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Kili or bust (Sean P O'Rourke): Page 2
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Kilimanjaro October 2006 · Nov 6, 05:48 PM by admin

A personal day by day account of a trip to the “Roof of Africa” or, as they like to say in Tanzania, “the tallest free standing mountain in the world”. Organised as a fund raising expedition by The Dublin Simon Community.


From the air Kilimanjaro (Kibo) looks like a “piece of cake” with icing on top (click to enlarge)

Several years ago my brother in law Americ, a native of Kenya, persuaded me to climb Kilimanjaro before the threatened ice cap was gone. Like most bright ideas it all started over a few pints and grew from there.
As an enthusiastic hill walker the appeal was great, if tinged with some nerves. By coincidence, Americ himself made the trip, only weeks before my proposed one, with members of his family. Though he and only two of the group of seven made it to the summit, he brought back some impressive photos from a very sunny summit.

I had already been to Macchu Picchu in Peru with Dublin Simon so I had some experience of high altitude and I had loved every minute of the trip. When I returned from there in 2004 I spent some time trying to convince Dublin Simon to organise a similar trip to Kilimanjaro. After negotiations they finally persuaded their British adventure company, Across the Divide (ATD), to take it on and so it was set up to commence on 14th October 2006, taking 50 Irish fund raising trekkers, including yours truly, up the Rongai Route. The highest altitude we reached in Peru was 4500 metres. Kilimanjaro goes to 5,895 metres and anything over 5000 metres is considered “extreme”.

The trip and the Rongai Route.
Essentially: flight from Dublin to London, London to Nairobi, 5 hour bus to Arusha in Tanzania, overnight stay, bus to trekking start point. Camping at Cave 1, then Cave 2 and Cave 3 and lastly camping at Kibo Hut, the launch pad for the attack on the crater rim (Gillman’s Point) and then the summit (Uruhu Peak).

Day 1.

The big day finally arrived and the excitement mounted at Dublin airport when I met up with some old friends from the Peru trip and from practice hiking days in Wicklow, the Cooleys and the Mournes. More anticipation then when introduced to lots of new trekkers setting off on the trip of a lifetime.
The wait in the airport and the flight to London were a blur of babble and chatter and mobile beeps from well wishers. London to Nairobi gave most of us a chance to build some welcome rest overnight for the challenges ahead. Peru had taught me to use the few days before the trip to “rest” as much as possible. Being semi-retired, this was probably easier for me than most. I also “bulked up” with “carbs”, a benefit of some Dublin City Marathons from years back.
We were advised to wear our hiking boots on the plane (“worn in” boots irreplaceable!) and keep all essential requirements (allowing for security restrictions at London) in our carry on or “day bags”. Baggage instructions for the trek were; one day bag to be carried constantly and a larger hold all (to be checked through) and carried by the porters on the trek.

Nearing Nairobi, morning arrived and the sight of the sunrise over the African plains was something to behold. This, by all accounts, was the treat we were due to witness 6 days later when we arrived at the top of the crater’s edge on Kilimanjaro.


Sunrise over African plains (click to enlarge)

Day 2.

On arrival at Nairobi we were greeted by our expedition’s leaders and guides from Across the Divide which included two doctors. It was interesting to note that none of them had done the climb before as Across the Divide was taking on Kilimanjaro for the first time. They, in turn, had organised a company called “Good Earth Tours” to provide all the local skills, cooks, porters and of course guides who knew the mountain well.

So far everything was happening like clockwork and in that unique Irish way, we thought something had to go wrong.
Then we found out that the “hold all” bags of eight trekkers didn’t arrive from London. This is awkward enough at most times but how were the trekkers going to get those in the following days out in the remotest part of Kilimanjaro? Consternation all around and administrative comings and goings ensued for an hour or so while the rest of us baked in the sun and gazed at the architectural wonder, or legoland, that is Jomo Kenyata airport. Now I know what they did with those big prefab slabs left over when they brought down the Ballymun towers!

Our esteemed new leader, Andy, tried everything to circumvent Kenyan bureaucracy in order to locate the missing bags but eventually we had to leave without even the knowledge of their whereabouts.
Everyone was still in high spirits as sixty or so packed into two small buses that Jesus and his entourage must have used to enter Jerusalem, and headed off on the “5 hour” (depending which brochure you read) journey into Tanzania. The aisles were filled by fold down “seats” and our day bags were held somewhere between our knees and our teeth. With our larger bags tied on top these vehicles hissed and creaked into action.


Packed Bus

Border crossings and entry to and exit from national parks in this part of Africa are delightful exercises in more bureaucratic nonsense. An exit form for one and an entry form for the next are required EVERY time. This usually means chaotic queuing and it mattered little that we had applied and received all the necessary visa documentation weeks before travelling. Why the authorities need my passport number, date of birth, home address, occupation and whatever else at every hands turn, is beyond me. Maybe I’ll be getting Christmas cards for the next hundred years!


Heavy Coca Cola presence throughout

An interesting discussion took place regarding the cost of visa entry to Tanzania. We had some British people, one Greek lady and a French trekker with us. The Greek and the Frenchman each had to spend 50 dollars (or Sterling, the authorities didn’t care as long as it was fifty) for their visas. The Brits 20 Sterling. The rest of us Irish only had to pay 5 euro for the same visa. No idea why, but we liked to think it was because of our “special” relationship after a hundred years of missionary work in Africa and no pretensions towards colonisation like the rest of those “nasty empire seeking” Europeans!


Relatively upmarket Tanzanian dwelling

Onwards eventually and the third world feel of every small town, village or settlement was clear. The most basic infrastructure was lacking but most adults and just about every child waved with broad smiles from wooden or tin huts. I was reminded of our Irish rural wave but the cynic in me felt that ours had more to do with fear of insulting a neighbour than the genuine welcome we were getting here. The most common words heard throughout the trip were “jambo” (hello) and “karibou” (welcome).
The travelling conditions on the buses made it difficult to rest but any hope that remained was brought regularly to a halt by a jarring pothole reminiscent of pre Celtic Tiger Ireland at its worst.
Nature stops turned into quite an ordeal for the poor unfortunates in the fold down seats because, invariably, someone behind them needed to get out.

There appears to be only one main road snaking its way across dusty plains and through one impoverished township after another. Any street left or right of it was simply a dirt track. The occasional mountain caused some discussion, in particular the imposing massif of Mt Mehru near Arusha.
The 5 hour bus journey had now reached 8 when we passed through Arusha, with over an hour to go, and we headed for our overnight stay in the town of Moshi. Necks were craning over dusty day bags to get the first glimpse of Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t until we were close to Moshi that someone spotted what appeared to be a snow covered peak jutting some considerable distance above the clouds. My GPS device told me that we were travelling at an altitude of just over 1000 metres along a road to the south of the mountain but I was not quite prepared for the sight when the wind moved the clouds and it was confirmed by the Afican guides that this was indeed the central massif of Kibo on Kilimanjaro.


First glimpse of Kilimanjaro

There were definite gasps and large intakes of breath and some nervous shudders at the height, scale and width of the thing. So there it was, the centre of our collective universe for the next week or so. The clouds, perhaps mercifully, covered it up again quickly and darkness approached as we entered Moshi and our modest hotel for the night.

A welcome shower and a thorough, professional briefing by the ATD people followed. There was also quite a sobering address given by the trek doctor about altitude sickness and awareness that brought home to all the serious nature of the trek and the potential for health issues. The possibility of death on the mountain did raise its ugly head and it received its due consideration before moving on. They also made it very clear that should they decide that someone was to descend then their decision was to be respected as it was in the interest of the individual and the group as a whole. A good night’s rest.


Click to enalrge

Day 3.

We awoke to a miserable, Irish style drizzle. Bearing in mind that we were camping from here on, it didn’t feel good. Back on to the buses for the “short” journey to our trekking start point. First though, into town for some last minute shopping for those without their bags. Finding a commercial outlet with anything you want among the chaos of small town Africa is quite an experience. Lidl is luxury shopping by comparison. Also, it is difficult to avoid the multitude of souvenir sellers on the street. They must have been spreading messages to each other with drums or something because they always seemed to know we were Irish.


Click to enlarge

After some time we attempted to make our departure and our bus driver reversed directly into a car. A series of shouts, screams, numbers etc later and we were off. The “short” journey was already 2 hours old. It was becoming obvious that no journey in this part of the world was simple or predictable
We travelled for a half hour or so in the drizzle when we pulled into a school yard. Our particular bus had taken enough. The clutch was gone. Phone calls, and another bus was called up. After a very pleasant hour interacting with some beautifully turned out children from the school our new or should I say “replacement” bus arrived. Not exactly a sister of the original, maybe a grand aunt!
The rain kept coming as we set off and pretty soon we turned “off road” thinking we must be near the trekking area. After all the planes and buses, trekkers just want to get trekking!


Common sights on a 2 hour mud track


Banana truck stuck in the mud

This route was chosen as the organisers had heard that the main road to our destination was blocked by a vehicle that had slid in the muddy conditions. Dusty roads are one thing in beautiful sunshine but now the top layer was turned into a sliding sludge. We were not to know but we had a good 2 hours driving on this track which turned into more. Just about every bend on this winding track had some sort of bus or truck in difficulty or “listing” to one side in the mud. At each of these we had to stop while some sort of rescue mission was conceived and in some cases we had to get out of our bus and walk as our weight made it impossible for the bus to pass. The sight of some oncoming vehicles on this surface had some of us with day bags truly in our mouths. On the one occasion that our driver attempted to pass a stricken vehicle on a bend, with us on board, our bus slid into an impossible position close to a ditch. We had to abandon the ancient machine and walk.


Our Bus Stuck

Some hysterical banter and laughs continued throughout the walk. Our vehicle was pulled out and it eventually caught up with us as the rain abated and we were able to continue at last. Darkness was approaching when we arrived five hours late, at the registration point (more paperwork!) and more than a hundred porters and various helpers were there (no doubt having bets on who they thought would and wouldn’t “make” the mountain). It remains an area of wonder for me why they hadn’t gone ahead and set up camp instead of waiting all day for us, but there you go!


Some Good Advice

We were split into groups of 16/17 with an ATD leader each and so, two and a half days after leaving Dublin airport, off we went on the 4 hour walk to Cave 1. We learned immediately about the pace required to adjust to altitude as our African guide was instructed to lead at a pace appropriate to your old crippled grand mother. Darkness fell quickly as we were moving up through rainforest and along with the animal sounds from the trees there came, “careful”, “rock”, “gap”, “step” or whatever obstacles those with head torches could make out along the route. These were echoed down the single file with occasional hoots of laughter.


