08 September 2017
Today was the day of days. It was sunny this morning – a rarity – and then pouring rain and back to sun. On our way to retrieve the horses, a rainbow was in the sky. Did not try to find any leprechauns or a pot of gold. But I probably should, since I want to move here! The two Florida women left early for fear of Irma.
A brief spout of rain when we headed out for our ride, but otherwise, the roads were clear for us to trot, retracing some steps from yesterday. But then farmlands of sheep, goats, and cattle with such green grass all around we got to ride through. Just thinking of the history of all the stonewalls and old stone barn ruins was exciting. We had to dismount and hike our horses up a hill to the top of the brim where we could almost see the ocean if not for one more hill. But after we scaled down the hill, we met the red minibus and had lunch and coffee to refuel. Toibin was of course ready for lunch.
Once refueled, we began our arduous trip up the hill but it was well worth it. Once mounting and getting a few drinks in for the horses, and ourselves we were met with scenery that like many of us, the Irish take for granted. With one last sprinkle of rain, blue skies fought the clouds that retreated rapidly. What it revealed was endless – the Connemara Mountains, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Mohr. So much to see and so little words. It was all I could do to keep taking deep breaths and taking in the fresh air and moments as long as I could.
We took our last breaths of the apple-cinnamon round bales, the views of heather and heaps of the most diverse wildflowers, the endless stinging nettles trying to sting us as we took a wee, but most of all, taking the last view and breath of our horses we have become so close to this week. And now, we must say good-bye to each other from all walks of the globe – USA, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden.
07 September 2017
A gray morning it was. We got out to the horses just a few miles out of town, and got saddled and mounted before the rain started, which was almost instantly. It was more misting, but as we get closer to the Atlantic, the wind was quiet heavy.
Just after we left the main road, we passed by a our first glimpse of rocky limestone cliffs that are characteristic of the Burren, as well as a stone memorial with a cross. Back in 1997, a man was on his way home from the pub, and though is friends asked to drive him, he said he would walk. He was walking along the stonewalls, when he lost his balance and fell in one of of the disappearing lakes that are formed from heavy rains, and then rapidly disappear in about a days time. An uplifting story for the day.
The rain began to get heavier as we made our way along the road passed many farms lined with stone walls for fencing. Back in the day, they used to have to move stones to get livestock in and out of pastures and then restack the stones. We passed the ruins of an old law school as well.
Then the rain got even heavier. We had to dismount and walk a busy road before continuing on the Burren Trail. We had only a short distance to ride before we reached a picnic area for lunch and we could change and add some layers for warmth. The rain stopped for a while as we fueled ourselves with coffee and tea before mounting into our wet saddles.
After lunch, it was a few hour ride through Burren National Park. It was truly otherworldly. There are no words to describe the rock formations, cliffs, boulders that line the fields throughout, exposing geological layers that tell the story of glaciers and ice ages. It stopped raining just enough to have some photo time, but with the wind, we carried on soon enough.
Winding our way down the hills, the wind settled and we found ourselves back on the road, passing sheep and barking dogs. But were just outside of Lisdoovarna, and we now have our first glimpse of the Atlantic, preparing us for the Cliffs of Mohr tomorrow and with any luck, a view of the Aran Islands and the Connemara Mountains.
For now though, we are checked into the hotel for the night and getting warm by whatever means –shower, coffee, tea, whiskey…
06 September 2017
How could I not say another glorious day! No rain at all, well unless you count early in the morning and it of course only because I sat my suitcases outside. But it was sunny when I did. Oh, Ireland!
Our horses were led down by our guides, with one horse being led, and the others bounding down the hill. Toibin was super muddy today. It’s always nice to have a warm up. We got on our way, straight up the steep, grassy fields, and to the top of the hill, where were still managed to find bogs. The water was so deep in one area, it rivaled the lake yesterday as far as depth was concerned.
We started out with more galloping, and finally getting my legs stronger and getting Toibin to stop cross-canter and move into a canter I can somewhat sit to. But again, the fairy-tale setting! Moss so green and plump, you wish you could just nap on it. Especially after lunch. And the heather seems to be getting more and more purple. We are now entering the burrens and seeing the landscape changing. Grassier fields, rockier and more boulders throughout the landscape, but there are still horses, cows, and sheep everywhere. And mega sheep! Whatever they may be.
