Mayo Mountain Rescue Team has advised for the first time that pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick this weekend (Reek Sunday is this Sunday) should wear some shoes heading up the holy mountain, which is, by the way, quite a tough climb.
The first time I tried climbing it (just for fun, not for religious reasons) was two years ago and didn't even make it half way up. The mist started coming down, which combined with the crowds, the rocky path and the lack of decent walking shoes made the experience a bit of a nightmare. By the time we got to the B&B we were all soaking wet and miserably disappointed. Failed attempt.
Last year was a different story. Two factors helped the successful mission: it was an unusually glorious June bank holiday weekend and we took the road less travelled to finally reach the top (it had to be done at any cost!).
A great starting point is Westport Camping, where we were staying by chance. Just outside of Murrisk, this is a brilliant spot located at the foot of Croagh Patrick further, south from the official and crowded starting point. The camping place is cheap, friendly and just 5-10 min walk to the beach, which is definitely a bonus. Climbing from that side of the mountain was the best thing we could have ever done: no crowds, no painfully rocky paths (actually, no paths whatsoever!), no race to the top... it was just perfect, while still tiring. We had to dodge some bullocks on the way out from the camping area but sure, that just added to the wild off-piste feeling of the whole experience.
Reaching the top was a relief and a privilege, since they don't get may sunny and warm days like that in County Mayo - and the views of Clew Bay and its little islands on a clear day are just amazing - and totally worth the climb.
Heading back down the usual crowded path felt like a triumph, having at last climbed the holy mountain of Ireland - and having managed to avoid the crowds.
Still, a speedy barefoot woman in her 70s overtaking me on the way down left me thinking for a few days ... I really hope she is wearing some shoes this year.