Termite mounds just about everywhere

During the walk the porters passed us with all the camping gear and our bigger bags so when we arrived at the campsite all would be ready. As it happened they were still putting it all together when we arrived so we waited till near midnight for our first camping meal. I guess we reached about 2,900 metres which was above most of the rain clouds so the area was, thankfully, dry.
Another short briefing and off to sleep, or so I hoped. The sparkling clear starry night was amazing or so I came to realise after the babbling porters kept yakking for hours after midnight. We were to rise at 6.00am and no sign of them stopping. Altitude breathing was not really a problem at this level but sleep was still required. I remembered my trusty new silicone ear plugs and in minutes I was slumbering peacefully.


Kili in the morning

Day 4.


Campsite

What seemed like 2 seconds later, at 5.45, my tent mate John was shaking me. I used a small travelling alarm clock which was placed about 9 inches from my ear but its piercing trill could not get through the technical wonders of silicone valley. A brand new friend was born!
The porters were still mumbling away. Did they ever stop?
Out of the tent to a beautiful sunny morning and my friend Alan greeted me with a smile. “Look behind you”, he said. There painted on a baby blue cloudless sky was Kibo. It seemed close enough to touch. Off to its left was one of its companions, Mawenzi, if anything more dramatic in its ruggedness and from our current angle appearing to be higher.

Apparently the name Kilimanjaro comprises three mountains, Kibo the central and tallest one, Mawenzi and Shira. All eyes were on our target though, Kibo. We knew we were too far away to judge but from there it looked “makeable”!
Having experienced the precision “straight lines” camping in the Andes during the Peru trip it was quite funny to see the “crazy paving” style of the African campsite. The two man tents were pointing every which way and sometimes perched on or behind boulders of various sizes.


Al Fresco Brekky with Mawenzi

A hearty breakfast al fresco was next and all the familiar favourites from the Peru trip were brought out. Porridge, Milo, Nido (powdered milk), toast, omelettes and even bacon and sausages (well sort of).

We started our 4 hour walk for the morning. The distances can not have been great but very difficult to discern as the pace was slower, if that was possible. As we were now passing the altitude where problems can start (around 3000 metres) the leaders were instructed to take it even slower.
The plan today was to reach our next campsite at Cave 2 by lunchtime. After lunch we were to trek another 300 metres higher then come back. The idea was to walk high and sleep lower as the body apparently adjusts better to altitude during the resting phase.

Colourful local character

Our African guide gave us plenty of information about plant and animal life along the way. A small chameleon seemed to get everybody’s interest. It was slightly disconcerting to hear that lions had been seen in Cave 1 where we had just been staying only 2 weeks before our trip. The loo trips took on a whole new meaning!


Chameleon

I had read a great deal about the mountain and its various climbing routes before the trip and I had gained lots of information from Americ. The Rongai route, which we were taking, was well known as one of the more remote wilderness routes. It is also popular as it approaches from the North East side which is renowned for its dryer weather conditions. The downside of this route is its relative lack of spectacular viewing points, at least until the summit or rim is reached. The long slow walks we were taking meandered through dusty featureless lava strewn terrain. Walking behind others meant walking into a cloud of red dust for most of the day. Not a great way to produce clear nasal passages while trying to breathe thinning air.


Louise and I


Some More of my Group

One of the more interesting pieces I read about the mountain was that regarding the receding ice cap. I was surprised to read that it is not caused by global warming at all. Apparently the trees at lower levels have suffered in recent decades and the loss of these has caused a lack of the required moisture to rise and become snow and ice.

We had another good lunch and carried on for the acclimatisation hike. This all proceeded well till we stopped to rest before returning to camp. I, among others, began to feel a dull nausea on the way down. It is not something one would expect during a descent so a little worry set in. The thought of dinner at camp was simply not on so I spoke to the doctor and turned in early. She kindly sent me a cup of soup and I rested. It is very strange to lie in a tent for hours on end, quite tired, but unable to sleep. There are only so many comfortable positions in a “mummy” sleeping bag with a liner. It is also difficult to breathe in a relaxed fashion with 400 hundred years of lava dust sailing around in your cranium. All kinds of negative thoughts about illness, weakness and altitude problems can scupper the mind and even the old trusty silicone couldn’t keep them out.
For the first time I really began to have doubts about my ability to climb this mountain. No sleep, but quite a lengthy rest!


About 3000 mtres height still to go(click on picture to enlarge)

Day 5.

Rose at 5.45 to the ever murmuring porters. Poor John, my tent mate, had twisted during the night and brought on an old back injury so limited movement in the tent made packing difficult. I have the feeling that his injury played no small part in his eventual failure to reach the summit. This was particularly difficult for him as he didn’t suffer from altitude problems, as most did.
We went through the usual procedure of repacking big and little bags and I went to breakfast feeling better. Dry toast and porridge and all seemed fine. Perhaps it was all just the body adjusting to the new altitude and now I would be fine.


Typical packed lunch (click photo to enlarge)

The daily ration of sterilised water was dispensed to each trekker. Depending on requirements there would be 2, 3 or 4 litres. Then, in would go the 2 iodine tablets per litre which would turn the liquid into something resembling the stuff along which the bus slid a few days earlier. Notwithstanding, the Dehli Belly sprites appeared to be constantly at large in the African bush. It was really just a matter of luck who escaped and who didn’t. My friend Colm suffered a bad bout of it. With all the other difficulties to deal with, running into the wilderness every few minutes was draining valuable energy, not to mention liquid.


Morning at Camp and regular visits by White Necked Ravens

The plan today was Cave 3 by lunchtime and a similar exercise to the previous day, i.e. an extra 300 metres after lunch then back down to sleep.
I was tentative with everything I did that day, always conscious of bringing back that nauseous stomach. It appeared that I was not the only one, a comfort of sorts, as others were taking many more “toilet” stops than before. One or two trekkers suffered bouts of vomiting during the walk.


Interesting Rock Formations

It is important to emphasise the camaraderie that was constantly building among the groups. We were encouraged by the leaders in this. The “mothering” instinct of the ladies on the trip was evident throughout but there must be something in men too because I don’t know how many times I was asked how I was feeling, was I better yet, you will be fine etc.
It was funny to see the women of the group at the start of the trek walking great distances into the bush for nature’s breaks and now taking just a few steps to achieve the necessary.


Met Some Strange Foreigners

The pace continued ever slower in preparation for the big day that was fast approaching.
The highest point of this day was 4,300 metres or just below the highest point any of us had reached before, in the Andes. We would then come back down to overnight at 3,900 metres. The trek was long and slow through the mainly featureless terrain. The trip back down was quite something because we were above the clouds and every now and then they would part to give us a stunning view of the plains below that straddled the border between Kenya and Tanzania.


Looking Down on Creation


Feeling the Effects


Every Minute Counts

This time the descent was much better and I reached camp tired but ok. The 8 missing bags had been miraculously transported to Cave 3 so there was a minor celebration.
We had a short rest before dinner. At this level, darkness brought a deep chill and going to the dining tents and sitting around waiting could become awfully cold. We often sat, looking like Eskimos, in our mountain top ski jackets and thermals while waiting for the welcome aroma of hot soup. All the talk now was about breathing difficulties, headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Back to the tent, to John and his poor back, and to the mumbling porters but also to my warm as toast sleeping bag and the magic silicone. Unfortunately though, short breaths, stuffed nose and therefore still little or no sleep.

Day 6.

After the breakfast briefing it was clear that there could be no more acclimatisation. Everything from here was up, up and up again so it really was a case of “Kili or bust”! More accurately for this day was Kibo or bust, as Kibo Hut campsite was our target at 4,700 metres. The thought of the extra 1200 metres it would take to get to the summit, later that night, was just madness at that point.
Kibo Hut was the highest point that we could stay before attempting the summit of Kibo. The walk from Cave 3 to Kibo looks relatively gentle in gradient and the terrain though dusty was not difficult. Add the sleep deprivation, nausea, thinning air and all the rest of it and an easy walk became something different entirely.


Getting Colder

When we reached 4,500 metres (our previous highest) we were all keen to see how we would fare in the rarefied atmosphere above that. We didn’t have long to wait.
I had been walking close to Tony from Dublin when he reached that same height in Peru but it became increasingly obvious here that all was not right with him. His breathing became increasingly erratic and soon the doctor was with him. There was a long pause while he suffered some scary panic breathing and the decision was taken quickly to get him down lower. The first casualty of altitude!
It is difficult to gauge the psychological effect of something like that on the rest of the group but there has to be some and I reckon I suffered a little of it.


Arrival at Kibo Hut Campsite

One of the immediate effects, for me, was that I seemed suddenly physically drained during the last upward slog to Kibo Hut. When we entered the camp area to yet another registration hut for yet the same ridiculous questions, I was never as pleased to have something to lean on. The thought of the struggle up the further 50 odd metres to the tent was something I really didn’t need. According to the doctor, extreme fatigue is another of those insidious effects of altitude sickness and with the biggest physical hurdle of my life lying directly in front of me I was again being worn down by horrible doubts.


Mawenzi from Kibo Hut

Before dinner, Kirsty the lady doctor from Edinburgh, demanded to talk to everyone who was feeling anything at all so she could study them at close quarters. I was feeling the nausea so I convinced myself that it was the body going through the adjustment process again. It was something of a struggle to get out of the tent again to go and see her but that strange reverse psychology went to work in my favour when I saw the length of the queue waiting to talk to her. When it was my turn, those bright clear blue eyes stared hard at me for some time while she asked all the relevant questions, then she just told me to get some rest. Phew! Got past that one!

Dinner was at 5.00 pm after which we were to turn in for the evening, then up at 11.00 pm to start the 16 hour trek up to the summit and down again well below Kibo Hut, with a break at Kibo for lunch. I was concerned to hear that all we were getting before setting off on that mammoth journey was some tea and biscuits.
For now, at dinner, my tummy was doing the dance of the flailing butterfly so it wouldn’t let me look at the meal of pasta and something. A smell of tuna, or something fishy, sent me reeling from the dining tent. All I had managed was dry bread and a bowl of pumpkin soup.
The staggering view of Mawenzi (now definitely lower than Kibo) in the dying evening sunlight was not enough to keep me from getting back to the tent and away from those murmuring porters. “Yer man’ll never make it!” or whatever they say in Swahili. In went the trusty ear plugs and a prayer for blessed sleep.
Most of our medical shots had been administered long before the trip but many of us were taking Malaria tablets, some weekly and some, like me, daily. During the course of many conversations at breakfast, over the week or so, it transpired that some were having weird and not always wonderful dreams during the night. A rumour circulated that these were parts of the side effects of the Malaria tablets and I do remember having some strange “dreams”.
I went to the tent that night with exhaustion and Tony’s breathing on my mind. John told me, when we rose at 11.00, that he had come very close to calling the doctor for me because I had a dreadful fit of panic breathing. I certainly remember having great difficulty getting a complete breath and I also remember trying really hard to induce some sort of meditative state, perhaps instead of sleep. After a couple of hours of this I was utterly convinced that the mountain was now out of the question. In the end the most successful technique I developed was to copy my wife’s breathing exercises during pregnancy as these brought me to a level that helped me to relax a little.
The most surprising thing of all was that John “woke” me at 11.00 pm complaining that my snoring had kept him from sleeping. Selfishly, I was delighted with this because it meant I must have achieved an hour or maybe two of actual sleep. Suddenly some confidence came flooding back and I was ready at least to attempt the climb!


