The Mists of Eire

Delta Winds cover 2014Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Mists of Éire

Caitlin McDougall

The blue above us seemed endless, limitless, freckled with perfectly formed white cumulus clouds that looked soft to the touch. It was perfect. It was what I had always imagined the heavens would look like, and it was real: and it was all around us, hugging us.

We slowly worked our way up The Devil's Ladder, which had more foot traffic than I would have liked. We were sharing the trail with professional climbers and locals who made me feel silly and underprepared. They wore wind- and water-resistant clothing, and used walking sticks to help them scale the mountain at an unimaginable pace. I was working very hard to keep up with Craig and Kyle, but did not want to leave Jessie behind. She did not share my competitive and determined nature. I could tell that she was not enjoying herself and felt very uneasy on the slippery stones. I tried to rally her and boost her confidence, but it required many stops, and I became frustrated with her unwillingness to soldier-on. I convinced her to climb ahead of me and keep pace with us, so that if anything happened to her, we would be close enough to help. We moved as a unit, trudging up the hillside like the packs of wild goats that called Carrantuohill home.

The sun was high in the sky, but the massive cottony clouds created frigid shadows that chilled the sweat on my back. We eased onto a plateau at the top of the steep climb, and I could feel my ponytail sticking to my neck underneath my hat. I was exhausted and sweaty, but we were not even halfway there. I paused, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes for a moment, relishing my victory over The Devil's Ladder. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears and feel it pulsing through my sore muscles. My thighs burned and begged for rest, but we needed to move forward. I took one more look at the gorgeous land that we had covered, and felt a small sense of accomplishment. I did not want to think about having to go down The Devil's Ladder on the way back, one thing at a time. I turned back to the group and nodded my approval; it was time to tackle our next obstacle.

The last stretch of the hike was a great mound of unstable broken sheetrock. My calves strained to keep me upright on this mobile ground, and I lost my balance several times, falling hard on the jagged rocks. The air was so still and quiet and the landscape so serene it intensified my physical pain. I tried to think about other things and distract myself from the raging sensations in my body, but in this place there was nothing to be distracted by. I had to recognize and experience my pain, instead of ignoring it and waiting for it to subside. Pushing through my pain made me feel incredibly in tune with my body and with the earth. All of my senses were heightened, and I knew that I was strong and capable. I would not allow myself to succumb to fatigue when we had come so far and worked so hard.

As we made the ascent, the mist returned, and got thicker every moment. We had stepped into a cloud. The heavy moisture collected in our eyebrows and eyelashes until we were blinking at each other and laughing at this otherworldly experience. The cloud made everything around us magical and weightless. We knew we were near the peak. "We're so close, I can feel it. Do you feel that?" Jessie breathed behind me. I could feel it, we all could. A sense of ease and calm settled over us in knowing that we were almost there, and we seemed to glide through the remaining sweep without toil. When the mist broke, we found ourselves at the summit; the sight took my breath away. The sun was so bright I had to squint and use my hand to shield my eyes. Above the clouds stood a large oxidized steel cross, driven deep into the ground. Tears pooled in my eyes and I felt the weight of our journey return to my body. I sunk down to the stones and willed myself to breathe. I was humbled and grateful. I had hiked the tallest church in all of Ireland, the closest that one could get to God and the heavens to whisper prayers into the ether.

At the top of Carrantuohill, my heart was open and I felt vulnerable, but I was not afraid. I have always thought of a church as a place, rather than a building of worship. It is a place that inspires an undeniable feeling and knowledge of love. I was overwhelmed. I knew I was safe and accepted without conditions or religious constraints. We had stumbled upon a natural sanctuary where we felt at home, and I walked away with a new view, knowing that perseverance was the key to achieving all of my goals.