A Cappanalea journal
We arrived at Cappanalea Adventure Centre after a somewhat, *ahem*, eventful bus journey and we were promptly sorted into our groups before heading to lunch. I think some people in that room were somewhat dismayed with their group, because perhaps they were not with their friends, but you’d be surprised how a week of completing tasks in the Kerry air can pull a group of people (that might never have spoken to each other before) together.
My group, Group B, were planned to go canoeing on the lake after lunch. We spent the beginning of our session just trying to get to grips with the steering (and in some cases, balancing) of the canoe before being left to our own devices to reach the shore. This involved paddling standing up or everyone sitting right at the back or simply just soaking people in other boats. One way or another, nearly everyone ended up in the freezing water that evening.
The next day we were scheduled for Camp Craft and Navigation. After a night of somewhat less sleep than normal, everyone was a bit groggy trying to figure out how to get bearings from our maps. However, after some initial difficulty we all ploughed on and found all our locations, the exercise ending in positioning your own rucksack and then being giving the bearings to find someone else’s. All rucksacks were retrieved, after some varying time lengths.
Camp Craft was held in a small field above the lake and after all our map reading, everyone was delighted to see bags of soup and pasta. We were instructed on how to put up our tents and had a go ourselves before being shown how to use a Trangia, a cooking stove used by burning methylated spirits. After what had seemed (by that time) a long day, we got to just sit around and eat food.
Wednesday morning held the daunting prospect of abseiling and rock climbing. There were definitely a few nervous faces looking up at the jagged rock face, but in the end everyone had a go. The worst part was definitely leaning over the edge; once you got going it was fine.
Expedition planning was a small bit tedious, having to plan out exactly what food we needed to bring and who would carry which bits of equipment in their bags. Our session quickly dissolved into a heated argument (over chicken noodles of all things) and our instructor left the room to let us sort things out. Funnily enough, once we were left to our own devices we worked things out, and had the food situation sorted by the time our instructor returned.
Thursday morning was the day of our expedition, and sleepy students wandered into the canteen in varying stages of being dressed. Not knowing what to expect, some people were layered up like Eskimo’s while others wore shorts and a hoodie. Yawning, and grumbling about our awkward rucksacks, we piled into the bus and headed to our separate starting points. The road up to the mountain seemed to stretch on for an eternity and stone walls and sheep were the only things to be seen for miles. Eventually we reached the foot of the mountain and we all took a well earned break.
Once we started up the mountain, things became very cold and wet very quickly and hoodies, hats and scarves were pulled on. Then we headed into bog land. Every step was potentially a bog hole, where your boot would sink into the ground as far as your thighs and your boots would rapidly fill with mucky water. Whenever you tried to help anyone out, you ended up falling in yourself and many people lost shoes in the bog, and had to stick in an arm to fish them out.
Finally, after much groaning and falling into holes, we reached the top and the exhilarating feeling of triumph made all the effort worth it. However, a dense fog shrouded the whole mountain, meaning we could see absolutely nothing beyond about ten feet. After stopping at the summit to take a breather and some group photos we made our way down the other side, which was no easy task. Because of the muck, it was like walking on ice and people tumbled rather than walked down. There were also rabbit holes everywhere, covered in a dense thicket of gorse which were easy to step into. After perhaps half an hour, the fog began to clear and one of the most breathtaking views I believe one has the privilege to witness, unfolded in front of us. Towering hills in a thousand shades of green surrounded a serene lake that looked promising considering how mucky we all were by that stage.
Walking through little streams, over stone walls, through dense trees and down slippery rocks, we were then standing at the precipice of an abseil. This one was a whole different ballgame to the one we’d encountered earlier in the week, standing at 90ft, making the other one pale in comparison. Once again, it wasn’t very pleasant leaning over that edge but after the initial nervousness, I found it to be one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and nothing can compare to the rush you get at the bottom.
Then it was time for our second session of canoeing. Aoife was the first to get into one of the canoes and as she stepped into it, the whole thing upturned and sent her splashing into the icy water. Maz (our instructor) told us that in nine years she had never heard or seen of someone capsizing on expedition day, and proceeded to formally name the manoeuvre “Doing an Aoife”.
By the time we reached the camp, everyone was tired, hungry and a little cranky. Tents were hurriedly put up before rushing over to our stoves and wolfing down half-cooked noodles and pasta. Then the fire was lit and everyone sat around it, putting boots almost in the fire in order to dry them somewhat for the following day. Yawns echoed around the campsite as we sang late into the night and toasted slices of bread on the cleanest twigs we could fine. About forty cups of Pot Noodle were consumed that night along with a few loaves of sliced bread.
Possibly the earliest night we’d had in a week, everyone collapsed into their tents at eleven o’clock, squeezing into their sleeping bags fully clothed, only stopping to remove boots before conking out on whatever could be used as a pillow. Some people slept exceedingly well that night *raises hand* but others weren’t so lucky.
Parts were of it were tough, parts were a little scary and parts were pure enjoyment but Cappanalea (in my opinion) was one of the best weeks I have ever had. People who had never really spoken to other people in their year are now chatting away and many of the students formed strong bonds with our foreign students. It was a week none of us will forget in a hurry, between staying up till all hours laughing in our bunks, playing games of Manhunt in the dark with dimly lit torches, everyone sitting in the lounge with cups of tea and noodles and generally the craic that was had by all in a particularly memorable week.