The Classic Walks of Ireland: Blackstairs Challenge Walk…. The Battle of Ray

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Classic Walks of Ireland

In the first article in our series looking at the Classic Walks in Ireland, Raymond Cummins gives an account of tackling the Blackstairs Challenge Walk, a walk which covers 26km over a total ascent of 1,525m.

Although a Corkman originally, The Blackstairs are the mountains I live closest to, and see them everyday when I drive home from Dublin. I never tire of seeing the beautiful silhouette. Last May after some 4 years I returned to Ireland with my wife Suzanne. During my time in Kent I did very little hiking. The Blackstairs Challenge was my first challenge walk in some 6 years. My first hike was some 16 years ago in a day of rain and hailstones in The Gap of Dunloe.

At 4.45am I got up and cooked breakfast, and made the final preparations for the day. With my good friend Mark we headed off to the finish in Glynn, with concerns over the heat off the day, already on our minds. I am over 16 stone in weight, and was a bit concerned it might be a problem.

At 0615 we arrived in Glynn, to be met by many other enthusiastic hikers. This is no place for people who do not enjoy mornings. Most are buzzing looking forward to the day ahead. After greeting some fellow walkers from the local clubs, Mark and I got on the bus and headed off to Killanure.

At 0746 Mark and I were checked and started the climb to Blackrock Mountain.  It was warm, but there was no hint of what was to lie ahead of us. Mark and I have walked together for quite some time and have been friends for a long time. Normally we start off slow but finish very strongly, so we were not bothered about people striding ahead of us.  The climb up was slow but steady. Getting to the top we stopped for our first proper break, although I did stop on the way to take on some liquid.

At 0811 we reached “The top of the track”, and headed off towards Mt Leinster. At this time we were still seeing some people that I knew from the local clubs and we chatted to people. These are great occasions. People are happy to engage in chat to pass the time. Sometimes old acquaintances are renewed.  As we moved along some picked up the pace. We plodded on steadily.  It was getting warmer, there was very little breeze to cool us and no shadow to protect us.

At 1005 we reached Mt Leinster. From here I could “see” home in the distance. Here I was on my home walk. Reaching Mt Leinster, many people used it to take a well earned rest. After checking in and drinking some water, we headed off towards Scullogue Gap. Incredibly people ran past us. Then again some 6 years ago when I last took part in a Challenge I would have done the same as it formed part of my preparation for The Four Peaks Challenge.  Being a “local” I knew we did not have to go over Knockroe and decided to go around the base rather than climb over the very stony top.

At 1119 we reached Scullogue Gap. Here we met some very well organised and kind people from The Wayfarers. They could not do enough for us. Again Mark and I felt strong but were noticing the heat more. We took a good break. At this stage some of those that ran ahead of us down from Mt Leinster started filtering in. We gave a wry smile but the smile would soon be wiped off our faces as we headed off up to Blackstairs Mountain. At this stage my good friend Mark started suffering from what we discovered later was possibly the beginnings of sun stroke. He was drinking plenty of water but was feeling weak and with very little energy. As our mentor Jerry often said to us “The Mountains were there long before us and will be there long after us…”. Mark tried his best to recover but he took the brave and very difficult decision to pull out and headed back to Scullogue Gap where my wife Suzanne met him. It was the right one. It did cross my mind to pull out as well.  I was sad to see Mark leave but was very fortunate when Mick from our local club came along. If you wanted to see one other person on the mountain when you were struggling, it was Mick. With his patience and sense of humour it certainly would not be dull and I knew Mick would try his best to make sure I got to the finish.

At 1320 we reached the top of Blackstairs Mountain, briefly taking time to admire the panoramic views, which were readily available all day. At this stage the heat was getting difficult to deal with, and as I discovered I had an allergy with my nose and eyes suffering, I was struggling. Blisters, sore feet and problems with toe nails were making this walk a real challenge.  People were struggling with the heat, and the pace for some was getting slower but they continued on unabated by the conditions. The walk down from Blackstairs is a tricky one with many boulders to be circum navigated. It was here I unwittingly lost my mobile. Being tired meant it was even trickier. Mick strode on ahead down to Carrigalachan Gap. I looked at the ascent up towards Ballycrinnigan Rock, and it again it crossed my mind to pull out, but I decided to plough on.

