Knockmealdown was the first mountain I climbed. I was 19 years old and in the possession of a brand-new Yamaha 200 motorbike. Now that I had an independent means of travel,I rode up to The Vee from my home in Youghal on a glorious summer's day determined to scale the mountain that was such a significant feature of the northern horizon from that seaside town.
And it was a joyous experience. Standing on the summit, viewing the panoramic vista, instilled a love of mountains that has never left me. I returned to the bike, parched with the thirst, and drove to the nearby Cat's Bar where I had the most refreshing pint of lager I have ever drank. It was my Ice Cold In Alex moment.
I've been back numerous times over the years and each visit feels like renewing acquaintance with an old friend, one that never lets you down, and that leaves you energised after each encounter.
Fifty years on from that first visit I returned once again on 13th November to do a solo night climb. I set off from the The Vee carpark at 4:22 a.m. and ascended the Sugarloaf keeping close to the wall on the way up. The sky was mostly clear and bejeweled with stars. I stopped regularly and turned off my headtorch to take in the spectacle.
The headtorch, incidentally, is a powerful 900 lumens Petzl Swift RL. This was a recent purchase and was the prompt for me to do the night climb - I was curious to see how it would perform. It is astonishingly bright at full power - I was reluctant to aim it at the sky in case I might blind the people on the International Space Station should it happen to be passing overhead. I never needed that much illumination: a lower setting did the job just fine. Highly recommended.
After reaching the summit of Sugarloaf I followed the wall along the ridge until I came to the trig point on Knockmealdown. The south-eastern sky was brightening but sunrise was still an hour and a half away. I spent the interim exulting in the views, taking some photos and video with my phone, GoPro and drone. It was still too dark to expect technically good results from that equipment but I had deliberately left my more capable DSLR gear at home in order to save weight.
As sunrise approached cloud began rolling in and soon the summit was enveloped in fog. I began to retrace my steps, knowing that keeping near to the ridge wall would get me back to my starting point. This meant going via the summit of Sugarloaf whereas normally, in good visibility, I would veer across its flank to avoid ascending it. That additional ascent is relatively minor however and it was safer to do it now that thick fog enveloped the mountain.
At the Sugarloaf summit the wall veers west and down and after 30 minutes or so I was back at my car. Once again, Knockmealdown had afforded me an enormously satisfying experience. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/45/comment/23349/