I hadn’t planned on doing a ‘March Challenge’ as the Errigal climb in January and the glacier in February were good enough reason to take a break!
However when I received a message from the wonderful Iain Miller from www.uniqueascent.ie I had my jacket on and was ready to go before I had finished reading the text! Iain had suggested we attempt the activity originally pencilled in for January. The Tyrolean traverse.
What is a tyrolean traverse I hear you ask, well, according to information I stole from Iain’s website, “A Tyrolean traverse is a method of crossing through free air between two high points on a rope. This method is used in a range of mountain related activities including rock climbing, tree climbing, caving and water crossings.
In rock climbing a Tyrolean traverse is most often used to gain access to a sea stack and return to the mainland after climbing the stack. This method ensures a minimum amount of water crossings for the climbing party.” Got it?.. Good.
The location chosen for the crossing was Tor na Dumhcha in Gweedore and the day chosen for the crossing was spectacular.
As you might remember (or not, depending on the number of Guinness consumed) March 17th was a glorious day. I arrived feeling festive in my green t-shirt and was greeted by Iain, his climbing assistant Dave and of course, Oscar the dog. Once we got the pleasantries out of the way it was time to get going. We had a short walk over grass and rock which was quite nice in itself. If you have ever been to the area you will know what I mean. The view is amazing.
We reached our destination with ease and the real work began as Iain took charge and quite literally showed Dave the ropes. They rigged everything up on the land side after which Iain pulled out what looked like a sleeping bag and a pump. It turned out to be an inflatable boat. Once satisfied it was buoyant he threw it over his shoulder and disappeared over the edge of the rock face. If you didn’t know Iain you would be tempted at this point to shout ‘be careful!!’ however, I knew better, as did Oscar who barely batted an eyelid. Iain used the boat to row over to a sea stack from the main land as he had to rig the ropes from one side to the other. (Obviously, otherwise we would be doing an abseil) From start to finish the rope work took about an hour which gives you an idea of the amount of work involved. For them. Oscar and I kept busy by climbing up and down the rocks like children. It was great!
When the ropes had been tested by Iain and Dave it was time to get myself into position. My harness was fitted and I stood comfortably at the edge of the rock looking out over the water. The first thing I noticed was how calm I felt. I have been in similar situations many times now where I am standing above a large drop and each time I felt my heart rate increase. This time however I simply felt excited. It was nice to notice the transition from ‘novice outdoorsy person who is scared of falling’, to ‘ever so slightly more experienced novice outdoorsy person.’ (That sentence really rolls off the tongue doesn’t it.)
Prior to our trip to Iceland last month I would have attempted to walk to the edge without my crutch which is much more difficult and frightening. Now I am happy to bring my crutch as far as I can in order to get into the correct position in a comfortable and safe manner. I leaned back on the rope and began my traverse. It was easier than expected to travel to the middle of the rope as gravity played a predominant role in getting me there. I noticed that the harness was causing problems and felt increasing pain. This was simply due to the fact that my hip and leg were under more pressure than they are used to. Despite this I stopped half way to appreciate the view and to look down into the beautiful greeny/blue water. It was stunning. I then continued on my merry way until I reached the other side where Dave was patiently waiting. He crossed back over and I followed close behind. I had to pull myself up on the other side as the rock protruded out which would have caused nerves pre Iceland. I felt calm and at ease as I hauled myself up the rock with the grace and poise of a drunk elephant.
Once back on the mainland we decided to make the most of the boat and took a trip around the sea-stack. Climbing down the rock was hugely enjoyable largely due to one thing. My footwear. I had worn heavy boots when climbing in the past and felt unstable and clumsy as I couldn’t jam my feet into the cracks of the rock. Iain had often suggested I wear light, tight fitting shoes and when I finally took his advice it paid off. I received a pair of Nike Free running shoes at Christmas which were perfect for the rock. I felt light and agile which gave me confidence. The only time I felt a trickle of nervous energy was when I looked into the boat from the bottom edge of the rock. It was necessary to kneel in the boat and I panicked a little as I thought I wouldn’t be able to. Once in position my nerves settled and I was reminded once again that my body can do more than I give it credit for. We set off around the stack with Iain putting in the hard work as chief rower. I sat behind feeling like lady muck. It was great!
Over all this experience is something I would thoroughly recommend to everyone. It was fun, educational and great exercise. It was also a fantastic way to shake off the cobwebs and any lingering fears that might be hiding below the surface. I realised during this challenge that fear is just a feeling. We can choose to act on it or push it away and move forward regardless. Each time you step out of your comfort zone that fear is losing power and before you know it you might find yourself on the edge of a rock face feeling nothing but excitement and adrenaline.
I would like to thank Iain for once again providing an excellent day of fun. I learn something new every time I am in his company and I look forward to many more days to come.
Thank you also to Dave for his help and providing the entertainment at the end by jumping off the rock into the water like a mad man! I would also like to thank Oscar for being awesome:)