The green landscape full of hills, farms, and pines is breathtaking still, but we overnight in Corofin, and finding ourselves back in civilization. There was a highway were it would be to dangerous if not prohibited to ride the horses on, so outside of town, we had to untack, and load them on a lorry and wish them well until tomorrow, for their field is on the other side of the highway. It was sad not be able to remove their halters and watch them trot off or roll happily. But memories are most important, as I keep telling myself as I go to pull out my camera. Nothing can ever do the sites, thoughts, smells, and memories as the photos in your mind.
But what civilization does bring, are people and pubs. We visited a local pub here in town, were I had the obligatory fish and chips. Only time I plan to. And of course, Irish lager. But I am saving my Guinness and Jameson for another night. Though we only rode 11 miles over 4.5 hours, I am still sleepy. And of course, beer does not help, but, we are in Ireland and it is the ONLY thing open.
Off to get closer to Galway tomorrow!
05 September 2017
Today we met our mounts in the field we left them for the night. With a bit of whistling, calling his name, and of course, food, Toibin started to come up to me. Another great part about having a horse. The rains held off most of they day and the sun was peaking through at us.
We rode high up on the hills with views of amazing Irish farms – so green, the cattle, and of course, the sheep! Many times, we were greeted by other horses in the fields we were riding next to, whom decided to trot alongside us for a bit. Continuing up through the woods of Slieve Aughty Mountains, we kept getting higher and passed along many stone ruins. Most of the ruins are of farming villages where the people came together to live and work on a landlord’s farm, and for it, they were given the potatoes to eat. Of course, once the potato blight came along, and the Potato Famine hit, the people moved to cities to find work, left on boats to America where they often died of illness, or other means, leaving the farm villages behind.
We continued to weave through the forest of muck, the roads along farms that smelled of apple-cinnamon from the round bale hay, and passed bright stone houses lined with flowers of various colors and the obligatory yellow lab or border collie in the yard. Lunchtime lead us to a road alongside preservation land, still lending breathtaking views.
After lunch, we continued to gain ground uphill before entering the White Sand park, where endless switchbacks, each turn highlighting a view of Lough Derg, endued us up on the sandy shores of the lake. Like the story of “Red Lake” the bottom was red. We singled-filed the horses and began to ford the lake. Being shallower than I thought, the horses still heaved up their heavy hooves, making great splashes in the water, and smiles on faces. As we trotted, the splashes and smiles both grew bigger. Right out of storybook.
Although we passed the little red minivan, it wasn’t waiting there for us. No. We rode another hour and a half though around the lake, on new roads for new homes. The wind picked up, feeling like a fall evening in the States. Cool and crisp. And though our bums ached, no one complained. We kept our smiles and or views until the little red minivan once again appeared. We unsaddled, walked the horses to their field for the evening, watched them trot up, up, and away up the hill. Looking at our watches, we had ridden 20 miles in 6.25 hours. It was now a half-hour before dinner. Famished!
Tomorrow, we leave An Sibin Riding Center and heads towards the Atlantic Ocean. We will overnight in a new town, Loftin, for the night, with promises of many pubs. I am holding out on Guinness until I can have one on tap. Meanwhile, it’s ciders and lagers.
Oh, the things I have missed about horses…
My first published piece! Thank you Misadventures magazine! This story is about my journey to East Africa and visiting Dian Fossey’s grave in Rwanda back in 2012.
With ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda remains one of only two countries where the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas can be safely viewed, along with Uganda. Each year, approximately 17,000 people travel to Volcano National Park to see these striking quadrupeds. Upon visiting the area, fewer people extend the trip and make the half-day journey to the relics of the Karisoke grounds, visiting the final resting place of the iconic woman who studied these extraordinary animals.