Eastern Approach to Kibo/Kili

Day 7.

We exited the tent to a freezing night. People were huddling together to keep warm. Some nerves were evident as we made our way to the tea tent. I could only manage one biscuit but I found a chocolate bar for the trek.
Mary from Dublin was sobbing uncontrollably as her race was run. She had been one of the strongest and most supportive of the trekkers all the way to Kibo but she was brought down by altitude effects and so had to pull out of the attempt.
There was one more short briefing and some strong words from the doctor about not being stupid and hiding illnesses etc. as lives could be put at risk. The leaders emphasised several times that some trekkers were bound to be asked to descend at various stages and they stressed that their decisions should be respected for the good of all.
Mike from Galway had us all singing “Jolly, Jolly Paddies” for a while and then we convinced ourselves that from Kibo to the top was just the same as doing Carrountohill on a frosty morning, without the boggy bits.

We formed into our groups and prepared for the long zig zag track up the scree slopes. The pace was set at “painfully slow”. Rests were to be short due to the cold and 6 hours was the target to reach the rim of the crater with perhaps another 2 hours or so to get to the peak. It was just after midnight when we set off in single file. I reckoned in the 4 previous “nights” I had accumulated a total of about 10 hours of actual sleep. Another disturbing feature was the complete lack of stars.
There was an ATD person at the front and rear of each group along with African guides and the principal doctor in the middle group. There were also porters and guides interspersed among the groups to keep an eye on anybody in trouble. We were now, after all, entering the “extremes”.

It would be a gross understatement to say that climbing up though the scree was tough. It was difficult to gain any traction as the foot kept slipping backward with almost every step. After the first hour of this it was really wearing but the thought of at least another 7 hours of it just didn’t bear thinking about. In the blackness of night all one had was the imagination. Some used head torches but I found I was better off seeing nothing but the movement of the person in front of me.

Very soon after the start Sam from Dublin Simon turned back for Kibo Hut saying he was exhausted. We gained more height without sight or knowledge. Time was all we had to work with. The cold grew increasingly wearing and some sleet and snow sprinkled down and began to bite. I, like most of the trekkers, was wearing thermal undies top and bottom, crag hopper trousers and light rainproof trousers over those. On top I had two long sleeved inner layers, a fleece long sleeve top and covered with a thick ski jacket with hood and a woolly balaclava. I had another woolly jumper in my bag and after the first hour I put that on too. Forty coats does Kili!!

Very soon after, more people began to feel the various effects of altitude and with the doctor’s words ringing in their ears they turned disconsolately from the upward trail and back down to Kibo. Various guides and helpers were appointed to bring them back down to safety. It would be foolish to say that during that endless haul up this, the serious part of the mountain, the thought did not cross my mind a number of times, but I was determined to keep going for as long as I could.

Fatigue was setting in again and a strategy that had served me well, in Peru and several other lengthy hiking territories, began to materialise. This involved a mental battle to think only of the effort involved in getting to the next resting place. We stopped for a minute or two every 15 minutes. My plan was only to think as far as the next rest point. I found that I recovered sufficiently quickly each time to concern myself again with only
the following 15 minutes, then on and ever upward. Its actually quite a confidence builder to realise how quickly recovery takes place. It was of major importance to keep all thoughts of the many laborious hours ahead far from the conscious mind.

Americ had advised me to keep going as best I could till the sun rose. He promised that things would improve because everything would warm up and some layers could be removed. The darkness was indeed now gradually becoming greyness. Suddenly there was a small commotion up ahead and a makeshift tent was being assembled. Our oldest trekker, Pat from Dublin, was having problems and both doctors were at his side in seconds. They administered all the medical help they could while the trek was brought to a complete halt. He was revived and eventually helped down the mountain. Two of his sons were also on the trek so one went with him while the other carried on. Pat, aged 70, told me later that he had suffered from “High Altitude Cerebral Oedema’ – brain swelling”. Apparently this sort of problem is normally more common among the younger age groups. If anyone was to witness Pat skipping across the mountains of Wicklow on any other day they could be forgiven for thinking he was a “young fella”!

The total delay involved was more than 20 minutes which I believe, along with altitude, decreased many trekkers’ chances of making the summit. The biting cold at that point, for that length of time, sent quite a few trekkers back down. We were close to Gillman’s Point but we had an almost vertical rock climb of about 100 metres to get there. Instead of Americ’s promised sunshine we were greeted by a biting blizzard of sleet and snow. Slowly and sadly each of my Wicklow trekking buddies turned for home. I found it tough and demoralising to watch the tears freezing on their faces. Some of the strongest and the fittest of all had nothing left against the altitude and the cold.
Some of those that turned back told me later of drowsiness, disorientation, vomiting and various strange behaviours like talking to relatives that were not there and seeing things etc.


Gillmans Point


In the Freezer


Me in the Freezer

Our 50 trekkers were now down to 20 (as well as ATD people and guides) and strangely, some of those felt little or no effects of the altitude. At this point I was not having any difficulty with breathing, nausea or altitude problems that I could discern. I was simply very tired and a little concerned that I hadn’t had enough food or rest to finish this.

The remaining 20 trekkers struggled on to Gillman’s Point where not even the withering cold could contain our joy and relief. Everyone hugged and back slapped everyone else for the short time we stayed before our ATD leader, Andy, launched into what I considered a fairly impassioned plea to anyone with feelings of weakness of any kind to go back down. Two trekkers had already made up their minds to do so and I believe another two were convinced by the speech. The remainder of the group, 16 determined souls, bent our heads towards the biting snow and started the trudge to the “Roof of Africa”.


This was the best view we had

Still Americ’s promised sunshine did not materialise and the conditions denied us all the spectacular views normally associated with this, the so called “easier” part of the Kili climb. It was clear that the best we could expect, on this particular day, was a belligerent trudge to Uhuru Peak for the sake of dogged pride, no matter what the weather threw at us.
So, 2 hours later 12 men and 4 women (with guides and staff) approached a small unimposing weather beaten wooden sign (that was easy enough to miss in the conditions) on a slope in the middle of one of the most forlorn and forbidding places on the planet and we jumped up and down like children. We hugged and kissed and cried and for a few moments at least fell exhausted on the snow, happy at the top of our particular world. Michael from Galway tried to get the “Paddies” song going again but everyone was too busy hugging or catching breath.


Proud moment for Alan and I

The oldest trekker, of the group that reached the summit, was Peter at 58 and I am 56. I have no idea of the rest of the ages but they seemed to go all the way down to the twenties. My friend Alan, also in his fifties, unfurled an Irish flag for the photo op at the top and I even got about 40 seconds of priceless video there which was no mean achievement at something like minus 25.
I don’t know how significant it is but about 6 of that group are regular smokers!


Trudging back from Uhuru

Euphoria carried us most of the way back to Gillman’s Point and beyond. When we reached the scree slopes we developed a skiing technique to descend quickly. What took us 6 hours to zig zag up, we reduced to about an hour and a half coming straight down. Having said that, we were out on our feet and plenty of rests were included in that downward trip. The ATD leaders still had a job on their hands prodding and prompting us out of our rest to continue the descent till we could see Kibo Hut below. We entered the campsite soon after to the most welcome bowl of soup and a short rest. All the other trekkers had already left for the next campsite 5 hours further down.

We stayed and rested for just over an hour before setting off on that journey ourselves. It may seem strange but there was a renewed energy in the chatty stroll we had along an easy descending track. Unfortunately the last hour or so of that walk brought us below the cloud line and back into warm but incessant rain. We entered our last campsite to a wonderful welcome from our fellow trekkers. All were well and to their eternal credit they turned out in numbers in the most horrible downpour to welcome us home.

Day 8.

We awoke to a bright and breezy morning which gave us an opportunity to dry off some clothes. We had a six hour trek downwards still to go and by all accounts it was the most scenically beautiful of the entire trek. Again unfortunately, the weather turned against us and light rain turned to heavy rain and the trek turned into more of a swim as we were truly doused from head to foot.


Wet Finish

There was a stop for lunch where we sat in a hut with no chance of drying anything after which we simply put the wet stuff back on and trudged ever downwards. The rain could not dampen our spirits when we reached the Marangu Gate and exited the mountain area officially. Those rickety old buses never looked so good as 60 odd drenched, smelly, sweaty and filthy people piled in for the two and a half hour journey to our hotel and the luxury of hot water.


Special Irish Hooley

A very special Irish hooley was held that night and the next morning most of the group bussed back to Nairobi for the flights home. A small group of us stayed on to sample some more of Africa. 9 of us paid for a superb Safari which took us into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater as well as mosquito invested Lake Manyara. There were some great moments, particularly when we had to push our jeep to start it in the middle of the big cat invested desert. Another, when we stopped within a couple of feet of a lion kill and the jeep refused to start. I could just see who the lions had in mind for dessert when the second jeep just about managed to start us with a push.


Hez and KOB on Safari


Lion Kill

The stars of the show were very definitely the animals. We spent many hundreds of miles bouncing across the bush in 2 four by fours that Methusla’s mother must have pawned. With sewing machines for engines, dodgy radiators and the odd puncture we still got to see all the big 5 and impala, zebra and wilderbeest as far as the eye could see.

We visited a Masai village and we stayed in state of the art lodges right out there among the lions and leopards.


Masai people we met

The eventual trip home took a less than ideal turn when we arrived in Nairobi to find that Kenyan Airways had “overbooked” our flight to London by about 140 people. The chaos that followed was something I wouldn’t care to repeat. Makeshift plans were put in place to send some back through Paris and some through London. About 40 people, none of our group, were left in Nairobi to battle again the next day. Needless to say some baggage arrived in Dublin and some didn’t..

Aside from the flight problems, the trip was one of those really special memorable and unrepeatable experiences. Just like the Peru trip, the group of personalities that came together to battle with altitude and everything else, with the collective purpose of getting to the top of Kilimanjaro, was wonderful. Many of those that didn’t make the top are determined to try again. New friendships were made and new trekkers were added to our regular Wicklow walks for the future.

Since arriving home in Ireland I have been reliably informed that due to the shape of the earth, the summit of Kilimanjaro, not Everest, is the nearest point on our planet to the moon. Its nice to think that only a handful of people have been any nearer to it!!

