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People 'putting safety at risk' by climbing scenic peaks just for Instagram likes

Gerry Christie, from Kerry Mountain Rescue, said climbers often don’t have the proper equipment when climbing.

A view of the cross at the summit of Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry.
A view of the cross at the summit of Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry.
Image: Shutterstock/Tomasz Ochocki

THERE HAS BEEN an increase in the number of inexperienced climbers attempting to climb mountains in order to post about it on social media sites like Instagram, according to a veteran climber. 

Gerry Christie, from Kerry Mountain Rescue, has been climbing in Kerry for 35 years. He told The Journal that while people used to join a climbing club as a hobby, they now prefer to go up alone for a day out, which can often lead to them putting their safety at risk.

“I think mountaineering, to some extent, there’s a large element now of it being the daytime equivalent of a one night stand. I don’t think that’s good or bad, that’s just the way it’s gone,” he said. 

“There is no preparation for, for instance, climbing Carrauntoohil or climbing Croagh Patrick, which seems to be the  two iconic peaks in Ireland that need to be climbed. You have a go.”

Christie said climbers are often inexperienced, and don’t have the necessary navigation skills to climb Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland at a height of 1,039m.

“They probably don’t even have climbing boots, they’re walking in runners or tennis shoes or whatever it is. And most of them get to the top, most of them get their photograph, most of them get their buzz on social media, and that’s kind of it then in their mountaineering career,” he said.

People attempting to climb the mountain often take the route known as the Devil’s Ladder, a strenuous 12km walking route that takes between four to six hours. It features rough terrain, little shelter and often unpredictable weather.

Christie said the route is quite narrow “where traffic can’t come both directions at the same time”. 

group-of-hikers-starting-to-climb-devils-ladder-to-reach-carrauntoohil-mountain File photo of hikers starting to climb the Devil's Ladder to reach Carrauntoohil. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“The Saturday before last, I was guiding on Carrauntoohil, and there was a traffic jam at the top of the Devil’s Ladder at about midday,” he said.

“The statistic that stays in my mind was for the first 16 days of August last year, Kerry Mountain Rescue had 16 callouts. Now that’s an exception. Normally our caller rate hovers something like 60-70 callouts a year. That would suggest about six a month on average, or about one-and-a-half a week.

“I think we had 68 entirely last year, but 16 of them were in the first 16 days of August, so a lot of that would suggest holiday period. Committed climbers, hikers, whatever you call them, they will climb through the winter and summer.”

Christie said that besides losing the route, the problem is often underestimating the stamina required to climb the mountain. 

The whole trip from Cronin’s Yard, the traditional starting point for ascents of the mountain, to the Devil’s Ladder and back is around 14km, including climbing “a kilometre, vertically, into the sky”.

People get tired, and then when people get tired, they start getting cramps and then they start falling behind, and they’re under pressure. Then maybe a moment’s inattention, they step on the edge of a rock that they haven’t really seen and they twist their ankle, and now they need help.

“An accident doesn’t tend to be one big thing that just hits out of the blue. It’s an incremental progression of lots of different things,” he said.

He said inexperienced climbers don’t tend to have major accidents in the way skilled climbers do, but that skilled climbers have “very, very few of them” in comparison.

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Met Éireann has issued a Status Yellow rain and thunderstorm warning for Munster and Connacht until 6pm this evening. Christie is urging people not to attempt to climb Carrauntoohil or any other peak in bad weather conditions. 

“I will be hoping that nobody’s going to try it on tomorrow in very poor conditions, but if they do, we’ll be there for them. Without being vain about it, the 36 members of Kerry Mountain Rescue can get up and down Carrauntoohil safely in poor conditions, because we’ve been at it for years and we train.”

He said anyone thinking of taking on a climb or hike should wait for a day when conditions are dry and calm. “The mountain will still be there. It’s not going anywhere,” he said.

Christie also urged people to “break away from this narrative about conquering the mountain”.

“You don’t conquer a mountain. When you come down off it, it’s not humble. It’s not conquered. It’s just a big lump of rock. It’ll still be there the following week. You probably conquer your own limitations,” he said.

“But if you want to indulge in that fantasy of conquering Carrauntoohil, start off on lower mountains. You know the old thing: ‘Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement’. Make the poor judgments in lower, safer areas and learn from that.”

About the author:

Jane Moore

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