Hedgehogs emerging from hibernation feel unsure of themselves. They feel aches & pains from long unused muscles & joints. They need time to reorient & learn how to navigate through previously familiar territory. Indeed, as one article puts it “Hedgehogs coming out of hibernation are wobbly and confused, and even more likely than usual to stumble into trouble.”
And so it was, on a recent September morning, I emerged from a year-long hibernation. Like a bleary-eyed, freshly-woken hedgehog I gazed about me, overwhelmed & struggling to know how to start. The mountains of the Owenglin valley loomed about me, and I stared agog at the vast bulk of Benbaun. It appeared……big, and……menacing, and……big. And the valley floor before me looked….difficult, and ……wet and, ……difficult. My eyes slowly scanned north & west of Benbaun, taking in Benfree, Muckanaght, Bencullagh & finally Maumonght. This was the route for the day. I trembled before such a sight. My knees wobbled as I espied distant sheep clinging precariously to impossible ledges, below cliffs & rocky crags that had no sympathy for the faint hearted. Impossibly steep slopes led up to impossibly high summits.
There was so much to consider. Were my boots laced and tied correctly? Did I have enough water? Was I wearing enough layers, or did I have too much on? What if it rained? What if my walking poles snapped in half? What if my rucksack blew away or there was an earthquake or a flood or what if....…and so it was that a series of doubts & uncertainties cycled through my mind. Having not had a proper hike in over a year, I had clearly lost the plot completely. “Pull yourself together man” I told myself, “you have hiked all of these summits before. Hiking is something you have done countless times, in all weather and conditions. You are Wicklore, Walker of Hills, Explorer of Places, Finder of Things,”
“What did you say”, enquired a youthful voice, “were you talking to us?” Ah yes, I had forgotten in my momentary paralysis. I was leading a group of scouts on the annual Connaught Mountain Pursuit Challenge event. I turned to see several pairs of eager eyes watching me, waiting for the signal to leave camp and begin our gruelling hike for the day. “And why do you look like a frightened hedgehog?” one astute scout asked.
And so I learned once again how to navigate wet grass and high heather. I learned how to zig zag up steep scree slopes and descend to boggy cols. I learned how to breathe, how to stretch, how to manage a heart rate of 120, how not to fall over cliffs, and how not to stumble like a fool on perfectly flat and even ground. I learned how to suffer and I learned how to cope. And I learned how to lace and tie my boots.
Above all, as I descended to camp at the end of a tiring and joyful day, I learned how to once again gaze appraisingly at distant hills through eyes of chipped granite. The hedgehog was out of hibernation. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/89/comment/23662/