282 Irish mountain tops

282 mountain tops in a year

In Ireland there are 282 mountain tops/ peaks over 600 metres. In 1995 myself and Mark Caslin (a former IMRA chairman) set out to climb them within one year.

By Paul Nolan

Innocently, one evening while enjoying after-training pints in Lamb Doyle’s, I popped the question to Mark - "bet we can’t climb the 2,000 footers by Christmas". Challenging Mark Caslin is a dangerous thing, as I was to discover over the next 11 months. This challenge, part in jest, but mostly serious, resulted in the longest most physically demanding undertaking of my life. We poured over Discovery maps and started counting. 100, 200, 240, 270 … finally mid March we had 282 mountain names and heights on paper with a blank space for date ascended. So off we went to the hills of Wicklow for a good washing, the Comeraghs for a soaking, the Knockmealdowns for another washing. Twenty one rain-soaked peaks, this was not going to be the fun we imagined. Up to the Bluestacks for serious fun in serious snow. So much fun that I nearly broke my ankle. Cuilcagh and the Partries taken gingerly the next day.

Three weeks of intensive physio had me on two feet but things had gone from bad to ridiculous. Mark Caslin: "I think all this hill time will make us fit enough to climb the Irish Munros in 12 hours". The full meaning of challenging him back in January was now beginning to sink in. We had 250 peaks to climb and he wanted to do the highest ones twice!

Down to Dingle for Paddy’s weekend which became a five day, 41 mountain epic. The bleak Brandon is a special mountain, but so is Castle Hill, 600m to the dot, and miles out of our way - our first encounter with off-the-ridge peaks. These involved going all the way out a spur, down to a col, up to a top, turning around and coming all the way back to the ridge. It happened again in the Galtees two weeks later. It was nice to stand on Slievenamon and see what we had climbed. We were beginning to gather some momentum.

Next up, my personal favourites, the mountains of South Mayo/ Galway. The Mweelreas, Ben Gorms, Sheefrys and the Bens - all twelve in one day. Nice work until we realised we had missed one. The only map reading f**k all year. We decided to get it some other day.

Now I thought the Twelve Bens were hard work but two weeks later I was on my knees. Half way up Leenaun Hill, with the ‘Turks behind us I wanted so much to sit down and die. Still, we were first to the pub. The weather had been atrocious and few would finish. Most settled in front of pints and the pub fire, we drove to Donegal to climb Muckish, Errigal, Aghla and Dooish the next day, without any rain. Slieve League took the mind off the pain with spectacular views of sea and Two Man’s pass, honest, it wide enough to overtake. At this stage, bog was beginning to look just like bog and the whole thing was becoming a bit mechanical. But good news followed. While out for a Munro training run we passed the 141st mountain, Tonduff (a mountain I’d seen before having surveyed it for an orienteering map), the half way mark. To celebrate we climbed some more.

The Sperrin Mountains were for me the first of two major revelations of the year. Imagine Wicklow with no people, no paths and few fences. Highly recommended for peaceful walking, ironic that, given the physical nature of the politics of the time. On to the Mournes. It was like the Tokyo underground. Dozens of sheep, hundreds of people. The Mournes were to become a bit of a problem for us. Originally to take two days, they took four. Next to Carrauntoohil for the best hill race in the country and a Munros recce. With 2 weeks to go before this 12,500 ft, 25 mile One-Day things were pretty serious. Kevin Grogan was in on this one and he was working on a car, driver and escort. Paul Tansy, our physio, was working hard to get diet and body in the best shape. All I had to do was sort out my mind. As it happened Mark went on to climb the Munros in 10 hours 48 minutes, while myself and Kevin aboboned having discovered the joys of car sickness at speed.

Now all we had to do was climb another 120 mountains. It was mid June, and the hottest summer in years brought the general populace and the flies to the hills. Even the lambs we had watched grow through the spring sat down and did nothing. It’s no fun walking in 30C heat.

More Mournes, before the second eye-opener of the year - the Caha Mountains. The Reeks may be spectacular, but the Cahas are rough. I never knew there was any place in Ireland as isolated or lonely. I’ll definitely go back, besides there are loads of 590 m’s we looked at with relish. This is where the heat became too much. July was spent at leisure (hill running and such like!).

As it turns out we managed to be on the hills for the hottest day of the year, the Nephin Beg range on the August Bank Holiday. Mark reckoned we drank six litres of High-5 each and needless to say we didn’t put on any weight. Next day down to what has to be the biggest mountain in the country, Maumtrasna, and the 13th Ben, the lone Ben as we called it, had been a thorn in our sides for months but we paid it its long overdue visit. Apart from Keadeen and Silsean we did nothing for the next six weeks. Time to rediscover our families and friends, even make some new ones. Time for me to take up a company scholarship and go back to college. The Mourne Mountain marathon was a gentle stroll in the hills before the return to higher hills. The Paps, Crohane, Mushermore, Tomies and Purple, Caherbernagh and Glenaprehene. Time was running short. It was mid-October, the days were becoming shorter and colder. Big stuff in Kerry, Mullaghanatin and all that surrounds it. The Glenbeigh Horseshoe with the ultimate off-ridge peak, Colly, a three mile detour. Knocknadobar, and just for balance I twisted the other ankle, sore but not serious.

November brought a semi-desperate clamour to "clear out" Wicklow. Lobawn, Table Mountain, Corrigasleggaun, etc. The backbone of Mullaghcleevaun in the ice. This was our second time to be caught in the dark. Too much messing on the temporary ice rinks! Not even running up Tonelagee got us back in time. Late November and there was snow on the hills, lots of it. The Coomcallees, Stumpa Duloigh, followed by Broaghnabinnia, the mountain that nearly killed us. White out conditions, gale force winds whipping up the knee-deep snow into an ice skin remover. Some people say fancy mountain gear is for softies and Goretex doesn’t work. But then some people, Mark and I included, can say it kept us just warm enough to get out of that storm and off that mountain with our lives.

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting in Mark’s car at 5 a.m. at the bottom of Mount Leinster, thinking "why?". It was Tuesday 19th December. We had 13 days and 19 peaks left. At this point those 19 peaks were the most important things in life. I was losing sleep. Two days later we ran up Croghanmoira in South Wicklow at 7 a.m., Mark then went to work, I went to college. By the 27th we were desperate. The nearer we were to the end the harder it was becoming.

Then we were back to Mangerton, which had already frozen us off its shoulders. I had lost all feeling in my feet and Mark for once was showing signs of fatigue. On our second attempt we hit its top but ice prevented us from topping Glencappul before dark. As it happened December 28th turned into something of a lap of honour. North Top and Glencappul in the morning before, with friends, climbing Boughil East. Mark and I waited for the others to hit the top before we cantered up the last of our 282 mountains. Standing there, taking in the view, the feeling of relief, the elation of completion, the satisfaction of being able to identify and have a memory for all the ranges we could see. It was a long descent but one that was made without any time pressure or care for detailed navigation. In the end we had finished our task with 81 hours to spare. We had climbed 68,673 metres and covered 911.5km just so as we could say we’d done it.

Paul Nolan

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