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A pilgrim's (slow) progress

by Jessica Pook | 21 June 2017

"Did you bring the emergency water?" I wheezed between gasps of air. We had scarcely made it above sea level, but already I was struggling to ration my bottle of Evian, whilst weaving our way toward the towering mound ahead.

Climbing Croagh Patrick was our way of fully immersing ourselves into Irish culture, aside from sampling the local delicacy - Guinness of course! Reaching the top of the very same mountain that St Patrick himself conquered was sure to be a highlight of the trip, or so we thought.

Croagh Patrick is named after Ireland's patron saint, who is said to have climbed and then fasted for 40 days at the summit back in 441AD. It has since been a popular pilgrimage destination, drawing thousands of hardy souls to climb the holy mountain, many choosing to do it barefoot!

We had bought the expensive waterproof, lugged the bulky hiking boots around and practiced the accent on the treadmill at the gym (just one time), and yet we had managed to forget the single most important ingredient to keep us alive. We had forgotten to pack enough water.

Onwards we climbed, our hoods shielding our puffy, red faces as we battled against the gale-force wind. I looked behind into the fear-filled eyes of my companion and wondered if attempting a mountain of this height in these January conditions was actually sane?

"Please, lets turn back!" she said, and for a second I thought that the mountain had beaten us. My calves were burning, face stinging, and I couldn't work out if I was sweating or shivering, but surely we were halfway? There were sheep that had made it further than we had! There was no way we were turning back now.

Taking in the craggy path below us, the views that surrounded did not disappoint. The emerald hills that sloped into the shimmering Clew Bay did well to dramatise the rugged Irish countryside, and although the wind may have been testing, filling your lungs made you feel alive.

A friendly Canadian, who had been gaining on us for some time, gave us a sympathetic smile and a few fleeting words of encouragement as he bounded on past, fully focused on the goal ahead.

Another passed, dressed in jeans and loafers, as if he'd got lost on his way to the Co-op.

Then the Canadian, already on his decent, stopped to ask if we had enough supplies, clearly a little concerned about what little progress we'd made.

We looked ahead at the peak, soaring into the sky and suddenly it seemed within reaching distance. We pushed forward, using all fours to balance against the steep slope and the loose stone underfoot, until eventually we could see the ground even out.

Fuelled by euphoria and still in disbelief, we looked over the mountain we had just conquered. All 764 metres of rock dominating the County Mayo area, ready to be greeted by a view to make the struggle worthwhile. Where a green tapestry of rolling fields once was ... there lay nothing but fog!

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