5 Peaks Challenge April/May 2005

Another attempt to climb the highest peaks of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland consecutively.

by Paul Harrison


At it again

Yes, we were at it again. It didn't seem long ago that we set off on our last (failed) attempt but it was all of 9 months ago. I remember it a being very tough and knackering but at no time did we (Mike and myself) ever think about not doing it - we're both like-minded in that we hate to be beaten by something and no matter what, we were going to do this.
So what was different this time? Well, several things. Firstly, we got ourselves a dedicated driver in Doug. He very kindly volunteered to be our driver apparently for no other reason than that he "enjoyed driving" and hadn't been to the parts of Ireland we were headed for. Whatever the motivation we were glad of it. Having to share the driving and do the walking really took it's toll last time. Secondly, we were going over to Ireland and working our way back home. This we did for 2 reasons. Carrantuohil and Slieve Donard were mountains we hadn't conquered and we wanted to be fresh and fully aware to navigate on them. We felt very confident about doing the 3 mainland ones in whatever conditions the weather could throw at us having been up them numerous times in varous weather conditions. Also, when we finished it was a shorter journey back home to London.

The Rules

Simple, really. Walk up (and down) all 5 of the highest peaks in each of the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.
Do them one after another consecutively getting our sleep and sustenance on the go.
Aim to do them as quickly as possible although there was no 'official' time. Our idea of doing them in 48 hrs seemed a bit unlikely, what with having to work in ferry times and the like, so we thought 56 hrs might be feasible.

Carrantuohil

Taking Friday off work we caught the ferry from Fishguard to Rhoslare at 02:45 early in the morning and settled into the seats for a sleep. As we prepared to leave at 6.15 we were now aware that for this section we were against the clock - we had a ferry to catch from Belfast at 7am the following morning, and in that time we had to drive to Kerry, climb the first mountain, drive up to Northern Ireland, climb the second - Slieve Donard - then get to the ferry port for the ferry to Stranraer. So with our eye on the clock and getting into our staring blocks ... we had our first problem.
Some wally drove his coach onto the ramp and then promptly broke down trapping all vehicles and their passengers on the ferry for 2 hours. Great. Just what we didn't need. We now had to consider opting for plan B. This involved putting the Belfast/Stranraer ferry back 6 hours which meant we wouldn't be off Snowdon until midnight - but so be it, we were going to do this by whatever means necessary.
Summit Cross of Carrantuohil
Summit Cross of Carrantuohil

At 8am we finally set off - the offending coach having been hauled off by a forklift - and raced to Kerry. Thankfully, this was uneventful and we arrived at 12.30.
While we weren't really timing ourselves we started the clock at 1pm. The walk up was in good conditions. Visibility was perfect and it wasn't too hot. We had expected this to take 6 or 7 hours based on info we had culled from google. But by 3.30pm we were on the summit (1035m) and going well.
Our spirits lifted and we began to think our original ferry time was still acheivable. So we descended as quick as we could and arrived back at the car at 10 to 6. So it was foot down and head for the UK border and No. 2 Slieve Donard.

Slieve Donard

Clear roads and good weather got us to Slieve Donard at 20 to 1 in the morning. We kitted up and set off in the darkness. This mountain is only 850m high and all information on it led us to believe that it would be the easiest. No such luck.

Me on summit of Slieve Donard
Me on summit of Slieve Donard
We set off up a path following the stream. So far so good. But then I had a senior moment and got confused by the skyline, started heading off in the wrong direction, then realised I was on the right track anyway and headed back to the looming shape that was Slieve Donard. Only now we were approaching from the south-east. This entailed a scramble up a steep slope to the summit - and much swearing from Mike. At least we had a good view of the street-lights in Newcastle :-)
Now feeling tired and still needing to hurry to catch the ferry we didn't hang around and followed the wall down to the stream - the wall we should have followed up! But this too was steep and I don't think it would have been any easier to walk up this - other than having the comfort of the wall to your left to tell you that you were on the right path.
We got back to the car park - finding Doug sound asleep - about 6am in the morning. Even accounting for my navigational faux-pas we were still in good time to catch the ferry.

