UPWARDLY MOBILE Kieran Lally, the first man from Mayo to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is pictured last week.Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Kieran Lally from Ballintubber recalls conquering Mount Everest
CAMP 4. A canvas Himalayan attic pitched under Mount Everest’s 8,848 metre roof. Probably the world’s highest dressing room, bar none.
It’s midnight Irish time on May 22, 2013 when Kieran Lally of Ballintubber sits there sipping a hot drink. He checks his rucksack for his two good special appendages. The St Brigid’s Cross and the Mayo flag. There’s no-one prancing about ranting and raving about pride in the jersey to rev you up. Or telling you to empty the tank out there.
You give your own pep talk here. Just as well too. Emptying the tank is not an Everest option. You always need a reserve of oxygen to scale the roof above.
And always remembering to stay ‘clipped on’ at all times. That’s the mountain code. Has to be. Clipped to the rope is the only lifeline because Everest hangs no other safety nets. The spiritual Sherpa people of Nepal with their innate knowledge of the game plan and the yaks will only get you so far. But after you step beyond the chalk lines of Camp 4 it’s game on, and you win your own ball now.
Everest’s highest peak is a far more daunting edifice than the Croagh Patrick across the Mayo skyline of Kieran Lally’s growing up years in Ballintubber.
“Ready for everything and prepared for nothing,” is how he jokingly describes those youthful times around the ancient Abbey. There he learned his plumbing trade with local man, Seán Horan. Dublin is where the plumber and gas fitter makes a living now, with his wife Geraldine (Jennings of Moygownagh) and their son Eoghan.
But on this May Thursday, Kieran Lally is where he always wanted to be. It’s the place ever beckoning him since he and Geraldine went on a world ramble about twenty-five years ago. He stood at the base camp of Everest during a stop on that sojourn.
Something about that day kept niggling at him over the passing years as he explained with a captivating talk and slideshow account of his expedition when he guested at Mayo Mental Health Association’s information evening in Castlebar’s, Welcome Inn Hotel, last Thursday night.
“When Geraldine and I were travelling, one of our destinations was Everest base camp. There I was mesmerised. Tent city and climbers preparing and waiting to climb. The walk back haunted me. Why was my ambition limited to just standing at base camp? What had they got that I hadn’t?
“We went home, started a family, went to football matches and did all the usual family things but Everest just wouldn’t go away.”
It was time to do something about it then, but first it took effort and raw honesty to prepare.
Selfishness too as Kieran explained, because without that you’re only preparing to fail so it’s back to the honesty again. Going out in the dead of night in all weathers climbing the Sugarloaf Mountain with weights attached. Other higher and daunting mountain ranges were scaled, and ever upward step leading him to this point.
Kieran Lally tells what happened after he unzipped that tent and walked towards ‘Hillary’s Step’, named after the famous New Zealand mountaineer. Kieran was heading towards Everest’s most challenging wall. And his journey signposted with a chilling reminder of what could happen should things go wrong.
“I was about 150 metres from the top and an hour-and-a-half or so of a climb. Oxygen set at 2. But I knew I was going to make it, unlike the poor guy on the rope spanning the ridge. He had been there for days in his boots and snow suit.
“He lay there like a rag doll strewn across the ridge. On his route to summit the world’s highest mountain he met his end. He seemed disfigured. His legs and arms at unnatural angles. Face covered against cold he could no longer feel. Ski goggles protecting eyes that could no longer see. I was glad I couldn’t see his face. A rag doll was a better disconnect.
“Staying fixed to the rope that held him brought me closer. I undid my safety clip and reconnected it above his head and did likewise with my second. I slid my hand up the rope and pulled. Already there were people behind me. The rule “never be unclipped” screamed in my mind. Five weeks earlier a Sherpa fell to his death while fixing ropes.
“The night was perfect. No cold and no wind and the world’s highest mountains bar one below me. I was looking down on the Tibetan sunrise. The stars were at eye level and I had 150 metres to go. I thought of the Mayo flag in the pocket of my rucksack. It gave me a cause, and that cause can keep a person going.
“‘Put the Mayo flag on top!’ Mayo footballer Aidan O’Shea shouted after me when we parted months earlier after he, Ger Cafferkey, Danny Kirby and Richie Feeney helped me in the Westport to Achill fundraising for Cancer Care cycle. I thought of a Saint Brigid’s Cross I brought from Ballintubber Abbey. My dad Anthony died on St. Brigid’s Day and he’s at rest there now.
“‘Should I turn back dad?’ I asked when I feared frostbite would claim my toes, but dad was never a man for a quick answer so I pushed on while waiting. If I can’t feel them I’ll turn back I decided as I stopped and gasped for air.
“I wriggled my toes and pushed them hard against the soles of my boots. In the vastness of the space around me I could see what had to be the top. It was difficult to tell though. One hundred and fifty metres or so. The St Brigid’s Cross. The Mayo flag.”
Kieran Lally was now prepared for everything and ready for anything. He was there. Burying the St Brigid’s Cross in the snow and putting the Mayo flag on Everest’s peak. A twenty-five year calling finally answered. He was where he always wanted to be.