Ten-plus years as a student and wildlife biologist have thickened my skin, as the field parallels that of Fossey’s day. The profession remains largely male-oriented; often times it feels like an uphill battle trying to win opportunities and be taken seriously. Because of this, Dian Fossey has been an exceptional role model for me: a woman whose struggles and triumphs I turn to whenever hardships surface on the job. With no formal training, she persuaded Louis Leakey to allow her to study the gorillas. He believed women stood decidedly more patient – a skill vital for such ongoing research projects, and a proficiency so brilliantly demonstrated by her chimpanzee-research colleague, Jane Goodall.
The big 3-0 arrived for me in 2012 and East Africa was my ultimate destination that year. The entire trip centered around visiting Fossey’s grave. I had a full month of holiday devoted to all the classics. But my final two days in Africa brought it all home: hikes to view the Mountain Gorillas and visit Fossey’s grave.
A rotund Ugandan man picked me up from my lodging at a Catholic monastery, delivering stories though a dense accent I could hardly understand, though I couldn’t help but smile at his animation and excitement. After 20 minutes, he dropped me off in Volcano National Park, where I filed in with the hundreds who came to view Mountain Gorillas. Groups divided based on physical demands. I felt fighting-fit after summiting Kilimanjaro and opted for a more strenuous walk: two hours weaving up endless switchbacks, until we made it to the stone-wall entrance of the park. Our shirts heavy with sweat, we scrambled over the fence, trading hilly potato fields for a wall of greenery. The gorillas lingered nearby. My pace quickened with the exhilaration Fossey must have felt decades ago.
Suddenly, the renowned primates appeared almost out of nowhere. A mother and infant Mountain Gorilla materialized before my eyes. One by one, the complete Bwenge family appeared, including the male silverback. The time had come to stop being a tourist, put the camera away and enjoy my fleeting time with these amazing creatures.
That evening, my Ugandan driver joined me for dinner. Indulging in well-deserved Primus beers, we chatted as I nursed my nettle wounds and recovered from the vigorous four-hour hike up to 3,000 meters. Barely able to lift my beverage, I thanked him for the day’s workout and conveyed my anticipation for Fossey’s grave the following morning. Intriguingly, he shared thoughts similar to those I had read in National Geographic: the Rwandan government was probably not blameless in Fossey’s murder. He further educated me about the numerous former poachers who converted to gorilla trackers and guides for the tourism industry.
The following morning, he came to collect only me. Hundreds of anxious gorilla viewers loitered at the visitor center, but today, how many of us would go pay homage to the woman who made it all possible? In about an hour’s time, my leader emerged. As I scanned behind me, the multitudes had disappeared and only a French lady remained, clutching a basket of hideous funeral-styled flowers. This was it: “the group.”
The path resembled yesterday’s, but today my locomotive huffing and puffing stayed far from my mind. Recalling the film Gorillas in the Mist, I envisioned Fossey’s initial walk to this camp. The jungle loomed as equally colossal now as then. How long did it take her to get back to civilization? Might these be her same tracks? Maybe these deliberations mimicked ones my French companion entertained, though we could not express them to each other.
Remnants of structures comprised camp boundaries: the kitchen, the volleyball court, Fossey’s original cabin. Spiraling through, we reached a dwarfed wooden fence filled with tiny grave markers and a large one. “Nyiramachabelli.” Translated: “the lone woman of the forest.” The Rwandan name she acknowledged and the name she took with her to the grave, inscribed on the headstone above her English one.
The plot beside Fossey belonged to none other than the infamous male gorilla, Digit. For the first time during the entire hike, the French lady and I connected. We stood side-by-side: two lone women who hiked to pay tribute to this remarkable woman. Tears filled our eyes and we each sank down on one knee in respect.
Silence dominated the return to the visitor center, but my thoughts churned boundlessly. I became more inspired than ever. Fossey’s energy surged through me. Perhaps one day my work with wildlife would be recalled as fondly as hers. Regardless, I felt recharged and prepared to work hard because in her own immortal words: “when you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.”
May 9, 2016. The summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire received 2.8″ of snowfall winds gusting at 103 mph today. Winter had returned. Those conditions rang familiar with my first attempt at the Mount Washington summit.