Ben Nevis

Our ferry from Belfast went smoothly this time and we landed at 9.30 am. By 2.30 we were in Fort William and enjoying a Big Mac. The weather looked good, so off we set. We had managed to get some sleep in the car so were feeling pretty good. We summited at 3pm and were the only people on the summit. There was loads of snow which made the experience fun.
We had thought we were the last people to be summiting that day, but as we sped down the snow slopes we met dozens of others. Later we realised they were 3 peakers and would pass some of them again in the next 24 hours.
At 8.30pm we were back at the car. We changed then sped off for Scafell and promptly fell asleep. By now our efforts, poor sleep and lack of proper food were beginning to take it's toll.
Ben Nevis summit, 6pm
Ben Nevis summit, 6pm

Scafell Pike

Me,Mike on Summit 5.30am
Me,Mike on Summit 5.30am
I was woken by Doug asking me the directions in Gosforth. Apart for a toilet stop in some services somewhere on the M6, Mike and I had managed to sleep the whole time. We got to the National Trust car park and crammed some food, then set off at 3am. This peak I knew would be he worst of the lot. We were tired (I was starving and feeling weak) and it wasn't the last one on which we knew we could "make one last effort", also it was night which made the going slow even though there was a path. Additionally, this path was a nightmare to walk on, especially down. We summited at 5.20am in the early daylight. We couldn't see much as the top was clouded in. There was a gale blowing so we took a quick photo and legged it back down. By now my hunger was really getting to me and I just wanted to get down as soon as possible.
Just over 2 hours later we got back to the car, I showed Doug how to get to the main road and again, then fell fast asleep.

Snowdon

I woke up somewhere on the A55. We took a left at Conwy and headed down to Capel then drove to Snowdon and the Pen-y-Pass car park. The place was packed solid. Not surprising really - midday on a Bank Holiday weekend Sunday. We had considered the possibility of Doug dropping the 2 of us off while he went to park the car, but Doug had always wanted to join us on the last peak. So we drove down to the Nantperis Park&Ride car park, caught the bus up to the pass and were ready to go at about 1.15.
The weather was cool and cloudy with the cloud layer starting about 2000ft. Rain threatened. Oh, well!. We didn't care. This was the last one and Mike and I had talked about the possibility of doing this in the worst conditions imaginable - night, wind, rain, etc. It didnt matter we were going to do it whatever.
The walk up the PYG Track was straight-forward, hampered only by the crowds. Easily twenty times the people here than all the other peaks combined! And, as usual, the hordes of ill-equiped, unprepared, out-of-their-depth, soaking wet holiday-makers (easiliy identified by trainers, jeans and woolly-jumpers).

We got to the summit in the cloud and drizzle - no surprise there, this is North Wales - for 3.30. And much to our disappointment, and pretty much everyone else's, the cafe was shut. Oh, well. Now all we had to do was walk down again. Plan A was to take the Miner's track back down. However, our knees were not playing ball and we really had had enough. We could have done it if we needed to, but not having to go back to the Pen-y-pass car park I suggested the alternative, and flatter, Llanberis Path back to (where else?) Llanberis. Both Mike and I voted for that. Also, the newly restored Half-Way house would more than likely be open. So off we set. The cafe was open and we settled down for a hot chocolate.
We got going again and finally got to Llanberis and "stopped" the clock. Out time : 52 hours 45 minutes.
We caught the bus up to Nantperis and headed for Cobden's Hotel in Capel. Our reward? A huge 3 course meal (after which we were still hungry!) and beers. I got up to the grand total of 3 before falling asleep...
Me,Mike,Doug Snowdon summit, 3.30pm
Me,Mike,Doug Snowdon summit, 3.30pm

Postscript

Even though I was heard to mention many times "What's the point of this?", and "Never again!" along with many variations on the theme of "Ouch!", I recovered pretty quickly and am even now hatching more plans for more challenges.
Watch this space!