Bring on the next adventure!!

Benjy May 06 · May 2, 07:57 AM by admin

Gorse Whins or Furze- Friend and Foe · May 1, 04:58 PM by admin

Click on Pictures to view full size

Golden Explosion

It would be pretty nigh impossible to miss the explosion of yellow all over the country at the moment. Am I imagining things or is it really taking over? I mean even more than previous years. It is difficult to view any large tract of open ground where the humble Gorse has not taken over completely.

In the last few days I have spent quite a bit of time walking and driving through a number of Irish counties from Donegal to Wicklow and the countryside is aglow as far as the eye can see with 40 shades of…. well gold. Our national colours are pretty well represented right now.

Changing Shades

I have even heard conversations start up about those same varied shades. Some say the version in Northern Ireland (where they call them Whins instead of Gorse) is a slightly deeper and richer colour.

varying development Personally, I think the different shades represent the different stages of the opening flowers but what do I know?

common roadside sight Common Sight by New Motorways

framed in gold Framed in Bright Yellow

Every now and then a gust of wind gets up and blows this heady coconut fragrance across and it is difficult to imagine that the Geocacher’s nightmare can produce anything so sweet. I say nightmare because any Geocacher worth his salt will have brought home bits and pieces of Gorse sticking out of every part of his anatomy at any time of the year. This is mostly because it affords a good hiding place for Cachers but also because it is spreading so rapidly. The Gorse, or Furze if you like, repays us for all the splinters and scratches with quite a lengthy spell of wonderful golden yellow that is capable of brightening up even the dullest landscape.

Bray Head Even in the Shadow of Benbulbin

In a famous Dublin garden centre recently I queried the rapid spread and I was told some pretty incredible stories about the strength, durability and survival ability of Gorse. Apparently all of the beautifully landscaped slopes by the sides of the new motorways are simply grabbed from wild areas like the Curragh and some mountain areas.

even in the shadow of benbulbin No matter how badly they dig them out or slash and cut them they come back stronger than ever and spread quicker. Their survival after fires is legendary as their seeds are actually hastened into action by fire. Some countries in the world have declared it Public Enemy Number One and they go to great lengths to stamp it out because they see it as a threat to forests and various less vigorous plantations.

golden Shins into Whins don’t Go!

Of course, a Geocacher placing a cache is fond of Gorse. The guy trying to find it has the problem. We have all had that experience of cursing the fact that we forgot the gloves and with hands shrunk into sleeves we try to prize apart the nasty prickly bush in search of a “eureka “ moment. I have lost count of the amount of times I have slipped or tripped while out caching and I have found myself clasping some branch or anything to keep my balance only to find probably the greater of two evils, a handful of gorse spines!

KOB enjoying Spring!

looking over bray Looking over Bray

Still, it is hard to argue with the beauty of the current landscapes abounding throughout every county. All we need now is the even humbler Daisy to take, em a leaf, out of the Gorse book and our national flag would be just perfect…. as was always intended, I’m sure!!

For the more scientifically minded, here are some Wikepedia facts about Gorse:

Gorse (Ulex) comprises a genus of about 20 species of evergreen shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae, native to western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia. Other common names for gorse include whin and furze.

Gorse is closely related to the brooms, and like them, has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season.

The most widely familiar species is the Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus), the only species native in most of western Europe, where it grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils. It is also the largest species, reaching 2-3 m height; this compares with typically 0.2-0.4m for Western gorse (U. gallii). This latter species is characteristic of highly exposed Atlantic coastal heathland, where a combination of wind strength and salt spray prevents larger plants from growing.

Common gorse flowers most strongly in spring, though it bears some flowers year round, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”. The flowers have a very distinctive strong coconut scent. Western gorse and Dwarf gorse differ in being almost entirely late summer flowering (August-September in Britain), and also have somewhat darker yellow flowers than Common gorse.

Gorse is a fire-climax plant, very well adapted to stand-replacing fires, being highly inflammable, and having seed pods that are to a large extent opened by fire, thus allowing rapid regeneration after fire. The burnt stumps also readily sprout new growth from the roots. Where fire is excluded, gorse soon tends to be shaded out by taller-growing trees, unless other factors like exposure also apply. Typical fire recurrence periods in gorse stands are 5-20 years.

Gorse thrives best in poor growing areas and conditions; it has been widely used for land reclamation (e.g. mine tailings), where its nitrogen-fixing capacity helps other plants establish better.
It is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing dense thorny cover ideal for protecting bird nests; in Britain and France, it is particularly noted for supporting European Stonechats and Dartford Warblers. The flowers are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Double-striped Pug moth and another moth, Coleophora albicosta feeds exclusively on Ulex.

In many areas of North America, southern South America, Australia and New Zealand, the Common Gorse, introduced as an ornamental plant, has become naturalised and an invasive weed due to its aggressive seed dispersal; it has proved very difficult to eradicate. However, in New Zealand, it has been found to form a useful nursery species for native bush regeneration. If gorse stands are left for several years, native seedlings generate in their shelter and grow up through the gorse, cutting out its light and eventually replacing it.

Retrieved from Common Gorse flowers

Excerpt from Irish Geocaching Forum Dec 2005 · Apr 20, 06:27 PM by admin

Thanks guys, we had a super trip. I won’t bore ye all with another lengthy account of it all but here are a couple of the highlights.
We had 4 planned for the Inishowen peninsula which included “High Five” the tidal cache near Malin Head. We found the first three easily enough though Clare’s cache presented some prickly approaches. Owenerk River View was nice but unusual. As we drove toward High Five in the early part of the first day we realised we had the tide wrong and that the wait as well as the cache would take too much of our time so we boarded the ferry to Derry instead.
Immediately on the northern side there was Martello Tower, a lovely little cache but quite tricky to find.
We drove into “the Library” multil cache in Steves 4×4 and we were promptly taken to task by the workers there so we had to take the jeep out and walk all the way. A very nice multi!
We carried on and completed a few along the north coast of Derry and even when darkness fell we continued and found five more with the help of Steve’s incredible array of lights and equipment. The trees at the “40” cache are worth a special mention. In the black of night they really are spooky and strange but fortunately we pulled up right at the correct place.

By ringing around we found a fantastic farmhouse B&B near Broughshane where we logged the days finds and had a grand old chat with the farming couple who ran it.
They thought we were stone crazy when we set off at 7.00 am (before brekky) for Paddy’s Volcanic View, a breathtaking (literally!) walk up the small but quite steep Slemish Mountain. The sun was just rising as we reached the summit and the views and colours, well you just had to be there! Getting down was quite hairy and let’s just say that bums were wet. A breakfast fit for a king was wolfed down. Great cache!
We thought we could board a small ferry from Larne over to “Who Pays the Ferryman” and we nearly ended up on the one for Scotland untill they laughed us out of the queue.
After that we took on “Lob Wedge to the Sea”. The previous logs gave us no confidence. We found the area and the site easily enough but the search for the cache took a little time. It is devilishly hidden but the winter conditions definitely helped as did a huge amount of determination. It seems only Wildlifewriter had found it previously so we were aware it would take a big effort. I have to say that we were at the point of giving up when the “voila” moment arrived.
“Who pays the Ferryman” was quite a nice cache. The walk was beautiful and the setting was pretty special.
We headed for Belfast and “The Far Side of the Moon”. There is supposed to be quite a walk to this one with an option to cut across a land fill site. Steve drove the L200 up to the gate of the land fill and I spoke to the two chaps at the gate. They were very keen to help and even suggested that we would be better driving up in “the Jeep”. Steve didn’t have to be asked twice. In an instant he was transformed into the 4×4 enthusiast that he was born to be and we headed up some tracks of tyre deep mud sending sprays of stuff into the air behind us. I can’t imagine what the workers must have thought of us. We bounced and banged our way to within 4 metres of the cache in a landscape that was truly well named in the cache.
Being able to do that was the crucial time saver which made it possible for us to make the 400.
We picked up a couple more around Belfast before heading to “Islandhill” and another tidal race. We were heading across the causeway chomping on Steve’s sandwiches when a local walker suggested that we might need to hurry. The cache took a bit longer than needed and imagine our surprise when we came back to see the sea water lapping over the causeway. There were a few moments of panic as we waded through the knee deep tide but we got there.
“Conlig Lead Mines” turned out to be a lot easier than its stars suggested so that left us totally in the dark to head for “Nendrum” and number 400. It was the 11th of the shortest day of the year. The torches were brought out and after some scrambling we finally found it.
We carried on to complete “Sketrick” nearby and then made the journey down to Derryhubbert Bog. This was one that had eluded me earlier in the year (no idea how, it is really rather easy). We had to enter the park area in the dead of night with the lamps. I am sure we spotted a pine marten that was caught suddenly in the beam of Steve’s lamp.
The walk took a little time but finding the cache was strangely quick so I was delighted then to make the 4002 which brought me to 400 for the year.

It has been a real pleasure in 2005. I can’t see myself doing quite as much in 2006. I set out originally to find about 500 or more over no specific time scale. That should happen fairly soon so after that I will just play it by ear.

A Threesome With "Sadie" · Apr 20, 06:20 PM by admin

When Hezakiah and I decided on a caching trip to Northern Ireland Steve of Windsockers heard and asked to be included. We were delighted to have him along but we had no idea of the battery of gadgets and know how he was going to bring. I had only heard about Sat Nav and things like GSAK etc. These were vague notions for gadget geeks and had nothing to do with me.
When I arrived in Joanie’s Rav4 at Steve’s place to pick him up in the wee hours of Dec 6th he got into the car with arm loads of electronic gear that had me scratching my head. In minutes he had our journey north planned and plotted and suddenly this lady’s husky voice started telling me which way to turn and head etc. This was coming from the Garmin Street Pilot 3 Delux that Steve had plonked on the dash. Not only that but I had beautiful technicolour diagrams and road maps and further instructions idiot proofing me inexorably north. Needless to say, I was gobsmacked by the technology and Steve quickly became Garmin’s spokesperson/salesperson for the trip.
To start with, we picked an area of about 25 square miles stretching from Carrickfergus north along the coast and then forming a circle by going inland back down as far as Antrim town and back to the coast. This was the only area I could find left on the whole island where there was a reasonable concentration of caches (11 in all) in close proximity to each other that I and the other two lads had not yet found.

