Posted by: keepfishing | May 14, 2007

Five Peak Challenge: Journal

It’s been a couple of weeks since we completed the 5 Peak challenge (which, to recap, is climbing the highest mountains in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all withing 48 hours) and I’ve finally got around to writing some sort of journal/account of what happened. Hopefully it will be vaguely interesting and possibly even useful for people who want to try a similar thing – web accounts were invaluable to our preparation. Anyway, without further ado..

So, April 27, 2007 12:15am, Ralph and I rock up at the pub where we left the car and attempt to squeeze our bags, pillows and mountains of chocolate. We’ve hired a 7 seater car and although, there’s only 5 of us travelling, there doesn’t seem to be much room….anyhow, this process takes all of 2 minutes, giving us plenty of time for a quick Guiness before the pub closes and we take to the roads. Lest you worry, our driver, Peter, goes dry.

1am, Led by the esteemed John Cleese on the SatNav (who seems to particularly favour turning left), we depart. 5 Minutes later, we return as Christian realises he’s left his hiking boots behind. Numpty.

And so, we drive to Stranraer. Sleep comes pretty quickly, and I wake up in the ferry terminal. So if anything interesting happened, I missed it.

4:55am The ferry leaves and we all find a bench to lie down on. The most blissful 2 hours of the weekend follow and I wake up to a big bright dawn.

7am Drive out into Belfast and intermittently sleep – those who know me well know that I can sleep pretty much anywhere (although I’ve not managed to do it underwater yet). However I’m rudely awakened by a billboard poster from the British Heart Foundation, encouraging people to take 30 mins of exercise a day. You might expect it to have pictures of old and overweight people jogging, cycling or swimming, but no, here is a picture of a naked old man and a woman in a swimsuit on a beach next to the word ‘sex’. Yes, you can get your 30 minutes by doing it on the beach. Not the most pleasant thought to start the morning.

Ireland’s road’s are terrible. Their motorways are barely A roads and even John Cleese gets lost. When we eventually get close to the mountain we have to ask a half naked man on a tractor (don’t worry, we were nowhere near a beach) what track to go down.

2pm Arrive at Cronin’s Yard, the start point. Kit up take pictures and begin the challenge!

2:36pm Start Carrantuohill

6:41pm (4:05 hours) Finish. It’s a pretty simple climb – Fortunately it was dry and the Devil’s Ladder wasn’t too wet, although we all had slips and mini falls coming down. I slipped off a rock with my foot landing on a mini ledge, which if it hadn’t been there would have meant a 5 foot drop (still feeling the groin strain 2 weeks later though). The view from the top was gorgeous, just a shame we didn’t have long to hang about in the area.

7pm On the road again and as we head out along the road we meet two dogs, a spaniel and red setter, come bounding down the road at full pelt chasing after each other. No owner in sight, just 2 dogs, tongues hanging out having the time of their lives, on a well used road. Weird.

1:10am Arrive in Newcastle for Slieve Donard.

1:20am (10:44) After a briefing from our driver Peter on how to climb the mountain (none of us have done it before), we set off. This is where our months of planning come to the fore as we realise that maybe a map would have been a good idea. “Don’t worry” says Peter, “it’s dead easy, just follow the river, get out the forest and follow the wall to the top”. It takes us approximately 3 minutes and 42 seconds to get lost. We can’t find the river and a phone call to Peter ensues. Soon we find the river and something that vaguely resembles a path and head up it. Its pitch black and our lostness has a vague Blair Witch feel to it.

Eventually we come out of the forest after another couple of wrong turns and corrections and set about finding a path. We do so and follow it to a waterfall and start climbing. About half way up it becomes pretty clear that there isn’t a path any more (when it becomes almost like rock climbing than actual hiking), and our only hope that people have been this way before is the occasional coke can on a rock. Fortunately for us, there’s a lot of moonlight and we can see the summit once we hit the ridge. So we set out in the general direction, hoping we cross a path, which we inevitably don’t.

It is at this point, as the wind howls around in the early hours of the morning with the bright light of Newcastle far below, that the first pangs of regret cross my mind: why didn’t we bring a map (actually this feeling started as soon as we left the car park)? why aren’t I in my bed? why are we doing this stupid thing at all? As a group, we’re pretty demoralised, but plod on past false peak after false peak and eventually hit the top, where upon we find the wall. Great – we can follow the right path down! Except there are two walls…

So after some frantic phototaking of us looking quite depressed and some terse phonecalls to peter we head down the wall we think is correct. Inevitably, it’s not and we find ourselves somewhere on the wrong side of the mountain. It was at the this point that the chaffage started and the real hero of the expedition came to the fore – Gold Bond extra strength powder. If you’re an American guy, you might know what I’m talking about. Anyway, in the end (knowing we had a ferry we HAD to catch) we decided to cut our losses and head for the nearest road and let Peter and Laura in the car find us. This journey took us through a river, drainage works, cow fields, more barbed wire fences than I want to count and a farm (why is it that the gates are never in the corner of the field you expect?)

