4 mountains (3634m – over 40% the height of Everest)
24 hours (12 hours running): 18-May 00:00 – 19-May 00:00
+ Carrauntoohil, Kerry (1038m/3406ft) 00:00
+ Finish 04:00
+ Mweelrea, Mayo ( 814m/2671ft) 08.30
+ Finish 10.30
+ Slieve Donard, Down (850m/2789ft) 16.00
+ Finish 19:00
+ Lugnaquilla, Wicklow (925m/3305ft) 22.00
+ Celebrate! 00:00
I’m not sure we quite realised what we were in for, when Dan Ross (The Rebel Cyclist, famous for his year-long adventure cycling home to West Cork from New Zealand) suggested to John Daunt and myself that we do the Irish 4 Peak Challenge. 4 peaks seemed very reasonable. Most Irish mountains are fairly easily done, and we’d done a (small) bit of trail running in the past before.
Should I have thought at all beforehand (what’s the fun in doing that?!), I might have realised that there’s a reason that when one Googles “Irish 4 peak challenge” that all the results seem to describe people doing it over the course of a weekend, rather than 24 hours. Apart from the obvious reason for such (running 4 mountains is a tad difficult), we have since come up with a few more:
- There is 12 hours driving between the four peaks, not to mention the few hours to the first one, and the few hours home again! This, in all honesty, is probably as hard as climbing them! We decided on a dedicated driver (there is NO way it would have been safe for us to drive too), who thankfully had expertise in sleeping in cars (don’t ask!) and driving long distances. Despite including him in all the planning chat, it seemed he didn’t quite realise the hire car needed to cross the border, that meals didn’t grow on trees near the mountain car parks, and that we couldn’t stop at a leisurely pace. Perhaps we ought to have chatted beforehand more! Despite this, he was incredible and the challenge would have been impossible without him.
- Working all day Friday is not the ideal preparation for 24 hours of sleepless running/driving. Unless you’re incredible at sleeping in moving cars, in confined spaces, while loading food in and changing clothes, I suggest that sleep may be better had before you leave. But that means taking a day off work, and adjusting your sleep rhythms. Sadly, I didn’t, and so this was an awful lot harder! We could have done it on Sunday, but then you’d face the same problem at the other end – work on a Monday morning, 4 hours after returning home!
- The overall height ascended and difficulty of the ascent, while not to be sniffed at, is still not much compared to other records set during the same time we were up, but it’s the stop-start nature of the Irish 4 Peaks which adds to the difficulty. Despite hiring a big estate car, 3 people, their stuff and a driver take up most of that space. And so you sit fairly cramped for long periods after every intense mountain experience. It’s not a great way to treat your body!
- The chance of being held up by weather is hard to predict. Unlike doing an event or challenge in one geographical area, summiting peaks in 4 different mountain areas on an island, is always going to provide challenges! Whilst not getting amazing weather, we were still fortunate enough.
- The chance of not finishing due to traffic jams is an unfortunate risk to take. Imagine summiting all 4 mountains in record time, but then not completing the challenge? With 12 hours driving involved, this is what you might risk, which quite frankly, is why many probably don’t bother.
But despite these challenges, we loved every second of it! Here’s how it panned out over the 24 hours:
8pm Pick up the hire-car
9pm Pick up passengers and pack the car – remember to leave the key things behind, like maps. Wake up our driver.
10pm Set off on the road. It starts to dawn on our driver where we are about to go…
11.42pm We get bored waiting in the car park, have our friends with us to run the first one, and decide to leave early (don’t tell anyone!)
11.56pm The novelty of running in the dark with headlights wears off. Well, at least it entertained us for a few minutes.
02:30ish Arrive back down at Lisleibane car park to wake our driver for the second time that day. Head off for Mayo!
02.55 Get dry enough that we could start putting on clothes again! We’d never thought that we’d still be dripping enough, that we couldn’t put fresh clothes on until 30mins after completing each mountain. Thankfully no on-lookers were harmed in the making of this 4 peak challenge:
05:45 Hunt for somewhere in Claregalway that will be open to feed coffee to our driver.
