Sitting on top of a twenty-foot boulder with friends in the middle of the Glendalough Valley and sipping on a drink under a burnt-red, cloudy sky illuminated by distant village lights at night was one of the highlight moments of my trip so far.
Here's how I got there.
It was a four-day climbing trip to Glendalough with a small group of just nine. The plan was pretty simple -- climb all day, hang out at night, repeat.
Glendalough is just a small village nestled up against the rugged border of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. It's about 20 kilometers west of the Irish Sea and 50k south of Dublin. If you blink going through the village center, you'll miss it. After the hairpin turn off of Route 756, there's a few apartment buildings on your right, Casey's Bistro and Pub on your left (a class place to grab a pint and hear some live music), two pop up tents with tourist-targeted Irish paraphernalia, and then you're out. The attraction to Glendalough (apart from extreme Irish-quaintness and awesome scenery) is in St. Kevin's Monastery, which people come from all over to see and explore.
St. Kevin came to the town in the sixth century as an ordained priest of Christianity looking to follow his practice in solitude; Glendalough, Ireland in the sixth century was a solid choice. His home ended up being a cave on the south side of a near-by lake, a cave that is still there to this day and can seen from the trail on the opposing side. I'm assuming it can even be walked to if you're up for a little bushwhacking. He began to generate quite a following in the coming years, to the point where a monastic community was set up in the village causing Glendalough to slowly become a hub for Irish Christianity. Though much of the settlement has either been intentionally removed or destroyed by the years, the round tower from that monastery is still standing to this day; yet another testament to my theory that we have actually digressed in our architectural capabilities rather than progressed.
Being an atypical tourist, my exposure to the tower was a quick wave as we drove by on our way out to the lake where St. Kevin lived, because we were headed to the real gem of Glendalough (or Glenda, as seemed to be the climber's name for it): a massive boulder field, and some of the best climbing in Ireland.
If you walk all the way around the lake to the western tip (about a half hour walk) you'll see the landscape do a quick change from tall pines and dirt paths to steep cliffs and loose gravel. This valley
was once home to a massive mining community, the ruins of which straddle the path as you walk into the boulder field; doorways, window wells, fireplaces, it's all still there. It was a little unnerving to see them illuminated by headlight when we had to walk out in the pitch dark.
The first afternoon consisted of just a few trad routes before we had to hike back out to stay at a nearby hut for the night. Day two began the bouldering. For a good number of the people on the trip, myself included, this was a first time experience of bouldering on rock. I've been doing it in a gym for a few months now but, as it was with top roping, climbing on rock is a whole different ball game.
The first big hurdle was gaining confidence in falling and not killing yourself. It's one thing to throw yourself across the wall in a gym when you have a solid padding below you to cushion the impact in case you fall. But, that same move becomes a whole lot scarier when it's a bunch of rock and hard ground below you with just a few foldable crash mats covering the objects most likely to cause injury.
People were absolutely exhausted after the second day, but all smiles from the success of claiming their first boulders and seeing some improvement in just the hours spent climbing. The reward was a river-side, headlight-lit dinner of pasta with the smooth ambiance of flowing water in the background. Perfection.
It was the second night that we decided to camp out in the valley. There was a spit of grass that sat in the middle of the stream that flowed down to the lake, and on that spit of grass was a big ol' boulder appropriately named Big Jim. Luckily, Big Jim left just enough room for three tents so we tip-toed across the stream and set up camp.
Unfortunately, the clouds had rolled in and blocked out the stars. Laying there on the rock I could only imagine what the view must look like on a clear night. But the quietness that set in and the stillness of the valley were still powerful enough to make it an incredible experience. And it was as if with the stillness setting in came a sense of just how old the
valley was. The rocks around us had been there for thousands of years, the same rocks St. Kevin could have seen. Hell, maybe St. Kevin bouldered Big Jim... wouldn't that be something.
The group of us sat up there for over an hour, just talking and enjoying the moment of being out there. I look at camping as a privileged experience. It can definitely be an unenjoyable privilege; waking up to pouring rain and having to break tents down in the freezing cold is never fun. But the privilege comes from getting to see things and be places at a time of day that most people don't. It's like the VIP access to the world around you, yet free of charge and on reserve only for those who want to experience it.
You also get to be disconnected from the world for a few days. I'm not an anti-social person who doesn't like to communicate but there is something seriously refreshing about being able to think "Where's my phone, I haven't seen it in a few hours... ah doesn't matter, it's in my bag somewhere." You can become completely invested in interacting with the people around you at that moment, something I don't think we do very often anymore.
Days three and four went off without a hitch. More top-outs, more scraped hands and knees, and more good times. There is an awesome communal vibe that's generated when a group of people are bouldering. It's the perfect combination of teamwork, support, and encouragement. Whether it's shouting that extra word of encouragement as someone makes a big move for the top, or pointing out that small foothold just outside their field of view, people are there to help each other and have a good time climbing.
Some pictures from the weekend are up already with a few more on the way! Be sure to check out Saturday morning's sunrise in the hiking section. I decided not to write about it and just let the picture speak for itself -- it was UNREAL.
Thanks for reading :)