Dangerous, intense, disorientating: A daring Christmas mountain rescue

wexfordhillwalkingclub 29 Dec , 2018 0 Comments General

About 8am on December 26th, 2017, Alan Wallace set off to climb Carrauntoohil, accompanied by this brother-in-law, Ger and 18-year-old son, David. A long-standing tradition exists of climbing to the roof of Ireland on St Stephen’s Day, but this morning Wallace found the mountain hushed and eerily deserted. Deep snow blanketed MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, and the weather forecast was predicting further deterioration; this had deterred the usual horde of holiday-time walkers.

His group was well prepared. A long-serving member of Kerry Mountain Rescue Team (KMRT), he is an experienced mountaineer with an intimate knowledge of the terrain. Summiting around noon, the trio encountered rapidly worsening weather. An icy gale whipped across the snowfields, while a white-out had descended on the mountain. Disorientating and dangerous, this is a condition where it becomes impossible to distinguish earth from sky.

Soon enveloped by a full-on blizzard and with no visible landmarks, they were forced to navigate by compass. Wallace recalls: “These were some of the most challenging conditions I have encountered on the [MacGillycuddy’s] Reeks. The snow was waist-deep, visibility was virtually zero, a storm was raging and the cold was intense.”


Well-equipped and experienced, the group descended a gully known as the Devil’s Ladder. Safely off the mountain, they were making their way towards the carpark and the promise of food and an evening with family, when out of the gloom loomed the KMRT rescue vehicles. Clearly, someone was in trouble.

The news: a climber was lost on Carrauntoohil. Wallace immediately grasped the gravity of this: in the prevailing weather it would be almost impossible to survive a night on open mountainside. It was imperative the climber be located quickly. Famished and cold after a long day, Wallace, nevertheless, joined his fellow volunteers in the rescue effort.

Having identified his location as somewhere on the southeast of the mountain, the climber was advised to stay put and await rescue. Several teams then headed out into the storm and began a laborious sweep search.

Eventually, the casualty was located in deep snow near Carrauntoohil summit. Now enveloped by darkness, the team had to painstakingly assist him down for immediate transfer to hospital.

In the meantime, two other climbers reported they had also become lost while descending Carrauntoohil. A team was dispatched to their location, which was on steep ground approximately 400m above the Devil’s Ladder. Now followed the physically demanding task of helping the climbers – who were showing the early symptoms of hypothermia – to descend the snow-choked and slippery Devil’s Ladder.

One of the pair soon began losing sensation in his feet, so it became more urgent to get down for rewarming. Ploughing through the deep snowdrifts proved extremely demanding, however. A fresh team, including Wallace, was dispatched to help the tiring rescuers. “It was tough going, but eventually, we managed to get the exhausted and dangerously cold climbers down for transfer to hospital,” said Wallace.

Kerry Mountain Rescue Team rescued eight people last Christmas
Kerry Mountain Rescue Team rescued eight people last Christmas

As the team were about to stand down, a third emergency call was received. A high-altitude camper reported his tent had been destroyed by the storm. The exact location of the causality was unclear, with communication difficult on a poor phone connection; then the signal died.

Working on scant information, the most likely position appeared to be the Black Valley side of the Reeks. As much of the nation celebrated St Stephen’s night with family and friends, the team transferred to this isolated area and commenced a sweep search by torchlight that continued into the early hours of December 27th, but to no avail.

Renowned fickleness

According to Wallace “searching for a casualty on a dark, stormy night without location coordinates is like looking for a needle in a haystack”. That night Wallace reached his home in Killarney at 2.30am. His sleep would be short, however; the search resumed at 8am.

With its renowned fickleness, the Kerry weather now bestowed a crystal-clear morning. A rescue helicopter could be safely deployed, and soon the camper was located. Winched from a ridge – known as The Bone – he was transferred to hospital, while the team members recovered his belongings, before returning to their families in late afternoon.

Next day, there was another callout which came just before midnight. A group of three climbers reported that one of them had fallen 10m and broken a leg on Carrauntoohil’s Howling Ridge. Evacuating a casualty in ice and snow conditions from the ridge – which is graded very difficult – would involve a highly technical operation.

After discussion, it was decided to postpone the evacuation until morning. An advance party of two was dispatched in the interim with food, warm drinks, spare clothing and first aid to stabilise the casualty and prepare for rescue at first light.

This party consisted of KMRT volunteers, Piaras Kelly and Aidan Forde. According to Kelly: “It was a horrendous night when we set out; the rain was bucketing down. This meant it was snowing heavily at altitude. Luckily, it began to clear as we climbed and eventually, we could pick out the three headtorches.

“Reaching the group about 3am, we found they had already moved off the ridge. Assessing the injury, we concluded the leg was not broken, so it was possible to assist the group to Carrauntoohil’s summit. We then decided to short-rope them down by the Devil’s Ladder,” explained Kelly.

Just when all seemed under control, the mountain played its final card: the rescuers were enveloped by a severe thunder storm. Kelly recalls: “Lightning flashes lit the mountains like daylight and thunder rolled. Carrying steel ice-axes we were petrified, but there was nothing that could be done. We just continued bringing the casualties down.”

The storm passed, but in a final cruel twist, Kelly badly sprained his ankle in a hole concealed by snow. “I was in agony, nearly as bad as the casualty. Another couple of volunteers had to be called, but eventually we managed to reach safety and dispatch the casualty to hospital as dawn broke. Then when I took off the boot, my ankle was like a balloon. It took months to heal, but the success of the rescue made the pain worthwhile,” concluded Kelly.

