MS patient takes NI’s tallest mountain in her stride ... in the dark

Claire Espie after completing the Slieve Donard hike
Claire Espie after completing the Slieve Donard hike

A young woman recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis set herself the challenge of climbing NI’s highest mountain in the dark to come to terms with her condition.

Claire Espie set off at 2.30am last Saturday to take on Slieve Donard, having never before climbed a mountain.

Darkness on Slieve Donard

Darkness on Slieve Donard

The 34-year-old, who lives in Lisburn and is originally from Cookstown, did the Sunrise Climb in aid of the MS Society and was able to raise £1,200 in just six weeks.

She said: “This was my way of telling people I’d MS because no one knew before then. People were in shock, but I got some really nice, lovely comments that helped me.”

Of the climb she said: “It took about six hours altogether up and down, that included sitting down to watch the sun rise on the way down.

“The idea was to see the sun rise from the top of the mountain, but because it was put back a month due to the weather we ended up seeing it on the way down.

Claire and James McNab navigate the mountain in the dark

Claire and James McNab navigate the mountain in the dark

“It was pretty tough going. I’d never climbed a mountain before, probably the most I’d done was Cavehill. To be honest I don’t think I’d realised how much of a step up it was.

“Whenever we did the walk that day most of the other people were doing it for a family member who had MS. They were all very shocked I had MS and I was actually doing it.”

She added: “Nothing could prepare you for doing it in the dark. I stupidly thought with the moonlight you’d be able to see something but you could see absolutely nothing.

“Everybody had head-torches, it wasn’t too bad going up, but going back down it was harder because unless you’re looking directly down at your feet it’s not shining where you need it to be.”

Of her condition ahead of the challenge she said: “I had been really bad with fatigue the whole week running up to it so I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. If I’d spoken to a doctor they’d probably have told me not to do it.

“I think the fact I’d had so much support and a lot of donations drove me on.

“I honestly still can’t quite believe that I actually did it. It’s given me a real boost.”

Claire said her MS symptoms include not being able to feel her arms and legs as well as fatigue: “I was falling a lot. I burnt myself because I couldn’t feel my legs.

“The constant thing for me is the tiredness. I seem to spend the majority of my life completely exhausted. It leaves you confused, unable to remember things.

“I work full time so it’s been difficult. Luckily my health has been pretty good for the last few months.”