Divis and Pitch Black Mountain

GEMMA WEIR is taking the first steps on her way to Kili... And is there a better place to start than Belfast?!

There’s an awful sense of obligation when you need material to write about and you’ve made the commitment of a regular blog feature. It means that I actually have to participate in activities. I was contemplating telling to odd fib here and there to jazz up reality a bit, and then I remembered that there is a designated future time slot that has been allocated to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and, although I am quite sure I could fool a few readers into thinking that I was ready for the challenge, my legs and my lungs would call me out on the first leg. No pain no gain!

So, I lay in bed on a Wednesday evening, flicking through Facebook when I came across a group called Wild Mountain Adventure NI. It’s always easy to click a ‘book now’ button when you’re lying in your jammies, a million miles away from reality.

Divis and Black Mountain moon light hike at 7pm the next night was booked for £11.50. Now, let’s look at this is a little more detail. I have no experience. I don’t know where I’m going, especially not in the dark and I am going on my own. All by myself. A strong independent woman with no mates willing to crawl up a big hill on a dark rainy night at short notice. The £11.50 is worth it. This is a guided excursion, with a qualified mountaineer who will

  1.  ensure I will not get lost
  2. is qualified if I stumble and get hurt which in the new boots that I haven’t broken in properly yet, is a real possibility
  3. If there is a more urgent emergency than a twisted ankle, I am in good hands
  4. Company and Safety in numbers

Worth every penny!

I had a minor bout of the jitters as I sat in the Divis carpark at dusk, waiting for a group of strangers. I had just finished reading my Criminology module for that week for my degree and I couldn’t help but that if I were a serial killer, that’s exactly how I’d do it!

I got out of the car and gingerly approached a small group that had began to gather and introduced myself. There’s one thing grabbing your map and exploring a bit of mountain range or well trodden hiking path in the daylight, but really, it’s no joke if you get lost up there with no toilet roll. Safety is really important. My guide was Hannah, she seemed to have the nocturnal senses of a bat, and her qualifications and the fact she had an emergency tent in her bag made me feel a lot better about this whole expedition.

Lockdown has created two kinds of people, the ones who have taken life by the horns and got all Rocky Balboa in their shed, lifting big rocks and taking their one hour of exercise freedom per day privileges very seriously… and then there are all the other mere mortals. The ones who have sat on the sofa and have reconciled themselves to the fact that a large bar of Galaxy Caramel for breakfast is definitely going to happen. I am the latter.

I was puffed out by the time I had left the front door and got to the car. Baby steps! That’s the beauty of setting a challenge as gargantuas as Kilimanjaro a couple of years down the line – slow and steady. Our group had six in total, two ladies and the front took off, they’d done this before alright. I had my gear, looked the part, felt prepared and kept reminding myself about that time I made it up Donard with very little bother… When I was 19!

I hit the incline about the same time as I started sucking frantically at the water pipe on my new rucksack… I started breathing and wheezing like a stalker who had got too close and the steeper the incline became, I could feel that hollow raw feeling in my throat and I could taste blood. I was starting to feel as though this was not one of my better ideas. I needed to slow down a bit; as I admitted defeat and reduced the pace, I figured that waving the white flag to the speed limit was less embarrassing that being air lifted home.

Here in lies another really important lesson! Go at your own pace! I really wanted to keep up with the ladies at the front, and maybe one day, I will – but not today! I seriously considered cancelling Kili, faking my own death and moving to Switzerland to avoid mocking ‘I told you so’s’ half way up that hill; but when I stopped trying to compete and ‘keep up’, I started to enjoy it! And when I made it to the top of Divis and then Black Mountain and looked out at all of the twinkling lights, I realised, I actually quite enjoy this sort of thing after all! 11k… Not a bad start for a couch potato with big dreams and a bad attitude!

And here lies my first step… If you fancy a night time trek or a day time hiking exploration, check out Wild Mountain Adventures NI.