I conquered Croagh Patrick!
The name Croagh Patrick first rang into my ears when my fiance's father asked if we were keen to climb a holy mountain at a place near Westport, Mayo County and without much consideration, my fiance said yes as he was always up for an adventure. Very quickly an event was set up in Facebook, Trip to Ireland and nine of our family members signed up for it. Following weeks were focused on booking flights, accommodations and rental cars but while all these were going on, I hesitated for a while if I should even be doing it. First of all, I had to battle a 13 hours flight from Singapore to London and then adjust to the UK timezone. Secondly, I couldn't possibly see myself climbing up some hill let alone a holy mountain but in the end, I took up this challenge hoping that by conquering this mountain, I would perceive things differently in life and I was right!
I started to do a little research about Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phádraig in Gaelic) with all the usual where, what, how, when, why questions in my mind. To my surprise, this holy mountain turned out to be one of the famous pilgrimage mountain in Ireland and was locally known as "the Reek" that lies some 10 km west of the town near the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey. Most importantly, this mountain has formed itself as a backdrop to the nearby villages and town. A quick search in google and you could find beautiful images of Croagh Patrick posted by people over the years and I could see why some of them would want to climb this holy mountain.
Six weeks before I was going to climb a mountain, it only made sense if I did some research on what's the requirement (physically) and what I should be bringing or carrying along with me. Before doing any high intensity outdoor activities and I reckon mountain climbing is one of them, you should have gone through at least six weeks intensive training depending on the height and weather conditions of the mountain you are climbing. Apparently, fashion plays a big part as you should be equipped with top notch hiking boots, wind breaker, sweater, hiker pants or tights, walking stick and UV protected sunglasses based on my extensive google research.
You could tell from this point, I should be mentally, physically and fashionably prepared for this once in a lifetime adventure but the truth was I did not prepared myself at all, not the six weeks supposedly intensive training nor the fashionably top notch hiking boots, wind breaker or UV protected sunglasses, let alone mentally prepared. All I knew was I had to do it and complete the challenge in the safest mode possible.
In Ireland, it rains for about nine months of the year and the remaining three months does not guarantee you with sunshine either. On the day we set off to climb the holy mountain, we were blessed with great weather conditions. All I wore was a jumper and a thermal pants as my base with a fleece coat and a pair of black jeans on top of that, along with two layers of thick socks and my favorite pair of Nike sneakers plus a thick coat and we were off with our backpack filled with water bottles, energy bars, chocolates, camera and woolen scarf. While nine of us came to Ireland, only seven of us decided to climb the holy mountain as the other two ladies decided to head towards town for tea and shopping instead.
At the foot of the mountain, I rented a walking stick which was craved from wood branches and fairly sturdy for €3 and if you returned it before 6pm, you would get €1 back. It took us probably 15 minutes to get everyone ready at the car park before we could start off at around 12.30pm and while I was waiting for everyone to be ready, I realized my whole mountain climbing attire was too much apparently. People were wearing t-shirts, shorts or lulu lemon pants while I wrapped myself like an Eskimo (too late to change into anything else).
Ideally it should take us approximately 4 hours to do a round trip, getting up and down the mountain but in reality, it took us 6 hours and more because we all experienced challenges due to the difference in our age group and physique type. We started off by climbing up a small slope followed by fleet of steps leading up to Saint Patrick Statue to the foot of the mountain where the path begins. During my first hour of climbing, I had to learn how to walk steadily on stony roads without slipping while supporting my weight on a wooden stick. The next hour, I learned how to handle different weather conditions while climbing, every 10 minutes or so, I seemed to be adjusting my coat, my scarf and my hoodie while trying to do a balancing act on the stony roads with my wooden stick.
Two hours later came the most challenging part, where I had to battle with extreme hot sun shining on me while chilly wind was blowing every sand there was in my path onto my face. To top that off, I kept hearing other climbers who were on their way down, telling me you are nearly there, don't give up. Funny enough, the word "nearly there" took me another 45 minutes to finally reach the top where I was greeted with much colder and stronger winds while the sun was still shining on my face the whole time. If it wasn't for my wooden stick, I could have be blown off the mountain along with the sand and rubbish I saw on my way up.
The cold wind was somewhat unbearable. When I reached the very top of the mountain, my first thought was to find a place to warm up. Luckily the small chapel was opened as there was a school field trip going on that day and I quickly went in and hid in a corner while students were busy taking wefies and teachers were talking and praying. I was the only one in our group who managed to enter the chapel by chance and I was told later on that I must be very lucky as the chapel was closed most of the time. It simply amazes me how this chapel was even built at 2510ft high up and yes this is how tall Croagh Patrick stands from sea level. I was in there for less than 10 minutes before one of the teachers told me she had to lock up the chapel and so I had to leave the chapel to look for the rest of my group members. At this point, I was thinking, where is my fiance? Shouldn't he be accompanying me along the way up here?
As it turned out, he was still struggling to reach the top while trying to help his aunt who was basically climbing up on her hands and knees at that point. I found the rest of my group members who were also desperately trying to hide from the chilly strong wind at the other side of the chapel building and while waiting for the last two members to join us before having a few energy snack bars and drinks, we sat down and enjoyed the beautiful scenery in front of us. We started to take a few group pictures as quickly as possible and it was then my fiance and his aunt managed to pop their faces over for a quick wefie. Due to the extreme cold weather up there, we quickly said our goodbyes to the holy mountain and started to make our way down as it was nearly 5pm by then.
Strange enough, I found it much easier to make my way down the mountain then climbing up. As I took small little steps down as I was still walking on stony roads looking down at 45 degree angle (dangerous view), I stopped for a moment and did some self-reflection. For those who have climbed a mountain, you would definitely be able to relate to what I am about to say. The moment you made it to the top of the mountain, you knew nothing else matters as you can now accept any form of challenges, issues or problems that are thrown at you and for whatever reason it is, you know you have the power to overcome it, change it and resolve it.
It took me another one and a half hour to finally reached the foot of the mountain and by that time, it was nearly 6.30pm. I was greeted by my fiance and we walked towards the car park together, meanwhile, we took a couple more pictures to document our adventure together. In the end, the seven of us conquered Croagh Patrick successfully and safely within 7 hours with minor bruises here and there but nothing alarming. We celebrated our great achievement over dinner and headed back to our lovely cottage feeling all bruised, sandy and in pain. After a hot shower, I went straight off to bed, no second thoughts.
Although it has been 15 days since I last step foot on that mountain, I could still remember the cool breeze (at the foot, not the top for sure), the beautiful scenery and the lovely pastures where goats were seen gazing about. If I could pen down every step, every climb, every walk, every slip and every fall of this journey, it could well possibly turned this write up into a short novel or I could just summarize my entire experience in four words, "No Pain, No Gain" and although physically it was tormenting but overall experience was priceless! Would I do it again? Perhaps but for now, I am blessed to be savoring fond memories of this mountain trip. Thank you, Croagh Patrick!