Skellig Islands, Ireland (part 3 of a 3 part series)
Click to read Part 1, Gerry’s buddy trip to Ireland
Click to read Part 2, Hiking in Ireland
The remains of Skellig Michael’s 6th century monastery
Although the fine details of our trip to the Emerald Isle had been neatly settled months before leaving Canada, the folks at www.irelandwalkhikebike.com contacted me shortly before our departure to suggest a change in the itinerary. We could skip a day of hiking Ireland’s west coast and instead visit the Skellig Islands, a craggy set of rocks poking forlornly out of the Celtic Sea, eight rough miles off the Kerry coast. Initially I was reluctant to dedicate an entire day to seasickness. But there was something in the tone of the email that suggested this was an opportunity not to be missed. And so, foregoing my own health and thinking first of others—as I am wont to do—the boat trip for our group of six was booked.
We arrived in the sleepy seaside town of Cahersiveen on the fourth day of our weeklong Irish trekking adventure. Elaine, our hiking guide, drove us to the boat and cheerily waved goodbye. She doesn’t fare well at sea either and was happy to keep her feet dry for the day. When we arrived at the pier the sky was grey and the sea looked rough. There were a lot of anxious-looking people milling about the wharf. I wandered over to a fellow who was tying knots or scaling barnacles or some such other salty-dog task that identified him as a mariner. He was in fact the first mate. I inquired as to how the boat ride might be.
He turned to me, squinted, looked up at the sky and said, “It’s going to be terrible.”
“How terrible?” I asked.
“Miserable terrible” he said, with conviction.
“Can things get worse than miserable terrible,” I asked.
“Aye,” said he, “there’s awful terrible. That’s when, as you leave the pub, you hold your hand over your face so the wind don’t blow your teeth out.”
Reassured, I stepped around the back of the boat, practiced my vomiting stance, then returned to the gangplank, stepped aboard and prepared myself for a truly awful experience.
The 90-minute motor out was windy, choppy and exposed. The small boat rolled and rocked in the constant swell. But I’ve learned from vast seafaring experience that the best method to prevent seasickness is to stand up, hang on and concentrate unfailingly on the horizon. This I did for an hour and a half and landed with a full stomach—which is more than I can say for the pretty young Irish lass who, by the time the Skelligs came into sight, was tossing her breakfast of rashers and black pudding over the stern.
We weren’t sure what to expect of the Skelligs—other than the rough boat ride, a lot of nesting seabirds and a steep set of steps up a cliff to some ancient Gaelic ruins. As we neared the tight landing at Skellig Michael, birds were soaring and diving in a feeding frenzy. “What are they?” I asked the first mate.
“The big ones, those are gannets,” he answered, “And the little colourful fellars, them are puffins.”
My wife Florence looked up from her knitting. (Yes, she can knit onboard a dinghy in a gale.) “Puffins? Did you say puffins?” “Aye, Atlantic puffins ma’am, in breeding plumage.”
Florence was so excited she nearly dropped a stitch. She has yearned to see puffins for years. I thought we’d need to visit Greenland or Labrador or some other remote, inaccessible place to view these remarkable birds. And lo, here, on a last-minute Irish hiking side-trip, the cute little cliff dwellers appeared in unexpected, colourful brilliance—magnificent mating feathers on full display.
The small boat rocked into the landing. The first mate quickly tied off as the captain helped us hop-step onto the pier. Within seconds the boat was gone, back into the rough offshore sea, where she would wait, bobbing like a cork, for the two hours of our Skellig visit. We stumbled off the landing, regained our land legs and looked up. A narrow, exposed staircase, carved into the uneven rock face rose steeply upward, beyond the ken of craned necks.
Access to the islands is forbidden without a local guide. Our escort, Sinead explained that Skellig Michael was inhabited by Gaelic monks starting in the sixth century and then abandoned a few centuries later. It was these early voyagers who had carved the sheer staircase directly into the rock. At the precarious summit 180 meters up, they had built a few lonely stone structures. Here they lived a life of cold, isolated austerity, living off fish and bird’s eggs—scraping a meagre sustenance from the infertile rock.
The guide told us the steps were steep and uneven, with no handrails – and that those with even an ounce of acrophobia in their veins should not attempt the climb. Properly forewarned and with eyes cast downward to avert the consequences of a misstep, we began our ascent up the 880 steps to the monastery on the stony peak.
It’s 880 precarious stone steps to the summit
As we climbed nesting puffins, mere feet away, went about their business, oblivious to our presence. These birds evolved in an environment lacking predators. With its magnificent ruins and endemic unworried birds, Skellig Michael is a perfect mix between Machu Pichu and the Galapagos Islands.
Atlantic puffins in full breeding plumage
When we reached the top, the summit flattened into a small walled compound of beehive structures made entirely of stacked stone. And despite the absence of masonry, these lonely dwellings have withstood a thousand battering years of Irish rain and wind.
