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John Daly: 'Head in the clouds as I try to conquer my greatest fear'

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Hill-walking and mountain climbing are amongst the biggest outdoor activities in the country, with the number of dedicated visitors to the sport having risen from 168,000 in 2003 to 2.3 million in 2017.

Hill-walking and mountain climbing are amongst the biggest outdoor activities in the country, with the number of dedicated visitors to the sport having risen from 168,000 in 2003 to 2.3 million in 2017.

Hill-walking and mountain climbing are amongst the biggest outdoor activities in the country, with the number of dedicated visitors to the sport having risen from 168,000 in 2003 to 2.3 million in 2017.

I'm not big on commitments, particularly those vowed in a hangover haze during the first week of January. An elderly mate puts it best: "New Year resolutions are like crying babies in church, they should really be left in the playpen." That said, though, I am up for the notion of personal challenges - pushing the envelope and facing the fear.

In my case, that would place heights at the top of the list. In fact, I may be the only person who ever fainted in the Eiffel Tower elevator, even before it reached its half-way ascent. Which is why, later this week, my flabby urban limbs will be heading for the altitude of the McGillycuddy Reeks to test my fortitude on Howling Ridge - a place whose name says it all, really.

It presents as an all-in experience of jagged rock terrain demanding a mixture of climbing, scrambling and nimble-footed stepping along loose shale and narrow slabs of ancient red sandstone. Cutting up along the north-east face of Carrauntoohil and adjacent to the equally severe Primroses Ridge, Howling's narrow notch begins just beyond the aptly named Heavenly Gates. Warned in advance that "this is a challenge requiring full commitment and once you're 30 minutes into the climb it's not an option to turn back", I'm left in no doubt that Howling will laser-lock directly on to my long held fear of heights.

Moving from slippery green ledges onto flat slabs of glistening rock, this varied ascent offers novices like yours truly the full gamut of climbing adventure - all in the shadows of the distant Cnoc na Péiste, Hill of the Serpents, and Stumpa an tSnaimh, Hag's Tooth.

Hill-walking and mountain climbing are amongst the biggest outdoor activities in the country, with the number of dedicated visitors to the sport having risen from 168,000 in 2003 to 2.3 million in 2017.

In that quintessential Kerry fashion of adding a suitable twist to the tale of Howling Ridge, it is not named after the gusting gales and snow that blow around its exposed edges. The ridge was first climbed in 1987 by a pair of locals, Con Moriarty and John Cronin, and is named after Con's husky dog, Grimsel, who followed the pair to the Heavenly Gates, where he spent the next five hours howling until his master returned.

Indeed, as I go through my preparation squats and knee-bands for this week's confrontation of my deepest fear, I'll need to up the ante considerably to match the feats of local mountain hero John Lenihan, who ran the 14.5km from base to summit and back down in one hour 11 minutes and 43 seconds - a feat he accomplished 18 times. Ireland's first World Mountain Running Champion, his most applauded achievement was the day he milked his cows before driving four hours to win the Croagh Patrick race, then drove back home to milk his cows by 8pm.

Kerry folk? Sure where would you be going with 'em...

Irish Independent