Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Brewers' Ryan Braun - drugs cheat

Mixed emotions on Ryan Braun's drug suspension - obviously disappointed in someone that I admired - but delighted to see some action being taken by the sport. He got off 2 years ago (in his MVP season) on what was assumed to be a technicality - no doubt making the authorities more determined to catch him.

However the suspension is a bit of a joke - he'll miss the rest of the season - 65 games in a 162 game season. Brewers bottom of their division, already out of contention, no real impact.

Interesting reaction from the Brewers' owner - e-mail to all fans:

Even more interesting is that he's PAYING FANS TO TURN UP:

Desperate times......

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Lug up Lugnaquilla

Lugnaquilla - or just Lug - is the highest mountain in Wicklow. At 925m (3035 ft), it is also the highest peak in Ireland outside Kerry. In Scotland, it would qualify as a Munro. It's a serious enough mountain in winter, with avalanches and rescues in recent years, and options for ice-climbing on the North and South Prisons which guard the peak.

I first hiked up Lug in the late 90's, and was up only once since then, in January 2001. The latter was with Richenda, about 3 days after we first met. Tom, you were there too (as was Eoghan, and a few others). It was a seriously cold day, and no time to hang around on top. I don't think an exaggeration to say than minus 15 with wind chill.

Last week was the first time I realised it was possible to bike up Lug. With the seed planted, it seemed there was a bit of interest and in the end with not much planning (except a map, and knowing the route up and down) Paul and I met up with Andy in the beautiful Glenmalure valley last Sunday evening at 6:30.

We were ambitiously aiming for a 3 hour loop, but had lights (and one bivvy bag between three!) just in case. So, off up the valley, northwest - past the beautiful An Óige hostel, following the course of the Avonbeg river.

The first 15 minutes were probably the toughest of the whole circuit. It was seriously hot, like nothing I've experienced in Ireland (at that time of day). The terrain was gravel fireroad, slippy. On we climbed.

Looking back to Glenmalure valley.


Harder than it looks. Andy, with Paul behind.

This sign clarified that mountain-biking is a prohibited activity. We took a left here onto a smaller trail, heading up towards Table mountain.

Up at 700 m. now, just like that. This is the boundary of the Glen of Imaal military range - " not touch any military debris,  it may explode and kill you...".

 Paul and Andy. Taking a breather here.

A gentle climb to Camenabologue, Lug is now visible.

Cairn at Camenabologue (758 m). There is a sting in the tail here though, as we dropped down over 100 m, and more climbing to follow.

 A bit of carrying needless to say.

Check out those views - you could see every mountain in Wicklow from up here: Sugar Loaf, Djouce, Tonlagee, Mullacleevaun, Kippure, Turlough hill, Lugduff...

The cliff is the one of the faces of Lug, down to Art's Lough below.

Paul silhouetted.

More views...

...and the sunset.

The three of us on top. Still plenty of light, right?

Um, puncture.

From the top, it was flowing (whooping) downhill, leading to technical (less whooping) rocky downhill, and finally the zig-zags (super fast switchbacks - more whooping) back down to the valley floor, and a short ride back the road to the car. It was fairly dark by now, but we had just about gotten away without lights. A plague of monster midges here, like nothing I've ever witnessed - we were being eaten alive.

The stats: it took us four hours to get around, but my moving time was 2 hours 45, so there was plenty of hanging about, taking it all in. Average speed was a hopelessly slow 7.8 km/h (possibly explained by the ~900m. climbing).

This was a really special and epic spin, real mountain-biking (as in, we biked up and down a reasonably large mountain), and something I wouldn't have even contemplated a week ago. We were all very buzzed up, and to be honest despite the (nice) tiredness, it was hard to sleep that night. The conditions were absolutely pristine - this is normally a seriously boggy circuit, and we didn't even get a foot wet. This is clearly the best summer we've had in this country in decades. Are you making the most of it?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Ancient Brambles arête & the lost ring

Rock Climbing is my favourite thing to do in the outdoors, the places it brings you, the freedom, the feeling of satisfaction are not really paralleled for me.
In 2009 I took a breath and realised I had not been on the rock since Easter 2006 when I spent an amazing five days at Pedraforca in the Pyrennes (including a benighting after climbing the stunning line circled in the picture).

Living in Waterford and hiking up to the amazing Coumshingaun I had been wanting to get up there climbing. I had a Saturday outing with Cormac in July to the excellent Ballykeefe Quarry in Kilkenny and then on a September Sunday I went up to the coum with Andy, where we fought through the typical rain and got up a 25m route on the south-facing cliff - Devices & Desires (HS 4B). Too many plans foiled by the weather, too little time.

