23 May 2014

Rock Climbing, By Manchán Magan

Rock Climbing – Outdoors Ireland
Manchán Magan

There is something debilitating about Killarney: the vast hotels, inflated coaches and the avaricious jarvies and their jaunting cars causing tailbacks on every route through town. And yet beyond it lies such beauty: the renowned lakes of Killarney, Muckross House, and the Gap of Dunloe, a wild and rugged landscape forged by glacial flows during the last ice age.

On my last visit I remember the indignity of battling through queues of rotund Americans piling off coach tours to rent a horse and cart to take them through the Gap. I had plans to walk above it, along the edge of Killarney National Park on the crest of Tomies Mountain and Purple Mountain, until I heard that Outdoors Ireland were now offering rock climbing courses up the sheerest sides of the Gap.. It sounded too good to miss – a way of engaging with the MacGillycuddy's Reeks in a radically more elemental way that sitting in a pony and trap.

I had envisaged an easy introduction to rock climbing - a gentle slope with plenty of deep fissures and handy grab points. Instead, I found myself at the base of a sheer sandstone monolith with a rope suspended from high above which we were expected to tie ourselves to before attempting to scale the height – a flank of cliff-face on the western side of the Gap of Dunloe. It certainly galvanised our attention.

Outdoors Ireland appears to favour the sink-or-swim teaching method, and while it ought to lead to panic and mutiny, instead it sparks a heroic determination to climb up to that glinting aluminium carabiner far above.

The reward is not just exhilaration, or phenomenal views across Black Lake to Purple Mountain, but the relief of then being gently lowered back to earth by your belay partner (rope controller) who has encouraged you up and kept the rope taut on your way skywards. The motivational charge that propels even the most scrawny-bodied weakling up a sheer rock face is miraculous.

With a rope and harness ensuring safety, there is nothing to fear except lack of self-belief. On the first and second attempt, the mind’s self-preservation instinct holds you back, but almost immediately the brain begins to readjust. You realise that for once in your life it is okay to dare, to take big risks - the rope will keep you safe. You try for a few bold, brave grabs and, amazingly, they succeed. You become aware of all that extra potential at your disposal – all these resources that we fail to tap into in our daily experience because there isn’t usually a rope to catch us on the rare occasion we may overstretch ourselves.

Soon, you become swept up in an exhilaration of potential: you reach out for miniscule cracks and crevices to allow you climb ever higher. It’s an intoxicating experience. More than half our group (me included) couldn’t manage even one proper push up, yet somehow we were able to scale vertical slabs of rock, finding muscles in our chest, hips, knees, shoulders, fingers and thighs to make up for lack of biceps. The rock comes alive beneath your fingers and toes - crevices, gullies, shards of flint and lichen patches. It’s a thrill to engage so intensely with 350 million-year-old rock. You become intimate with the rusted, iron-oxide sparkles, lines of mica and pure crystalline quartz in the folds and strata formed by crumpled and colliding landmasses over eons.

I don’t know what I expected from a rock climbing course, but it wasn’t the life-coaching session it turned out to be. Climbing those cliffs changed my perspective on things. The presence of that multi-coloured, woven rope, securely tied to my harness from above and kept taut by a colleague on the ground allowed me take chances that I wouldn’t normally take. And when those chances pay off, it made me realise how much I underestimate my potential and the degree to which my surroundings will help me if I trust in them. It gets you thinking about the latent ability we all must have within us that we don’t tap into.

I am not sure if I will continue rock climbing or not, but those two days with the buzzards and ravens overhead, the jarvies calling from down belong and the stubborn heather dangling in mid-air from high crevices gave me an experience I won’t easily forget.

For More: www.outdoorsireland.com/rockclimbing.php

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