Climbing the 4 Peaks of Ireland in 24 hours
On September 4th 2021 a group of guys and I decided to take on climbing the 4 Peaks of Ireland in 24 hours. We named the event #Big4in24. Here’s our account of what the challenge is. In my next blog post I’ll tell you all about what I learned from the event.
The Challenge There are four provinces in Ireland: Munster, Connaught, Leinster and Ulster. The goal was to climb the highest peaks in each of these provinces within 24 hours. This is a hike that is usually done over a two- or three-day period. With 11.5 hours of driving between mountains, we knew it would be tough to get the job done. But that’s the challenge, isn’t it?! Our Crew There was six people in our crew. Stefan McDonnell and I; the Noonan brothers Séan, Cormac and Daryl. These are friends of Stefan’s and I also knew them through work. Daniel was the last amigo. He was a friend of the Noonan’s. The Big Why I’ve been searching for a challenge to do and some mountains to climb this year. I heard of the four peaks challenge throughout the summer and thought it would be a great event to do. Stefan is a client of mine. He was also looking to challenge himself physically and mentally too. When the two of us got talking, I suggested the four peaks to him and he was all over it. We both thought we had the physical capabilities to take on the challenge but the lack of sleep, the orienteering, the commuting and the time-limit might get us. It was perfect. As a means of giving back to people we also decided to raise some money for charity. That became Dublin’s Merchants Quay. We then sent out messages to friends we thought would like to do the challenge with us and we ended up with the crew that took it on. Finally, we named the whole event #Big4in24. Charity Dublin’s Merchants Quay was a perfect partner for us. They are a small charity supporting the homeless, addicted and those with mental health issues. When mental health issues are spoken about generally, I notice that the role of a healthy body supporting the mind to be healthy is often forgotten. Body-mind training is a concept I am very passionate about. For the mind to be healthy, strong and resilient I believe the body also has to be in the same state. In this sense, the charity partner was a perfect alignment to our body-mind challenge. We were going to challenge our body and our mind whilst supporting a charity that helps people with the deeper issues in the same areas. Preparation The Challenge begins at the base of the first peak and ends at the top of the final mountain. Carrantouhill in Munster is the biggest mountain of the lot, standing at 1038m. It was also located the furthest away from us so we decided to start there. It meant that when we finished the event we only had a short journey home. Next, it was onto Mweelrea in Connaught (814m), Lugnaquilla in Leinster (925m) and finally Slieve Donard in Ulster (850m). Some of the boys had climbed carrantouhill before. None climbed Mweelrea. Two of the boys planned to climb Lugnaquilla the weekend before the event and I had hiked around the bottom of Slieve Donard. Nobody had taken on Mweelrea previously so we hired a guide for that mountain. Being young men, we should have done more due diligence on the mountain routes, maps and GPS side of things but we didn’t. This lack of preparation would haunt us throughout the whole Challenge. The two things we did bring with us beside a change of clothes, food and water were walking sticks and head torches. Both turned out to be lifesavers throughout this event. The walking sticks in particular were fantastic. They reduce the workload on the legs and distribute it around the whole body. Without them it would have been a much tougher challenge again. #Big4in24
We drove to Carrantouhill to begin the challenge at 23.10 on Friday night (it should have been midnight but we arrived early!). Carrantouhill begins in Cronin’s yard. We took the shortest route to the top. It was divided into three section: a hike from the yard to the base of the devil’s ladder; the ladder itself and then the top of the Devil’s ladder to the peak.
From the moment we stepped out of the car, it was clear as day that our preparation was insufficient. We didn’t have a clue how to get out of the yard and onto the mountain. The boys who climbed the peak before didn’t recognise anything in the dark – this was going to be some trip I thought!
Eventually we found the route, started our time and got trekking. In fairness, once we got moving we were fine. The climb itself was grand. That was probably because the weather was incredible. It was cloudy, dry and there wasn’t a whisp of wind, even at the peak. First peak was completed in about four hours. We were right on time. It was a quick change, into the car for a five hour+ journey to Mweelrea.
The journey to Mweelrea revealed our third big mistake – there was no petrol stations open during the early hours of a Sunday morning on the roads between Kerry and Mayo! Luckily for us, our fumes kept us running until we made one in Ballinasloe, not far from the mountain. We ended up stopping here for forty minutes. We were a bit lax on this stop and it cost us later on.
For Mweelrea we hired a guide, Ciarán from Wild Atlantic Outdoors. He was fantastic. He knew his route and there was no messing around. Originally, I thought we’d make this climb in four hours. With Ciarán we set a pace for three. In the end, we did it in three and half, which we were delighted with. The weather was good but no views from the top due to some fog. That was two peaks with no views, the trip was not a sight-seeing tour for sure. Unfortunately, Stefan hurt his knee at the foot of Carrantouhill and this was starting to slow him down on Mweelrea.
