4 Irish provinces, 4 peaks, 24 hours!

Potentially the clearest view we got all day from any mountain!

The Irish 4 Peak Challenge (but in 24 hours)

4 mountains (3634m – over 40% the height of Everest)
4 provinces
24 hours (12 hours running): 18-May 00:00  –  19-May 00:00

Saturday

+ 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Just a few of the things packed for me!

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.

01:15 at the summit of Carrauntoohil, in the dark – yeah John was there – promise!

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

08:00 Head off to start Mweelrea

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:

The terrain, by all means, was reasonable. The degree slope, not so much.
The pleasant views made the climb eminently doable, of course.
We made it! Albeit tired, depressed at losing an hour of time, and angry at myself for such a rookie error.

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.

Far more tired than I ought to have been at that stage, and mentally facing the fact that if we fail the challenge by an hour, I should take responsibility for my poor navigation skills!

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.

For a brief second, John caught sight of clear skies (unknown time).

17:00 Stop to moan to Chris
17:01
Restart
17:05 Stop to moan to Chris again
17:06 Restart
etc etc…
17:50 After a lot of walking and no running whatsoever, we all summit Donard.

Yes, it is that steep John!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.

The difference between a northern (Irish) mountain and a southern one.

I moved back to the Emerald Isle because Nottingham had me too far from the mountains and sea.  Or at least that’s part of the reason, and I’ll not go into the other 99 parts right now.  And so when I take a week’s annual leave, you’ll find me at the coast or up a mountain.  I mean, I use the term “annual leave” loosely, because we don’t really have a concrete understandings of time off.  Our annual leave forms get signed with sporadic dates put in them, and my boss understands that if he calls and I don’t answer, I’m either in the pub, sleeping, or on “annual leave”.  If I do answer, I might still be in the pub.

And this last week was no different.  My sister arrived in from Africa and an old university friend from England.  We worked a few hours, and seamlessly transferred into being up mountains in Kerry and in Down.  And it’s there that with an Irish lass (who betrays us all by calling herself Scottish) and an Englishman, that I once again noticed our stark difference in culture, not by those I travelled with, but by the very mountains we traversed.

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Carrauntoohil

Arriving into Killarney town always tears me in two.  The very authenticity the Gaeltacht and beauty of the landscape marauded over by a gazillion tour buses of a particular culture of people, noisily unpacking the “trunk” and proceeding to tell me loudly:

“you’re country is so green and peaceful!  Are there still terrorists here?”

If I was not benefitting from their generous dollar bills, I might correct them gently inserting a past tense into the first clause, and telling them that yes there are terrorists very close.  Given that I am very close to hitting them, bundling them into my car, and claiming a leprechaun did it, at which I would assume they’d probably give me more of their funny dollar stuff to see a live leprechaun.

But instead of this type of tomfoolery, I instead will just sadistically enjoy their “authentic Irish experience” from afar.  I’ve always enjoyed the throngs of tourists visiting the tarmaced paths around Muckross Lake and marvelling at the fact they’re in “Killarney National Park”.  And that no one really questions what the wild mountains ranges beyond the signposted areas are, but instead they flock to a signposted trickle of water down the hill that conveniently is at the end of the “National Park Tarmaced Path”.  I mean, the fact that my granny could walk around the “national park” doesn’t in fact take away from the fact that it is, yes, still stunningly beautiful, and that I admit.

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Some of the real National Park

In fact, this re-direction of tourists is a divine plan of the Irish Tourist Board (much like the one where they tell tourists that the Cliffs of Moher are the tall Irish cliffs that need visiting, when actually, Europe’s tallest cliffs lie up the coast a little, but wouldn’t be as easy to market), keeping the less mentally aware away from the real areas of natural beauty, that mean I can enjoy my ridges and hikes without any gasps of “Ireland is soo green”, which, although true, does not need repeated as many times a day as is declared that the ridge we walk along “really screams out for a Starbucks coffee shop right now”.

So by the time I get to Cronin’s Yard, and what I consider the “real Killarney”, I’m pleasantly amused and yet highly frustrated.  This combination is going to be a constant one, as I realise my present company.

