A Mountain Memory

(by Paddy O’Leary, from IMC Newsletter Summer 2001)
"It was my first time rock climbing in Connemara; I was a young colt champing at the bit …"

It wasn’t until the party ahead of us traversed to the screes on the left, shouting something about making their way home, that I realised that we had spent most of this sunny June day getting to a point about half-way up Carrot Ridge. Maureen and I had spent the previous night in the Youth Hostel in Moycullen and had then hitch-hiked to Recess. We had walked from there the entire length of the Inagh valley before dumping our packs in one of Bodkins’ outhouses. Now, forty-five years later – or is it forty-six? – I’m not sure if any cars passed us on our way up by the long lake but it would not have been unusual to see just one or two cars on that road during the entire day.

It was my first time rock climbing in Connemara; I was a young colt champing at the bit and wasn’t going to allow a delay of five or six hours take from what I already sensed would be  memorable mountain day. Our friends Bob and Mike had been leading the now-retreating group on whom we had rapidly gained after our late start, but then remained on the climb, so we continued upwards as two ropes. None of us had been on a route of this length before and we whoopingly shared our exhilaration in the stretching of strong, youthful limbs; the grandeur of our surroundings; the sunwarmed, easy rock. We knew nothing of the history of the climb nor of the first ascentionists. The only guidebook we had ever seen was the one to Dalkey Quarry and we treated the climb as we would a scramble, not bothering about pitches or sticking to a prescribed route but glorying in the shared pleasure of racing up long,clean slabs.

At the top, Bob suggested going on to Bencorr and Bencollaghduff. We ambled along, stopping frequently to take in the unsurpassable vistas westward over that myriad of lakes which fill the bogland between the Bens and the sea, and which were now brilliantly reflecting an orange sky and a sun nearing a golden horizon. It was a balmy evening and we walked in our shirt sleeves, chatting quietly in pairs, changing companions in that informal, imperceptible way that happens when a group of people are completely at ease with each other. Bob and Mike were brothers; gentle, competent people who were naturally able mountaineers and delightful companions. How could I not feel that this evening, this walk between glowing sky and western sea with these two fine men and my girlfriend, was an experience of sheer joy unlikely to be equalled in our ordinary lives? As we made our way up Bencollaghduff, streaks of light green and a tinge of mauve were blended in a breathtakingly lovely sky. Dark headlands stretched into a copper sea which now reflected the sky rather than the vanished sun.

We sat for a long time near the summit, sharing something which has ever since enhanced my life and coloured my image not only of mountains, but of life, of relationships and of this mysterious planet of ours. We couldn’t know that memories of this hour would remain even more precious because one of us was to die tragically young.

When we reached the saddle of Mám Eidhneach it was still light so we ascended Ben Bawn without torches (I doubt if we had any) and lingered on the summit looking out to lakes, ponds and sea now lit silver by the light of a nearly-full moon. We intended to try a new rock-route next day so I was a little concerned that it was getting rather late. On the way down into the shadowy valley I asked Mike what time it was. It was 4a.m. By the time we reached the small sheep shelter where we were to sleep the sun had begun to rise.

Somehow, later that day, we three, without Maureen, managed to put up a route leading to the saddle we then knew as the Devil’s Col ( Mám na bhFansaí?). All three of us being electricians, we called it <i>High Tension</i>. The brothers ferried us on their motor bike to the Clifden road where we began the long hitch-hike  home.