then turn back every so often so she wouldn’t feel abandoned – he knows how to show a girl a good time eh?

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Great weather, great walk and just the kick I needed to start working on my hill fitness.


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Ice Climbing in the Heart of Manchester

Don’t worry, climate change hasn’t caused a new ice age in the North of England – not yet anyway!

Ellis Brigham on Deansgate have a refrigerated indoor ice wall and I thought I’d give it a try, so I booked a one hour ‘learn ice climbing’ session.

Imagine if the freezer compartment of your fridge was 20 feet tall and you had to climb to the top to get the oven chips down, well that was what this was like.  It is kind of strange though to be ice climbing with various shoppers stopping to watch you through the windows next to the stairwell.  This is how Clare managed to take the photos by the way, and also explains why some of them have a reflection of the shoe department in them.

The first challenge is getting into all the kit.  Extra thick socks, stiff B3 boots, C3 crampons, over-trousers, anorak, harness, helmet with visor and mountain gloves.  With all those layers on, it was quite a relief to sign the disclaimer and step through the thick fridge door into the minus 10 degree chill of the climbing wall.

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My instructor was Bikky, a real Nepalise mountain guide, whose normal working environment is the high ranges of the Himalaya.  I dare say cajoling a middle-aged mancunian up the inside of a two-storey fridge wasn’t quite as challenging as summiting Mount Everest but it certainly didn’t show as he was cheerful, encouraging and very knowledgable.

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We started with the flat wall where Bikky taught me the correct technique, which we developed further as moved onto the gulley section and then finally onto protruding ridge section.

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At this point I was starting to tire and my forearms were burning as I struggled to grip onto the pickaxes and balance on the narrow section of wall.  You have to twist your feet inward as you kick into the ice or else your feet just ricochet off.  I climbed this section twice and both times I lost balance and came off, but luckily Bikky held firm as I managed to traverse back to where I came off and on to the top.

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Another issue as the hour progressed was the helmet’s plastic visor  that protects your eyes from fragments of ice.   As I huffed and puffed my way up the climbs, mine started to mist up.  Back on ground level I tried to wipe the condensation off with my glove but it wouldn’t go.  Bikky laughed and explained that it had frozen, so I was climbing with a frosted glass windscreen – obviously the reason I fell off twice and nothing at all to do with my clumsy balance issues!

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Staggering back out, I was stopped by a small girl who had been watching and wanted to tell me that I’d done very well, so I’d impressed at least one person – which was nice.

Overall, an exhilarating experience which I heartily recommend and may well do again soon.  And it is kind of cool to be able to say I was taught how to ice climb by an actual himalayan mountain guide from Nepal – many thanks Bikky.

All I need now is for that ice age to get organised so I can move on to the bigger stuff.


Indoor Climbing

First adventure of the year, indoor climbing at Awesome Walls, in Stockport, with my wife Clare.

I used to climb regularly, but as with many things I’ve let it slide for a while now as I’ve become more sedentary and succumbed to the seductive lure of the sofa.

I was never a brilliant climber but I enjoyed it, which I think is important when you’re looking for a fitness pursuit, as you’re (hopefully) more likely to stick with it.

So how did we get on?

Well, though I was creaking a bit and obviously not up to the standard I used to be at, I did better than I expected.  Real climbers please close your ears for the following bit – we started with a grade 2 climb, with small children sneering at us as they raced past, but we worked our way up to grade  4+ for Clare and grade 6+ for me. Which is pretty good for day one I think – that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

More importantly, we had a good time and a good workout, so we’ve agreed to set a regular appointment each week. Though I’m expecting to improve, I don’t think we’ll be climbing El Capitan this year – maybe next year if I have the time.

So, that’s week one and our first little adventure, hopefully just a warm up for better things to come.  Have you started anything new for 2014?  I’d love to hear if you have.