Christmas 2017 was a tough and physically demanding time for KMRT, but nobody complained. The important fact was that eight people had been rescued with nobody seriously injured. This is what counts as a happy Christmas for Kerry Mountain Rescue Team.

Kerry Mountain Rescue Team’s winter safety advice

With short winter days, cold weather and dark skies, it’s now most important to plan ahead to ensure your safety on the mountains.

Make certain you start early, are aware of what time it gets dark and allow for weather changes. Plan your day taking into consideration the weather forecast. Leave your route plan with a responsible person. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to turn back or take a shorter route, if conditions deteriorate.


Sturdy footwear with a good tread

o Food and warm drinks

o Waterproofs

o Map, compass and ability to navigate

o Hat and gloves

o Torch and batteries

o Extra layers to keep warm

o Fully charged phone and spare battery

o Survival bag and first aid kit

o Ice axe, crampons and winter skills.

Further information: kerrymountainrescue.ie

  • courtesy Irish Times and John G O Dwyer

Big turn out for Annual Mulled Wine Walk

wexfordhillwalkingclub 24 Dec , 2018 0 Comments General

Despite the weather , 28 club members turned up for the annual mince pie and mulled wine walk in the Blackstairs last Sunday. Expertly led by Ger the group took the traditional route up to the summit of Blackstairs Mountain at 735 metres and within sight of Caher Roe’s Den turned east  and dropped lower to contour around the mountain.

The damp weather at lower levels began to take on a seasonal snowy look higher up !
Lunch in the slightly more comfortable lee of the hill !
Climbing out of Askinvillar Stream (The Gully of the Cress : Easca an Bhiolair )
The Route (after which mince pies and some mulled wine for the non drivers !


Annual Chrismas walks& party

wexfordhillwalkingclub 02 Dec , 2018 0 Comments General
Warm up phase over ; preparing for the slog up Lug !
Post walk refreshments and chat in Fenton’s recently renovated licensed premises in the Glen of Imaal

The Club’s annual Christmas walks and party took place over the weekend of 1/2 December.   30 members undertook the challenge of climbing Lugnaquilla, Leinster’s highest mountain from the Glen of Imaal side. Led by Mick Wall with Mick Kielthy providing encouragement from the rear the group made the summit in less than ideal conditions – mist on the way up and a heavy rain shower just at lunchtime!

Return was by the same route to Fenton’s Pub for  well deserved refreshments. Later that evening, the traditional club festive meal was held in Murphy’s Hotel, Tinahely.

Sunday’s “recovery” walk was on the Tinahely Railway Path and Tomnafinnogue Wood

Great turn out on Blackstairs !

wexfordhillwalkingclub 25 Nov , 2018 0 Comments General
Rest at beech trees on Ger’s 2 boot circuit of Knockroe, Mt Leinster, Clorogue Mor – 6 hours in mild conditions with good visibility at lower levels
John’s 1 boot walk route from Half Way House, contouring around Black Rock up to the ridge with return over Black Rock . Total number of walkers between both walks was 27

Awesome Walls club day

colettebarntown 14 Nov , 2018 0 Comments General


A number of members will travel to Awesome Walls, Dublin, this Saturday, November 17th. This is a good opportunity to explore the climbing/bouldering possibilities for the Winter. Non members are welcome to come along. The club group will be there from about 12.00 to 17.00. Check the Awesome Walls web page for info on costs, photos etc. Contact Paul or Colette for further details.

Change in the Weather !

wexfordhillwalkingclub 22 Oct , 2018 0 Comments General

Challenging conditions on both walks in the Blackstairs Sunday 21st October : strong wind and driving rain along the ridge. Conditions were improving by the time Ger took this photo of the 1 boot walk on Stoney Top ……… which might explain the smiles!

Derrybawn Ridge 1 boot

colettebarntown 07 Oct , 2018 0 Comments General


Today’s 1 boot route started at the Shay Elliott monument car park, headed to Cullentra, Braigue Mt and then across the Derrybawn Ridge with amazing views to Mullacor, Glendalough, Turlough Hill and the Irish Sea! After a short stop for lunch in the shelter from the crisp NW wind the group continued Eastwards and then South to the Military Road. The track up the ‘Old Military Road’ brought the group back to the forestry on Little Braigue Mt and out near the Shay Elliott car park. The 11 km route with approx 400m of height gain posed no problems to the new members and are already planning their future mountain exploits!

Thanks to Ger Carthy for photos supplied

Great turn out today for Introductory Walk

wexfordhillwalkingclub 30 Sep , 2018 0 Comments General

Over 40 walkers assembled at the bottom of Shannon’s Lane for the club’s annual introduction to hillwalking. With the first pause at the World War II bomb site on the lane, the group proceeded uphill until the turn down to the Aughnabrisky River which all forded withoute mishap; then the climb to Clorogue Mor was accomplished in good time where an early lunch was enjoyed with a spectacular panorama thanks to the excellent visibility – a bonus for new walkers who had not been on the mountains previously.

The group then split into those who were keen to go all the way to the top of Mt. Leinster and those who were happy to aim for Stoney Top which provided a taste of the more normal conditions on Irish hills with a stiff breeze blowing.

Descent towards the cars was by the track from Stoney Top with a sos beag on the way ; both groups were reunited at Bowe’s in Kiltealy.

General satisfaction was expressed at the day even if there were admissions of stiff joints!

A big thank you to the club walk leaders and members who accompanied the prospective members in what may be the first of many walks on Irish uplands!