Great Sugarloaf was the first mountain I climbed in Ireland and as with any first love, I have kept a special relationship to that mountain ever since.
The Loaf is a limestone mountain, shaped like a breaking wave, with steep sides, formed at the bottom of the ocean millions of years ago.
At only 501m it does not seem like much of a challenge, but looks are deceptive. The Great Sugarloaf is located just next to the Irish Sea (with a beautiful view of Dublin Bay) and when bad weather hits it, temperatures drop tremendously on the Loaf.
Also, while most Irish mountains are soft and rounded (with other notable exceptions such as the McGillycuddy Reeks and Croagh Patrick), the Sugarloaf features a peak made of pure rock and pebble (I felt this one in the knees once I got home!).
Conor had decided to make the Great Sugarloaf his comeback run in the mountains. Through the years, he's ran and climbed it multiple times, so I not only welcomed the lift, but also his experience with the official IMRA route on the mountain.
But let it be said immediately, the conditions we met on the mountains on this day was like nothing he'd ever seen before in all these years, and neither had I. Sometimes I was dumbstruck, other times laughing, and at times just in awe, at the incredible forces of nature at work on the mountain as a deluge pounded the mountain.
Every rock was leaking water, every footpath was a river, and we as were were running up and down, we could just as well have been running in the middle of a real stream. But we relished the challenge. Apart from my shoes my running gear isn't made for conditions this extreme, so by the time I was scrambling over the rocks to the summit, I was borderline hypothermic. I felt a cold in my arms and back that I'd never felt before, but I felt surprisingly level-headed.
As I made my final burst, there was a primal strength flowing through me, and I caught myself yelling insults at the mountain. Conor, still in recovery, wisely decided to stay clear of the summit, so as I found myself all alone 20 metres below the top, wind and rain beating down on me, I had to make a quick decision on whether or not to scramble over the last few slippery rocks.
With my running companion out of sight, I (for once) decided to choose caution over challenge and turned back at the very end, before beginning an unbelievably challenging 4 kilometer descent to the carpark. We crossed wobbly fields of heather, old muddy tracks now being whisked away by the cascades of water, and jumped fearlessly from stone to slippery stone.
When we got back, we decided to take a few "model photos" to show off the wetness (there's just no way anyone could believe the conditions!). Once we were done, I ran up a mile and a half, and took some more pictures from the foot.
Sadly, I cannot show you the incredible conditions we saw at the top, as the camera wouldn't have survived the journey, but as I sit here I can feel the incredible drain of the day, more so than after most races, and thinking back at my state of mind, there's no doubt that any seizure of activity during the trip, if only ten minutes, would have meant certain crisis.
See all the pictures here.
So I come away with my great respects for the mountains replenished, but I'll never forget the pure joy I felt as I was jumping between the streams of water on the side of this ancient mountain with mother nature pounding all she had at us. If I should end my days prematurely (touch wood!), then it should be like this. I dare say, it was one of the most natural, most primal, experiences of my life. Simply fantastic, and yet there is so much more to see, so many more challenges to brave much bigger than this one.
Our Earth is a beautiful planet as long as we have spots like this. If all our cities perished, it would be little sorrow compared to losing our wilds. I know where I'd rather be in any case...