In the carpark (there are only two buses a day….don’t try it!) around me are Irish people and those of the New Irish who are unemployed or those who have contextualised well enough to realise that you don’t check the weather forecast before booking your holiday.  You wake up, look upwards, and see the sun, and set off to the mountains.  I think we also had a few German families in hire cars who arrived shamefaced (a week later than anticipated) for their holiday, only to find the weather being unexpectedly brilliant.  I’m not sure they could show any joy at this Irish summer weather though, as they were still apologising for their tardiness on not being here the week they intended.

And so we set out.  A few moments later, and in a instant that showed just how much she’d betrayed herself to them’uns o’er the sea, my sister sent me back for our map from the car.  It was the only piece of equipment or hiking clothing we had accidentally left behind.  In my honest opinion, we could see the mountain we wanted to climb, and we’d be grand.  What more did we want?

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The cliff face we’d stupidly climbed down

Admittedly such silly requests were off the back of hilariously (but not at the time) dropping down a descent of Mangerton mountain the day before that only could be described as a sheer cliff face.  Reading a map and directions printed off Munsterhillwalks.com, we soon realised that someone though it hilarious to see how far those tourists would follow directions like lemmings off a cliff.  And we did.  And to be fair, looking back, it was quite hilarious.  We probably should have sniffed out this, when the route started backwards, and we never saw a path returning anywhere along our route.  But these are things you don’t think of when you come from cultures that swear by formal maps.

 

We were taught our lesson when we reached the top of Carrauntoohil to be greeted with grins from 4 “New Irish” counterparts standing there in their Vans shoes, and jeans.  And they continued to stop every so often 50 metres ahead of us to cuddle and selfie til we got fed up of the embarrassment of such a posse and overtook them in our mountain gear, boots and maps, that probably more held us back than achieved anything for us on the day.

Summiting Carrauntoohil (for those who want to know) is not hugely difficult, but is not to be laughed at.  The route meanders along some stones that look like they were scattered in a rough arrangement by an Irishman after a few pints (they probably were) and through enough bogland that regardless of time of year, you’ll step in something muddy enough to remind you it’s a bog, at some point.

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Then, as if the route were designed by a children’s drawing competition in the local school, it just decides to take you straight up the side of the basin all at once.  And after that you follow zig-zags up scree to the top, with a glum, bored look on your face as if you were heading up Croagh Patrick for penance.

Sadly half way up we’re gleefully told that the pub at the bottom will soon be closing and that we may as well turn round if we want to have any fun at all.  We didn’t.

At the top, the Kerry Mountain Rescue Service politely put a small sign to warn you of the plummet to the ground on the north-east side.  Realistically they know this will tempt more Dutch and Swiss (I would say Germans, but I’ve given them enough stick already, and any more may be considered racism) to stand as close to the 800m drop as possible.  But I suppose insurance has even come back to bite even the Irish, from our visiting tourist friends, and we’ve had to bough to the dire measures of erecting small signs.

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The sharp 800m drop off the side

Of course, also at the top of Carrauntoohil is our well renowned giant cross.  I say well renowned because for two weeks, the whole country thought it a worthwhile conversation topic while sitting in the pub.  DSC_0096The fact that the average Irishman has never ventured anywhere near Carrauntoohil does not stop him passionately having an opinion about the cross on the top of the mountain.

Because we are Catholic after all, and Catholics do like a good cross (let’s not tell anyone it dangerously resembles a dirty British, Proddy cross if it doesn’t have a good bit of Jesus on it).  I mean, when I say we’re Catholic, I really mean that we’ve come as near to confession one time as we did to Carrauntoohil, before either being put off by some foreign accented person nearby (sometimes even the Priest these days) or by feeling guilty and returning to the pub.  Ah yes, Carrauntoohil/confession – that’s the place I ought to have gone once and I’ll feel guilty I haven’t but really I’m quite happy with a pint in my hand looking at it from afar.

