Route: 4 Peaks Challenge (Ireland, United Kingdom)

Submitted by senanedwards@g… on Wed, 01/27/2021 - 03:20am
Co. Kerry, IE
Co. Mayo, IE
United Kingdom
Co. Wicklow, IE
45.31 km
Vertical Gain
3,361 m

The 4 Peaks of Ireland Challenge is generally classed as climbing the highest peaks in each of the four provinces of Ireland, namely Carrauntoohil at 1040m of Co. Kerry – the highest peak in the southern province of Munster, Mweelrea at 841m of Co. Mayo – the highest peak in the western province of Connacht, Slieve Donard at 840m of Co. Down – the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster and Lugnaquilla 925m of Co. Wicklow – the highest peak in the eastern province of Leinster.

Time starts at the trailhead before the first peak, and ends at the trailhead after the final peak.


User Picture
Profile picture for user Barryp6177

Trip Report


I originally looked into doing this challenge solo but figured it might be dangerous considering all the driving. I have stayed awake for 30+ hours plenty of times in the past but never including driving long distances so figured I needed a partner. My friend Dave immediately came to mind as Dave is very good runner, far better then me, although he had no experience trail running so that would be interesting to see how we would compare. Dave was due to finish his own 75 Hard challenge shortly before the intended start date of June 10th 2023, for the 4 Peaks, so I knew he’d be in beast mode, he was immediately on board. Now having 2 of us, we could of course alternate the driving between mountains so the other could sleep. Once I started estimating how quick we could do this, I realized that we would have no chance at beating the current FKT of under 18 hours but also should be able to finish the challenge fairly comfortably inside 24 hours, probably 21ish. The idea of asking our other non runner friends to join and let this be just more of an experience instead of chasing some arbitrary number of 21 hours, seemed like a better plan now. TJ and Carl were both interested in joining. I developed a pacing plan to try finish the challenge right inside 24 hours which I thought was a realistic pace for the entire group. There was some concern that we wouldn’t be able to hold the 24 hour pace as a group, but everyone decided that we would all prefer to try 24 hours as a group, if we were on pace or ahead of pace, great, if we were behind the pace then screw it and just enjoy the experience regardless of how long it takes. This 24 hour pace was intended to just climb each mountain so the challenge would end once we reach the 4th summit as opposed to finishing back at the trailhead after summiting and descending the 4th mountain which is how the official FKT is done.


The route I picked was Mweelrea – Carrantoohill – Lugnaquilla – Donard. From what I could determine, the drive between Mweelrea and Donard would be the longest drive of any, so I picked this route to eliminate that drive and minimise the amount of driving during the challenge giving us the best chance to finish within 24 hours. This route would have approx. 11.5 hrs of driving during the challenge, but we would still need to also drive to Galway before and drive back from Down at the end.


I finished work on Friday at 5pm in Booterstown, Dublin. Drove into town to collect TJ. Next was Dave in Ballyboden and then onto Carls house in Rathcoole where Carl had a bit of dinner for us. With my car packed up, the 4 of us headed for Delphi in Galway to stay in the hotel we had booked for the night, 30 mins from the base of our first mountain Mweelrea. Got to the hotel at around 10pm, quick beer along with leaving some spooky notes around the hotel room for future guests to find, and off to bed for a 7 am wakeup call. We intended to start Mweelrea at 8.45am.


