Having left home at 4am I was bleary eyed and ready for a nap by the time I’d landed in Dublin. A relatively short hop across the Irish sea I couldn’t really understand why I’ve not made it there before. I was greeted by sunshine and friends not seen since the start of summer so it was great to catch up as we drove across the country to Westport in County Mayo, and straight for a quick hike up Croagh Patrick.
Westport is a lovely small town on the northern west cost of Ireland and has an amazing buzz of shops and excellent places to eat and of course drink. It’s also popular around the year as people head towards Croagh Patrick to climb the pilgrim’s route to the summit of the 762m high mountain.
Knowing nothing of hill walking in Ireland I was certainly surprised by the number of people ready to head off uphill on what had become a wet and windy afternoon.
Croagh Patrick is considered Ireland’s holy mountain with pilgrims having made the climb for over 5000 years, though more recently it was also the place that St Patrick was said to have fasted for 40 days. Every year on the last Sunday in July ‘the Reek’ takes place, with over 25,000 people climbing the mountain on one day.
Since I’m not a Catholic I can only compare the mountain’s popularity, despite any weather, to that of Snowdon. It is easy to access and provides fantastic views from its summit. Or it does in fine weather. And whatever you think of buildings on mountains, like Snowdon there is one. Here it is a small church which holds mass on the Reek and other important holidays.
Unfortunately its popularity and perhaps its status also means that a significant number of people climb it ill prepared. Almost everyone we passed on Saturday was wearing jeans and trainers and few had water proof jackets despite the looming grey clouds. So its understandable that Mayo Mountain Rescue team are busy throughout the year – and on the Reek in July they coordinate 13 neighbouring teams to help cover the event. That’s more than were involved in covering Tour de France in Yorkshire!
It was 2pm when we left our car at the base of the mountain and headed up the well worn track.
The walk is straightforward and even in poor visibility the path is so well worn that its hard to get lost. Being on the western coastline the wind is strong and Saturday we were nearly blown off our feet at times. In between the clouds we did get some fantastic views over Clew Bay and the 117 islands (or sunken drumlins to be precise).
We reached the summit an hour and a half later. Though not as high as some mountains, Croagh Patrick is certainly steep as you reach the summit plateau and its path is well worn by the thousands of hikers a year.
We dashed across the top to the church for shelter out of the wind, though locked when there is no mass planned, it is a useful wind break.
On the descent the drizzle turned into proper rain so we were glad to make it to the pub quickly to get dry. I did manage to get a quick picture of the shrine which marks the start of the route though.
I have to start this post by stating that I am not a climber. I have dabbled indoors, but having never had a consisted partner to climb with I rarely manage the local climbing wall. I do however lack the ability to turn down a good offer and the chance to do something new, irrespective of the level of pain or humiliation it might cause.
Armed with brimming optimism and boundless ignorance I set off to North Wales with two friends (both very good climbers). I’d made them well aware of my lack of ability so thought nothing more of it, we are all Mountain Rescue team members so they’d understand I was being serious, right? A few training walls and perhaps I’d be left to potter off on my own for the afternoon while they tackled something more interesting? How wrong I was.
Saturday kicked off with what was going to be an epic walk of the Ogwen valley’s ridges, tackling the North face of Tryfan (a particular favourite of mine as I do like scrambling) and then onto Y Gribin ridge to ascend the Glyders and back down Bristly Ridge. I was happy with this, scrambling is loads of fun.
We headed off in typical North Wales murky weather and started our ascent up Tryfan.
For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Tryfan rises up out of the Ogwen valley like a half buried prehistoric dinosaur (think stegosaurus) and the North ridge is a very popular scramble.
It is however, responsible for a significant proportion of the 150+ Ogwen Mountain Rescue Team‘s call outs per year, due to its seemingly obvious path from the road, which soon disappears as you have to navigate your own route through the rocks to the summit. The ascent is short and steep, and at times it is easy to drift too far east or west and find yourself in serious climbing territory. Hence the high number of call outs the team has from inexperienced walkers unaware of the dangers.
We were acutely aware of the number of people on the mountain that day who were woefully under-prepared – from one person wearing jeans, to a family out with a child wearing trainers. I really can not emphasis enough that this is not a mountain to take lightly.
That said it is a tricky mountain that can catch out even experienced climbers and mountaineers, you only have to read the team’s call out list to discover that even hard core climbers come unstuck on Tryfan. Despite our experience we still managed to find ourselves in awkward cracks and exposed steps requiring a confident grip and the occasional removal of rucksacks to get ourselves up and through the rocks.
Of course the cloud descended as we reached the summit so we had a quick lunch and headed off the back of Tryfan and down to the valley.
Our plans quickly changed as the heavens opened so we decided to retreat to our rather lovely accommodation for the weekend at Ogwen Team’s HQ. (Being able to use another team’s base for the weekend is definitely a perk!)
Sunday was always planned as climbing day due to the better weather predicted. Well, I survived scrambling with the two hardcore climbers so how hard could it be? I’d be on rope and they’d be warned about my lack of experience…
We set off on Sunday knowing we were heading for great weather later in the day. I mean this is virtually the same shot as from the day before and look at the sunshine! In Wales no less!