We arrived in Carrickfergus to meet Hezakiah just as the sun was rising so we had a full, if short, day of light to go caching. Since we were in the north we decided to think up a “northern” name for the lady speaking from the Street Pilot. We decided on “Sadie” though she would be Gwynneth when we got to Wales at some future date and perhaps Brigid in the south.
First we took on two lovely seafront caches out at Whithead, called Wise Man’s Walk and Black Head, White Light. Sadie brought us to within 200 metres of the first but, unfortunately, nowhere near an access point to the seafront. After some scrambling across fields and ditches we found our way to the front and we had a really beautiful early morning stroll along a well paved walkway. They really do know how to keep these walkways in this part of the world. There were some intriguing caves along the way too.
Both caches were within a few hundred metres of each other and they were found without much difficulty. The sounds and sights of the sea in brisk morning sunshine were lovely.
We probably could have found an easier way back to the car but we wisely retraced our steps and then headed for Lance Ambu’s Stairway to Heaven. Sadie brought us within metres of the cache so we found the two and two and a half stars perplexing. After a very short walk we found the cache so I still wonder about that. Nice little spot and then off the short skip to Larne town and the Great War Cache.
A Beautiful piece of timber work at the entrance to the cache area took my fancy. The cache was found quickly and off we went.
Next was The Lime Kiln at Carnfunnock. We parked exactly where Sadie said and started walking only we went a little too directly toward the cache as we ended up trudging through a muddy field while a nicely preserved path meandered beautifully around it. The cache was found only with the help of a giveaway clue. The coordinates were way off.
We picked up Spanish Chestnut very quickly on the way to a slightly intimidating looking Trostan Trove.
Steve was pretty wary of this one as it was a mountain walk. Sadie took us as near as she could but there was no alternative but to start trekking across bog and heather, upwards of course. Steve was a revelation as he skipped up the hills without a bother. In the logs there had been some discussion about the coordinates and positioning of this cache but we had no problem with it. The views were lovely from it and it is just far enough away from the road to make it a decent trek. Good cache!
As we were well into our stride now we picked up Skerry cache, Tardree Rock, Tardree Trek and Round Tower pretty easily and quickly. Sadie played a stormer during the searches for each.These are all nice caches but again I personally would have them rated lower for difficulty and terrain. There are wonderful views from Tardree Trek.
The light was closing in when we completed these and we had already reached the planned 11 caches for the day. The decision was made to head south for Belfast as there were three there we all wanted to find. Lady Dixon had been driving Hezakiah mad since his two recent failed attempts (and my one). This time we had Steve with us who found it last year which made us pretty confident. Sadie did the trick once more and got us to the relevant park where we picked up the new cache Tremendous Tree on our way in. Darkness was closing in as we approached Lady Dixon but when you go caching with Steve you learn that he comes equipped with everything short of the kitchen sink. Head lights and super power torches were brought out and off we went. I dread to think how we would have explained ourselves to any policeman, or psychiatrist for that matter, who happened along.
A good half hour search revealed nothing and Steve was the most disappointed as he was positive of the spot but the cache was not there.
We retired just a bit put off but we decided to take a trip down the M1 and take on Coots and Moorhens. The alternative was the pub and it was far too early for that. I had tried this cache before without successfully discovering the proper starting point. Strangely, after a few little wrong turns we found the spot in complete darkness. Sadie did her best but in the end it was just pure belligerence that got us there. The place was a mire but we found our way to a tow path and along we went in the blackness. Just as well we had the big mon with us as he was required for the actual cache. As a matter of fact Hezakiah’s searching skills were on fire throughout both days.

During our trip along the motorway I had a brainstorm and decided to ring Northern Ireland’s premier cacher, Wildlifwriter, for some help with Lady Dixon. In a couple of minutes he had all the information and willingly passed it on as he had been at the cache very recently.
As the infamous Castlewellan Cache was in our sights for the following day I took the liberty of quizzing him on that one too. He very kindly offered to join us the next morning so we left it at that.
Not wishing to leave Belfast without Lady Dixon we made up our minds there and then to go back again. Armed with new info and Steve’s torches we traipsed into the park again. After a shorter search Steve unearthed the damn box nowhere near it’s original location. I might add that it was nowhere near the coordinates, the clue or any other information on the Geocache.com listing. We didn’t care. We headed for Newcastle, the starting point for day 2, without knowing if we could get a bed for the night. It was now 10.30.pm.
I rang Joanie on the way and after diplomatically letting her know that her normal navigational skills beside me in the car would be shortly replaced by the Christmas present she was about to get me, I asked her to find me a Newcastle B&B. Unperturbed at being replaced by a younger woman called Sadie, she duly obliged (wonderful woman that she is) and we were sorted.

Next morning we accompanied Steve to Beachcomber (both Alan and I had found it before) before heading up to Short Walk to Tipperary, both appropriately enough, Wildlifewriter caches.
We discovered during our overnight stay that there were other unfound caches nearby so after Tipp we headed to Lecale Way (a fairly new one) and then off to the steep Blaeberry Cache. As this was quite a lengthy uphill trek on foot we tried hard to bribe a council employee to drive us up the big hill, but no go. We were on high ground here (not a great choice of words in the circumstances) so it was cold and windy. The really nice weather we had enjoyed up to this was fast changing to darker dismal conditions. In an effort to stay warm we moved as fast as possible up the hill leaving Steve a little behind. The winding track at the top split us for a while and after logging the cache Hezakiah and I headed down to the asphalt road thinking Steve had walked back down. Realising soon that we were wrong we rang him only to find he was still up at the cache. The weather was closing in so Steve came down pretty quickly and all was well.
There to meet us at the car park was a relaxed Wildlifewriter. We all headed off to find the elusive Castlewellan cache. Wlw brought us to a slightly nearer starting point than that mentioned on the listing. We found our way to the cache site and he stood back to let us at it. He was smiling benignly during the whole time that we foostered and fumbled over every moss covered log to be found. Hezakiah had been here frustrating himself without any luck before so it was appropriate that it fell to him to eventually produce the offending vessel.
The rain had set in with a vengeance at this stage so we wondered how we could proceed. To Wlw’s eternal credit, he patiently drove ahead of us to two more caches in the area and then walked with us to each, getting drenched in the process. He even took the time to provide a little lecture on bird life and woodland protection, with a little quiz thrown in. The least we could do was get him a nice pint when we decided to call it a day, or night more appropriately.
Wlw went home as did Hezakiah so Steve and I debated whether to go for one more before heading home. I was getting a real taste for this night caching. After a nice meal we decided to go for Audley’s Castle. My advice to anyone is not to if it’s dark and definitely not to if it’s raining. We drove through floods, waded through ankle deep mud and ran the batteries down in every piece of lighting equipment that Steve had but we got there, just! I would say it is a beautiful place on a nice summer day and finding the cache would be simple but as I’m sure you know by now, Steve and I don’t always do the simple things.
Totally satisfied with two great days caching we put Sadie back in control from that point and we glided back to Dublin.

Geocaching Andalucia April 2006 · Apr 15, 02:30 PM by admin

Click on Pictures to enlarge

beautiful lilac bit dotty like ireland another old farm evening closing in evening over malaga

Click on pictures to enlarge

Trek Peru April 2004 · Apr 1, 10:07 AM by admin

Where pictures are thumbnail size click to enlarge!

I recently undertook to raise money for The Dublin Simon Community with a view to taking an advertised trip to Peru and visit the World Heritage Site of Macchu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. This is as short a summary of the trip that I can make without losing the essential info.

Between family, friends and business associates I was fortunate to be able to raise the necessary €5,000 in a short space of time. A couple of friends decided to make the trip also and between us we were able to make up enough funds for The Dublin Simon Community in order to qualify. I hasten to add that we each had to pay our own way before we could raise the funds.

breath taking scenery Breathtaking Scenery

Day 1 4.00 am Dublin airport. Met with my 2 pals and some familiar faces from the practice walks organised by Dublin Simon. Introductions all round. 41 trekkers in total. One third men of all ages and backgrounds, two thirds women of all ages also. For some reason women always seem to outnumber the men on most charity treks. Most Irish counties represented, one English woman one Greek and one American. Immediately apparent that this was a great group and that fun would be uppermost in most minds.
Amsterdam in a flash, a few hours, then flight to the Caribbean. Another nine hours and land in stifling heat of the timy island of (Dutch) Bonaire. So hot and humid I couldn’t see through the viewfinder of my video with condensation and sweat. Dampness caused malfunction in the works and the first of my two mini tapes became tangled and useless.
After an hour, back on the plane for another 4 hours to Lima. Now travelling for 20 hours and all tired. Stuffed after too much plane food and heading across Lima for welcome dinner that nobody ate.(just as well as later transpired)
Lima on the coast gets the Humbolt current from the Pacific and this with the Andes inland causes a thick misty bank of clouds to hang over a dull sprawling city of 7 million people (up to 12 million in greater coastal area). Feels unsafe and looks dreadful and poverty stricken in places. Occasionally massive iconic images appear ranging from Madonna and child to old Inca rulers.

dining al fresco Dining Al Fresco happy trekkers Happy Trekkers

Day 2.
Early flight to Cusco, seat of the Inca empire and the territory we all wanted to see. The flight was fantastic. Left the mist behind and flew over the heart of the Andes. Great gorges, glaciers and trails of incredible scale sat between snow peaked mountains.
Landed in beautiful sunshine in Cusco (the plane has to negotiate between mountains to get there). Landed at 11,000 feet and immediately all felt altitude, starting with muzziness and dull headaches but nothing too bad. Welcoming band of colourful pan pipes met us in the airport and the fiesta feeling and excitement growing.

Typical Camp

Met with two principal guides from “Across the Divide”, two thirty somethings from Birmingham and a lady doctor from Edinburgh. Over the next 9 days the two lads proved to be hugely entertaining and fantastic organisers. Introduced to the Peruvian guides (from a company called Explorandes). These guys gently and slowly shunted us around the touristy parts of Cusco to get us acclimatised to the altitude. A little shopping then a short, slow level walk to our first campsite. Some of us suffered a little even from that short walk.
Campsite included every mod con you can imagine. Clean water, Coca Leaf tea on tap (helps to deal with altitude). Dinner prepared each evening by superb chefs and served in a separate long mess tent, occasionally al fresco. Particular attention given to cleaning up before eating. Organisers and doctor stood over queue of trekkers to make sure wash up conducted properly.
Large three man tents for every two people and plenty over for those who wanted to sleep alone or for snorers (ostracised, as sleep was too important)

Inca Fridge

Day 3.
As a further part of the acclimatisation process we were brought by bus on a guided tour of a major Inca site at Ollantaytambo. It would take too long to describe but fascinating.
By chance the local town was having its annual fiesta and hundreds of people were out in various parades dancing in the tiny streets. There were lots of different themed parades in fantastic costumes and colours and plenty of music. It didn’t take much encouragement for all of us Paddies to join in although no alcohol was permitted as the effect on the body at altitude is apparently very bad. We were high enough on altitude and attitude!

fiesta colour Fiesta Colour

Most of us bought bamboo walking sticks to help with the climbing ahead.
In the afternoon the bus dropped us off at a beautiful picnic spot for lunch and when it went we said goodbye to civilisation. We then set off on the first ascent. We started from the Sacred Valley (Urubamba at 9,200 feet) and ascended to about 10,200 where the campsite was already laid out for us on a small football pitch exactly as it had been the night before. Walking very carefully monitored by the Peruvian guides (too used to carrying sea levellers home!). The by word was super slow, super slow! Even at that some suffered and there was plenty of nausea and some vomiting.
Arrived in darkness. Night falls between 6.00 and 6.15 and that’s it, black dark, no in between.

