On Thursday 20th April 2017, myself and good friend Lonan O’Farrell set off from the summit of Mweelrea, Co.Mayo to take on the highest peak in each of the 32 counties in Ireland. The challenge is often taken on by groups who aim to complete the peaks in under 100 hours or sometimes over a summer, year or life time! Our aim was to beat the fastest known time of 87 hours 50 minutes. The record attempt would involve over 10,000 metres of ascent and 160km of running, while driving over 1800km in between.
The criteria for the challenge can be found on the excellent website High Point Ireland and we had a couple copies of Kieron Gribbon’s book Irelands County High Points which gave invaluable information on start points, route details and everything you would need to take on this challenge.
The plan was to hike and run each of the county high points and be transported by van in between each climb by our crew, while we refueled and rested on the move. Months of logistical planning had to led us to this point and we had assembled an excellent crew and sponsor in Team Donegal Oil. Donegal Oil owner Arthur Mc Mahon, was joined by Shaun Doherty who would be our crew for the first half of the challenge and they would then hand over to Denis Ferry and Leslie O’Donnell from the Donegal Trekkers. With Arthur and Rory Kennedy calculating driving distance and times, myself and Lonan estimated each climb time and our ambitious target was to complete the challenge in 60 hours! Colm Dillion Manor Motors supplied a new Opel Vivaro van which provided excellent space for the four of us plus all our kit. We decided to carry a GPS tracker for transparency and it would allow people to keep track of our progress 24-7. We also set up our Facebook Page so we could post live feeds and updates on-the-go.
In doing the challenge we hoped to raise awareness and some much needed funds for two children’s charities, Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Play Therapy, Lakeview School Galway. I have a little niece who attends Crumlin due to a condition known as PFFD and this hospital carries out unbelievable work for babies and young children throughout Ireland.
At 06.30am myeslf and Lonan set of for the summit of Mweelrea, Co. Mayo in no panic as the official challenge starts at the top of the first peak and ends on the summit of the last, being Mount Errigal in Co. Donegal.
“All “fastest time” record attempts start when the challenger commences on their descent from the Gribbon location they have chosen to visit first. The ascent time to the first Gribbon location does not count towards the challenger’s overall time.
All “fastest time” record attempts finish when the challenger completes their ascent to the Gribbon location they have chosen to visit last. The descent time from the final Gribbon location does not count towards the challenger’s overall time.”
|County||Mountain Name||Height (metres)||OS 1:50k map|
|Galway||Binn Bhán (Ben Baun)||729||37|
|Leitrim||Truskmore SE Top||647||16|
|Meath||Lough Crew/ Slieve Na Calliagh||279||42|
|Monaghan||Slieve Beagh East||366||18|
|Roscommon||Corrie Mountain (Seltanasaggart)||422||26|
At the summit of Mweelrea we were joined by my cousin Ciaran Doherty who had hiked up to wish us well. We began at 08.00am and descended Mweelree towards the shores of Killary fjord, where we had arranged with Shane Young of Killary Adventure Centre to transport us by boat to the other side of the fjord where our crew and van would be waiting. This plan worked smoothly and by doing so we saved almost an hour in road travel time around the fjord. We both know Shane and have competed in many of his Gaelforce adventure races in recent years.
With a short drive to the base of mountain no.2 we were quickly underway, running across bogs and rivers to the steep slopes of Benbaun, Co.Galway. The summit was clouded over and stupidly we made a navigational error when descending and ended up taking the wrong gully which resulted in us being on the wrong side of a steep ridge. This mistake cost us about 30-40 minutes but in hind-sight it was a real wake up call and kept us sharp on navigation for the remainder of the challenge. Once we had found our bearings we began a fast return to the van but while we were hoping across the bog I startled a young ram who then decided to charge at me, hitting me directly on the right leg! He then looped around to have a second go before Lonan managed to plug him on the nose with his hiking poles and send him on his way into the bog, a funny moment which helped us forget our error somewhat!
Back in the van we began to refuel and get out of our wet socks, it was crucial that we managed our food intake and looked after our bodies at early stage. We had a drive of a couple hours to the next high point of Arderin, the highest point in Laois and Offaly. This involved a quick dash across some boggy terrain and we were soon on our way to Moylussa, Co. Clare. Arriving at Moylussa we were met by Paul Tierney, an accomplished mountain runner who would help pace us over the 5kms up to the summit where we enjoyed beautiful views over Killaloe.
A two-hour journey would take us to “The Kingdom” and to Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil, Co.Kerry. Again we were met by local adventure racing friends, Chris Caulfield and Linda O Connor. These guys know the mountain inside-out and meant that we didn’t have the stress of navigating as the sun was slowly going down. We ascended Ireland highest mountain via the “devils ladder” and made the summit cross in just over an hour, just in time for sunset! Check out our summit video here.
I’ll let some pictures do the talking…
As we made our way around the country, fatigue was setting in and we had to catch as much sleep as possible in the back of the van. I estimate that I slept about 3-4 hours during the challenge, while Lonan struggled from travel sickness and found it extremely difficult to eat and sleep! As the second day passed by we began to make our way back North and the second night seen us take on Truskmore, Cuilcagh and Slieve Beagh. Thankfully we managed to navigate all peaks in the dark without trouble and began the final day on Slieve Gullion before taking on two long and hard climbs up Slieve Foye and Slieve Donard. Once off Donard we were on the final push and on course to finish on Errigal as planned at 08.00pm. As we were using a GPS tracker and keeping people updated on social media, a large crowd had gathered at the base of Errigal to welcome us to our final climb. We quickly set off across the bog for the summit of Errigal and reached the peak at 8.35pm, setting a record time of 60 hours 35 minutes! Some hard core family and friends had made the summit and were a welcome sight at the end of an epic challenge! Award winning photographer Paul Doherty was also there to capture some amazing photos of our final summit.
Back at the Errigal carpark we were congratulated by a large crowd and enjoyed a couple beers to celebrate our success! The support from family, friends and the general public who had followed our adventure was unbelievable and something neither myself or Lonan had ever expected.
A massive thank you to everyone who donated to our chosen charities, who left messages of support and made the effort to come out and cheer us on. At the time of writing, we have raised over €8000 for our charities!
To Arthur McMahon and Team Donegal Oil for sponsoring the event and allowing us to take on a great challenge. Sponsorship can be very difficult to obtain and when we do receive backing we make sure that we maximize it to the best we can.
Denis and Les never set a foot wrong and kept our spirits high when things were tight! My own cousin Shaun Doherty came back from his work in England to crew and was a constant source of entertainment with his stories and good banter! Manor Motors provided an excellent van and was a key part in the teams success.
Having set a new FKT of 60 hours and 35 minutes, we attracted a lot of media interest, which was great for our chosen charities and also our sponsors who got publicity nation wide. Check out some of our interviews below:
National TV Interview – Ireland AM TV3 Interview
National sports news – the42.ie Interview
National Radio – Dermot & Dave Today FM from 34 minutes on the 26th of April.
Local Press – Donegal Democrat