14 June 2010

4 Peaks Challenge - Carrauntoohil

Well 309 climbers are now safely up and down Carrauntoohil, having participated in Focus Ireland's Four Peaks Challenge; where teams climb the highest mountain in each of the four provinces, beginning with Ireland's highest - Carrauntoohil.

We're lucky to work with Focus Ireland, both training the teams beforehand in map reading and mountain skills, and then providing safety cover on Carrauntoohil for the actual challenge itself.

Our brief is to keep track of teams, so at any stage we know where on the mountain teams are; keep teams out of hazard and mishap as best we can, and also stabilise and deal with any injuries or incidents that may occur.

Teams are generally well prepared and we've had no major incidents or injuries over the years, plus the weather is usually pretty good, which makes things a little easier.

The climbers route is up the Hydro Track to the top of Caher, across the Caher Ridge to the summit of Carrauntoohil; then returning the same way.

Myself and my team of twelve mountain instructors and guides meet at the Hydro Track at 730am, before using our four wheel drive jeep to drive as high as we can go. Here we run through the day's action plan, emergency plans, share out safety equipment and perform radio checks with the VHF radios, which are vital on the mountain.

The equipment each member of my team carries includes map and compass, head torch, spare clothing, first aid kit, survival unit and survival bag, walking rope, high visibility jacket and VHF radio.

We have two first aid tents between Caher and Carrauntoohil. These are stocked with flasks of hot drink, neck braces, emergency clothing and sleeping bags, plus survival bags. I have a first aid officer - Dave K - who moves freely over the mountain, ready to deal with minor incidents. I have a rescue officer - Dave R - who is fixed in position at one of the first aid tents, ready to deal with major incidents. The two Daves and I have a separate radio channel to communicate freely on, free from the general radio traffic between the rest of the mountain marshals.

There are four checkpoints across the mountain, which Four Peaks climbers check into, both on the way up and the way down. This way we know where teams are and what time they were at their last checkpoint. Darragh is based at the jeep all day, tracking teams and liaising with mountain marshals. All other marshals are then fixed at danger zones to prevent any incidents, or deal with them if they should happen.

I drove up the Hydro Track initially on Friday morning at about 6am and it was a beautiful morning with faint sunlight just touching the summit cross on Carrauntoohil, however when all my team arrived at 730am the peaks had disappeared behind swirling grey cloud. Over the course of the day this cloud descended lower and lower, eventually all the way down to Checkpoint 1. although the valley was warm and sunny it was a very different climate on the mountain tops, with incredibly poor visibility and a gusting breeze in places. Poor Tadhg, at Checkpoint 2 and John at Checkpoint 4 seemed to be the only two people being constantly rained on!

I haven't often seen visibility as poor as what we experienced on Friday, with peoples voices emerging out of the thick swirling mist, long before their figures appeared. It's a huge credit to all the climbers taking part in the challenge that they all safely and competently navigated their way across up to Caher, across to Carrauntoohil and back to base again.

Teams moved pretty quick across the MacGillycuddy Reeks and we were down and wrapped up by 6pm'ish with no incidents or injuries. Fair play to all the climbers and thanks also again to my fantastic team, who kept the mountain safe for another year!

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