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Mayo Mountain Rescue Team appeal to pilgrims for safety on holy mountain
Jul 24, 2006, 19:05

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As the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage approaches, Mayo Mountain Rescue Team on behalf of all the mountain rescue and Order of Malta medical personnel would appeal to all intending pilgrims to exercise a duty of care to themselves and others on the mountain and to demonstrate common sense in undertaking the pilgrimage.


In particular the Mountain Rescue team would appeal to pilgrims to consider the following guidelines:


  1. Mountain Considerations: Croagh Patrick is a 764 metre (2510 ft) high mountain with the most popular pilgrim path running from sea level at Murrisk to the summit, a distance of approximately 7km round trip. Whilst the entire route could be considered demanding for those not experienced in hill walking, the final section of the path up the conical summit is a particularly difficult section with a gradient of over 45 degrees compounded by much loose shale and stones, and of course the presence of hundreds of other pilgrims engaged in a similar struggle to ascend or descend.
  2. Barefoot and Blind: Whilst the traditional pilgrimage was undertaken at night and barefoot, this practice is no longer encouraged. Indeed the night pilgrimage has been officially discontinued by the Tuam Diocese on safety grounds since the 1960’s. However it is accepted that some people may still wish to undertake the traditional barefoot pilgrimage. If people are intent on doing so MMRT would suggest that they at least bring a pair of shoes with them in case the effort becomes too painful or excessive. Also the use of a stick and maintaining a very slow and careful pace is the key to a safe and successful barefoot pilgrimage.

  3. Sticks for the reek: For all pilgrims on the mountain, a stick or walking pole of some description is considered a valuable ally on the mountain. Sticks come in all varieties from high tech walking poles to broom handles and the trusty traditional hazel sticks widely available for sale or hire at the car park in Murrisk. If you arrive at the base without one it is strongly suggested that you furnish yourself with a stick before commencing the ascent.  
  4. Dress for the occasion: Any venture onto a mountain, no matter what the weather at the base is not something to be taken lightly. The temperature at the summit of Croagh Patrick with precipitation and wind chill factor taken into account can vary as much as 5-10 degrees cooler than at Murrisk.
    In addition conditions on the summit can change rapidly from warm sunshine to chilling rain or blanket mist and cloud cover. The key to proper dressing is to ensure multiple layers which can be added or removed as the progress dictates. A wicking base layer which transfers perspiration away from the skin makes for a more comfortable climb. A wool or fleece layer is strongly advocated if the day is cold. It is also suggested that you carry a waterproof, or as a bare minimum, a windproof outer layer which can be put on or taken off as required. If the weather is particularly hot or chilly some form of headgear is recommended, either to prevent the considerable heat loss that can occur from the head or to protect against a hot sun.
  5. A stout pair of boots: The traditional footwear for those not undertaking a barefoot pilgrimage was a pair of leather hobnail boots. However any footwear which are designed for moderate hill walking activities and which provide good ankle support are probably the best choice of footwear, failing that a good pair of runners should get you through safely. Whilst the variety of footwear fashion on display on the day is incredible, ranging from wellies to sandals, slip on shoes, flip-flops, stilettos, and even football boots, most of these are not recommended for climbing, both from comfort and safety perspective considering their lack of grip and ankle support.
  6. Food and Drink: As a minimum it is recommended that pilgrims bring a bottle of water and some small amount of food with them onto the mountain. Chocolate bars, energy bars or sweets are good for upping blood sugar levels and restoring energy. Some people bring sandwiches and a flask with a hot drink which can be particularly welcome at the summit if the weather is chilly. At the peak hours of the pilgrimage there are outlets along the ridge and at the summit selling sandwiches and snacks and hot and cold drinks, however the prices understandably may reflect the effort it’s taken for the stall holders to get their merchandise up the mountain. Venturing onto the mountain with alcohol taken or drinking alcohol on the mountain is strongly advised against. Apart from the effect that even a little alcohol can have on balance and judgement, it should be remembered that this is a holy place of pilgrimage warranting respect also.
  7. Leave No Trace: Every year the pilgrim path is unfortunately littered with plastic bottles, food wrappers and items of discarded clothing. Whilst litter wardens actively patrol the mountain dishing out on the spot fines it is impossible to hope to catch all offenders or to deter with such numbers on the mountain. On the pilgrimage try to adopt the simple country side code, namely leave no trace and whatever you carry on carry off with you too. Also whilst there is sometimes a temptation to venture off the main path when climbing, it is best to minimise or at least focus erosion onto part of the mountain. Sticking to the main path also prevents the risk of getting lost or, even more seriously, stumbling unsuspecting over one of the many steep drop-offs at the front of the mountain.
  8. The young ones: Children of as young as five climb Croagh Patrick each year. If you are bringing children make sure they are properly dressed and equipped as outlined above with sticks of their own. Also take your time, rest as regularly as necessary, take in the view, eat and drink plenty and enjoy yourselves. If the children do get tired and have to be carried, remember that since they are not exerting themselves any longer they can get cold very quickly on your back or shoulders. Unfortunately almost every year on Reek Sunday at least one child is treated for exhaustion or borderline hypothermia. 
  9. The speed merchants: Every year on Reek Sunday there are the full of bravado individuals who think it makes them look great to set off on a run down the mountain. All it takes is one incident of missed footing for them to lose control and go tumbling headlong at major risk of injury not only to themselves but to others in their path. Whilst it is not possible for the mountain rescue teams to hope to control these individuals we can make other pilgrims wary of their presence and to be prepared for sudden occurrences on the mountain.
  10. Know your limits: When climbing do not push yourself to exhaustion. Take regular rest stops, pace yourself. If you feel yourself getting too hot or cold, add or remove layers as appropriate. If, on the ascent, less than half way up the mountain, you doubt your ability to make it, trust your judgement. It is no shame, indeed it is the height of good sense to turn around rather than risk an accident near the summit or on the descent brought on by exhaustion.


Finally, the most significant thing that Mayo Mountain Rescue Team would say to those planning the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is that they have a duty of care and a responsibility to themselves to ensure their own safety. Just because there is a multitude of rescue and medical personnel on the mountain does not absolve anyone from taking responsibility for their own safety. Do not assume that just because you get tired on the mountain that a rescue team is there to carry you off. Whilst the presence of mountain rescue on Croagh Patrick every year always aspires towards prevention and patrolling rather than rescue, the unfortunate reality is that inevitably the limited resources are taken up with some very serious rescues and evacuations off the mountain. Cases need to be prioritised and because of the sheer numbers on the mountain, people with less serious injuries may find themselves waiting some time for assistance from mountain rescue.


Mayo Mountain Rescue and their fellow Mountain Rescue Teams wish all pilgrims to Croagh Patrick for Reek Sunday 2006 a safe and enjoyable visit to the mountain.

© Copyright 2006 by the author(s)/photographer(s) and

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