As I was leaving the Killarney Inn on that fateful morning, the receptionist asked me what I planned on doing with my day, so I told him I was aiming to climb the infamous Cardiac Hill. His response was a simple: "You're mad".
As I got the Killarney Shuttle Bus to Torc Waterfall, the nearest stop to my destination, I asked the bus driver where I could find the hill, as the other directions I'd come across were a bit unclear. He whipped out a map, which he let me keep, and after a brief explanation he paused dramatically for a moment before looking me in the eye while saying with surprising sincerity: "Good luck".
I'm pretty sure the bus driver thought I was genuinely doing to die on this walk.
These omens do not bode well for the journey ahead, but still I remained unfazed. I'd read descriptions of this walk as "strenuous" and "very steep", but my thinking was that this was only a walk, after all. Sure I walk every day! How hard could it possibly be?
God, I was so young then. Naive. This was about a month ago, by the way.
Following the bus driver's instructions, I found the nearby carpark and followed the track across the road from it that led to the hill. After about five minutes of ambling, I stumbled upon the steps I'd been looking for.
Finally I could make this climb, which doesn't look particularly daunting to be honest, and I would prove all the naysayers wrong...
A few facts about the Cardiac Hill trail before I continue: it's located on the slopes of Torc Mountain, it's 8km in length, takes about 90 minutes to complete and there are hundreds of steps in a near-vertical ascent.
Yet as I looked upon the way ahead, I remained undeterred. I rushed headlong up those rough-hewn stone blocks which wound their way up the hill ahead of me, with the top of those stairs obscured by surrounding trees. It seemed like a doddle, I was pretty sure I was going to reach the summit in no time flat.
But after awhile, my steam started to flag. A rope handrail lined the path all the way to the top and as I got higher I found myself pulling my way up the hill. The steps seemed to get taller, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it shake my brain, I was leaving a stream of sweat in my wake and the swarming midges were trying their level best to pick my bones clean.
Also, the suffocating humidity of the day really didn't help matters. Not. One. Bit.
I needed three pitstops to pant, mop the sweat from my brow and slug some water, but I persevered. After what felt like an eternity, but was literally only 30 minutes, I finally crested the top of those steps.
I allowed myself a moment of triumph at the very top of the steps, as I struggled to catch my breath while midges drowned in the pools of sweat on my brow — a moment that was summarily dashed as a lady about 30 years my senior feckin' jogged up the steps that I'd just struggled up and kept on running without a bother on her.
Thankfully, once you reach the top, the path levels out and you can simply enjoy the sights before you... and what sights they are.
Kerry is full of beautiful sights and so, with my limited time in the county, I had to find a place where I could see as many of those sights as possible. From here I could happily enjoy panoramic views of Killarney National Park, the breathtaking McGillycuddy Reeks and the Lakes of Killarney, while my heart returned to a less alarming rate.
Don't worry though, if you're considering trying this trail, you won't have to face the tough steps on your return trip, as there's a far easier path on your way back down the slopes which passes through a wooded area.
There's an option at the end to slightly elongate your journey by going past the Torc Waterfall, which I did, to cap off a memorable, if difficult, experience.
In retrospect, when you're trying to climb something that has "cardiac" in its name, you should probably assume that the ascent is not going to be a walk in the park... although, ironically, since Cardiac Hill is located within Killarney National Park, it technically is a walk in the park.
I guess the moral of the story is that if everyone is warning you to be prepared for something, you might actually want to listen to 'em.
But as tough as it is — your legs will be burning, knees wobbling, sweat pouring and heart thumping — all that effort turns out to be so worth it.
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