the mountaineering collective | 2020
Climbing the highest mountain in Ireland on the morning of the Winter Solstice is a longstanding tradition in Kerry, which was started by Mike Ward, Bronagh Tarrant and Nuala Finn years ago. It was a regular fixture of the Tuesday Night mountaineers, which Tomás Crowley memorably called the “Dawn Raid.” The aim has always been to reach the summit in time to see the sun rise on the shortest day of the year – weather permitting.
In recent years, persistent bad weather has meant that the Winter Solstice climb was more or less abandoned. This year was different. Conditions looked very good on Friday 20, December and Mike Slattery put out a call on Whats App, giving the rendezvous as the Lidl carpark in Tralee @ 4.50 or Lisleibane carpark @ 5.45.
14 mountaineers turned up in Lisleibane, from 11 years of age to 60+. Patricia McGuirk was leading another group of five and there was one solo climber. Conditions were perfect. It was mild, there was some cloud cover on the mountains and a peek-a-boo quarter moon gave some light, but not enough to put the torches in the bag. At 6am we headed for the summit.
06.45 am: the Hags Glen.
07.07 am: Bottom of the Devil’s Ladder.
There was a lot of surface water from melting snow.
07.51 am: Daybreak at the top of the Devil’s Ladder.
08.10 am: heading for the summit.Photo: Ian
08.30 am+: Summit
09.03am Cloud breaks on the summit.
09.12 am: leaving the summit.
09.23 am: heading for the Heavenly Gates.
09.44 am: Crossing Collin’s Gully, above the Heavenly Gates.
10.42 am: crossing the outflow at Loch Gouragh, Hags Glen.
11.32 am: Lisleibane Carpark.
the mountaineering collective | the Winter Solstice 2019
A Quality Mountain Day
Three weeks of snow promised unprecedented opportunities for winter mountaineering. The worst of the weather had passed and the way was open for a day spent practicing on snow and ice in Macgillycuddy’s Reeks
This walk was all about the weather, coming shortly after a red snow and ice alert had been lifted, and before a widespread thaw had set in.
The forecast was a for slight rise in temperature and, although temperatures would remain low, a thaw would set in, with rain moving in from the West in the afternoon. Winds would remain light. In the Reeks this would mean continued snow cover, though no consolidation, light falls of snow and uncertainty over visibility.
It was a day for ice axes and crampons.
There were four of us. Bertie Hickey, Andrew Kelliher, John Laide, and Ciarán Walsh. Nuala Finn had to pull out due to illness in her family. We had done a lot of training in snowy conditions over the past three weeks and were looking forward to a challenging and rewarding day in the mountains.
Conditions were perfect. Access roads were clear of snow, except for the final 500m or so up to the carpark in Lisleibane. A number of cars turned around but we reached the carpark without difficulty in a couple of 4X4s (one was a Honda!).
There was a lot of snow in the Glen. On the last club walk the snow started above Coomeenapeasta Lake. Today, however, there was 3 or 4 inches of snow in Lisleibane, with deeper drifts. It was very mild and there was no wind. As a consequence visibility was very poor and we opted for a straightforward run to the summit
We went straight for O’Shea’s Gully, across the rocky, southern edge of Beenkeragh Ridge, and on to the Summit, followed by a straight run (almost) to the Devils Ladder , and down.
Coimín Íochtarach (1st leve) and Coimín Láir (2nd level) were full of deep snow and visibility was very limited. Dave McBride, Sheila O’Connor, Richard Doody, and Richard Cussen were ahead of us and left a lovely trail of compacted snow. We met three Italian on Level 2, they didn’t have any gear with them and were retreating from O’Shea’s. We geared up at the step below Coimín Uachtarach (3rd level), left the trail and headed up O’Shea’s.
O’Shea’s was full of snow which had formed wide bands of solid windslab. It was perfect. In some places it felt like a 45° climb, perfect training conditions. A day spent in the Ice Factor in Kinlockleven last October paid off.
Beenkeragh Ridge had deep drifts on the Caher side so we stuck to the rocks. They were covered in hoar ice but going was good. There was some corniching but nothing major. We saw the marks of Dave and Co’s crampons at the top of Curve. They were still ahead of us. There was one other climber on the summit but he returned a short while later with a friend. That was it on the day.
Visibility was vey poor and deep snow covered the trail. We headed down and took a slight detour to the right, corrected and navigated to the Devil’s Ladder. The snow in the Ladder was deep and wet and the ice was thawing, but otherwise descent was straightforward
A quality Mountain Day.
We have had three weeks of snow in the Reeks, with a lot of opportunities for challenging winter mountaineering and training, skills development and progression. The sort of thing we used to go to Scotland for. Magic.
Next: Training matters. Taking advantage of snow
These images record the TMC Level 3 Walk led by Andrew Kelliher on Feb 11, 2018. The route took us from Lisleibane, up a spur to Coomeenapeasta, across the Reeks to the Devil’s Ladder, out the Heavenly Gates and back to Lisleibane, a total distance of 13.39 Km, over 5 hours and 40 minutes, with a total height gain of 1184m.
The conditions were fantastic. The forecast (BBC) was for snow, which fell in bursts as pellets/graupel, and lay as powder snow. There was some pack on the ridges and a few patches of ice. The wind was light but gusting in snow bursts that reduced visibility on an otherwise bright and sunny day.
It was a fantastic day in the mountains and the question is this:
does it qualify as a QUALITY MOUNTAIN DAY?
would it be classed as a Quality Hill Walking Day (QHWD)?
A QMD matters if you wish to progress in the sport. The ML or Mountain Leader award requires that you log at least 20 quality mountain days. A QHWD, on the other hand, is the cornerstone of the award for group leaders. More about that in a later post.
According to the Irish Mountain Training Board, a broad definition of a QMD is one which presents new experiences and challenges. Such a day would generally consist of the following:
Six of us were involved in doing a recce with Andrew under very similar conditions, which qualifies as being involved in the planning and instigation of the walk. The conditions were challenging, cancelling out familiarity with the terrain, although there was still no need to navigate. The snow meant we had to carry extra equipment, although the quality of the snow (pellet) meant that ice axes and crampons weren’t much use. That required other techniques. We were well over 500m for most of the day and our total ascent of 1184m was almost twice the minimum requirement of 600m. We covered 13.39Km, a good bit short of the 16Km recommended but we did have to use a variety of hillwalking techniques, especially going down the Heavenly Gates, which were full of powder snow.
Generally speaking – and the Irish Mountain Training Board has given a broad definition that generally includes the above – Andrew’s walk would have to qualify as a QMD. It certainly did present new experiences and challenges. That is why TMC has always climbed in snow, and there is no better place for a quality day in the mountains than the Reeks on a snowy day.
Next: Far Away Hills Are White!