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Hello… I’m Ninja. This week, I’m here to share the story of my most-favourite hike – The Galtyway climb in county Tipperary. It’s not just the place, but the extraordinary circumstances around the climb that made this a spine-chilling experience.
It had all the elements of a thriller movie – Lost my way on one of Ireland’s highest mountains, pitch-dark clouds hovering above, nowhere to hide, no mobile signal, heard nothing except the sounds of my trudging feet and howling winds, saw no humans for miles around, s**t scared, bearing grave thoughts of being stuck here forever, wanting to run back to safety.
It all happened when I had a couple of weeks off in-between jobs. I started early from Dublin on a Wednesday morning and arrived at the Galtyway car park at 10 am. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one there. After all, it was midweek.
It was fairly bright but this is Ireland – things change in a jiffy. You just weather the weather! I began walking and soon reached the entrance to the hike.
I followed the trail and saw nothing but sheep and cattle for the next 15 minutes. Sheep, cattle, mountains, view of the city, overcast sky, and myself. That’s all there was.
Time passed. I saw fewer and fewer cows, and in no time, there were no cows to be seen. I was left with the sheep, or rather they were in fact left to deal with me. I saw no one, I heard no one, I felt like I was the last man standing. To make it interesting, all the sheep decided to stay silent too.
After 30 minutes, I saw what looked like a remembrance stone. I couldn’t exactly read what was written, but the writings didn’t matter. It would be my landmark in case I got lost.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I could feel tiny little drops of rain on my jacket. Remember? I said it’s Ireland. I pulled out my phone and there was no signal. But, I couldn’t care less.
For the next 30 minutes, the “fewer and fewer” phenomenon continued. Only this time, it was sheep instead of cows. They were scarce enough and I could count on my fingers. I started to have mixed feelings about this. Something inexplicable. Maybe, I’m growing out of my comfort zone a little too much to my own liking? No time for such thoughts. I motored along.
I was a good hour into my hike, probably covered 5-ish kilometres and saw nothing but sheep – which by this point made me uncomfortable as they seemed to be staring at the only alien-looking creature on the mountain. I was frightened to be the outsider, mildly so.
For the next 15 minutes, as I meandered along, I started daydreaming. Oh, c’mon. What else was there to do anyway? Thoughts, thoughts, and more random thoughts… And, I woke up from the dream. Where was I? What was I doing? Okay, where is all the livestock? Where are my furry friends? Why is the sky dark? What is this howling noise? Why do I suddenly feel so cold? What did I sign up for?
And, that’s when all hell broke loose. I didn’t know what I was doing on a huge mountain, 120 miles away from my house on a Wednesday morning, away from all the people, all the commotion. Why couldn’t I see the city anymore? I began trembling. I wanted to teleport myself back to my car and drive back home. To my people; to safety.
Despite all the worrisome thoughts, I somehow just continued my hike. To allay my fears, I talked to myself, made weird noises, and ate my protein bar even though I wasn’t hungry. Anything to take my mind away from stupid assumptions. And eventually, I reached my 2nd landmark.
The paths diverged into two from here and I didn’t know which one to choose. To be honest, I didn’t want to choose. I stood there for a good few minutes and contemplated as if my life depended on the decision. I could barely see a few metres away because of the cloud cover.
What if I take the wrong path?
I don’t even have a mobile signal, who will come to my rescue in case I’m lost?
Am I carrying enough water?
What would happen if it rained now?
I gave up! I thought enough is enough and decided to walk back. So, I turned around and, BELIEVE IT OR NOT – I heard footsteps and it’s not mine. Wow! Loud… Louder… Someone was running towards me. From nowhere emerged a slender, frail old man.
He looked at least 65, wore a yellow raincoat, knee-length shorts, old brown hiking boots, a hat and carried a trekking pole. He descended from the mountain in front of me and was almost half-running as if he had a train to catch. I was standing in amusement as he casually smiled and jogged past me.
I don’t know why, but he stopped, looked back and shouted, “It’s a great day young man, climb to the top. You’ll have fun”, and disappeared from my sight! On any other day, this was just a passer-by being friendly to a stranger. Not that day! That day was different. It wasn’t just another day and this wasn’t just another encounter. I was already lost, beaten, frightened, and I had almost given up.
That day, I realized how a few kind words at the right time could motivate and inspire someone who is struggling. Your simple act of kindness could mean a world of difference. He might have been a simple old man, but to me, at that moment, he looked something like this –
The clouds in the sky darkened, but the clouds of my mind cleared! My face lit up with impish glee and with renewed enthusiasm, I ran towards the top of the mountain. Suddenly, I wasn’t tired or scared anymore.
After some time, I heard another noise. Of someone talking. Two voices. A conversation. But, as far as I could see, I couldn’t put faces to the voices. After a few more minutes, two men appeared out of the clouds (in the picture below) –
Just imagine, I could hear people talking from a mile apart. No noise, no commotion! This is nature at its purest form. As we approached closer, I asked them how long it would take to reach the summit and one of them said, “Umm, I’d say about 25 mins. But, if I were you, I’d put that camera inside the bag before you climb. It’s pretty rough and windy at the top”.
I obliged. I stuffed the DSLR in my bag and started to climb. The path was heavily strewn with stones, and it was extremely muddy at parts. A few minutes later, I turned around and saw another wonderful gesture. The two men were still watching me. It looked like they wanted to ensure I reached up alright. When I was closer to the summit, I shouted – THANK YOU. No inhibitions whatsoever. They waved and walked away.
After almost 2.5 hours of hiking, I finally reached the summit. I could see the path I came from. Only now, it wasn’t scary anymore. Arms aloft, I drowned in imaginary applause. I DID IT! A podium finish. I scaled the Galtee mountain. It was so windy up there and I couldn’t snap a lot of pics. So, here’s a few –
As I walked back to the car park, the same path that looked scary to me only a few hours earlier looked so recognizable now. The sheep didn’t look at me like an alien. It was 1 pm and I could see a couple of families on their way up, the air was friendly all of a sudden. That day, for reasons unknown, I couldn’t stop smiling.
No one to talk to
No social media
Away from the daily routines
Closer to nature
All alone on a mountain
A few kind words of inspiration
If these are the takeaways, would you fancy a solo hike? How far are you willing to travel, to find yourself?
On soul-stirring experiences like these, you travel and explore not only the place but also yourself!
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