A VALENTINE'S DAY TO REMEMBER
Like many people who know of this majestic mountain which standing at 751 meters or 2,464 feet, is the highest in Donegal.
Unlike most people we did the climb in absolutely appalling weather. While this wasn’t intentional, choosing a month like February to do it, it was possible.
The weather leading up to the appointed date was fine, giving not a sign of the weather we would have on said appointed date. The appointed date being the 14th of February 2018, St. Valentine’s Day. And sure what better way to spend Valentine’s Day?
With it being Valentine’s Day I packed my rucksack with a bottle of fizz, 2 champagne flutes (plastic for safety not by choice), clothes to change into at the top: a red tutu (as you do), red high wedge ankle boots, and of course, a tiara. Not really the usual things found in the rucksack of a person aiming to climb Errigal I am sure.
I thought a black heart-shaped balloon, filled with helium, would complete the imagined photograph of us at the summit.
And how did that work out? The balloon was whipped off my rucksack where it had been tied by the gale force winds before we even set foot on the mountain! The clothes and tiara? By the time I made it to the top I could barely stand up let alone think of donning a tutu and tiara for a photograph. And I will never get that nearly an hour back I spent prior to leaving home pulling heavy leggings over the light-weight black ones to wear with the tutu!
Having absolutely no idea of the route up the mountain we asked Iain Millar of Unique Ascent to guide us. Iain, from his website: “Iain is a fully qualified mountain instructor, an approved provider of National Governing Body awards with Mountaineering Ireland and is registered and is a fully insured full member of the Association of Mountain Instructors. (AMI) He is experienced and qualified to take people safely on journeys of true adventure for those seeking an experience that will live forever in their happy memories.” And boy was this an experience that will forever live in my memory!
We were so glad we had Iain with us. For a start off he knew the best place to begin the hike. You will see all over the internet how very wet and boggy the path advised leading from the car park can be. But with Iain as our guide he knew how to avoid the worst of this.
We began our ascent (sans heart-shaped balloon) and the weather was cold. But not as cold as it was to get. We ran into snow – deep snow.
Iain had to tell us how to move here as it was so steep and snow packed. We had to kick our way up it, kicking one boot hard into it to get a foothold then the next and so on.
And then came the hailstones. Hard, pelting marbles of ice battering off us. What could possibly make this better? Oh, I know, rain! Down came the rain.
My woollen bobble had was teetering down nearly covering my eyes at this stage. Later I would be glad of this.
As an aside, I noticed from one of the photographs (before my hat covered my face almost completely), that despite the weather, the terrain and the effort, my make-up remained intact, including lipstick still perfect.– which made me smile.
And then the fog descended. When I look at the photographs now I am eternally grateful that both the fog and the fact that my soaking hat was covering my eyes.
The steep drop all around me was invisible to me as my husband held my hand and we moved on up the mountain. I just kept my head down and ploughed on determined to get to the top.
But for Iain being there I know for a fact we would never have made it. Not only because of the conditions but also he seemed to give out an air of confidence that we would do this. And we felt secure in his knowledge and skills.
The wind got up – just as we thought we had enough variety of weather to do us. And Iain told us it was chill factor minus 8. Which is cold. The odd thing is that I never once felt cold – and believe me, I am the sort who likes a blanky to wrap up in sitting in front of an open fire watching TV!
The reason, Iain said, is that if you are dressed properly and you move at the correct pace the cold shouldn’t be a factor. And he was right. Oddly, sometimes, despite the atrocious weather, I actually felt warm.
Eventually we reached the top. My legs were like jelly and I dissolved in a heap. I could have cared less that the ground below me was wet. Iain’s dog was saved from sitting on the wet summit because he sat on me. Which I didn’t mind as he was warm and cuddly.
My backpack full of nice things to wear for a photograph doubled as a cushion for me for a while. I hadn’t the strength left to open it after our polar hike let alone dream of changing.
The weather at the top was beautiful. Crystal clear blue skies for a while. But the fear of heights I thought I had under control bit me and the thought of standing up to take photos terrified me.
I sat at the top, camera raised in the air, taking photos of the beautiful valley of Dunlewey almost two and a half thousand feet below. Luckily my husband is not at all bothered by heights and was happily snapping away.
Iain wanted to take a photo of us at the top and took off over One Man’s Pass, a very narrow strip that connects the other part of the mountain with the peak, like a mountain goat! Getting up to pose for a picture was all I could do and weakly wave.
After some strength came back to me we began our descent.
I basically walked down with my eyes shut, holding hands with my husband. Well it was St. Valentine’s Day after all (and nothing to do with the fact my hat was back over my eyes so I didn’t have to see the steep drops around me!).
My husband said we were nearing the car park but I didn’t want to look. I just wanted to keep ploughing on, desperate to get to the car and off this bloody mountain! My legs were literally jelly when I got as far as the car park and all I wanted to do was get something to eat and get home.
I have climbed Errigal once: in snow, ice, hailstones, gale-force winds, chill factor eight. I will never, ever climb Errigal again. Not even on the most perfect summer’s day.
But if I haven't put you off with my trials and tribulations, then I highly recommend you too engage the skills of Iain Miller. You can contact him via his website UNIQUE ASCENT.
I love wandering around old graveyards. There can be so much beauty there: the shapes of stones; the new life nature brings going on all around the old graves; and of course, the inscriptions on those gravestones.
Nature was very evident yesterday on a misty, wet February day in Killydonnell Friary on the shores of Lough Swilly between Letterkenny and Ramelton.
Dotted among the graves and with the ancient stones of the walls of the 15th century friary as a backdrop, clumps of that flower that tells us spring is here, the tiny snowdrop, spread in front of me.
The ancient and the new: memories of the past and hope for the future.
Which I suppose is what a graveyard is about.
Memories of the past in the inscriptions on the gravestones and hope for the future of those still alive to have these stones erected and engraved in memory of their dead loved ones.
Amongst all the graves one struck me as particularly poignant and that is the grave of a family called Murray.
The inscriptions there were full of love for a departed father and then later, the love too for this mans Donegal.
The gravestone shows that buried there is a man called John Murray Snr and his son, John Murray Jnr. Also there is a baby girl, daughter of John Murray Snr who died at just 2 years of age in 1947. John Murray Snrs father, David who died in 1937.
On the grave of John Murray Snr there is a piece of marble shaped like an open book with the inscription:
“In loving memory of a kind and gentle father with sorrow for the short time we had together.
Your loving son John.”
From the dates on the headstone it seems that John’s father had died when John Jnr was still in his teens hence the “… for the short time we had together” inscription on the book shaped marble stone.
His father died in 1961 at the relatively young age of 51 and John Jnr died in 2019 at the age of 77 making his age at the death of his beloved father just 19.
Behind his father’s grave, sitting atop the base of an old tree and overlooking the Swilly is a perfectly circular piece of marble with the following words carved on it:
“I know some day that I will return there
Just to see again the beauty of it all
I will buy myself a plot down by the swilly
and Rest in Peace in lovely Donegal
John Murray Jnr”
We Love Donegal
We Love Donegal is a site dedicated to bring the beauty of County Donegal on the north west coast of Ireland to the world.