We started out on Tryfan Bach tackling Slab 2 route – apparently a VDiff. (Which in my book constitutes a route which takes the skin from the end of your knees and your fingers, but is easy enough to not ruin your confidence!)
This was however my first outdoor climbing so I was impressed (rather than terrified) that they thought it wise to take me on a short multi pitch route. After a bit of swearing I made it to the top with ego intact.
Since the sun was out we decided to finish the day round at Milestone Buttress to tackle the Direct Route which despite the glorious weather was quiet. 5 pitches, yeah I can do that! Commence a bit of swearing and praying resulting in very sore knees and toes.
Pitch one was ok – follow the crack and then step out and over the rock. It’s a bit polished to start but otherwise ok, although the step around the rock at the top of the pitch caused a few leg jitters.
I’ll be honest I don’t remember much detail of the other pitches as I continued to climb upwards and despite the swearing and wondering why I was climbing a rock instead of walking over mountain tops, I was also having loads of fun.
Pitch 3 did cause a fair bit of swearing as I confronted the chimney and my fears of sliding down the rock gripped only by pressure from my bum on one side and my feet on the other. Very undignified but I managed it. Eventually. And I had feet to greet me at the top!
Pitch 4 had a scarily long step across a void after traversing a crack and round a rock. So that had to be done in one go to prevent me sitting on one side and refusing to get back up.
After an easy pitch 5 we descended the gully to get back to our kit via abseil as it was very wet and fully of midges, so speed was our priority. In all it took about 6 and half hours for three of us to scale Milestone Buttress and get back to our kit.
Despite the moaning, swearing, sore knees and toes I thoroughly loved my first venture into rock climbing outdoors and it was loads of fun to second a multi-pitch route. I’m a long way off ever leading anything though!
I should thank Owen Phillips for the mis-use of his photos – though I’ve only used those with me in them (yellow helmet) so I assume it was ok to use!
Got a free day on the 13th September 2014 and fancy a day walking around the gorgeous countryside of the Holme Valley in Huddersfield?? Fancy doing so on behalf of the local Mountain Rescue Team to help raise a bit of money for their Headquarters appeal?
There are 3 length of walk to undertake – 8 miles, 16 miles and the full 25 miles of the Holme Valley Way.
All routes are on the Bradford & Hudderfield Explorer Map No. 288 which is 1:25,000 scale. The major part of the routes will be along tracks and paths crossing fells and pastures, with some pathless sections crossing moorland.
While the routes are way‐marked and a full route description will be sent to you prior to the walk if you pre-register, the onus for route finding is with you, the walker. So the challenge is all yours!
If nothing more its a great chance to see the local area, grab yourself some homemade cake at each check point, and get chance to meet members of the team and learn about their work in the local area.
I couldn’t let this weekend go past without a post on the Tour de France, the biggest event to hit Yorkshire.
All the local mountain rescue teams have been out providing safety cover over the weekend in their respective areas, and the Holme Valley team had the luck of being based at Holme Moss mast for the weekend giving us prime position for the race.
As it was, a select bunch of us were deployed to Holme Village, and while that meant that I missed out on seeing the king of the mountain cross the top of Holme Moss summit, it did mean I was able to get a very good position.
If you look hard you can see just how crowded Holme Moss was!
As part of the team’s fundraising efforts for a new Headquarters, Holme Valley Mountain Rescue team held their first ever ‘Rescue Ramble’ on Saturday. Over 80 participants came along to the walk, billed as a challenge event.
With three distances – 8,16 and 23 miles – circling Holmfirth, the walk was anything but a ramble.
Starting at Armitage Bridge the route headed up to Castle Hill,
then across the tops through Thurstonland and Hepworth, occasionally skirting off on to the Kirklees Way (as a better footpath in sections)
towards Yateholme and the Digley Reservoirs, before heading back through Upperthong, Netherthong and Honley.
Knowing that the route didn’t head onto the moorland in the team’s area, I assumed that once up at Castle Hill it would be little ups and downs around the valley. Idiot. The 23 mile route was certainly a challenge in order to complete in under 9 hours, as it dropped into valleys only to rise back out again. 1125m ascended in total over the day.
So, I don’t care if I’m part of the team, I deserved the badge! If you fancy the challenge, the Rescue Ramble is to be an annual event.
Mountain Rescue teams in some parts of the UK are more likely to see their local air ambulance respond to incidents than have the RAF Search and Rescue attend in their Sea King helicopter. In Cumbria, Snowdonia and Scotland the RAF Search and Rescue team provide a vital quick service to aid Mountain Rescue teams in getting casualties off the hill quickly.
As a member of the Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Team, in West Yorkshire, we rarely see the RAF Sea King helicopter. Our incidents are just not in very remote locations which are far from a road or track accessible by vehicle. When we are lucky enough to not have to carry a casualty off the hill we’re more likely to see the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
Despite that our annual training with the RAF is an exercise which is looked forward to by the team. Even if for the last 3 years they have been unable to join us due to low flying hours, or real incidents to attend to. So this year we went to their based at Leconfield instead.
After a morning briefing, we went out in 3 groups for a flight to practice being lowered in the strops and using the high line to prevent a stretcher from spinning whilst being raised by the winch.
Whatever your political views are of replacing the RAF Search and Rescue teams with private companies, it will certainly be a great loss to not see the Sea King helicopters providing their reassuring rescue service any more.