Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Irish Four Peaks Day 2

After a paltry 4 hour’s sleep I woke struggling to breath with the lack of oxygen in the tent, moisture ingress hadn’t been a problem, however the condensation from 3 bodies had led to pools of water forming on the groundsheet. A time check revealed that we had spent an hour more in “bed” than we had planned, so it was time to get out into the cold and fresh air. Head torches on, it was time to pack up and get ready to push off. Fuelled with hotdogs and tiger bread we began the days walking just as we had finished last nights, in the pitch black and with head torches on.

Where's the Hawaiians?

One of the reasons for taking the route and peaks in the order that we did was because Carrantuohill had a well trodden path to its summit (well it was on the map), and should allow for half decent progress in the dark.

Leaving Cronin’s yard at 06:25 I donned a pair of (over) trousers for the first time to combat the cool morning air. My previously new dry socks became instantly soaked after misjudging the depth of the stream that was running down the path. We continued up the path trying to gain some depth perception, and eventually crossed over the first small river.

River crossing at night, straight out of the mountain guides handbook, not.

Continuing on we came to a fork and chose to go straight on, where the path deteriorated into a bog. This would be the point that many would return the way they came and take the other turn, but we decided to push on, moving further and further away from the path we wanted to be on. Finally coming to the river we decided to cross it and make a b line for the path which would lie on the other side. Crossing first, it was fun to watch the others follow in my footsteps.

Day breaks 40 minutes after our start.

As we continued up the path the sun began to rise and the dark of night gave way to twilight, and eventually head torches could be put away. The morning sun gave us the first proper view of what we would be climbing later on. Crossing another small river we soon came across the two small lakes that sit astride of the path before reaching the devils ladder. This seemed like an idyllic camping spot, the stillness in the air being visible due to the lack of disturbance on the water.

Halfway up the ladder

We reached the “Devils ladder”and began to understand why it was called a ladder; it came apparent that 3 points of contact would become common for any safe progress to be made. What hadn’t been mentioned on any of the sites we had looked at was that a stream runs down the entire ladder, making for an added dilemma for route choice, and some nice wet slippy rocks to avoid.

Finally reaching the top of the ladder.

Progress was quite quick, until we hit the main climb, where the scrambling began. The mix of shingle and boulders led to some very unsecure foot holds and moving quickly was sometimes imperative to prevent sliding down the hill. A good bit of distance between each other was left to try and prevent being hit by others debris. A final push took us up to the top of the ladder, and presented fine views of the valley we had just climbed as well as the one adjacent.

Worth the climb

Looking down on the other valley

For the third time in a row, the cloud now began to come in; the fine view of the adjacent valley started to disappear and within climbing 100 meters visibility once again sank to less than 40 meters. The path changed from a level damp grass covering, to a relatively gently inclined loose shingle that made progress awkward, tacking back and forth across the hillside. A further 40 minutes of ascent took us to the summit, marked by two open roofed stone enclosures and a large steel cross.

The summit of Carrantuohill 1039m, at 09:31 hrs. The mechanics of drinking a tin of beer on each summit really should have been thought through.

It was disappointing to be once again at the summit and be enclosed in cloud, however, it was preferable to getting rained upon; so far the accu-weather forecast was holding true to its word.

As we descend Carrantuohill, the cloud cover begins to break, typical.

Descending on the sliding shingle was quite tricky but quite enjoyable as long as it wasn’t bouncing and cutting into you’re legs. The descent to the top of the ladder was quite quick; however descending the ladder would take a bit more time and concentration.
The descent down the Devils Ladder initially looks quite daunting, but it was really quite good fun; instead of taking it easy I decided I would jump down to the next solid landing area, obviously picking and choosing when to do this. While climbing down we saw the first person of the day, a middle aged man making his climb with the aid of a wooden walking stick. Twenty five minutes took us to the base of the ladder and the next person we saw about to make the climb.

View Irish 4 peaks 3 in a larger map

For the tallest peak in Ireland we thought it would have more traffic up its slopes; a fine Saturday morning would see droves of people climbing Slieve Donard from Donard Park. Eventually we realised why we hadn’t passed many people; most others were using a different path to our own. The Devils Ladder has become quite eroded due to excessive use, a different route is now taken by larger groups or those that might struggle with the steep climbs.

