On the trail with the Dublin Trekking Club
I was warned of a “little traction” for the first 3 km. Later, Paddy MacManus, leading the march, warns of “a strong pull” ahead. But the visions of being suspended from the side of a cliff quickly faded; turns out that a little traction is okay.
It’s a cool and sunny autumn morning and around 15 Co Dublin’s members Mountaineering club for hikers walk part of the Wicklow Way, starting from Annamoe. MacManus is the leader and Mary Murray sweeps, making sure everyone is safe. It is a group of rag pickers, a warm and welcoming group who have known each other for many hours and discuss over many walks. There are jokes and dross and serious talk, all keeping a good pace, with occasional water stops.
We are a C walking group (forest tracks, trails, quiet roads, relatively gentle slopes). Hikers categorize terrain walks and level of challenge: Category A involves steep slopes, mountain peaks, slopes open up to eight hours; B has fewer vertices, up to six o’clock. There are also gentle social walks of up to 6 km.
I’m a tryout – you can try a few walks before you join – so I’m with the C’s a little or not.
The preliminary description is precise: the leaders put an impressive preparation for the reconnaissance (recce), map the ground, plan the stops, anticipate the problems. So before I go I know it will be 11.8 miles, about 3.8 hours, basic route and terrain. It’s a loop ride, ending where we started, a necessity as bus rental is limited. Loops reduce route options, so members can’t wait to get back on the bus to a starting point, with pickup elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is some pleasure in taking the road back. With group sizes reduced for Covid, hikers have added more walks; there are now five or six a week.
Protected by the sun, shod and dressed, we are in a beautiful part of the world, and we dive deeper into it, enjoying the pleasures on our doorstep: the euphoria of nature and the mountains and the fresh air, perfectly packed into a challenging ride.
The conversation is varied as we move forward, from pedestrianization and bike lanes to American politics, to trekking in the Himalayas.
Murray, in the process of sweeping, joined the club about 20 years ago with her late husband Tom, and was the first woman in the presidency 15 years ago. “I love to walk,” she says. “And also the company. I have spent a lot of vacations with the club. Her son Dermot Murray is an A walker. “He’s really knowledgeable,” says Fiona O’Sullivan. “He knows every mountain.
Eudie Power, a daily swimmer, has been around the club for years. “I am not a leader, I am like a child, I need to be taken! When she joined, “it was mostly men and they always wanted to lead, whereas now it’s the other way around, there are more women leaders. And they’re looking for the next generation of good walkers.
Suzie Kennedy talks about a wedding she celebrated recently. Noreen O’Brien remembers the early days of the club, founded by Shaun Trant in 1982. There were only men, “but women were invited to a Christmas dinner”; women started walking with the club “decades ago,” says O’Brien.
Walkers are debating the merits of wearing boots in your size with double-lined socks, versus a few sizes too large with extra socks. Nick O’Loughlin’s boots are 11 years old. He walks several times a week. “If I had an odometer on them, they would talk.”
What is the appeal of the club – walking, the great outdoors and nature, company, how are the walks organized? It is all that, many people agree. There is no clique and the committee rotates, says O’Brien. “It’s a very well organized club,” says O’Loughlin. He’s only been a member for three years, he says. “It seems a lot longer! O’Brien teases, as fast as you want.
We come across a bit of commotion. Walkers are gathered around a giant mushroom that Power spotted. “Oh, we’re not touching it. “It’s like a face.” “Eudie loves to pick up things while walking. It is a forager. Will you eat it, I wonder. “Oh no, I’m drying things and painting a bit.”
Then someone calls out, “Car, folks! We go home, then we continue.
Members recall trips on foot: around Ireland (Leenane in Connemara; “Slieve Blooms are beautiful around April with bluebells,” says Fiona O’Sullivan). And further on, towards the Pyrenees (organized by Michael and Joséphine Cotter), America, a “fabulous walk” in the Yorkshire hills organized by McManus. The trips will return: O’Loughlin and Murphy plan to lead a walking holiday in Crete next May.
Maeve O’Donnell says “I dive and dive, I wish I was a little more consistent.” John O’Neill talks about kites (birds not toys) above. For him, the call is “a little activity, looking at nature, talking nonsense”. Plus: “No one has an agenda, there are no rows. People just want to get some fresh air, walk a few hills, shake the heart and we are all happy.
Paula Clancy, a comparative newbie, joined shortly before Covid. “It’s like going to a party twice a week! You chat with people like you do at a party, it’s not demanding, everyone is very friendly. But it is above all exercise.
We arrive at Brusher’s Gap, a crossroads with a Mountain Meitheal Hut, where three trails meet. MacManus shows me his detailed roadmap: stages, coordinates, elapsed time, distance, ascent. The ViewRanger app is “a record of what we’ve done. But paper is essential. We will descend into a forest, cross the Avonmore, have lunch at the top of the river and return to Annamoe on foot. (Or that’s the point; his route plan is much more detailed.) “We manage people according to their expectations,” he observes as he leads a walk.
Fiona O’Sullivan has been in trekking for six years and president throughout Covid, at the head of “a very, very good committee”. Although the club is based in Glenageary, some walkers walk a distance, the 170 members are a mix of regular and occasional walkers. “It’s a varied membership, so many careers and experiences,” says O’Sullivan.
“I love nature and going out. But I am not a lonely walker. There is a camaraderie. She is “a B walker, an A on occasion. There is a small group of really strong Aces. They walk once a month and spend eight or ten hours rock climbing, not a lot on trails and trails, which makes it as difficult as possible. B is a faster pace than C, climbing heights. We are trying to encourage more A and B walkers – they are the future of the club.
To liven up a walk, you plan it on a map, then test your route map on a recce. “The chef is responsible. People say that when you take a walk you are not really there to enjoy it, but to make sure that everyone enjoys it.
The renewal of skills is essential. With walks interrupted during the pandemic 5km limit, it was time to think about it. Frances O’Rourke’s newsletter kept people in touch, and a poll showed members wanted “more walks, the buses back.” And they’re dying to travel outside.
This past June, hikers celebrated 3,000 marches since its inception, and on September 11 its annual memorial walk to Glenmalure Lodge remembered those who died while they were members: Brendan Bracken (“He was worshiped in the club , a great storyteller, good at finding unusual walks ”), Michael Cotter who organized“ wonderful trips outside ”, John Furey.
O’Sullivan made education a priority. During the lockdown, club secretary Alan Kane (“great in details, a great leader of walks”) and treasurer Mark Taylor (“brilliant at navigation”) organized a full navigation and map reading course for 22 hikers on Zoom over 12 weeks, correcting “homework” roadmap; it was “amazing and a huge commitment”.
The containment route has broadened the range of leaders and routes. “When you join hikers, you are expected to drive when you are able. “
O’Sullivan leads a walk B near us, and although it is familiar, “I should still recce, to know that the door always opens, or if there is a jamb,” plus, to find a “banana break” place and refuge for lunch. “A lot of people have made great friends with hikers. There is always crack. There is chatter, and there is also a good debate going on. “