My feelings towards Mount Washington are mixed, to say the least. The first trip there was after months of training hikes to prepare of the strenuous conditions (you may recall a previous blog) in January 2015. I was fit, equipped with crampons, axes, and loaded with a weekend worth of food in my 60 liter pack.
The hike to Harvard Cabin was a pure slice of hell. While less than 3 miles, the sustained uphill climb in over 2 feet of snow led to immediate shedding of clothing layers, profuse sweating, and a lot of swearing. Why the hell did I pack so much s%&t!
Reaching the cabin after what felt like days, my sites were on dry clothes, food, and my sleeping bag that resided somewhere in the deep depths of my pack. Our party was full of characters (a topic for another time), all in good alpine spirits.We were ready for 2 days of skill learning.
Saturday played in our favor. A continuous dumping of fresh powder made for a delightful alpine playground perfect for practicing walking in crampons, steps, and self arrest. The only thing was the avalanche danger was high. This meant limited options of where we could travel and only one trail was open to the summit.
Waking up Sunday morning to the hear the ranger call in the forecast to the cabin, I grumbled and burrowed deeper into my sleeping bag. More snowfall overnight and current summit conditions indicated winds over 70 mph. But, it was clear. So, out of the sleeping bag I squirmed.
With spring in my step, crampons on my feet, ice ax in my hand I made my way to the front of the group up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. The ascent got steeper and a bit more climbing and skill was required. As we neared the end of the treeline, we prepped ourselves with wind resistant gloves, shells, and goggles, as we knew the winds would be too strong for a costume change in the Alpine Garden and our eyeballs would freeze before we got there if googles were absent.
The events after reaching the Alpine Garden seemed to happen rapidly. Ethan and I had made our way behind one of the scant boulders and waited for the rest of our party. Where were they? We need to move. I’m getting cold. This is not good. We agreed to keep moving, but then delayed again. By the time the rest of the party reached us, the sides of my face were numb. Let’s move.
Step, step, plunge the ax in the ice and get down. The winds were nothing I had experienced before. Over 90 mph, I could barely walk. Every time I lifted a foot, I was blown off balance and feared I’d have to put those self-arrest skills to the test. Ugh, then a crampon released from one of my boots. What a time! I’m so cold. The sides of my face were so numb, I couldn’t be sure what was normal. “Have you have had frost nip?” Ethan asked. No I hadn’t, but if that was the risk, I had made it far enough. The risk was not worth it to me and although undeniably disappointed, I decided to descend. The summit would have to wait until another time.
That time came in January 2016 when I returned to Mount Washington as a mentor for the Alpine Skills weekend. Winter had just started to emerge, as I was there December for an avalanche course and there was barely a dusting of snow. Not ideal conditions for digging a snow pit, so the avalanche course would have to be completed at another time, buying yet another trip to Mount Washington.
The day before the January trip, I had started to become ill. But being an Aquarius and stubborn, I still made the journey up north for my mentor duties only to be informed by my men-tees that they really had no intention of doing the alpine skills or cie climbing. They were just there to hike. Seriously!?!?!?
Thinking I would change their minds, I loaded up the 60 liter pack once more and began the hellish slug to the Harvard Cabin. Only this time, I was assisting in hauling the club sled of gear up the path AND I was so congested, breathing was becoming an arduous task.
A familiar scene – muscles aching, sweat dripping, swearing galore, and this time, copious amounts of mucous hacked up – the Harvard Cabin came into view. A site for sore eyes! I would be staying in a tent this time. A tent that still needed to be pitched. In the dark.
After camp setup and dinner, I dragged my feverish butt into my -40 F degree sleeping bag for a night of wheezing, sweating, and shivering. Morning could not come soon enough.
But when it did, I awoke to meet my men-tees pulling the plug on the weekend. They were going back down. A lot of side conversations were had prior and after this decision, none of which will be mentioned. Why did I risk pneumonia to come up here! I too, made the decision to descend.
Once again, Mount Washington defeated me. My Everest.
The summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire received 2.8″ of snowfall winds gusting at 103 mph today…
words and images, inspired by the most interesting time of the day
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