The Skellig Islands poke forlornly out of the Celtic Sea
The opening scene in the newest Star Wars movie was filmed at Skellig Michael. An unfortunate bi-product of this Hollywood notoriety will be a “Star Wars” chaser industry, where tourists converge on the island, not to observe the stark beauty of a 6th century monastery or the glorious plumage of horny puffins, but to see where Luke Skywalker eerily pronounced, “It is time for the Jedi to end.” Even without the boat ride, it makes one want to puke.
When we returned to the wharf, the weather had softened. The return boat trip was reasonably benign. Elaine awaited us when we docked, looking refreshed after a quiet stroll in the green fens above Cahersiveen. “Well, how was it?” she asked. The others gushed on about the stone stairs, the view, the ruins and the Darwinian fauna experience. I looked at her, holding my hand over my mouth in feigned illness, and said, “Wow”.
If you go: www.irelandwalkhikebike.com
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence now live in Kimberley, BC!
Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series. Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.
Because it’s Friday – Here’s WAFFLE NYC – Unbelievable video shot in a moving train
Happy Friday from Todayville!
Here’s a short pick me up that you’ll want to be watching and sharing all weekend. This incredibly talented group is WAFFLE. Their bio is below. You may want to hit up their Facebook page if you just can’t get enough. Get ready for the best subway ride of your life!
Tag a friend 👥👀 || #Wafflenyc #Dance #viral #viralvideo #AGT2020 #GoldenBuzzerFollow our Socials 📱⬇️IG: WaffleNYC TikTok: WaffleNYC 🧇🍽‼️
Posted by WAFFLE NYC on Friday, July 10, 2020
WAFFLE (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) is an innovative New York City-Based artist collective from almost all 5 boroughs. The group was founded by Andrew Saunders (Goofy), Yushon Stroughn (Sonic), and Joel Leitch (Aero Ace) in 2011. The inspiration behind the name came from hearing “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.
Many of the members knew each other in their mid teens through weekly LiteFeet battle events but were in different crews at the time. On their way downtown to these events, they would perform on the subway to be able to pay the entrance fee. You wouldn’t win anything but it was a way to gain exposure in the neighborhood/NYC boroughs. After a while it became very repetitive and the exposure wasn’t enough. Select members from other crews came together with the common goal to branch out and reach a bigger, more diverse audience. What better way to achieve this? Continuing to perform on the NYC subway was just the thing to do and this was the beginning of WAFFLE.
Learning how to work together and taking commuter’s advice built their character as young entrepreneurs and helped save their parents’ money. After a while, other LiteFeet dancers caught on to what WAFFLE was doing routinely. Many were afraid of judgment so they didn’t perform. Other dancers started catching on and non-dancers started copying their daily routines. Many didn’t know how to make the transition from just dancing to actually entertaining. At first people enjoyed the performances but due to the rapid growth, there were more complaints.
Luckily the crew’s mindset was on reaching above ground before this all occurred. The money earned was invested into growing the crew. Buying uniforms & business cards helped separate them from others around this time. The crew would randomly hand out business cards without knowing whom exactly they were given to until people started to reach out. Social media also played a big role in their success.
WAFFLE has also had the opportunity to do work outside of New York City. They’ve traveled to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Paris, Argentina, London, and Turkey. People weren’t exactly familiar with LiteFeet so they would label them as break-dancers and call them “Showtime Dancers,” which is the popular catch phrase for subway performances. Most people had some knowledge of what LiteFeet was but for those who didn’t, a brief explanation was given to them.
LiteFeet is an underground dance style that originated in Harlem in 2005 and ventured into all five boroughs of NYC. Its creativity began once it hit the Bronx. It has even expanded to countries such as Japan, Paris, Argentina, Russia, etc. The term means being light on your feet while dancing. Some of the basic moves of LiteFeet consists of dance trends blended together such as the “Chicken Noodle Soup,” the “Harlem Shake,” “Tone Wop,” and the “Bad One.” There are many more. You can also blend any type of dance style with LiteFeet as long as you use some of the basic moves and lock in. “Lockin’ in” is the term used to describe the finishing move just as a period would end a sentence. What differentiates LiteFeet from any other dance style is the use of props such as sneakers and baseball caps. Using any type of sneakers doesn’t work so Adidas Superstars are favored when doing shoe tricks. Many believe LiteFeet is the rebirth of hip-hop culture not only from dance, but also from the music aspect of it. It has a boom bap feel with an extra kick to it. The thumping beat box tunes is called LiteFeet Music, which mixes hip-hop, funk, electro beat & any other genres with a hip-hop structured sound.
WAFFLE Members Kid The Wiz, Chris Designs, & Lil Live serve as producers to help create the unique sound for the LiteFeet community. People don’t realize that the culture is still growing. WAFFLE’s ultimate goal is to expand the knowledge of LiteFeet and to be a positive influence to everyone around the world
On top of the world with Gerry Feehan
Fisher Peak by Gerry Feehan
Once in a blue moon something improbable occurs. A goal beyond expectations and beyond the capacity of aging knees is accomplished.