At 1403 Carrigalachan Gap we were met with more people from The Wayfarers who did a superb job on the day. Some fellow hiker came along holding a mobile phone which I very happily claimed. The walk was now a battle of wills, mine against the mountains and the elements. Mick continued to encourage and wait for me as I struggled on. Again I met some really good people who hiked on despite the baking conditions. It must have been close on 25 degrees and extra weight on the midriff takes its toll. There was no protection from the heat. For most, especially those not struggling at this heat, the sun was a welcome change to the tough winter we had experienced. For people like myself, it was torturous and the scenery was forgotten.  I left the check point and continued with my struggle up towards Ballycrinnigan Rock which I knew was going to be the last checkpoint before the finish.

At 1520 I reached Ballycrinnigan Rock with Mick just ahead. My energy levels and resolve were being severely tested. At this stage I saw quite a few people ahead and this encouraged me.  This was meant to be where I should have been in full flow, but the mountains can be a great equaliser and can prove to be merciless especially with its friend the sun pouring its rays of sunshine down on it.  Now I was continuing through sheer determination.  I am not easily beaten. Mick offered words of advice as we met other fellow battlers and some striding away. The last 1 and a half hours werethe longest of my life so far. Mick and Ronan who had joined us opened gates for me as we proceeded down towards Glynn to allow me to keep going. Being in shorts and going through burnt heather meant my legs were covered in charcoal by the time I got back.

At 1654 after some 9 hours I finally reached Glynn, my pace down to a crawl. I wanted to sit down as the soles of my feet ached, the nails on toes throbbed, and my blisters made their presence felt, as my eyes and nose reminded me that in this heat I had an allergy which I had been unaware of previously. It was a very relieved me that arrived back to be met by wife Suzanne.

I had taken some 5 litres of liquid and went through it all. I had a hat and sunglasses and wore sun cream. I had done a good bit of preparation and felt good until the sun started winning the battle of wills. I persevered and am glad I did. Today was a Challenge. A short while after arriving in Glynn I felt fine again if a little tender underfoot.

I would not have made it to the end without Mick. I am glad I did, and it will not be everytime we will have such conditions. I admire those who got to the finish at the very end. 26KM in such a heat is not easy especially with my extra weight, but I am delighted I managed it and look forward to revisiting the walk next year or perhaps before it again…….

Today, after having had time to reflect, it was a very challenging day. I am very happy I persevered.  As I drove along and looked at the enormous distance we had covered, I was quite proud of myself.  It was the extra element of the heat that changed the dynamics of the walk. I have completed a few of the Challenge Walks as well as almost effortlessly doing “The Four Peaks” – I intend to do this walk again over the next few months.  I will have learned from this experience. I will be back next year.

Walk Information
This years walk took place on Saturday 22nd May 2010.

The walk is organised by the Wayfarers Association and is a 26Km (16.2 miles) mountain walk along the Carlow Wexford Border following the Blackstairs ridge (Ordnance Survey Discovery Series Map No. 68) with a cumulative ascent of 1,525M (5,900 feet).
The walk begins at Killanure (Grid Ref S 890 537) off the R746 from Bunclody to Kiltealy and ends at Byrne’s Pub in Glynn (Grid Ref S 745 395).
All participants are awarded with a cerfiticate.

More information can be found at: http://www.wayfarersassociation.com/blackstairs.htm

This article is the first from our series looking at the Classic Walks of Ireland
Click here to see all articles from the series

One comment on “The Classic Walks of Ireland: Blackstairs Challenge Walk…. The Battle of Ray

  1. John Fitzgerald says:

    Hello Ray. Well done. You gave an honest account of your endeavours. I also completed the walk but got back to Glynn earlier than you so I didn’t have to endure the strong sun for as long as you. Apart from the heat of the sun, particularly on the climb from Carrigalachan Gap up to Ballycrinnigan, I thought the conditions were ideal for walking.

    What most impressed me about your article is the genuine and honest account of your state of health along the long 16 miles. It is not a walk for the faint hearted and the heat affected many people badly on last Saturday’s walk. Your descriptive language is very good. You are a man of many talents. I hope in the future you will be given the opportunity to document further walks, as you have a natural talent in this arena. Congratulations. Talk to you soon. John

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