Photo Ops

Day 4.
Woke to stunning vista of surrounding mountains. It became clear that we were now into the real Andes as seen from the plane.
We were camped at a remote school complex.
We had all been asked to bring some useful school things for the children (pens, pencils, paper, books, clothes etc) We were then each asked to present these to the children of the school individually. We also donated money to the school teachers and parents in order to improve conditions. You could see quite clearly that a few dollars (to us) could be made to go a very long way here. The atmosphere of good will coming from the children was something you had to be there to see.
Today’s walk started with an ascent to 11,200 feet and a beautiful waterfall where some people ventured for a dip. As we were gaining altitude the air in the shadows was getting chilly while in the sun it was still close to 30C. It was impossible to keep enough sun block and lip salve on as constant eating, drinking and shedding layers made it difficult. U.V light bounces off the rocks and burns under the nose and chin where you think you are safe. In the heat of the sun, sun block constantly runs off in rivers.
Each days walk included water stops every 10/15 minutes (compulsory to carry 2 litres of cleaned and self sterilised water with whatever taster you fancied) a rest period in mid morning and a longish lunch break. During all of this the porters and various workers would pass us by with the small town which was our campsite on their backs, on mules and small ponies. We would be walking on the narrowest of paths, trails and even cliffs but these guys just swept past us, over, below or around us on the most inhospitable terrain you could imagine. Sometimes they were jogging and sometimes carrying 2 or 3 large water containers and there we were, gasping. We would arrive at our new campsite around 4.00 in the afternoon and they would have the whole campsite set up, in military fashion, loos dug and tented and dinner cooking. You just had to be there to believe it!
After lunch we had a lecture from one of the Peruvian guides about the surrounding area, flora and fauna (throughout the treks they were invaluable in this regard). Our principal guide, called Mendel, was fiercely proud of his unspoiled countryside and if he saw as much as a bottle top on the trails it disappeared into his bag with the minimum of fuss.

Trekking

We continued upward to 11,800 feet where our next campsite was prepared. This time we were priviledged to be the only group to be allowed camp on actual Inca terraces. People were now seriously suffering from altitude. Lots of headaches, vomiting and much nausea and a little confusion and lack of balance. Rest and plenty of Coca leaf tea was the order of the day.
On this day when darkness fell so did the cold, and how! Suddenly you couldn’t feel your fingers or toes. Bedtime was usually around 9.00 as we rose very early each day. On this night it was very difficult to get to sleep because nothing could get you warm enough. I had a partculary bad night as I was alone in a tent and warmth was a problem. We had two nights like this but on the second one we learned quickly and we doubled up in the tents for warmth and wore much more clothes. We had thermal underwear, jammies, lining inside the ¾ seasons sleeping bags, woolly hats, woolly socks and still felt the cold. The first night of this was, unfortunately, the night before the most challenging trek of the trip so a good night sleep was important.

Wilderness Trekking

Day 5 (or Hell day to most!)
Usually we were woken by the porters with a hot cup of Coca leaf tea and a basin of warm water around 5.30. On day 5 it was 4.45 wake up and walking by 5.45. They wanted us to start early because it was a very long day which started with a huge climb and they wanted as little sunshine as possible to interfere with the climbing part (a very wise move!).
Each morning we had a warm up session before walking. These were supervised by the two English organisers. They were hilarious in that they had planned excercises which did the job intended but also got us into great form. Again, you had to be there!
Breakfast was usually al fresco and was excellent and very varied. We even had bacon and eggs on a couple of occasions.
Having started day 5 at 5.45 we reached the highest point of the entire trek at 11.30. This was Chanca Chuco Pass at 14,400 feet which is higher than Mt Blanc (highest in Europe) and half the height of Mt Everest. Some peoples heads were bursting and some had taken to the mules and horses, others had put their day bags on the mules and some were assisted by the guides and porters. Everybody got there and a few people guzzled Solpdeine but other than that all were fine. The views on this particular stretch were just spectacular beyond words. We were looking almost straight across at Mt Veronica at 18,500 feet completely covered in snow and it is breathtaking. We could also see all the way down to the Urubamba Valley where we started on one side and on another a bank of clouds below us just as you would see from a plane.
In my own case all the training helped a great deal so other than quite a muzzy headache at the highest point I was fine and I didn’t feel the need to take any medication. What I didn’t realise was that today was a ten hour trek and while we had reached the high point we still had a long, long way down and a long level finish. The fact that I had literally no sleep the night before began to tell in the later stages and I finished the walk but I was absolutely exhausted. One of the frustrating parts of this walk was that coming down the mountain we could see the next campsite for miles but it took hours more to reach it.

Some Brave Souls

Rest and dinner were never so welcome.
Each night after dinner one of the English organisers ran a competition for “Goof of the Day”. As it implies, whoever made the biggest “cock up” or mistake of any sort was crowned Goof of the Day and they had to wear a Goofy hat for the next 24 hours. Needless to say everyone was watching their Ps and Qs very carefully. My pal Ralph won it one night for going out for a late pee and coming back to the wrong tent, twice! Needless to say a tent occupied by two women!
Another young chap from Clare won at the start of the trip for going to get some last minute shopping. He intended to get some underpants and ended up with 3 ladies undies instead.

Day 6.
Again we awoke to scenery that had to be seen to be believed. This was by far the easiest trek of the trip. We only walked in the morning and it was mostly descending. In doing so we left the real cold behind us and we were assured that all the evenings would now be warmer. We had the afternoon to ourselves to rest and recoup. The campsite was at an old mountain school where we repeated the presentations to the children with gifts and money for a new roof for their school.
We felt we were now pretty accustomed to the altitude so some of our younger trekkers challenged the Peruvian guides and porters to a game of soccer on a surprisingly good school pitch.
I will never again slag Irish athletes or footballers going to play foreign teams at altitude. We went 2 up after ten minutes before all of us turned to statues. Young or old, fit or unfit, you make a run for 20 yards and you are out of the game for 2 minutes. Every bit of air goes in seconds. You have absolutely nothing in the tank for minutes. Peru won 5 2. Great laugh with them afterwards. Lovely people and great fun.
That night we had a camp fire and we were allowed to have some beers as we would not be going to much more altitude. Needless to say the Paddies won that one as we sang late into the night and a great time was had by all.

Day 7.
Another relatively easy day through Eucalyptus forests and cactus forests. The first one the locals refer to as cloud forest but when we came to it we considered it jungle. We followed the course of a raging torrent of water and crossed some bridges straight out of Indiana Jones. We went back and forth over the river through undulating terrain for quite a few miles.
We eventually reached our last campsite at Kilometre 82 which is part of the official Inca Trail that we would now join to approach Macchu Picchu.
This campsite would put anything in Europe to shame. We had hot and cold showers, a sauna, dining rooms, music, shop the whole lot. We all went a bit mad here too as we knew our next night was in a hotel.

Day 8
Train from Kilometre 82 to Kilometre 104. Train journey through Urubamba was probably what some of west of Ireland was like 100 years ago.
At Kilometre 104 we entered the official nature reserve (World Heritage Site) Passport stamped, the whole bit and started up the 2000 steps to Macchu Picchu. There were some lesser monuments along the way and some of the trails are very narrow and not for the faint hearted. Stopped for a break at yet another beautiful waterfall. If this is what these falls are like now in the dry season (as with the raging river) the mind boggles at what they must be like in the rainy season.
We saw plenty of evidence of the recent mud slides as huge chunks of mountains fell into the valleys below after unusual rains.
We stopped at another Inca monument on the way called Huayna wayna which was a terraced semicircular area used by the Incas to create varying weather conditions for growing experimental crops and flowers no less. It is quite incredible to imagine someone thinking this up let alone working it and building it on the side of a precipice.
Between our own anticipation, the prompting of the guides, the hard climbs and the sheer wonder of the place itself when we eventually reached The Sun Gate, which is effectively the gateway into Macchu Picchu, the feeling was overpowering. Hardened trekkers cried their eyes out. The guides and organisers produced medals for each person as they passed through the gate and everyone savoured the moment.
After many photo ops we descended for about 40 minutes into Macchu Picchu itself and there were many group photos and we had the last of the evening sunshine to enjoy the lost city all to ourselves.
first sight of macchu picchu
First Sight o macchu Picchu

We bussed down to the nearest town Aguas Calientes ( a town that has to be seen to be believed. Like something from the old west with a railway line right through the centre of town, beautiful, quaint but touristy also). Here we booked into a hotel and prepared for our Gala night out, i.e. meal in a restaurant. Nobody had a clean stitch left to wear. My two pals and I went for a quick shopping tour and found some traditional Andean clothes and wore them out to the do. It got a great old laugh. A great night was had by all and we even went to a disco where we went mad till the wee hours.
The restaurant looked great and so did the food but we should have smelled a rat when we literally saw one of the self same rodents ambling across the rafters just feet above our heads when we were already on the dessert course. After all our efforts at hygiene out in the mountains we were undone by so called civilisation.

Day 9.
By mid day the next day 50% of the group were doubled up with tummy aches and nausea including yours truly. This was supposed to be our tourist day in Macchu Picchu itself and we tried but most of us were just too sick to enjoy it. The most frustrating part was that we took a four hour train journey back to Cusco that evening and most of us were perfectly fine by then. We had a free evening in Cusco and another hotel stay overnight.
Worth noting that trip back to Cusco involved climb of around 1000 feet and believe it or not some people began the symptoms of altitude all over again.

Day 10.
Morning flight to Lima. Lunch in a fancy restaurant that I don’t think too may people ate.
Bus to the Indian market for some last minute shopping. Some really great tack for next to nothing. Great value in woollens, leathers and loads of other junk. Real market haggle prices.
Goodbyes to some of the group who stayed on in Peru. Evening flight Lima to Bonaire where many of the group got off to wish my pals and I a fond and emotional farewell.

4 days in Bonaire. Incredible and unyielding heat. Snorkling fabulous on the reefs, teeming with beautiful fish life. Seafood brilliant. Great R& R after the trekking, in good company. Hired 4×4 for fun in the nature reserve. Great gas.
Great fun with Ralph and the locals. He and I stung by sea urchins and I scraped thigh off coral. Missed many of the trek group.