4:55am (14:19)Arrive at some public toilets at a random place called Bloody Bridge and arrange pick up. Phew! Lesson learned – never climb a mountain you’ve not done before in the dark without a map. We were stupid and I dread to think what it would have been like had it not been a clear night and the weather been worse.

8:45am Catch the ferry in Dublin. We booked the fast one to save time, which only went and ended up being half an hour late due to engine problems.

11am Get off ferry in Holyhead.

12:28pm (21:52) Get dropped off and start up Snowdon. This turned out to be a pretty dull walk. Loads of people around, literally every man and his dog, which made it hard to set a good pace because you were always trying to get around people in jeans and trainers. Eventually get to the top to discover that they’ve knocked down the cafe and the summit resembles a cross between a building site and a company picnic. Take a picture and get down as quickly as possible. It’s at this point that Ralph starts having trouble with his knees (the Pyg Track is almost completely made from flat boulders, giving us a lot of impact stress on the legs), but we get down without too much bother.

3:45pm (25:09). Get down, stretch off and get out of there.

9:00pm (30:24) Start Scafell Pike. Due to the clear weather it’s a good hour or so before we have to use the head lamps. On the way up we meet a lot of 3 Peakers coming down and also manage to avoid making the wrong turning which meant we had to go straight up a scree slope when we did the 3 peaks last year.

As I reach the trig point, I let out a (deserved) cheer, upon which I spy something that looks like a bag on a nearby rock. There’s no-one else on the summit, so I go over to check it out and trip over a bloke in a sleeping bag. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to upset and we sit around eating our cereal bars trying not to make too much noise.

On the way down we pass a few more 3 peakers looking pretty knackered and then see the most wonderful shooting star I’ve ever seen. It was big and fat and looked more like a firework than anything else. Beautiful.

12:50am (34:14) Get back to the car to find Peter and Laura (finally) asleep. Wake them up and start the long drive north.

According to Ralph, who couldn’t sleep (I got the longest undisturbed sleep of the trip), Peter broke several land speed records trying to make up time. I wouldn’t like to comment.

6:40am Arrive in Fort William for Ben Nevis. Get out of the car and stare at the bags for a long time. Motivation at this point is pretty low, but at least the sun is still shining. None of the people we invited to walk with us were able to make it – not sure if this is a hindrance or a blessing. We try and stuff more pasta down our throats, and Christian and Ralph chug another of the evil Lidl energy drinks, and eventually, we’re ready to start walking.

7:09am (40:33) Finally set off. Half an hour in, for the first time in the trip, we’re overtaken – by a lone Aussie guy who seems to be walking on jet powered boots. Somewhere near the top, in the midst of the zig-zag bit of the path, we all crash. Fortunately, the last reserves of nuts come to the rescue and we power to the top. There’s a lot less snow than last year (global warming?!?) but the view is stunning. It’s an awesome to be feeling to be at the top early on a Sunday morning, before church has even started! At some point while we’re up there, we realise that if we get down in less than 2 hours 20 mins, we’ll also complete the 3 Peak challenge in under 24 hours (we still have about 5 hours to spare for the 5 peaks) so, with a new target to drive us on, we set off.

We still get overtaken by the fell runner (maybe he was training for this INSANITY ) on the way down, but a bit of fast walking and a little jogging later, we make it to the bottom with 10 minutes to spare!

12:22pm In the end we finished in a total of 45 hours, 44 minutes (and completed the 3 peak challenge in 23 hours, 50 minutes)! We celebrated with a pint at the Nevis Inn (who’s food I can highly recommend!) – honestly, beer has never tasted so good!

So to conclude this rather long winded account, advice I would give people intending to do this would be 3 fold:

  • Have a map for every mountain
  • Have a car with ample space (you REALLY don’t want to be crushed in the back of a Corsa or something) and a designated driver.
  • Bring something for the chaffage. You’ll thank me for this later.

Thanks to those of you who have supported us throughout this – we’ve currently raised around £2,500!

And here’s a little video of our adventure!



  1. What, no comments yet!

    Wow! What an adventure! I wish I could’ve gone with you… but being in Canada kinda hinders me.

    I didn’t know you guys in the UK had mountains with snow… 😉

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