Back into the car and cross country for Lugnaquilla, otherwise known as Lug. On our way, we realised the pit stop before Mweelrea cost us a lot of time and now we were under considerable pressure to get the job done. Originally, we thought we’d get Lug done in three to four hours. Having just smashed Mweelrea and knowing the route to the peak of Lug, we set a new intention to summit her in an hour and return to the car in two. Game on.
Lug the Slug
Over the next few hours we found out why Lug has its nickname ‘Lug the Slug’. The walk to its base from Fneton’s pub is about 3km (*at least that’s what it felt like!) and then begins the real trek. Lug is s a long mountain with five false peaks. Every time you reach the top of one peak, you realise there’s another way off in the distance in front of you. After an hour into our hike, the Noonan brothers had sped ahead, Stefan was marching almost out of sight, Daniel was in front of me and I was bringing up the rear. I was struggling badly.
Everything hurt and my mind was weakening. I was using every resource in my book to keep marching forward. By the top of the second false peaks the land flattened out for a few hundred metres and things started to get easier for me. I found a pocket of strength reserve and I began to hunt down the pack. I caught up to Daniel before the third false peak and pulled him along with me to reel in Stefan next. However, Daniel made the fatal mistake of asking a fellow hiker, returning from the peak, how long was left. He was told 45mins. This news broke Daniel. He was giving up. He wanted me to leave him there and he’d find his own way down. There was no chance that was happening.
Instead we took a break, had some food and collected ourselves. After a while, we set off again at a much slower pace. It was at this point I realised we were never going to make the 24-hour mark so I decided I may as well just enjoy the rest of the journey.
Daniel and I eventually caught up to Stefan at the top of the fourth peak. He was struggling desperately now with his knee but was determined to continue on. An hour and forty five minutes into our hike and amidst the dense fog at the top of Lug, we eventually met the Noonan’s at the summit. It was great to get this peak done. Whilst it was the easiest climb so far it proved to be the most mentally taxing. After a bit to eat, a few photos and a drop of water, we started our descent.
The Noonan’s powered ahead and I stayed back with Stef and Daniel. You would think we’d be faster going back down but with Stef’s knee hurting and Daniel shattered it took us almost two hours going down. Meanwhile, the brothers were enjoying a good thirty minute rest at the bottom after they began running down the mountain! By the time we hit the bottom, Daniel let us know he had enough. Delighted that he summitted three peaks, he was happy to be going home. Stef on the other hand was willing to motor on and test the condition of his leg on the final mountain, Slieve Donard.
With our hopes for making it on time now truly dashed, we stopped for a bit to eat and a bit of a break before we set out on Slieve Donard. It was after 11pm when we parked up ready to climb. We were never officially over our 24-hour mark. All that was left was to complete the peak and get the rest of the job done!
By the time, we reached Donard, Stef had enough – his knee was done and he was going to sleep in the car. I was thankful he did call it a day there because he would have never made Donard with the route we took up her. The four remaining men set out for Slieve Donard from the Bloody Bridge and, boy, what a mistake that was! Although I knew the route up from the mouth of the Glen River, the rest of the boys insisted on going from the Bloody Bridge. Very quickly, we found out that it’s a path less worn and considerably tougher to both navigate and hike. Several factors were now conspiring against us. We had the cloak of darkness of compete with, a lack of sleep, tiredness and inexperience on the mountain route itself. After losing the trail several times, we decided to make a bee-line straight up the back ass of the mountain. It meant trudging through dried bog and scurrying over rocks and giant boulders on hands and feet.
About 2.5 hours after we set off for the summit, we reached the top of Slieve Donard. What was there but the Mourne wall! The wall is a way marker for hikers. If we left from the Glen river, we would have followed the river trail as far as the wall, taken a left and found our way to the top within 1-2 hours!! By this stage, we were just elated to be there. Once we got a little rest and some food into us, we made our way back down by the wall.
Unfortunately for us there was one more twist in the road. We were so tired that we couldn’t find the river path. We got lost! At one point, one of the lads heard a dog barking. Luckily, he was belonged to a camper. So at 4am in the morning, we woke up our new found saviour and asked him for directions. It turned out the path was right beneath our noses. Low and behold it was an actual man-made path. The trip down took us another hour and a half at least but at least it was a straight run all the way down the river. Thankfully, we phoned Stef ahead of time and he was there waiting for us in the car park at the bottom of the river.
By the time I had returned home, I was gone 36+ hours, a time I never expected. After working a full day on the Friday, setting out at 6pm for Carrantouhill I eventually returned home after 7am on Sunday morning. It was a much bigger adventure and challenge than I ever expected and I loved every minute. To top it all off, the lad and I managed to raise more than €2000 for Dublin’s Merchant’s Quay Charity. Knowing our sweat and tears was going to support this fantastic charity was was the icing on top to a tremendous event.
In my next post, I’ll share with you some of the insights I gained from taking on #Big4in24.
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