The next morning, we all got up at 7am went for breakfast for 7.30am, finished by 8am, cleared our rooms and went out to the car. Weather looked good, everyone was full of energy and raring to go, but there was a problem…… trouble. My clutch was busted, pedal not engaging at all. We spent maybe an hour googling quick fix’s and roaming around the hotel asking guests and staff for fluids we thought we might need or general help. We thought we might be able to do a quick fix if we could get our hands on some brake fluid, the closest garage was 30kms away, Dave was considering running to it and back, just a casual 60km haha. I rang my insurance from hotel reception because nobody had cell service, they dispatched a service vehicle which should be there within 2 hours, that was at approx. 9am so we decided to sit tight. In the meantime, I was trying to arrange a replacement car with my insurance, one could not be delivered and the closest pick up point was a 1 hour drive away in Castlebar, Mayo. There were no buses or means of public transport to get from Delphi to Castlebar, our only option would be to get a taxi, closest taxis were in Westport, a 40 minute drive away, but we decided to wait until the service vehicle arrived in the hope that they might be able to fix the car on the spot. 11am came and went and still no help, rang the insurance and “he’s on the way”, 12pm “he’s on the way”, 1pm “he’s on the way” this was a joke, over 4 hours waiting now, but thankfully we had Dave entertaining us all morning with ChatGPT stories of 4 men stranded in rural Ireland being haunted by a horrible skeletal figure named Ciaran (you will learn who Ciaran is later). Finally, around 2pm the service truck showed up and barely even looked at the car or asked what was wrong and just immediately started loading it onto the tow truck, so much for a fix on the spot, I would have been to Castlebar and back with a rental by now. After bringing all our gear back inside the hotel from my now empty car being towed away, I started trying taxis in Westport, at 3pm I got through to Tommy who said he would be out to me in Delphi by 4pm, good mad Tommy. I reached Castlebar by 5pm to collect the new car and we were back in business. 6pm, I got back to Delphi to collect the lads, loaded up our gear and headed for Mweelrea.


Arrived at Silver Strand Car Park at 6.30pm, got ready to go and at 6.45pm our challenge officially began after a full 10 hour delay, but spirits were high. I had allowed for 2.5 hours for Mweelrea in our pacing plan. Our first mistake was not starting our watches until we reached the trailhead as this was about a 10 min walk up the road from the car park and the official start of the route so 10 mins behind already. None of us had been up Mweelrea before and knew there wasn’t really a trail to follow so we were following a GPX file Carl had uploaded to his Apple watch, although this file probably was not the most efficient route, we were glad to have it when we got up into the clouds at the saddle of Mweelrea. After finding our way through what the lads called the “Vortex of Confusion” where disorientation from the thick clouds set in, and direction made no sense we started up the final climb to the summit again thanks to Carls watch. After a brief encounter with the king ram near the top we reached the summit at 8.35pm for a quick break and picture before heading back down. We knew we had been pretty far left off the route most of the way up so kept that in mind on the way down and found a much more efficient route on the decent. Once we got below the clouds, we could appreciate the beautiful view out over the sea and even got to enjoy a bit of running down through the lower fields. We got back to the car at 9.40pm, 25 mins behind schedule, should have parked at the trailhead, there was room as we were the only people around at that hour. Now for a 4.5 hour drive to Kerry, I should probably note that I had gotten the lads insured on my car so we could alternate driving, however, now being in a rental car provided by my insurance company, I was now the only person insured to drive…...yay.


We had heard that there were not many garages open late at night between Mweelrea and Carrantoohill so when we came across the first one we had seen about half way between the mountains we filled up the car even though there was still half a tank.


We reached Cronin’s Yard at approx. 2.25am, toke 10 mins to get ready and off we went in the darkness with our 3 headlamps and Dave’s Lantern of Destiny. This stage was in the plan for 3.5 hours. Due to the 10 hour delay, we were now forced to do the longest hardest most dangerous mountain in the dark and to make it more fun it started raining. The trail was easy to follow in the dark right up until the bottom of the Devils Ladder which we reached with relative ease. The ladder was very steep and slippery, and I had to be careful of my route choice at the front of the pack as I could only see maybe 10 meters ahead of me in the dark with the rain and cloud. The ladder was slow going but if there was anywhere to take it handy it was here. The ladder toke maybe an hour, we had a quick break at the top before popping out onto the incredibly windy saddle and made for the final climb. On this climb to the summit, Dave kept running up ahead with his cloak-like rain jacket and Lantern of Destiny blowing in the wind, him being barely visible through the thick cloud, it looked very much like a scene from Lord of the Rings which I found very amusing. Summited by 5.25am. We had collectively decided against the plan to go back down the Devil’s Ladder due to how slippery it was with the rain. Nobody really knew any of the other routes back down, so we just had to kind of pick one from google maps that seemed to not add to much distance to the decent, this was a bad decision. The route down is known as the Zig Zags or O’Shea’s Gully and is intended as an uphill route only due to its difficulty to descend, something we only learned later, but at least it was bright by this point even with the thick cloud cover. What made this decent so difficult was all the loose rocks on the trail during all the really steep bits, everybody was slipping and sliding all over the place. This decent was well over 2 hours and really toke its toll on TJ’s knees and Carls feet, by the time we reached the bottom both of the lads immediately said they were finished, and I can’t blame them, that was a tough 5 hours on Carrantoohill. Reached the car by approx. 7.30am only to be greeted by a flat tire on the rental………you’ve got to be kidding me. We were parked on a slight slope, so the car wanted to roll off the crappy little jack, so the lads had to push the back of the car and hold its weight from rolling off the jack while I changed the flat, not what we wanted to be doing at this point. 30 mins later, we were dry and changed and the tire was changed, thankfully it was a proper tire and not just a donut so we could keep going. 8am, we head for Wicklow but now 2.5 hours behind the 24 hour pace.


