Monday, March 28, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Killarney Day 7: "Can I climb this mountain? I don't know."

We decided to spend Easter Sunday holed up in our room, saving our energy for the immense physical feat of today: climbing Torc Mountain. Though Torc is not the tallest or the most laborious mountain to climb, it is difficult for a person like me, who has never climbed a mountain in anything but a car. But we pushed on, and man, were the views worth it. I felt on top of the world, literally and metaphorically. 33,500 steps, 14 miles, and 130 flights of stairs later, I gladly accepted the comfort of my warm hotel room. It has been quite the day!

 The day began at 9AM, when our professor led us directly to Torc Waterfall via Muckross House. We got to see the house in the early morning sunlight, which was a treat. No tourists milling around, no clouds to cover the light. It was stunning. Then, we climbed through moss-covered forest and followed tiny brooks to the sound of the waterfall up ahead—all the while looking at the mountain looming ahead of us. It looked daunting, but it also looked doable. Challenging, but not impossible. Who knew that by noon, we would reach the top?

As we approached the waterfall, we could hear the water rushing. That is one of my favorite sounds. The stream flowed past us and down into Muckross Lake, where we explored the other day. The waterfall itself is a beautifully lopsided natural structure, but the sound is what I liked the most. After some quick pictures, we made the daunting climb up what felt like a sheer cliff wall of stairs. Then, after we finished with those, it was what felt like a sheer cliff face of muddy path. Then we did some more stairs, and a few more paths, and then we arrived at the entrance to the (thankfully level) wildlife sanctuary. The hike wasn’t too bad from there—a few more slight inclines before we got to the base of the mountain itself. Yes, I went through all of those stairs, and we had not even gotten to the real mountain yet. Ugh. 

But in between those hills and the base was the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. The beige lumps of bog straw piled up over the distance, until they turned into brown mountains across the way. We could see the snowy peaks of Mangerton Mountain, the rocky neighbor of Torc. The river flowed through the bog land, shining amazingly in the morning sun. Streams trickled across the path as they made their way to the larger river, ultimately flowing down the mountain. This was a whole new world that I was so glad I got to see. 

About five minutes later, we reached the base of the mountain. Here, our professor left us to make it to the top. He said it would probably take around an hour and a half, which sounded reasonable. And really, the top didn’t look too far away. That is, until we started climbing. We alternated between regular rock “stairs” (really just rocks that have been arranged in an inclined way to make the going easier) and wooden railway sleepers repurposed as bog bridges. By covering the wood in metal, the sleepers become blocks that let climbers avoid the muddy, squishy, and dangerous boggy ground. They also provide a somewhat flat, uniform surface. These were very helpful in getting all the way to the top, no matter how much I hated walking on them by halfway through.

Yes, the journey was long. Yes, it was difficult. Most things are, especially when mountain climbing is involved. But I learned a lot about myself on the way up there. I was determined to make it to the top, even if it meant running out of breath before I got there, or stopping more than everyone else, or having sore feet by the end of the day. I would not turn around and go back down, even though there were multiple times when that would have been the easier option. I kept chugging along, slowly but surely arriving at the top with my friends. Finally climbing over the last switchback and seeing the three lakes of Killarney, the grounds of Muckross House, Ross Castle, and the city center made the entire day worth the trouble. Even the incoming rain couldn’t stop me from enjoying the incredible, amazing, unforgettable feeling of making it to the top. Though I probably won’t climb a mountain every day, I definitely won’t discount myself as much as I had when I first thought about going. Nothing I feared would happen (ever occurred—I wanted to get to the top, so that is what I did. It was as simple as that.

Registering that rain would indeed come to us if we didn’t leave soon, we all quickly took our photos, ate some snacks, drank some water, and made for the trail back down. Though Diana and I had hung toward the back of the group on the way up, we flew down the at high speed. We both have great balance and footing, so we just left the rest of the gang and shot down in about 20 minutes flat. It was great to jump through puddles, over rocks, and march back down those sleepers that had felt so steep when we were going up. My knees will not like me in the morning, but it was so fun to conquer coming back down.

Back at the base, we began our long, long journey walking back to the hotel. We still had the 30-minute hike down to Muckross House, then an hour walk back to the hotel. We ended up doing it all, but were very weary and just a tad bit tired when we arrived safely back at hour hotel. We spent a lot of energy, we used a lot of muscles. Our feet will probably hurt for a few days now. But we did it. There is nothing in the world that can replace that feeling of perseverance and accomplishment I had when scaling the last few bits of ascent. I am so glad I pushed myself. I would have regretted not seeing what I saw, but more so, I would have regretted not believing in myself. I will be on a cloud for a few days, and I am completely okay with that.

Enjoy the pictures! The view was 360 so it was impossible to get all of it, but I tried my best. It was stunning, and I am so glad I can share them. To anyone thinking about climbing a mountain in the near future—literally or symbolically—I will be the first to cheer you on. But first, I am probably going to sleep for a while.

photo credit Diana Cleveland

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