But anyway, back to the cross.  To be honest it was only after some angry atheist took a chainsaw up a mountain and sawed the old cross in two that anyone realised there was a cross on the mountain at all (much like the “fleg” on the city hall in Belfast, for that matter).  And as good Catholics, we all thought this was a bit far, and struggled to understand what on earth would have made someone to have been angry enough to have left the craic in the pub to start with.  And so an even bigger cross was put back in its place, so that we could claim once more that we were truly Catholic.

At the top we briefly stop to exchange photos, asking our photo-taker whether they’ve been up before.  “Just a few times” comes the reply.  By which the old man could well have meant “every day since I was born”, it was so understated.

But enough of Carrauntoohil.  This was meant to be a tale of two mountains…

Slieve Donard

Supposedly named such after Saint Donard, who nestled into residence there briefly, it’s the closest that a northern mountain will get to being religious.  Because let’s face it.  If it was too openly called after a saint, there’d be a bunch of loyalist protesters at the bottom with flegs and signs saying “ge’d’off ar maentins” and claiming that King Billy had once sat, not only on the wall, but on the hill back in 1690.

Thankfully on the day we climbed it, there were no protesters at the bottom at all.  In fact, there were very few at the bottom who weren’t safely stowed away in coffee shops on the prom.  There were two reasons for this.  Partly because the summit looked a little like the picture below, and partly because much like Americans are to Killarney, so are coffee shop daytrippers to Newcastle.  All local folks mind.  Not a tourist in sight.

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But one must understand that there are only two places a Belfast city person may go on a day off (and that is well over half the population).  Either drive to Portrush (and “the north coast”, by which they may also mean Portstewart, but normally still revert to “the Port”) or to Newcastle.  Even on a small island like ours, you would have hoped there may have been more day trip destinations, but sadly the “one hour drive and sit in an ice-cream shop” only works in two directions.  I’ve heard no-one out wesht has ice-cream yet.  So whether it’s Morelli’s or Mauds, the northern breed will be equally happy at this, quite social event, where doubtless they’ll meet a few they claim to have some relation with.

Now you might be quite surprised that the meeting point for this fine breed is not a pub.  But in the north it is quite a different game, and the day-tripping breed tend towards careful inspection of others to make sure they are not spending too much on drink, and are instead spending it on nice cars to drive in, and on cafe delicacies to indulge the waistline.

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And so why, given these two things, did we dander up the hill?  Well, precisely (or not precisely at all, as the case was) because we’re Irish.  And we looked at the hill, and all the locals cowering away in their posh cafe experiences and thought:

“That would be crazy to go up in these conditions without any gear, in tweed jacket, jeans, and Vans”

And so we did.  Because still crazier would have been to conform to the comfort of expectations and organised plans and weather forecasts.

The fact that we also only had a few hours til sunset didn’t seem to buoy our mood, and in fact drove us on all the more, as we found that the average person on google seemed to take 5.5 hours to climb Donard.  We had 5 hours till sunset.  And so we fancied our chances, bought a bottle of water each, found some Tesco value chocolate lying in my boot, and set off up the steps from the car park.

Ten minutes later and I distinctly remember looking at my friend in slight puzzlement that we were still climbing these very steps.  Until I realised about 90 minutes into the walk, that this is what the whole path was going to be.  You see some northerner had clearly got worried that we might find the whole mountain thing a little bit tricky, and, in infinite wisdom, had provided us with steps all the way.  Perhaps a dream for some unused to traversing the great slopes, but for us, quite frankly boring.

But these were not just any steps.  These were stones carved into the ground at quite some level.  Barely did I meet a loose one, and occasionally did one ever reach over a comfy height to lift my leg.  On such moments, it rather felt like a sign might have been nice to say “sorry we caused you to move a bit further than normal leg-reach, we’ll repair this soon”.

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Despite this help, we were still slightly concerned at the darkening weather, the setting sun and several other slight issues (the Tweed jacket no longer being one of these, as we’d sadly decided to abandon it in the car).  Asking those coming off the mountain for some advice on distance remaining, our time was further eaten when we realised that such questions were taken quite literally, and a minute by minute summary of the route was regurgitated from a route-map carried in plentiful supply by well-clad mountaineers.

Half way through this description, most of us (apart from my English friend) stopped caring about much that was coming out of the mouth of our nimble mountain goat-friends beside us, and instead we decided that we didn’t know why we’d asked really at all, as we were going to continue regardless.

