Is it a hike or a walk?
I’ve been trying to decipher hike vs. walk in my head since getting here (as well as hill vs. mountain). When I think of a hike, I think of a dirt trail winding through a dense forest and usually ending at a lake, top of a peak, or waterfall, and generally having views of snow-covered mountains in every direction you look. In Ireland, that would still be considered a hike, yet difficult to find. A hike in Ireland ranges from what I consider to be a walk through the countryside to scrambling up a peak. It’s strangle to me to go on what an Irish person calls a hike, but then end up feeling like I’m going on a walk through the countryside. But, when I think about the definition of a hike or a walk, it’s difficult to differentiate. With a hike, I generally think of having to wear hiking boots vs. a walk could be done in any sort of footwear. Although, footwear differs for everyone and sometimes just makes the hike more enjoyable, not more doable. A hike I generally consider to be more strenuous, but again, that’s subjective. Everyone has different fitness levels, so what one person may call a walk, another person might call a hike because of how difficult it was for them. Then, there’s that old saying, “take a hike!” which is really just telling someone to leave for a little bit and go on a walk. So, I guess a hike/walk is very subjective. Anyway, none of that really matters to me; what really matters is that I’m getting outside, meeting new people, and integrating myself into the Irish culture.
Many of you have heard of Leave No Trace (LNT), but for those of you haven’t, it is a set of seven principles one should follow when heading into the backcountry (well, outdoors in general). They have been created to help with preservation of the environments in which we trek as well as the enjoyment of other visitors:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
I believe very strongly about LNT, though it’s often difficult to follow every principle perfectly; everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I feel they are all important, but a few I am much more diligent about following are disposing of waste properly and being considerate of other visitors. Have you ever been on a hike (or even just walking around the city) and seen granola bar wrappers, glass bottles, banana peels, or any other type of trash on the ground? I see this way more often than I would like and it makes me sad. I’ve had many people tell me, “but my apple core is compostable.” Yes, you are correct, but it still takes time for it to decompose. I don’t want to walk along a trail and see a pile of fruit peels waiting to decompose.
The other part of LNT that I am much more diligent about following is being considerate to other visitors. A few aspects of this principle are group size, loudness, and wether you let faster groups pass you on the trail. I go into nature to see the unbelievable views, get exercise, and escape the crowds of city-folk. Being in nature is very peaceful and a great stress relief. So, when large and/or very loud groups come up the trail, it ruins the tranquility. Many people think it’s okay to blast music as they hike, motivating them to keep going, but I like the silence and the music is a disturbance to my visit. Also, if I’m hiking faster than a much larger and slower group, I like to be able to pass them so I can experience the beauty on my own.
I’ll step off my LNT soap box. The reason I bring this up is not to bash groups or say no one here respects the environment; that is not true. Irish landscape is amazing and from what I’ve experienced, taken care of just as well as the environment back home! This is something I am passionate about, so whenever I go adventuring, I pay attention at the differences in how people approach LNT and the actions they take. So, as you read about my hike up Mangerton in Kerry County, keep these principles in the back of your mind and think about what you feel was done well, but also what could be improved.
It was Sunday morning, February 5, 2017, and we all load the bus to head down to Mangerton Mountain in Kerry county; 1, 2, 3… 39, 40, 41! I don’t know the exact number, but there were a lot of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike with that many people. Well, actually sometimes when we take the kids at The Mountaineers day camp I’ve worked at for a number of summers, there are quite a few of us. But, generally, I go in groups no larger than 12 (usually much smaller). We arrive at the trailhead and everyone spills out of the bus. I look around at what everyone is wearing and see a wide range in attire: tennis shoes, hiking boots, sweatpants, drawstring backpack, cotton sweatshirts, windbreakers, and athletic leggings. Tailor and I stand there in our mountaineering boots and puffy jackets, ready for whatever weather is thrown at us. I look up at the snow-covered mountain, thinking not everyone is prepared for these conditions. But, I am not the leader and don’t know everything (especially when it comes to Ireland terrain and weather. Yes, Seattle weather is very similar to Ireland weather, but it’s still a foreign country to me), so I kept my mouth shut and let the leaders take charge. I went on the hike along Kerry Way last week and similar thoughts were running through my mind and the leaders did a good job, so I trusted them this week as well.
Before starting on the hike, one of the leaders announces how the Outdoor Pursuits Club (OPC) follows Leave No Trace principles and gave a brief two sentence description of what that meant and then we were off. The trail began as walking through sections of muddy fields and then walking up some rocky stairs before hitting the snow. I kept gazing back at the marvelous views. We’ve been getting outrageously lucky with weather on all the adventures I’ve been on, allowing for some of the best views. Right before heading onto the snow field, one of the trip leaders let everyone know that we should layer up because it can get quite windy and chilly on the snowfields. We layered up and then some people started throwing snowballs as we waited for the rest of the group to be ready to keep trekking on.
Not long after beginning to hike across the snowfield, the fluffy snowflakes turned into ice pellets which the wind was blew at us. I’ve been in conditions like this before and know how miserable it can be, but watching those in tennis shoes and sweatpants try to keep going, made me think back to the beginning of the hike when I contemplated the attire others were wearing. I knew it wasn’t going to be suitable. Luckily, the snowstorm stopped after about five minutes and the sun came back out.
Lunch break was at Devil’s Punchbowl, a lake, right below the last little push up to the summit. I was talking to one of the Irish students and said he’s jumped into the lake before (yes, later in the season), but all I could think was my fingers are SO COLD; how could anyone ever think to jump into the lake? After a short lunch break (we didn’t want to stop for too long so people wouldn’t freeze any more than they already were), we pushed on up to the summit. It was quite windy walking up the ridge (to be expected on a mountain ridge), but reaching the summit, provided amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks, including Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s tallest peak. It was a great day, but definitely different hiking from what I am used to back home.
Tomorrow I head out to Dublin for the weekend and in two weeks I head to Brussels, Belgium! So, keep your eyes out for my adventure updates! I plan to also write about classes here now that it has been three weeks (I swear, it will be interesting).