Thursday, 2 June 2016

The fellowship of Errigal!

Every month I enjoy seeing Trefoil News pop through my front door. As soon as I have finished work I sit down and open the back page. I like to read it back to front - not sure why, hey we all have our little quirks! As I was perusing the pages, I came across a page full of promise – ‘Women with Altitude’ being hosted by Mountaineering Ireland in partnership with IGG. 

I would not be the fittest person but the idea of gaining knowledge and furthering my hill-walking skill intrigued me, so I picked up the phone and booked my place. 

On the drive up from Clonmel to Donegal (five and a half hours!) I was excited to see what lay ahead. The weather was fabulous as I drove through Northern Ireland and down in to Donegal; like any Irish person, I hoped it would last for the weekend ahead. When I finally found Garten Adventure Centre (stupid satnav- I really do think she hates me), I was struck by the cleanness of the surroundings, even at 10.30 pm - no light pollution, no sound of the human world at all.  As we all stood around the edge of the lake learning to navigate by the stars, it was amazing to see each constellation so clearly and to be immersed in total darkness.

The next morning, as we had our breakfast (side note – the food was fantastic for the weekend and the Garten staff really worked hard for their guests), we were introduced to our guide for the day- Geo.  Once Geo had readied the Senior Branch girls with their equipment, we were off. As we drove from the centre to our destination, it was as if we had entered a set from Lord of the Rings. It was as if we had driven through the lush Shire to what looked like the foot of Mordor. 

Errigal is 2,500 feet approx above sea level (I know what you’re thinking but don’t give up yet). As we started the trek, Geo introduced the girls to the idea of “Carry More Survival Stuff” - the concept of “Be Prepared” for whatever the mountain throws at you. At the time we didn’t understand what he meant, but we soon did.  As we pushed through the pass between Errigal and Mackoght on a wet boggy track, like the dead marshland Frodo and Sam traversed, so that, we could ascend on the North side of Erigall- we stopped to do a little bit of scrambling- climbing on roads only using proper balance and foot work. It was fun: scrambling forces you to think before you act, to plot a route that is manageable and safe.

As we stopped for lunch, Geo announced with a smile that from here on “was the point of no return” - that it was to the summit. As we rounded the valley we could see the crystal blue waters of the north coast, which houses Troy Island, Gweedore and Aran Island and to the east Malin Head, but most of all we glimpsed our first sight of Erigall’s granite cone. As we started to ascend the rocky steep slope of the North
Face - Geo’s words of warning – “Don’t let anything tumble back down as it’s a long way down” - echoed in my head. As I took a short break to catch my breath, I looked at my bag and thought, “Is there anything in this bag I really need if it falls?”

At the end of the track we carried on climbing until we met a flat, stony shoulder of rock where we found an amazing archway or “keyhole”. This marked our entrance to the steep rocky summit. As I watched the Guides in front of me
traverse this doorway, I realised that IGG offers an opportunity to achieve feats no other organisation can. At the summit it was amazing to see the relief and joy on the Senior Branch faces when they took those last few steps on the summit; more than that, they were proud of their accomplishment.

From there we continued down “One Man’s Path” descending on the southside of the mountain that seemed so mundane compared to what we had just accomplished. 

As we all climbing into the bus, some of us with wet feet as the Dead Marsh had managed to grab a foot on the way down, it was fantastic to hear all the laughing from the girls. You certainly would not have thought they had just climbed 2500 feet! 

To any Leader or Senior Brancher reading this blog, I would say: “Put on your boots next year and take up the challenge: it is enjoyable and leaves you with memories for a life time.”

On a final note, I would like to thank all the Senior Branchers and Leaders for accepting me into their community for the weekend. It really shows that Irish Girl Guides do live the Guide laws: a friend to all and a sister to every other Guide.

~ Mena Timoney, St Bridget’s Guides Leader, Clonmel

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