It's next stop Kilimanjaro for this inspirational Donegal woman.
Buncrana woman Jennifer Doherty is moving mountains again after becoming the first blind person to conquer the Ireland 7 Summits Hiking Challenge.
Jennifer, who was born blind, climbed Ireland’s seven biggest mountain ranges this past year.
The challenge culminated with the gruelling Seven Sisters in Donegal’s Derryveagh mountains last weekend.
Jennifer is no stranger to immense challenges, having trekked to Everest Base Camp in Donegal mountaineer Jason Black in 2022.
The 7 Summits, however, was a broader logistical challenge spanning from Wicklow to the McGillycuddy Reeks, from the Blackstairs Mountains to the Mournes. The national series is organised by K2 and Mt Everest Summiteer Jason Black.
Over 1,000 people joined the 2023 programme, with Jennifer being hailed as a leading light for inclusiveness.
Jennifer, never one to boast, said she gained vital motivation from Jason and her fellow hikers.
Speaking to Donegal Daily, Jennifer said that hiking without vision is as much a mental challenge as it is physical.
“You are getting all the information from your feet and what your guide is describing,” she said.
“You are always walking at someone else’s speed. It’s more pressure in some ways and you have to concentrate a lot more. If you are walking by yourself you can take a breather, but you have to push on with your guide.
“Mentally, at the end of the day, you are exhausted. There is a nice balance between that. The fact that you are out in nature you feel relaxed and the fresh air makes you switch off.”
Jennifer said the Glover walk on Saturday was the hardest of them all. Participants had to draw on all they had to complete 12 hours of hiking over 25km. Jennifer was guided by Jason for much of the walk, who she describes as a ‘human rollercoaster’ and her best motivator.
“When I first asked Jason if I could do one of the summits, he told me I’d do them all or nothing,” she said.
“It all happened out of nowhere. It’s amazing to have someone totally trusting that you can do stuff you don’t know you can do yourself.
“For me, it’s amazing that I’m doing this thing I enjoy that I don’t know if I would like or could do.”
Jennifer, as an advocate for independent living, has conquered amazing tasks before, such as piloting a plane and racing in a WRC World rally car.
Just hours after the 7 Summits were done, Jennifer signed up for an even more impressive expedition – Kilimanjaro. Her trek to Africa’s tallest mountain (5,896m) takes place in June 2024, also with Jason Black.
Jason commented that Jennifer’s feat is already inspiring other people with disabilities to commit to next year’s 7 Summits.
“Jennifer is a leading light,” Jason said. “She doesn’t see blindness as a limitation. She has the courage and determination to put one foot in front of the other and take on something massive. She shows that as long as you have the mindset, you make it happen.
“Jennifer is very unassuming, but to put trust in somebody in a cold and difficult environment, on very difficult terrain, I think that is hugely inspirational and I think she has a fabulous message to tell people.”
Jason was full of admiration for Jennifer’s drive to complete the challenge. Other than the hikes themselves, there are hurdles such as transport and accommodation to solve.
“Jennifer has a self-belief that things will get done. The foundation of our success is mutual trust. I trust that she is ready and she trusts in me to guide her, we have that belief in each other,” Jason said.
Jason added that he is looking forward to seeing Jennifer step up to the Kilimanjaro expedition and reach the roof of Africa.
“It’s hugely courageous for Jennifer. We all know we have obstacles in life but we have no limitations, they are set by us, not by the mountain.”