Last year I took part in Walk the Line, a fundraising event to secure much-needed funds for the Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team. While I had undertaken a reasonable amount of walking before it, I expected neither the challenges nor the satisfaction I gained from the event.
And I’m doing it again. Please sponsor me at my Walk the Line 2013 webpage.
Last year, I opted for the 20km trek, and believe me, it wasn’t easy. 20km is twice up and down the Dublin Port Tunnel; but when you’re going up and down mountains and hills, across all sorts of terrain – soft soil, stone, wood, gravel, bogholes, waterholes – it is tough. Tough enough that one of the guides actually sank in a boghole and needed to be rescued by the other trekkers. Had she been on her own she would have died.
That is the night I realised how dangerous the mountains are, and how important rescue teams are.
It was dark, and the rain hammered my in the face for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t strong torrential rain, nor was it a strong mist. But the rain kept beating down on me, and on all the others. Some of them had done this kind of thing before, and were in very good humour, as if there was no bad weather at all; personally, I was wishing that there had been less rain and more sun. But it had been wet for days, and the bog on the mountain was sodden: stand in it for more than a couple of moments, and you were stuck.
I knew it was only twilight, but the Dublin and Wicklow mountains were enshrouded in cloud. The only other light for most of the trek was that of the headlights of my fellow trekkers, and my own headlight reflecting off their hi-vis vests. After making our way off the Old Military Road we began to climb Glendoo, climbing into cloud. Our path was a collection of puddles and streams, and a whole host of bogholes.
After it got dark we ascended the mountain and managed to get above a layer of cloud: we saw Dublin. It was stunning. From that height we could somewhat clearly see the mass of orange sodium lights of south Dublin and north Wicklow, and further away it was possible to make out the curve of Dublin Bay back out to Howth. I took a couple of (crap) photos, but the “advanced” touchscreen of my phone was soaked in a mixture of rain and sweat, making it pretty much useless, and the lens was covered in mist.
The above photo was taken by me from the climb on Glendoo. The view was stunning as we saw Dublin spread out below us. I had taken a handful but this was the best one. There was no time to wait around and take more photos: we had checkpoints to reach.
The climb wasn’t overly steep, but the bog was wet. I mean seriously wet. Half of the tie (and I’m not exaggerating) every single step had my legs halfway up my shins in bog. I, and every other person on the team, was trying to tread through waterlogged mountainside, and leap across streams of “bog-juice” that seemed to hinder our every turn. Then it happened.
As I tried to follow a fellow trekker across a particularly messy spot (something that resembled both bog and a stream) my right leg sank, right up to my thigh. I fell face-forward, and because of the position of my leg, my calf started to spasm. A cramp or spasm like that is zero craic, even in the best of circumstances.
I called out and a couple of fellow trekkers (from France, and ridiculously friendly and full of craic!) on my team pulled me out. Immediately I massaged my leg and successfully stopped a full-blown spasm. I limped for a short while after that but soon enough I was well enough to reach the peak.
Glendoo to Kilmashogue was much the same. Bog. Crap weather. Cloud. Isolation.
I don’t like dogs. I think that’s well-known amongst my friends and people who know me; but on the night of the trek I met a dog and understood the importance of dogs in saving lives on these hills. I can’t remember her name, but she was beautiful and friendly, and she sat there on a mountain with her trainer while the rest of us trekked on by.
It’s one thing seeing a person and their dog out and about on a regular day, but when I saw a DWMRT volunteer and their trained dog, the man in a light poncho and the dog walking around keeping warm, all on the top of a mountain kilometres from civilisation (no real access to him other than helicopter), I honestly found a new respect for dogs.
The DWMRT member and the dog were on a checkpoint for us. If the weather had turned extremely bad, we would be calling for the assistance of those who we were raising money for. The dog and the trainer literally sat on the peak of a mountain in horrible wind and rain while us fundraisers strolled on by and thought nothing of it.
But that volunteer and that dog will save your life.
If I can recommend anything to a mountain trekker doing Walk the Line, it would be to take at least two extra pairs of socks. One extra pair is a good idea, two is better. There were a couple of breaks along the route so we could rest and get some carbs in: I was already well-stocked with energy foods so I used that time to massage me poor wee toes and change my socks. The one thing that will make you feel better on any long trek is dry feet, so make sure it happens.
But alas, dry feet didn’t last long. A few hundred metres along the trail from the second camp and my feet were drenched again. Not too long after that, as we approached the early hours of the morning we climbed Ticknock.
Now. F*ck me. Climbing solid rock steps at such a steep angle is just as tough as climbing bogland at an easier angle. Climbing Ticknock was a bitch, but the walk from Ticknock to Three Rock was tough, too.
The plan was to have a clear sky in the morning and watch the Sun rise while we were on the peak. But, alas, it was not to happen.
Aside from climbing or descending, much of it was flat. And that was the problem. We walked a few kilometres on solid boards, and for me that just caused utter pain for my feet. After the boards we finally hit tarmac, and we were on the homerun.
Tarmac, however, is a bastard to walk on. As are the wooden boards and the granite that take you up and down Ticknock and Three Rock. I think that that walk on solid ground was just as tough as the walk on the boggy paths up the mountains.
We ventured through the forests before dawn, but as the sun began to rise the forest around us wasn’t black anymore; there were two shades of black: grey and darker grey.
The last couple of kilometres back to base was haunting at first, with the dark forests, but as it got brighter Dublin Bay began to pop out with its lights. A few of us picked out the “bigger” lights and landmarks and as dawn came on we could make out Dublin City.
“How often do you do this walk?” I asked my team’s leader, panting.
“Only when I do the ‘reccy’ for treks like this, really!” she responded, not a bother to her, as we approached base.
We were approaching base, so I took this photo.
I kind of supposed that the trek leader’s guiding us on our way would have a tough time of it, too (they did in some places); but it makes sense that they undertake such treks on a regular basis to understand the layout of both the terrain and the paths that might be used to rescue people. In retrospect, me being bollocksed after six hours trekking has nothing on the daily treks and missions the DWMRT have to undertake each day.
Our team leaders on the trek gave us so much motivation; I have no idea how they managed to stay so positive over at least 20km in the mountains. But they did. And, as a result I – and we – did, too.
When I hit 20km I was delighted to see this.
After six hours of trekking with only two breaks, I realised exactly what I was raising money for.
Six hours on a guided trek is nothing. But I think the point of Walk the Line was to make us taste the real danger.
You may have visited the Wicklow Mountains and her towns during lovely weather, hopped up and down a couple of hills while the day was dry, and then tip into town for a bit of a late lunch, before hopping on the bus back to Dublin.
But when I Walk the Line I get a completely different perspective: little light, no phone coverage, no maps, middle of the night, wind, rain, pitfalls, bogholes, no energy, soaked, miles to go… This is the reality of being lost on the mountains. If you don’t have the safety measures, it is likely that you will die.
But that is where the Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team comes in. Each day the DWMRT responds to emergencies not only in the Dublin and Wicklow Moutains, but also further afield, including the Cooley Mountains in my home county of Louth.
Walk the Line was an unbelievable and unforgettable experience. Everything about it was tough: endurance training, strength training, controlling diet… But doing it when I was aiming high, healthwise, it gave me nothing but utter satisfaction.
I’m doing it again. It will take place on June 22.
This time it’s a 23km trek, but on a different route. I’ve already started endurance training for it, and I’m working on an appropriate diet.
Even just the price of a pint will go a long way: will you buy a beer for Walk the Line??