General comments.
O2 didn’t work in Peru as promised by them so no mobile at all. Virtually out of touch with the world altogether for 7 of the days. Internet and phones in Bonaire third world but first world prices. The contrast with prices in Peru was amazing.

The Dublin Simon Community
Peru, Macchu Picchu, and the Andes.

Fantastic cause to start with, great trip, smashing friends and overall the experience of a lifetime. Peru is just magical and being in the mountains is only what I can imagine being in Ireland must have been like hundreds of years ago, totally unspoiled. They guard this rightly. Sights, scenes and people that you just have to meet and see for yourself to understand. The Incas may be gone but the people are the same people and the art, colour, enterprise and work ethic is plain to see. The Inca legacy is as enduring as it is incredible.
Macchu Picchu is a quiet strangely mystical place in the most unbelievable location and perched precariously on several sides of an unusual site. It looks like it might fall into the valley thousands of feet below at any moment and it is overlooked by some imposing mountains of land in strange shapes. If there was ever a place that seems made for religious fervour then this is it.
Definitely worth a visit and you don’t have to do the trekking to get to it.
Do it soon though because they are talking about building a cable car up to it and I don’t know if that is a great idea!

Where pictures are thumbnails click to enlarge!

Romancing the Cache (while making Joan "wilder") · Mar 31, 06:02 PM by admin

September 2005 geocaching expedition in Southern Spain

Joanie preparing for caching

During our recent stay in Andalucia, Spain, my wife Joanie and I spent quite a chunk of time chasing some caches in the areas of the Mijas mountains, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the Sierras above Marbella together with some city caches in and around Malaga, Granada, Marbella, Algeciras and Gibraltar. We have an apartment in the foothills of the Sierra de Mijas so we are quite familiar with this region.

caching at dizzy heights Caching at Dizzy Heights

The stars for difficulty and terrain system adopted by Geocaching.com can be somewhat erratic in most places due to personal choice and the level of experience and hardiness of those setting the cache. In Ireland as a whole, I find the system works to a large degree. This is probably because Ireland is small and the variations between cache locations are not great except for the obvious differences between city/town and rural/mountain terrain.

The Eureka Moment Another Find

For Andalucia, add in the fact that there are mountains not too far away that are over 12,000 ft high and many of the smaller ones are considerably bigger than Carrauntohill. There are more than 10 designated National Parks at least equal if not greater in size than Killarney National Park. Malaga, Granada, Marbella, nearby Algeciras and even Gibraltar have mountainous areas very close and in some cases even within city limits.

The cachers who set these are mostly ex Pats from Britain, Germany, Scandanavia and more recently some growing numbers from the local areas themselves. As a result there can be quite a variation between each one’s perception of difficulty and terrain. It would not be unusual to find a three and a half star for terrain where you can drive to within 300 meters and take a gentle stroll to the cache. A winding drive on a tarmac road up a mountain is, in that case, apparently considered difficult terrain.
To use a typical other example, I have also made a 25 minute journey on a cable car (which for some is an absolute no no!) followed by a hike down 700 ft of very steep, not to mention dangerously slippy mountain terrain (and back up in 38 degrees of heat!) and then a hike of maybe a mile to retrieve a one for difficulty and one and a half for terrain cache.
Don’t think for a moment that I am complaining. I love caching in Spain. It is just a question of getting used to the differences and being prepared for them. The compensations are obvious. The weather is usually great and probably better in normal winter conditions because we find it perfect, as opposed to the overbearing heat throughout the middle part of the year. Because of the active caching community in Spain there are spectacular opportunities to chase plastic in just about every corner of Andalucia, far far away from the tackiness of the beaches. When I say far I only mean about 20 miles or so but you may as well be on the moon because outside of the “Costas” very few tourists seem to venture up into the hills and for my money, this is where the real beauty of Andalucia becomes apparent. While there are plenty of caches in the lower areas the ones in the upper reaches can be really breathtaking. The value for money in these areas is startling compared to lower down because you pay what Spaniards pay for food, drinks etc. Almost embarrassing prices in some cases!

On this particular trip I decided to make greater use of the old digital camera I have always had. As Joan and I had been all around the lower caches in our area we decided to take our time and investigate a number of the three and four star caches in the mountainous regions and I propose to give you a feel for some of the experiences of a typical caching day.

The Search for Castano Santo:

castano santo Castano Santo

After maybe 10 miles on the superbly smooth and fast motorway that runs parallel to and looking down over the Mediterranean coast we move inland towards even higher ground and smaller roads. We pass one of over 60 beautifully cared for golf courses of the Costa del Sol. The province has suffered a severe drought for 11 months now and the newspapers are full of panic and doom about the water situation so we gaze bewilderedly at the power hoses spewing in all directions on the golf course. Incredibly huge and still growing areas of urban sprawl can have their water cut off for 24 hours, as a precautionary measure, but God preserve us, the money making monster must continue to be fed (so speaks a contrary yet avid golfer!).

feeding the beast Feeding the Beast Mountain Terrain

The target today is the Sierra del Hoyo del Bote (hole in the boat mountains, yeah, I was scratching my head as well!). The cache is called Castano Santo (GCR6EJ. I dare you to try out the write up in Spanglish)) meaning “The Brown Saint”, or it could be interpreted to mean “Sacred tree”. One couldn’t help but be intrigued by such a quaint name. It is actually a very old chestnut tree (the edible kind of chestnut) and it has been declared a National Monument by the Spanish Government because it is over 800 years old. Actually they are not quite sure and it could be as old as 1000 years.

Our Trail Etched in the Distance

We had tried on several occasions before to reach this particular cache but without success. The directions given are excellent but as with many Spanish caches you are left to figure out the approaches yourself. Because the mountain ranges are so wide the roads often circumvent them in the widest and most meandering arcs imaginable. As nobody had yet found this cache we had tried really hard and approached, on different days from various angles. After gallons of petrol we had emailed the cache owner. In true cacher fashion he had come back to us with incredibly detailed directions, satellite pictures, zip files (meaningless to me!), the lot.

Its Here Somewhere Darling! Plenty of Room

So, we pass the golf course and head from the hills into the real mountains. Immediately the road is replaced by now familiar (to us) tracks that have been shaped only by animal traffic and perhaps a few local 4×4 merchants with plenty of nerve and suspensions to spare.

Joan Petrified And Again

As the ground rises, along with Joanie’s nerves, it is not uncommon to round a sharp, I mean shaaaarp bend and be greeted with gaps in the track created by land and water slides of various dimensions.

We pass hundreds of cork trees that are stripped every 7 years or so for the cork. As a result they take on the appearence of strangely blushing yet ghostly figures. If not stripped they die. I once went through a huge field of these at dusk and believe me it was surreal!

Painted Cork Tree Room for a Bus to pass

We are travelling in a (hired) Ford Focus. A great car but not exactly designed for the work outs it receives all too regularly on this trip. The GPSr says 9.93 kms from the golf Course to the cache. After 10 kms of vertical climbs, hairpin bends, frayed Joanie nerves, and of course solid, yet stoic belligerence from yours truly, the GPSr shows 7.1 kms. “Look, we’re going the right direction woman, enjoy the view and try to stop your teeth chattering”, I thoughtfully mutter, extremely to myself.

Where do we go from here?

After another 10 kms on the clock and the GPSr says 3.1 to go. We venture intrepidly on without a murmur from herself. Is she frozen or what? Will she ever talk to me again?
Suddenly we start descending and the practical “intelligent” yours truly starts waxing on about getting close because a tree that old would have to be in a valley, protected by land all around as well as other vegetation. 5 kms later we are rising again and herself unclenches her jaw just enough to mutter, “so much for that theory….gobshite!”.

As with many remote caches in Spain, the nearer you come to the cache area the hairier the terrain becomes. The Focus is now travelling at an angle significantly above 45 degrees and the expletives emitting from my passenger are bouncing around the inside of the car (just like our bums) and landing squarely on the back of my neck. These would be sounds and terms of endearment usually associated with a woman giving birth (funnily enough, those are usually aimed at the husband also). The poor Focus is now screaming for relief.

i won't go another inch in that car “I won’t go another inch in that car”!

Blundering stoically on, we eventually reach a sign, the one and only one, indicating “Castano Santo”. After a short pow wow we consider that the Focus can’t take much more so we get out to walk the remaining 300 metres showing on the GPSr. The sun is shining and it is too warm in the car but the sharp coolness of the sierras hits us. In this kind of territory nothing is ever simple. 15 minutes later having zig zagged down about 1000mtrs the GPSr says 160 metres at 3 o’clock. We venture into the woods and pick up a sort of trail. It leads us awry for a short while till there right in front of us in all it’s splendour is Castano Santo. What a sight! It is the most magnificent tree we have ever seen. Joanie even raises her spirits enough to pat the back of my head, or maybe it was a slap!

ancient irish monumunt on a spanish one An Ancient Irish Monument on an equally Ancient Spanish one! Joanie the Tree Hugger

We take plenty of pictures first and then we set about finding the cache. The directions are excellent as are the coordinates and we walk straight to it. It is ingeniously hidden and protected.
Joanie is getting fidgety about the journey back when out of nowhere a wild boar mother appears and slowly behind her comes a youngster with a severe leg injury. They just stand there and look at us. I have the cache in my hand and Joan gets windy and wanders back the way we came entreating me to follow quickly. The two boars come right up to me and they are very curious about what I was at. Joanie gets really worried about the large Daddy boar appearing and making truffles out of her poor gobshite and now beloved husband. I try to take a couple of pictures of them but the entreaties turn to screeched orders so I have to reluctantly withdraw with one very poor picture.

A Genuswine One

Strangely, in these kind of circumstances the journey home is never as bad as it seemed going out. We go home satisfied and already I’m working out a delicate strategy to approach her regarding a certain cache at the tippy top of another mountain range…..and you guys think I’m having it easy!

Curiouser and Curiouser · Mar 31, 05:22 PM by admin

Curiouser and Curiouser
Geocaching trip to Isle of man (Feb 2006)

Vampires, giants, witches, fairies, a ghost of a talking mongoose (yes, mongoose), spiders, Rune Stones, caves, Arthur Daley, tunnels and all kinds of strange tales were waiting for Steve and I in the Isle of Man. Add to those quite a number of treks through hills, mountains and coastal paths of mesmerising beauty. Then add in Happy Humphrey and his array of quizzes, puzzles, ciphers, mathematics, tricks, teasers, wit, stories, innovation and sheer hard work. Throw in two mad Dubs full of drive and enthusiasm and you have a recipe for a laugh a minute week of caching.
I could go on and on but Steve says I am becoming too much of an old wind bag so I will keep this as short as possible (it may seem long but believe me, it is condensed). Any more would only make you all jealous anyway.