And so up the steps we continued to go, until we hit the next quite remarkable “quality” of a northern mountain (should you want to call it that).20170423_174838

The wall.

And I better be careful with all this mention of flegs and walls, lest we get all political again.  But I’d take a fair bet that Mr Trump would only dream of a team of wall builders like built this Mourne Wall.  All 22 miles of it in all its glory.  Summiting 15 peaks in total.  Yet every time I’m stepping up in the Mournes, someone asks me

“why did they build this wall?”

And every time, I can’t help but forget why on earth someone would build a 2m high wall of dry boulders for 22 miles up and down some of the tallest peaks in the country.  Scenes of the World’s Strongest Man boulder lifting competition come to mind.  I mean, unlike our Carrauntoohil path, if an Irishman on pints tried to lift even one of these stones, he’d be doomed to roll down the hill with it.  Nevertheless in Belfast tours both sides probably say it was the oppression of the “other side” that made them have to do such a feat.

In reality google always reminds me that the real reasons for miles of walls was to keep some sheep out of certain bits.  Y’know, those sheep who like to summit mountains in their spare time?  Well, ok, ok, yes you’re right that there are many mountain sheep in incredible places that make you think “how on earth did that sheep get there?”.

But I would have thought that if a measly sign keeps thousands of mountain climbers and tourists from their deaths in the south, that something slightly easier to build would keep a few sheep from straying over certain lines in the north.  And that even if it was the answer, that someone would have thought that the sheep who love to bag munros (summit mountains to you and I), would probably learn how to summit styles over the walls or find broken-down-bits before too long.

But sure, if they were havin’ the craic, who am I to stop them?  Though I would have thought that when it came to the top of the mountain, that they’d think of something more to celebrate the summit than a wall, much like had been beside us all the way up.

Stopping there for a brief rest, we swapped photos with one other group also summiting daftly late in the day.  They assured us the reason they were “late” was because they’d been drinking wine til 05.30 the previous morning and had got lost on the way up.  I didn’t ask what side of the tarmac motorway steps they got lost on, on their way here.  Rather, I was pleased that some others were enjoying an adventure.

I’m not sure the sentiment was shared as we crashed back down into Newcastle, three hours after we’d started, and into one of those aforementioned coffee shops.  Looks of bafflement from pristine teenage couples out for a date, were followed by those of disgust from older relations, alarmed at how rugged people like us could ever come in to the cafe like this.

But so our tale of two mountains finishes.  And we hope you appreciate that not only was this a tale of two mountains but a tale of two cultures too.  One in which we went round and round until we summited.  The other, where we went straight up some stairs.  Perhaps there’s a lesson in that too…

God’s Acre, Tralee

Walking to a day’s work in Tralee IT North Campus, I pass this field.  Puzzled and with a few minutes on my hands, I went to explore and found the sign beneath the cross on the second picture: “God’s Acre”.20161019_142732

It appears that this area is a famine graveyard, dating back to the Irish famine.  But it saddens me that it’s called such a thing.  Having “God space” seems to suggest that there could be space God isn’t Lord over.  It’s theology that is normal in Roman Catholic circles, but also in some charismatic circles (territorial spirits, and areas that are less controlled by Him).  It reminds me of the forerunner to Pokemon Go, Ingress, that my older cousin played for years, where one must capture back buildings in the real world to make them “the right side”.  In both, all of life is spent consumed by taking back territories, something which Jesus seems little concerned about in His vision of Kingdom (“my Kingdom is  not of this world”).

For a theology of travel and because of what I’ve shared elsewhere (here and here), I think Abraham Kuyper (previous Dutch Prime Minister) had a point when he said:

‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!’

It may not feel that way at times, and there may be many questions raised from it, but if we abandon such sentiment, we lose far more than we gain.  We’d have a creator who wasn’t in control anymore.  We’d have “no-go” areas in the world which weren’t wise to explore as God is not there so much.  God would look more like a pet on a lead, than the “Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth”.  Who could be sure about what will happen in the future, if he can’t control the present?

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