Tuesday 19 September 2017

It can be a scary environment... the weather changes so quickly

Colm Burke (37), engineering project manager and mountain rescuer, Kerry

Kerry Mountain Rescue volunteer Colm Burke near Ireland's highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, in the McGillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry. Photo Don MacMonagle
Kerry Mountain Rescue volunteer Colm Burke near Ireland's highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, in the McGillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry. Photo Don MacMonagle

Standing just over a kilometre high, Ireland's tallest peak, Carrauntoohil, has become immensely popular with outdoor adventurers over the past two decades and has become a 'bucket list' challenge for many.

Unfortunately, some of those who tackle this high point of the MacGillycuddy Reeks - or the neighbouring Beenkeragh and Caher peaks - find that they underestimate the challenge and can get into severe difficulties.

It's a phenomenon Colm Burke is all too familiar with. The keen mountaineer, who's based in Killarney, says some who take to the mountains don't wear suitable clothing, sometimes lack the skill and experience to take on certain ascents and fail to understand how quickly the weather can change.

"These are mountains close to the Atlantic," he says, "the weather can change dramatically and quickly. It could be a beautiful, clear day when you set out in the morning but within a few hours it could be very rainy and windy and visibility can be poor. That can be a frightening environment for someone to find themselves in, and you do come across people who thought they wouldn't be found in time.

"But it's not just inexperienced people who we're called out to. Even climbers who've been doing it for years can find themselves in trouble - it's easy for something unexpected to happen."

Burke squares the risks involved with the satisfaction of successful rescue missions. "I'd say I'm speaking for all 34 members of Kerry Mountain Rescue when I say we've a passion for mountaineering and the outdoors, and helping people. And that probably comes from the fact that when you're out in the wild yourself you know there are volunteers out there who will come to your aid if you need them."

And those volunteers have undergone extensive training.

"There's a two-year probationary period where you're assessed on a range of different skills, so you've already done an awful lot of work before you're let out there.

"You have to go in with your eyes open and know that you will encounter incidents where someone has died. It's part and parcel of what we do."

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