Relating adventures…12th January 2008
Like many outdoorsy bloggers, I share my meagre adventures with the world. Of course, they are nothing like Irishman Pat Falvey‘s recently successful Beyond Endurance expedition to the South Pole. The Antarctic attracted its fair share of Irish with names like Bransfield, Shackleton, Crean, Keohane, Forde and McCarthy gracing the history of the continent’s exploration in an era where the exploits were a world away from our interconnected present where websites can convey regular news of progress in a timely manner. In contrast to the blogs of members of Falvey’s team like Shaun Menzies and Jonathan Bradshaw, the diaries of those explorers from the past were much slower in becoming publicly available. Having read Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Captain Scott, I detect resonances of similar hardships down through the ages even in the latest stories.
The heroics of Scott, Shackleton et al. were all the more profound given that they were venturing into the unknown; it wasn’t as if they could fly back from the South Pole after reaching it, like present day explorers can do; they not only had to reach the pole but they had to return too and that sadly was Scott’s undoing. Fiennes’ descriptions of the hardships and disasters suffered on Scott’s expeditions were so vivid that I needed some gentler reading to give me a break from the grim happenings being described. Damien Enright’s A Place Near Heaven returned my imagination to a more temperate climate with is vividly pleasant observations of the activities of nature throughout the seasons in West Cork. Bemused recollections of crows breaking open shellfish by dropping them onto boreens, and puncturing car tyres with the resultant mess, certainly provided light relief. Maybe, I am not cut out for polar exploration.
Another world far away from mine is that of high altitude mountaineering, the type of thing for which the likes of the late Sir Edmund Hilary gained their fame. Names like Alan Hinkes and Chris Bonnington also come to mind. Climbing the world’s highest mountains is another activity that more than takes the human body well outside of its zone of comfort. Reading of Irish mountaineer Gavin Bate’s pulmonary oedema on Everest in a recent of Walking World Ireland certainly made me shudder (he managed to make his way back down from the death zone and is still very much with us). Stories like that do make one wonder why some people do this and that sort of wonderment brings my thoughts to Robert MacFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind. Like Fiennes’ book, that too ends with a hero encountering his goal and never returning alive; in Mallory’s case, we may never know if he achieved his.
You might be wondering what has brought this lot on. Ironically, it isn’t necessarily my wonderment at the exploits of those venturing into extreme places, though that of course plays its part. In the main, the real triggers come from a world more like that described by Damien Enright rather than that frequented by Pat Falvey and his kind. It seems that we Irish, rather than wallowing in the habitual and banal like poet Patrick Kavanagh, would rather relate the exceptional. There is a place for that but I reckon that the world is the poorer for Irish hillwalkers not relating their more accessible adventures in the Irish countryside. I, for one, would have a strong interest in them and, if I were to encounter a good blog musing over walking in Ireland as its mainstay, I’d be more than happy to give it a mention. In the meantime, I really should try to get in a proper hillwalking day over there this year. It shouldn’t demand the heroics of Scott and others…