Steve and I hired a Ford Fiesta but we looked so innocent and nice in the airport that they gave us an MG ZR. Steve’s boyish grin did it I know and the minute we walked out the door he took control of the keys and never let go for a second during the whole week. You should have seen the state of it going back!

The “old world” charm of this lovely island hits you immediately. One thing stood out the minute we hit the country roads. When you drive anywhere around Ireland it is difficult to find farm country and indeed semi remote areas where beautiful new houses are not dotted all over the countryside. In IOM the small towns and villages are for houses and there is a really nice lack of any sort of “planning gone mad” outside of those.

As a hill walker, the thing that hits the “envy” button is the number of public pathways criss crossing every single road on the island. Every one is well waymarked and presented on maps for all to see and use. There are also many rights of way across farm land where you are welcomed in the most friendly way. Indeed the locals couldn’t do enough to help us at every turn. This place is truly a walker’s paradise as well as a geocacher’s one.

Obviously there are other excellent cache placers in IOM but Happy Humphrey stands out for all the reasons mentioned. He also bought me a few nice pints of Guinness so I would say all this!! Seriously though, his Curious Manx series of caches (10 in all) are worth the air fare on their own. Most of the weird and wonderful stories above can be found in those caches. It would be sacrilege to give away any hints or secrets here about these or any others of HH’s but don’t be surprised to see some “new” kinds of caches appearing around our green isle in the coming months.

Many of the caches in IOM are 3, 4 and some 5 stars and plenty of these have high ratings in both categories. It is not simply a case of just turning up and hoovering caches. There is a heck of a lot of preparation required, much driving and plenty of lengthy treks many of which are surprisingly high and steep. Again, it would spoil too much of the fun and achievement for others to go into any detail about them other than the comments above.

The other imponderable, the weather in February, turned out in our favour. After quite a damp first day and 3 nights of heavy rain to start which left many tracks and trails shin deep in mud and water, it all stopped in mid week and the sun came out. After that, though the mornings were cold and frosty, the days were glorious so the scenery was pretty spectacular, especially from some of the vantage points we reached.

I had the great pleasure of completing my 500th cache while in the IOM and what symmetry indeed that it should be achieved with one of HH’s masterpieces, a 5×5 star cache called the Bradda Lode. I actually completed it twice, as Steve who had hurt his leg when he had a little fall, was so enthused by my description of the finishing stretches that he made me drag him to the cache just to see it all for himself. We had both completed the various stages up to that so he was well due a visit to the cache itself.
We are both much indebted to Mike of Wuthered fame. Not only has he “gained fame” as a super photographer but his “technical” expertise was invaluable to Steve and I during our endeavours for this particular cache. The best thank you I could offer him is to come and do the cache himself, if he has not done so already.

Another thing worth mentioning is that both Steve and I were up and on the road around 7.00 am each morning. We ate and drank on the hoof and though we had a few disappointments with 2DNFs and one or two lengthy caches that we had to return to (up mountains and down very lengthy tracks!) most of the week was spent laughing, “dancing at the cross roads” on one occasion, poking, scratching, climbing, pot holing, sloshing in mud, wading through the sea, ripping ourselves on gorse, being chased by sheep (Steve’s boyish good looks again!!) and generally having a good time. Each night we fell into the leabas exhausted in the best way possible.
Our Broadband signal at the digs was very iffy and it caused us a few problems. I sent a set of answers to a cache owner here and I thought he had received them. As it turned out he hadn’t so I thought I had one more cache done. It was all sorted in the end though.
Steve had done 38 of these caches before and though he arrived on the scene with me for some of them he stayed away or simply laughed and pictured my hapless efforts. In this regard some of the night time caching was hilarious. If any of you get to see HH’s caches you will know how it is impossible to cheat in any way and they are so good you wouldn’t want to anyhow. HH himself was most generous with his time in helping us every possible way he could, without giving the game away.
On one occasion I was off up a mountain and while Steve dozed in the car the police stopped and questioned him for loitering. I only wish I had been there to hear his explanation about geocaching!

For the whole week Steve was the most agreeable person to be with and I would like to thank him for putting up with all my little foibles and also for his wonderful Cappucinos. His effort to get to the 5×5 star cache on the final day (his 450th) was great and it really would have been a shame to visit IOM and miss it. In fact, for someone not accustomed to the hills, as he keeps saying, he did remarkably well throughout the trip. Just have a look at his logs for this week to see where he has been.

For anyone that is interested, there is a geocaching event in the Isle of Man on 30th July which will include a beach party. We couldn’t recommend it highly enough!

It has been great to see new caches appear around Ireland. I can just hear Joan’s sigh when I tell her about them.
So its back to work now and a few days rest and then perhaps a look at Albert’s, Dino’s, Letty’s, Marcus’ and Fjon’s new ones. I feel a little rural sortie coming on, just as soon as I build a couple of brownie points.

32 into 24 does go (32 Counties of Ireland in under 24 hours) · Mar 31, 05:18 PM by admin

Geocaching dash around Ireland (actually 22 hours and 57 minutes) on 26/3/06.
Much more detail available: http://www.mccartan.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=976
and
http://www.mccartan.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=784&start=0

The Route

Ok, what can I say? Some trip and quite an achievement!

Dino put it up to us some time ago when he referred to the guys in the UK and their trip. Firstly, let me say that this was not specifically an attempt to beat their record as there is really no comparison between the two trips. When you consider the overall number of caches in the UK, the motorways available and the multitude of roadside caches there, it will obviously be possible to reach many more caches than 32 in a day. Their trip, presumably, was to “find” new caches in a day, ours was simply to “visit, open and log” a cache in each of the 32 counties in a day. We are limited to an overall 400 or so caches most of which have been found already particularly by the group involved in our trip. We have 1500 finds between the four of us so that means we already had the island pretty much covered.

For me, it must be said that much of the enjoyment of our trip was in the preparation. We put hours and hours into working out routes and times in order to get the maximum distance completed in the shortest time. We kept track of every new or interesting cache that popped up which could make the trip more possible. We even went to the trouble of checking out a few caches in distant parts just to make sure that they were actually there. We did have alternatives planned, just in case, but fortunately we didn’t need them. In total a couple of months went into the planning and every possible problem was considered.

The M50 was closed for 4 hours yesterday due to some “cowboy” activity. Can you imagine how that would have affected our chances if we arrived in that period? That motorway was essential to the final part of the trip. There were no serious tractor delays throughout and no old ladies in Morris Minors. We were stuck behind a couple of foreign tourists occasionally but not for very long. The rain which had been dogging the plans for days before the trip abated for most of the duration of the trip itself so we had pretty good roads and not much traffic (except in the North).

The original plan was to start in North Wexford and travel the complete opposite way to the one we went. During one of our planning meetings it became clear that we were using our M1 to get a good quick start during the night time hours when really those hours should have been used to get the more tricky roads done when we were far less likely to meet tractors etc. We also knew that if we came under pressure towards the end of the trip that it would be good to have the M1 and M50 to cover a lot of ground.

cockpit The Cockpit of the Caching Wagon

So, we started in Ballyjamesduff in Cavan at 21.00 hours on Saturday night and the intention was to get to Killarney in Kerry and complete 10 counties in 8 hours. This was essential for the success of the trip because we knew we would be under far too much pressure going up through the large counties of the West if that target wasn’t met. The middle of the first 8 hour journey was quite slow as the roads are small and the caches are spread in all directions. It was looking dodgy for a while and we went as far as 30 minutes behind schedule. Steve was doing the driving and he manouvered the L200 beautifully through the southern part of that leg. Letty’s Leader’s Folly caused some consternation due to the tricky and time consuming walk involved. The journey to Kerry was completed far quicker than we expected and between that and some luck around lower Kilkenny and Waterford we made up the time and arrived in Killarney with 5 minutes to spare on our time.

The next target was to arrive at Pay the Percussionist in Fermanagh in the next 8 hours. Donnacha took up the driving up the west coast. As it was still the very early hours of the morning traffic was very light so we made good ground through Limerick, Tipperary and Clare. We started coming under pressure again with a lengthy walk in Gort and long journeys to Knock Airport and then small roads up into Leitrim. Again we went 30 minutes behind our target but fortunately the next 3 caches, Sligo, Ballyshannon in Donegal and Fermanagh, were close enough together to make up the time and we had Pay the Percussionist in our hands on the dot of 1.00pm which was bang on target.

Up to this we had been using every conceivable piece of technology that we could pack into the L200. We had 2 Street Pilots, 3 PDAs, 4 GPSrs and a laptop with Enroute and version 8 to help. In the Republic these were invaluable for making some minor course adjustments along the way to avoid some tricky roads. To a large extent this worked though the poor old L200 and the inverter used nearly went into melt down with the power it was asked to give and every now and then some items had to be switched off.
In the North of Ireland things took on a new twist. The North is so well mapped and covered by version 8 of Mapsource, when asked to bring us the fastest route across the country it used every road it could see. These often turned out to be extremely minor roads. Our target from here was to hit Flurry River in Louth by 5.00 pm to have any realistic chance of completing the task. The trip across Northern Ireland turned out to be the slowest part of the whole trip. Apart from the small roads, we were at the time of day, even for Sunday, when most people were out and about. We were constantly caught in traffic and we only gained ground laboriously and frustratingly. For the first time during the whole planning and preparation process I began to have doubts that it could be achieved.

We also had several caches to do which included time consuming walks, Coots and Moorhens, Motorway Sounds and Tullyhoge Fort. Thankfully both Alan and Steve had in depth experience with the roads in this part of the world. They guided us through them steadily and we arrived in Armagh and All Along the Watchtowers only a little behind schedule. We knew that Flurry River was not far so the only stumbling block left was the cache in Inniskeen in Monaghan. From previous experience we knew this would be the last tricky bit. I couldn’t believe it when we hit Flurry River only 5 minutes off our total schedule. To top that Monaghan proved no difficulty whatsoever and suddenly we were heading down the M1 with time to spare. It started to dawn on us that we could now actually complete this in the actual summertime day of 23 hours. Meath, Dublin and Kildare (a bit tricky) were hoovered up quickly enough. It was now off down the M50 for Wicklow (Jacks Sign) and Wexford (Give and Inch). If yesterday’s delay on the M50 had happened anytime around our arrival in The Pale the whole plan could have gone up in smoke.
As it happened, the motorway was fairly heavy but moving well and a very tired and starving bunch of mad cachers hit the appropriate caches with time to spare.

All in all a great experience and a little bit of Irish Geocaching history set up for all and sundry to equal or better in the future. I believe Micky Harte went around the whole 32 singing and playing in 24 hours, well now a record stands in Geocaching as well.
Anyone ready or willing to take it on???

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