The view of Fisher Peak from our Kimberley condo is mesmerizing. For years I’ve gazed across the Rocky Mountain Trench at that daunting, taunting pinnacle. Fisher dominates the skyline in this range of the Rockies. At nearly 3000 meters it towers over its lofty neighbors.
Last July my brother Pat and I watched the second full moon of the month, a blue one, rise over Fisher and decided, “Let’s do it.”
Good weather is critical to mountain climbing. Luckily, the forecast was ideal: clear skies and calm winds. An alpine storm even in summer can necessitate an overnight bivouac. We were not equipped for that nasty contingency. (An aside. Have you noticed the weatherman has become markedly more reliable over the last few years?).
As predicted a perfect day greeted our early start. Climbing Fisher requires no mountaineering equipment, no technical skills. But it’s a long drive to the remote trailhead and the sheer, steady steepness of the climb – and the equally grueling descent – make for a long, hard day. From trailhead to summit the elevation gain is 1400 meters. That’s nearly a vertical mile!
The hike began unfortuitously. When Patrick donned his daypack, the water reservoir was empty – and his pack was sopping wet. A leaky start. It is imprudent to begin a seven-hour climb on a hot summer day without H2O but we had little option. We’d driven an hour up bumpy logging roads to reach the trailhead. Returning to get water meant we would not have time to complete the ascent. Besides, we were in the mountains. That’s where water comes from. Find a stream, fill up – and beaver fever be damned.
The upward march began in a shaded forest of conifers. After an hour patches of light started to shine through the canopy and the trail opened across a jumble of rocks. Beneath our feet we heard gurgling, the babbling of an invisible creek. The steepness continued as the path skirted a cascading waterfall, the source of the hidden rumbling – and the source of clean, beautiful liquid sustenance.
After ninety minutes of relentless climbing, the trail leveled and we came upon a beautiful alpine tarn, its crystal clear waters mirroring the jagged peaks enveloping us. Above the small lake a cirque opened up and we had our first clear view of Fisher, the temptress, still hundreds of meters above us. A solitary marmot whistled a warning call. The sound echoed loudly off the walls of the rocky amphitheater.
We were halfway to the summit.
The next leg of the assault is difficult: three hundred vertical meters of steep, loose scree. A real b#&ch! Even with foreshortened hiking poles digging firm, two hard-earned forward steps were countered by a slippery step backward. The scree section is also dangerous. As it steepens, the risk of lost footing and a fall increases. And, worse still, a hiker above can dislodge rocks upon those below. Self-preservation dictates that you want to be in the lead. Unfortunately, Pat is fitter, stronger and younger than I. So, lagging behind, my focus was keeping my head up while keeping my head down.
Did I mention the scree was a real b#&ch!
After an hour the loose slope resolves to a saddle – a safe refuge before the final climb to the top. This notch in the mountain is festooned with prayer flags. We took a breather in the thin air and gazed around. We had equaled the height of the nearby Steeples. Dibble Glacier, a remnant of the last ice age is visible from this vantage, its ancient blue-grey mass cupped within the Steeples.
The last section begins innocuously with a well-marked switchback through ever-bigger rocks. But soon these boulders become broken, vertical slabs. We abandoned our hiking poles, which became a liability in the four-limbed scramble up, over and around truck-sized stones. Clinging precariously to handholds and squeezing through narrow fissures, we neared the top. In a few spots only a tiny foothold marked the difference between moving safely upward or making a quick 1000-meter descent. But for us Feehans this is the fun part.
The top of Fisher is as tiny as it appears from our balcony 30 kilometers away: a small platform with room for just a handful of climbers. I’m not sure what I expected at the peak but was surprised to see just a jumble of huge boulders stacked atop one another, like the playthings of a giant. The view from the top is remarkable. 360 degrees of pure horizon. To the north and east an endless ocean of mountain peaks. To the south the blue meandering waters of the Kootenay River and Koocanusa Lake disappearing into the United States a hazy hundred kilometers away. In the west, directly below us, lay the verdant green fields of the Rocky Mountain Trench. Further distant the bare ski runs of Northstar Mountain stood out clear as day. I could see my deck over there in Kimberley. No, I couldn’t.
The difficulty with scrambling up to a steep, precarious perch is… what goes up must come down. On the ascent we had concentrated on grabbing, reaching and looking upward. To get down we had to look down. It was disconcerting hanging over a cliff ledge, slipping toward an invisible foothold below. But we slid safely through the slabs, retrieved our poles at the saddle and surfed down through the scree. Soon we were back at the lovely tarn. We stopped briefly to look back up at the now distant peak. Picas gallivanted about, squeaking cutely, gathering nesting grasses, oblivious to the great feat we had just accomplished.
Surprisingly, the last downward section can be the hardest, an unrelenting ninety minutes of joint-jarring, toe-busting, knee-knocking descent. Alpine wildflowers in radiant bloom helped ease the pain.
We were back in Kimberley in time to enjoy barbequed steak. At sunset we sipped a cold one on the deck and watched as alpenglow lit Fisher’s face. The next blue moon is October 31, 2020. What to do for an encore?
contact Gerry at [email protected]
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