Annie vs. The Mountain

It seems like every time Annie and the wilderness go head to head, the wilderness comes out on top (think Float/Camping Trip 2009). Yesterday was no different.

Erin (Springfield, Mo.), Joe (Offaly, Ire.), Durkan (Ballyhaunis, Ire.), and I got the 8:45 a.m. bus out of Galway for Westport with the end goal of climbing Croagh Patrick.

The mountain is famous for St. Patrick doing his stuff up there, you know banishing the snakes from Ireland and all that. Now it’s a big religious pilgrimage, and tradition is to climb it barefoot (most don’t because it’s rocky). It’s supposed to be some kind of penance or absolve you of your sins or something. I wore shoes, and still think I deserve some kind of absolution.

Anyway, I’m getting very used to all this early morning commuting, and I actually really enjoy watching the countryside when we’re on the bus. We passed through Ballyhaunis (where a lot of our Irish friends are from) and I saw Durkan’s big yellow house and the crew’s secondary (high) school. We met Becca (Ballyhaunis), Andrew (England/Athlone), and Brendan (Chicago/Ballyhaunis) in Westport where we got a taxi to the mountain. It didn’t look all that intimidating.
Though I should have known the truth when the taxi driver kept giving us random instructions. “Be careful near the top, it gets slippy.” (Annie thinks: Duh. That’s why I wore my walking shoes.) “Give me a ring if you finish early.” (No, I’ll want the whole time to enjoy it.) “Good luck lads!” (We’re not climbing Mount Everest here!) And oh, those little wooden walking sticks for rent at the bottom are cute! How Irish. My ignorant eyes weren’t really opened until we reached the statue of St. Patrick marking the beginning of the climb and the people coming down were sweaty, dressed head to toe in spandex, wearing hiking boots, and equipped with fancy retractable walking sticks. Hmm…
See, in my head, when I said to Erin, “Hey, let’s climb Croagh Patrick tomorrow,” we went for an amble on a slight incline and stopped every now and then to eat some trail mix. This is not Croagh Patrick. Croagh Patrick is a giant pile of loose rock. We started the climb easy enough, stopped to rest frequently, and ate our weight in Pringles and peanut butter. About halfway up (maybe an hour and fifteen minutes into the climb), the path levels off. This is where my roommates stopped a few weeks ago during their climb. They thought that was the end and went back down. As they left, they saw tiny dots at the top of the highest peak and realized they had only gone halfway. So they told me I had to make sure to go to the top. By the time we reached this flat part, though, where the first station of the cross is, I was done (I blame it on the mono, not my terrible fitness level). But for the sake of my pride, I kept going and commenced the most physically grueling thing I’ve done since running Sioux Passage in cross country freshman year of high school.

Here’s the view from the halfway point:

Here’s the rock slide we had left to do:

I’ve never been afraid of heights before, but hearing the sound of loose rock tumbling towards your face and falling down the hill beside you (think that scene in Princess Bride where she pushes Wesley down the hill and he yells “as you wish” and she rolls down after him—but no grass, just rock) is terrifying. A few people had their dogs with them, which was entertaining enough. They did better than their human counterparts. One dog went up and down three times in the time it took us to get almost up once. At one point I cussed horrendously, only to remember most of these people were probably religious pilgrims and said, “Sorry!” really quickly to the woman who was passing me on her way down. She said, “It’s okay, just do your twenty Hail Marys and Our Fathers when you get down.” I’m not completely sure she was joking.

I kept up alright, sometimes resorting to crawling, until about halfway up the final climb when the fog started to move in. We’d heard horror stories of the previous week where the fog came in too fast and climbers couldn’t find their way down and had to be airlifted off the mountain. Before long the fog moved in and it started to drizzle. Here’s the fog coming in (note the people sliding down the left-hand side):

We were literally 30 feet from the top when my wits got the best of me and a few others and we turned back. I was really angry, but too scared of navigating wet rock on the way down. (Three of the others made it to the top and stuck around until the fog cleared for some amazing views. The rest of us were warm in a pub at the bottom.)

Maybe it was just me, but the climb (or rather, tumble) down was worse than the climb up. Being faced with startlingly beautiful and vast views of rolling hills and lakes and forests thousands of feet below you as you navigate loose, rocky terrain in your runners (tennis shoes), is new to me. There were several points where I just didn’t know where to go with my feet so I sat down and slid a few meters on loose gravel. (Meanwhile the dogs ran up and down and up and down and up.) That actually got several laughs from the more experienced hikers with those metal walking sticks.

Here’s one of the dogs:

An hour later we sat in the café nursing our wounds (one broken nail and a plethora of shin splints) and drinking coffee. On the bus, we had fun with the Irish kids writing names of towns and listening to us try to pronounce them. It started when we said Tuam like [twam]. It’s actually [toom]. But one that didn’t fool us was Dun Laoghaire. We’ve seen P.S. I Love You hundreds of times! We know the scene where she learns to say it [dun leery]. In Westport, we ate dinner at Blue Thunder, a chipper, and discussed the definition of a chipper. Then we got the train to Ballyhaunis where everybody lives. We actually ran into an old friend of Becca’s on the train (this is a tiny country). Jess (Dublin), Leanne (Ballyhaunis) and her little sister met us there. It’s Leanne’s 18th birthday, so they’re all spending the weekend there. We hung around for half an hour. It was actually really cool. We walked to the Bus Stop Shop where Leanne’s friend Stina (I think, I couldn’t tell what they were saying) works. It’s such a small town! They were talking about what pubs they were going to that night and how there’s only one club. They wanted us to stay really bad, and I wanted to really bad, but the Heitmans get here tomorrow and we have tons of papers due this week.

Then we got the 7:30 p.m. bus back to Galway. Mairead was getting off the bus from Leitrim to spend the night with Leanne. We hugged quickly and hopped on the bus. Only to get back to Galway, hike to Corrib, and collapse. There is a reason Patrick was a saint.

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  1. […] Now, if you need a refresher on how successfully I failed at climbing Croagh Patrick two years ago, you can find it here. […]

  2. […] Now, if you need a refresher on how successfully I failed at climbing Croagh Patrick two years ago, you can find it here. […]

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