A clear view of Carrantuohill as we descended.

Descending the valley floor to Cronin's yard.

Soon enough we were re-crossing the rivers we had passed earlier in the morning, however this time at the correct place, with large boulders to aid passing without soaking your feet. It was surprising how different the paths looked on the way back in the light of day, compared to the morning’s darkness. Once back at Cronin’s it was time for a quick admin before another lengthily drive across Ireland to our last peak of the trip, Lughnaquillia 925m.

View Irish 4 peaks 4 in a larger map

Starting out on the "Lug"

As we progressed we rose through an area where trees had recently been felled; I envisaged the return trip navigating the various fallen trunks to be an interesting operation in the dark, which we would almost certainly be returning under. A flat plateau was reached and crossed before rising onto and following another ridge line.

Unsurprisingly really, the fourth and final peak was also going to be covered in cloud by the time that we reached it. The cloud was sitting on the saddle below Lughnaquillia at around 850 meters, however to reach this we had to climb a long, greasy, steep slope. The trekking poles that I was carrying on my back probably would have been very useful at this stage, however I wasn’t in the mood to remove my bag and untie them so I struggled on without them. One slip and a very long slide down the hill on your face was waiting for you.

This picture reallly doesn't do the gradient justice, it was really steep!

A small break was taken when we reached the top to allow the lactic acid to subside a bit, before continuing onwards on the large nearly flat plateau that only grew very slowly. This was really quite pleasant to walk on after climbing across felled trees bogs and long wet grass. There must have been an easier route up to where we now found ourselves as quad bike tracks had been left in the soft peat topped ground.

The fourth and final peak bagged, Lughnaquillia 925m 18:38 hrs.

Another fifteen minutes took us to the peak of the Lug and our final summit. Just over 36 hours had passed between our starting and our arrival at our final peak. The aim now was to get off the hill and back to the Albert Clock before the 40 hour mark, something that would take a very quick descent, and then break neck speed back to Belfast.

View Irish 4 peaks 4 in a larger map

We made the majority of the descent with the use of natural light. Returning onto the large plateau, we crossed numerous streams and bogs which had somehow been missed on the way up. As I had thought the final real descent through the felled trees was going to be during the pitch dark, and head torches finally got turned on, however trying to stay on the trail we had used earlier turned out to be a tricky affair. Finally returning to the forest tracks, and with a sub 40 looking attainable we ran back down to the car before jumping in still pretty filthy.

Time off!! Back at the Albert Clock 2214hrs, 10/10/09
39 hours 48 minutes

We were now in the hands of the GPS to get us back to the motorway in as little time as possible. After finally programming it to Belfast (for some reason it had forgotten where that was) and deciding to take us through some housing estates we were on the motorway. Now discussions turned to how best to enter Belfast and avoid as much traffic lights and traffic as possible. That done I sat back got out of wet shoes and nodded off for a bit. Waking up as we entered Belfast, we were on for a sub 40 with a couple minutes to spare. As we drove through the city it seemed like the traffic lights were conspiring against us, but they were too late. At 22:14 we once again parked up beside the Albert Clock, having finished our circuit of over 800 miles around Ireland and climbed the highest peak in each of the four provinces.

Mission Accomplished, it was time to go get some pizza, stretch out and finally get some decent sleep!

3 comment(s) so far, add your thoughts -->>here<<--:

Wandering Photographer said...

:) Well done! What's the next adventure then?!?!

Hendrik M said...

Excellent story and achievement! Very well written, I truly enjoyed your humour. NOT! Seriously, great story and I hope your camera finds its way back to you (or a payment from the insurance).

Keith said...

Cheers Simon, not certain whats next on the cards, but there was talk of walking the entire Mourne Wall, possibly with some of the guys off the NI-Wild forums.

Thanks Hendrik, it helps when you know someone will be reading it! Its looking ever more likely that the insurance company will be getting a call, however, thats what its there for.