Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Croagh Patrick

The Irish climb Croagh Patrick as pilgrims, and see it as having penetential significance. I climbed it today in the New Zealand sense of "because it's there" and I see now why it is a pilgrimage thing. It was hard work!

Croagh Patrick was visible with its dome shaped peak from my hostel bedroom yesterday evening. This morning first thing there was an ominous cap of cloud on top of it, but it cleared. I had breakfast at the hostel then headed into town, bought a sandwich for lunch and walked to the edge of town to start hitching to the mountain. Now, friends and family, don't freak out: it was 8km to walk to the starting village and I don't usually do this but the first bus today did not run until lunchtime which was too late. It took about half an hour before I got a lift, but it was a lovely old man who picked me up. He guessed I was headed for the "sacred mountain" and assumed I was holy to be doing it. I didn't feel able to ruin his day with the truth..... He told me about the climb, and that the top bit was toughest, especially coming down as it was easy to slip on the stones. He showed me where the best pub was for a cup of tea at the end, and where to get hold of a stick for the climb.

Anyhow, about half past ten I set foot on the mountain, stickless, as I am not used to carrying one. The mountain is only about 735m, but as the climb starts pretty much from sea-level, there is quite a bit of climbing and it goes uphill all the way, quite steeply in places. The route is very stony, and the stones are loose on the path so footwork is tricky. At this stage the view to the top was still clear and as I climbed I got some great views over the bay with its many islands, and then up by the stone cairn, over to other mountains/hills and valleys. The views were superb even though it was a bit cloudy. I was glad I took some photos going up, as visibility was soon to deteriorate markedly.

The top part of the walk was on the dome-like part of the mountain and it was steep all the way. The rocks were also very unstable so it was hard work climbing. I had not gone far on this steep bit when a father of a descending family gave me his stick and said I would need it. He was right! I was glad to have it, especially for the descent on this section.

I was soon walking in mist. The view of the top had disappeared and the mist got thicker as I climbed so you really had little idea what lay ahead. I knew I would make it if I just kept on keeping on, and suddenly, about one hour and fifty minutes after I started, I arrived at the oratory at the top. At least the other people there told me it really was the top: you couldn't actually see far! (I chose to believe them anyhow!)

The part of the oratory you first reach was providing some shelter and even in the brief time I was at the top, the weather got worse. As I stepped around the side of the oratory to go inside, it was a battle to walk against the cold wind. It was not suitable weather to stop and eat my sandwiches so I started to descend.

The whole descent turned out to be slow going and took a lot longer than I had expected. I had the stick for the steepest bit. Then I gave it to someone without a stick who was about to start on the steep section. She gladly took it. However, the next section down also proved very slippery as the stones had become a bit wet. I took a couple of tumbles and am probably lucky to have escaped without injury. By this stage the wind had suddenly become very strong and it was actually difficult to stand up and not be blown downhill. I slipped over once and the wind then blew me along while I was on the ground which was quite scary. I felt a bit shaky after the fall, but conditions on the mountain were not conducive to feeling wobbly and staying there, so I had a few pieces of magic chocolate, took a swig out of my water bottle, and carried on down. I had thought I would be eating lunch in some pleasant spot lower down, but the weather was not conducive to that!

Eventually I reached the bottom, cold and wet but really glad to have achieved the climb and descent. I didn't stick around for anything to eat as I really wanted to get back to Westport for a shower and change of clothes. I thought I might have trouble hitching in my obviously wet and messy state, but I had hardly started waiting before a local man picked me up. Turned out he lived in the village but worked in town right close to my hostel, and he didn't find it hard to guess I had just climbed the mountain.

So, now I am in clean dry clothes and at 4pm I actually ate my lunch! But I am very pleased with my achievement.


  1. Well done on completing your walk/climb. Wonder how the people behind you fared with the weather packing in.
    Shame that there was no view from the top after all your effort!

  2. I can remember climbing a mountain and the weather closed in... made me feel quite miserable actually...

  3. Actually helen I met some people from my dorm room who were just starting the hardest bit as I came down that bit. They said their descent had been horrendous!

    Simon, being a Kiwi I am not unused to bad weather in the ranges etc, but Ireland's weather can change so very quickly and the wind made things particularly treacherous!

  4. Sounds like you're having a fantastic time!

  5. Yes, I have enjoyed my time in Ireland very much. Though I think you could say I especially enjoyed the descent of Croagh Patrick the most when I had finished it!