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gerrym
2016-09-24 20:28:17
Fei Sheehy Challenge 2016
The Fei Sheehy Challenge is a three day self-guided challenge crossing the Comeragh, Galty and Knockmealdown Mountains on successive days. There are options to participate in one, two or the full three days of the Challenge. This was my third year of the Challenge and it brought comfortingly familiar elements – the packing and checking of gear, the worry over fitness levels (for an otherwise confirmed non-challenge walker), the long motorway drive from one end of Ireland to the other and setting up the tent under the same tree in the beautiful Apple campsite – my home for five nights.

Day 1

Registration closed at 7.00am in Clonmel and the bus was off to the far end of the Comeragh Mountains, leaving a return crossing of 40km on foot. Many of the other participants I did not know, some had familiar faces and some I actually spoke to!

An obligatory group photo and we were off into the mist. Each travelled at their own pace, whether a hare or a tortoise, with passing conversations or silent breathless companionship. The sun made a fleeting appearance and my t-shirt got a moment of glory before the wind and mist stamped down on the haul up Seefin. I was on my own with the noise of my boots squelching through the wet ground as heavy mist made the Comeragh plateau a strange and lonely place. Not another soul did I see for kilometre after kilometre and inside I felt a sense of elation – this is what this Challenge is all about!

I took a new route this year dropping down past Sgilloge Loughs and the most amazing waterfall, boosted by the previous night’s rain, as I dropped down out of the mist to The Gap. Climbing Knockanaffrin the wind was brutal and rain showers added to the pain. Arriving back in Clonmel there was a warm welcome with food and drink, including a bunch of garden grown grapes from this mild and (usually) sunny part of the country. This contrasted the soaked state I was in with water having been forced through my waterproofs with the wind.

The first day is always tough and I was glad to be back to put the kettle on the camping stove and cook dinner. There was also the chance to catch up with fellow Challenge participant Steven, who was staying at the same campsite.

Day 2

The wind during the night was something else, with the trees in the campsite swaying in a way that would have made any ballerina proud. With a forecast of further strengthening winds and heavy rain I had to make a decision about my participation on this day of the Challenge – crossing the Galty Mountains, the highest in the SE of Ireland.

I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to be walking today and that was a huge disappointment as I had completed the treble crossing of the Challenge in the two previous years. But it was okay as it was my decision to make. The brave walkers who did set off had a tough day and only two were able to cross the Galtees before the wind strength made it unsafe to continue. It was a long day at the campsite but a trip to Dungarvin Castle stopped me going stir crazy!

Day 3

This has always been my favourite day of the Challenge, partly as it was the last but also as there was a level of increased fitness built up over the preceding days I had a sort of ‘bring it on’ attitude.

Again the bus set off at 7.00am to the far reaches of the Knockmealdown Mountains, with a faint hope of some better weather for the day ahead. I tagged onto a group of other walkers as we headed into the mist. A steep ascent of Knockmealdown itself brought only the sound of laboured breath and strong wind and rain on the summit, where shelter was found to put on waterproofs and grab a quick bite to eat.

Navigation was key in this weather and the group consulted on the best path to take through the mist which brought us steeply down to the carpark at The Vee and another quick stop. These guys were not hanging around and that did provide a challenge for me as we went straight up the steep slope of Knockshanahullion, where my legs felt like they were on fire at times.

There followed several kilometers over featureless ground in thick mist, where good navigation and local knowledge from some in the group proved invaluable. The last few kilometers were on country roads and I just about managed to grab some lovely ripe blackberries as the fast pace continued to the community centre in Ballyporeen.

This was the undoubted highlight of the Challenge, with such a welcome on arrival and all sorts of sandwiches, buns, cake and gallons of tea on hand. A time to chill, chat and greet others arriving. I had knocked almost an hour of my time for last year on this day of hard going. Medal and certificate presentations were carried out and it was all over for another year. But the feeling of accomplishment in participating in the Challenge and raising money for charity will be enough to tide me over until august 2017
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