05:49 Realise we’re in Claregalway. Not a chance.
06:14 Stop at a petrol station to ask for jacks. Get told there are none, but there’s a spot on the back wall of the building not covered by CCTV.
06:16 Thank the helpful man on the till
08:15 Get distracted by general banter, forgetting directions, and the whole hour we had already saved on Carrauntoohil.
08:16 Start doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea.
08:50 Realise that doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea is not what we’re meant to be doing. Start deciding between options: head straight up the slope beside us, or go back and take the path up.
09:00 Stand depressed at the choice.
09:02 Decide to go straight up the mountain:
09:40 Summit of Mweelrea.
10:30 Bottom of Mweelrea…yes, you’re right – 40mins later. It really wasn’t far, albeit it was all over bog.
11.30 Stop in Westport, because we feel bad for our driver who hasn’t had any breakfast. Debate the likelihood of the Car Park attendee getting enough money from people not paying car parking charges, to pay him. Decide that a local man would never fine his fellow citizens. Leave.
12:00 Attempt to sleep in car. Fail. (x10)
16:06 Arrive at Donard Car Park, after only one lap of Newcastle’s one way system. Minor achievement.
16:08 Get honked-at by a load of teens in a souped up, tinted windowed car, doing noisy laps of the car park. Also bump into Share Uganda founder and trustee (Chris) who says he will join us up Donard. Perhaps it was actually him the teens were beeping at. Unlikely but…
16:10 Start Donard.
17:00 Stop to moan to Chris
17:05 Stop to moan to Chris again
17:50 After a lot of walking and no running whatsoever, we all summit Donard.
19:00 We’re back – after an hour or so of sprinting down the mountain, we’re back waking up our driver again.
19:30 Sleep time! I finally was soo tired, I nodded off in the car on the Emoticon pillows (don’t ask – they were taken at the last minute…instead of the maps?! Great choice there Peter, great choice.)
22:00 Arrive at Lugnaquilla (Wicklow) exhausted but knowing we only have to summit this one to complete the challenge. 1 hour 42mins would do it. Dan had previously run it (fresh) in 55mins – surely we couldn’t miss it?
22:20 2 miles in, I give up running (for life? Perhaps. Or so it felt at this stage)
22:40 We have fog so solid around us, that all we can see are the “Beware of the military firing range” signs that illumine on either side of us. We have half the ascent (height-wise) still to do.
23:05 The pace slows.
23:33 We have 500m of climb to go, but we can’t see the summit due to fog – it could be anywhere!
23:41 We stumble across the cairn and stop our watches. FINISHED! With 1 minute to spare.
01:41 We then spend 2 hours attempting to find our way back again (no-one mentioned this part to us!), and getting lost in the fog and wind several times.
01:42 Take a mandatory finishing photo in the dark
3 final thoughts:
- Humans are resilient creatures! I can’t believe how our bodies just kept going, despite circumstance, and despite us not being regular hill runners. If we needed to have gone faster on the last one, could we? Perhaps so, though it didn’t feel like it, and my (Type 1) diabetes does rather limit things on top of normal limitations – I’m still trying to work out how exactly.
- Good character is a joy to see. I hang out with many adventurous people, but few of them also have a gentle, patient and encouraging character. I’m thankful to Dan, John, Chris, Hollie, Nic and Tasso for all being folk who never are so competitive that they trample on weaker people (often me!), but seek to encourage and help, even when the whole goal is at stake – what a joy!
- Share Uganda is a worthy cause. I wasn’t originally thinking of doing it to raise money, but many people said it was a worthy thing that they’d give towards. So here’s a link. Share Uganda is a fantastic sustainable project in healthcare and education, empowering local people to make a difference. None of the money goes on western salaries or otherwise. Please donate generously!
Peter normally writes on this blog about travel, faith and how to make the most of travel. You can read some other Irish mountain related posts here.