Eve of the Four Peaks Challenge

This blog has remained very silent over the past few months. That’s been due to a combination of being incredibly busy working on Lotus Connections 2.5, which has been pretty much consuming my life, and also due to the fact that when I do get five spare minutes I tend to spend it updating Twitter, rather than composing long blog posts here.

Thursday sees us set off down to County Kerry to start the Focus Ireland Four Peaks Challenge. The actual walking starts off on Friday morning when we tackle Carauntoohill, the largest mountain in Ireland. That is followed by a 5-6 hour drive up to County Mayo. The following day we climb Mweelrea before another six hour journey up to Newcastle, Co. Down in Northern Ireland. Sunday morning sees an absurdly early start to climb Slieve Donard, before heading back down to County Wicklow to do Lugnaquilla on Sunday afternoon.

My training and preparation has been somewhat patchy thanks largely to the demands of work. I’ve deliberately not done any of the mountains we will be climbing, as part of the challenge for me is to do them for the first time. We did go out in January and got half way up Lug before I decided to turn around due to the horizontal blizzard and general white-out we faced! Other notable outings include a huge 23km trawl over four Wicklow mountain peaks which saw me get huge blisters after about an hour in and then struggle around the rest.

To be perfectly honest, I am not 100% confident of completing the whole challenge, but it will take a lot for me to give up at any point. Unless I am really, really slowing the team down I will carry on regardless. At the end of the day, in isolation, none of the walks are that physically challenging it is just putting them together and having all of the travelling in-between.

Talking of the travelling, that has been one of the major logistical nightmares of the challenge. The rules state we need two non-walking drivers for each car taken. That raised the issue of finding people who wanted to come along but not actually walk, as well as sorting out how many cars and who goes with who. In the end we are taking our car, and Lana is driving, along with a friend of one of the other climbers. The rest of the team are then in another car.

Unfortunately, the travel headache was further complicated by my car actually breaking down on our way back from a weekend in County Wexford on Monday. It has been fixed (alternator) but we now have to be up early on Thursday to drive down to Arklow to collect it, before coming back up to Dublin to then head off back down to Killarney! I think I’m going to up my recovery service membership just in case!

We’ve hit our sponsorship target, but if you wish to support us, and Focus Ireland, you can do so here.

An Spinc

First off, Happy New Year!

I started the year off with my first hill walk for a good few years – officially kicking off my preparations for the Four Peaks Challenge in June. Lana was working today, so I deliberately chose a very well marked and obvious trail up and along An Spinc in Glendalough seen as I’d be walking solo – my navigation skills need a bit of brushing up before I have any ideas of getting too adventurous on a solo walk. The route is the ‘white’ signed Spinc and Glenealo Valley described on this page.

This popular walk leads you through some of the most spectacular scenery in Co. Wicklow. (The name Spinc comes from the Irish ‘An Spinc’ and means ‘pointed hill’). The trail ascends steeply up by the Poulanass Waterfall before joining a boardwalk. More than 600 wooden steps lead you to a viewing point overlooking the Upper Lake. The boardwalk skirts the top of the cliffs before descending through blanket bog and heath into the picturesque Glenealo Valley, home to a large herd of deer. A rough track then leads you back down into Glendalough Valley.

Total length should have been about 9km, but the upper car park was not yet open when I arrived at 9am, so I had an extra 3km of flat walk from and back to the first car park. Weather was dry, about 3C and with the top of An Spinc in fog as I arrived. However the sun was trying to burn through and it didn’t look thick.

The walk is circular, and can be done in either direction. I chose the clockwise route, heading up past the Poulanass waterfall. This has a very steep ascent up onto the Spinc Ridge, most of which is along a boardwalk that starts with those 600 steps mentioned above! I found this tough going and it hit home that my fitness levels are really not what they used to be. I’ll certainly need to get in lots of miles and gym work before the Four Peaks. I’m pretty sure that Carrauntoohil won’t have a set to easy to walk on railway sleepers all the way up it! Once at the top however, the view was awesome (even in the fog) and I momentarily kicked myself for not bringing the camera (figured for my first walk I’d take as little weight as possible)

The rest of the ridge was fairly even, and also nicely devoid of people. I seemed to be the only person up early on New Years Day, can’t imagine why. I did gain some accompaniment from an eager Robin who followed me for a km or more, flitting up to me every time I paused. Unfortunately for him I had no food that he would like! On reaching the end of the ridge the descent down into the Valley took me through typical Irish bog, with lots of frozen water and a herd of deer, including stag, who seemed ambivalent to my presence as I walked not 30 yards away from them. Just after this encounter I met the first humans of the day coming the other way and the boardwalk gave way to a stone path leading down to the bridge crossing a river feeding into the Upper Lake. The bridge marked the turning point for home, with the descent following the river down into the valley. The going here was very rocky and a good test of my new Brasher Hillmaster GTX boots.

Once reaching the lake, the rest of the walk was uneventful, and much more populated. Uneventful that is apart from the fact that I’d developed a nice pair of heel blisters thanks to the new boots. Hopefully it is just a breaking in thing, and not a sign that they will cause me problems. To be fair, it was probably not the best idea to do such a walk straight off in a new pair of boots, but there you go!

The preparation for the Four Peaks begins!