In my younger days I was, perforce, an avid hiker. At my sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, weekly hikes were compulsory, and these were no kiddie trails, but steep daylong treks in the White Mountains. No doubt, the aim was to inculcate in us a lifelong love of hiking. In me it inspired just the opposite.
But the forecast on May 7th was absurdly ideal enough – nothing but sunshine from dawn till dusk, as elusive a phenomenon in Dublin as a decent bagel – that when Megan invited me to join her for a hike in the Wicklow Mountains, I forced myself to accept.
Had I Googled Sugar Loaf mountain in advance I might have done otherwise. A thirty minutes’ drive from the city center, it shoots up out of the ground like a craggy pointed hat: cruelly precipitous, equal parts mud and shale. Halfway up, muscles moaning in protest, I tried to recall the strategy that had served my younger self: keep your eyes glued to the ground, lean far enough forward that the gravitational pull of your backpack supports upward movement, distract yourself by making conversation (dwindling lung capacity be damned).
I didn’t expect to feel anything at the top apart from relief. But when we reached the summit, I found myself, to my surprise, instantly and profoundly awestruck. In the twenty minutes I’d spent with my eyes cast resolutely downward, I’d accumulated beneath me a stunning 360 view of Dublin and Wicklow. I marveled to see the Counties sprawled before me, a verdant checkerboard of greens, yellows and browns, as idyllic geometrically as the day was meteorologically.
The fulfillment that view afforded was enough to make me truly excited for a second hike up Montpelier Hill – colloquially known as Hell Fire. Fortunately for my calves, this ascent was much briefer. Barely ten minutes after scoring a choice spot in the car lot, the trail plateaued, and we were faced with the structure for which the hill is nicknamed: The Hell Fire Club. A decrepit former hunting lodge, the Club has looked out over Montpelier Hill since 1725, and in that time has garnered fame and infamy on account of Club members’ rumored occult practices.
That day we were among the Club’s oldest explorers. Legions of kids darted in and out of the ruins, while their parents rested on the lawn. I was in it for the shade; it was the first time all year I felt too hot in Ireland, and the Club’s stone edifice offered plenty of natural air-conditioning. Peering out over the hill, palms pressed against the cool, porous walls, I felt more connected with the land beneath my feet – usually concealed by a layer of concrete or cobblestones – than I had all year. I don’t have much time left in Dublin, but I hope that in my remaining months here, I can unglue myself more frequently from the city, and ascend to more new heights.