Martin and I started hatching plans for Costa Blanca and that November we spent 3 prime days climbing there (including Penon d'Ifach pictured below).

I had not been on the rock since, going on 4 years. Over the June bank holiday weekend I brought my 6 year old on the climbing wall in Dingle, she flew up the 20m walls and loved it. Then I read McG's post about midweek night summer rides and I got inspired.

I started climbing outdoors through a beginner's climbing course in Dalkey quarry with the Irish 
Mountaineering Club in spring/summer 1992. On that course I made a lad, Colm, and we purchased a rope and basic rack together. 2 years later I moved to the USA, before going we split the gear, buying a 2nd rope which Colm kept, with me retaining the original. I climbed all over with this rope until I dislodged a rock at Ti Point in New Zealand in 2000 which ended up badly damaging the rope at the half way point and ending up with 2 25m ropes. I still have the damaged piece:

Colm and I had briefly got back in touch last year over a phone call but I had not seen him in a long time. I got on which hosts a wiki for climbing in Ireland and I saw 2 small crags in Westmeath both near Castlepollard. With me in Athlone and Colm in Dublin I proposed we meet up at one, the Rock of Curry, and go climbing.

We arranged to meet up the evening of Wednesday 19 June which turned out to be a lovely evening. We eventually both found the little farmers lane described on the wiki at about 7.30. The crag looked impressive, especially for the Midlands, perched up there from the road and we started catching up on nearly 20 years as we got organised.

We could hear farm equipment on the go and we kept an eye out for the farmer to have a chat. It was not long before he came up to us, he was a nice lad but unfortunately there was no way we could climb there he said. I showed him the details of the crag on the web and he was unaware of previous climbing done there in 2010 & 2011. His stance was that with the crag and access being on his land, one sue would shut him down.

It's an unfortunate situation in Ireland where there are almost no public right of ways at all. I got the farmers details and have since talked to the Mountaineering council of Ireland's Access officer who is going to contact him and expects to put him at ease. So I hope to get back to the Rock of Curry this summer!

I remembered the 2nd crag in Westmeath and getting connectivity back in Castlepollard we found the crag was close by in Fore. The small outcrop is unmissable from the town being a 5min walk up behind the graveyard. In the summer evening light the gorgeous view from the base of the crag of the valley overlooked the old Benedictine Abbey ruin of Fore Abbey where St Feichín founded an Early Christian monastery around 630 AD.

Colm had brought his rope, it turns out it was the 2nd rope we had bought in 1994, which I had never climbed on, tonight was to be the first time. The climbing wiki describes 3 routes on the rock the first put up in 1974. It must have been after 9 when I tied in and started up this route in the middle of the buttress. Starting to climb, I noticed my ring and down climbed tossing it into the side pocket of my bag. The rock was solid but had some loose bits due to not being climbed on frequently. There was an obvious crux (hard bit of the climb) which I worked on for a while, on stepping up over the bulge it felt a bit loose and taking account of the time of the day and wanting to get something done I backed off.

Really I fancied the small arête 5 metres to the right which was unclimbed! I have only put up one route before, on the North Island in New Zealand, a chimney I christened Buzzing Web. This was a not so difficult climb but it felt great to be on the rock again. As I climbed the arête the vertical ridge became more obvious and would look more aesthetic if some gardening was done to remove the vegetation.

With the fine evening we were in shorts and getting to the top of the pillar it became obvious pretty quickly when I tried to go further that I was being ripped to shreds. With the night drawing in I decided to setup a belay station which we could abseil from slinging the pillar with a 5m corlette.

When I got home I added the climb to the wiki and called it Ancient brambles arête. The following day I missed my ring and that night went through my bag - absolutely gutted to not find it. Christine had given me this ring when we got married at sunset on a boat in Hawaii, this was not cool. Colm checked and it was not in his bag. I could not believe I had not hung it on some gear and just tossed it in the bag loosely and absent-mindedly. I took a half day on Friday and rented a metal detector and went back to Fore with all the family where we diligently spent 2 hours finding and digging up old beer cans and the like. We came to the conclusion that a cow had eaten it in the grass. When I found a story about a wedding ring being found in a cow when it was cut up 3 years after being sucked off the finger I was not too hopeful. We talked about heading back with a couple of detectors checking all the patties. Also, Christine since rang the garda station and tourist office.
You can see the detecting going on in the picture!

Last night I finally got to reorganising my gear nearly 2 weeks after the climb at Fore.

Sorting my second last piece, I was blown away so see sitting on the carabiner on one of the extenders my ring! Subconsciously old habits died hard and I must have slipped the ring on a carabiner when throwing it into the bag without even realising it.
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