This drive was due to take about 4.5 hours. Now that Carl and TJ had opted out of the last 2 mountains, I knew Dave and I could pick up the pace quite a lot and was trying to figure out if 24 hours was still even possible after the delays, I would need to make up some time on this drive so put the boot down. There was about an hour during this drive that I was quite tired, but the lads did a great job staying awake also to keep me company and engage in conversation etc. Fair play to them.


The previously mentioned skeletal figure named Ciaran, AKA Tag, decided to help out by picking up TJ and Carl and the bottom of Lugnaquilla and drop them home, we met him there at approx. 12.05pm, we made back some time on that drive and Lug was going to determine if 24 hours was still possible. I had allowed for a group time on Lug of 3.5 hours, Dave and I got moving by 12.13pm, ran to the bottom of Camera Hill and power hiked up the rest of it, reached the top of Camera Hill within 26 minutes, from there we kept running along the ridge for a bit until the next steep section passing by lots of people. We reached the bottom of the final climb by about 55 mins, we were charging. Up the final steep section having barely stopped yet and out onto the plateau summit, with the Cairn only a few hundred meters away we ran the last mellow incline and touched the summit in 1 hour 13 mins, 1.26pm. Quick break, food, and water and off we went again running away from the summit. Once down off the steep decent from the summit, it was very enjoyable running for the next 30 minutes along the main ridge line, chatting away but still moving quite fast. Passing by Camera Hill we got a lot of cheering on by people we had passed on our way up, shouting how we were flying along which was quite nice to hear. Down camera hill and back on the road, we were hoping to get back under 2 hours but finished back at the car in 2 hours 5 mins at 2.18pm, we had made back 1 hour 25 mins, huge, 24 hours was still on.


Tag intervened with a huge assist here by deciding to meet us at Citywest Shopping centre which we would be passing anyway, do a quick transfer to his car and he would drive us to Donard so we could sleep. Not only were we able to get a 20 min nap in while Tag drove which made a massive difference, Tag was also booting it as he knew we would be tight for time. This drive was supposed to take 3 hours, Tag got use there in 2.5 and we rolled into Donard Car Park at 5pm with 1 hour 45 mins left to summit. For the first time I needed the toilet badly, conveniently, Donard Car Park has a pub right there so quick 5 min poo and were on our way to the trailhead by 5.11pm.


Tag wanted to hike Donard too so we said we would try stick together at the start and see how it goes. After about 15 mins, I decided that Dave and I needed to leave Tag behind unfortunately and pick up the pace. We powered on up along what is by far my favourite trail and mountain of the 4, the Mournes are incredibly picturesque and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for our finish, although it had gotten quite hot now. We reached the final river crossing, refilled our water and made our way up the steep climb to the saddle. This section was quite steep, and Dave was starting to struggle as he was not used to hiking and climbing, especially at speed. I wanted to hit the top of the saddle within an hour to stay on pace and we got there by 1 hour 1 minute, 6.11pm now and 34 mins left to reach the summit, its going to be close. The final steep climb to the summit is brutal and the heat now was relentless, half way up the final climb, 20 mins remaining. Dave needs to take micro breaks every min or so, he is digging deep to find the energy to keep climbing. The Cairn comes into view with 10 mins left. We reach the summit by 6.37pm with 8 mins to spare. Final challenge time of 23 hrs 52 min. Dave apparently eats the best ham and cheese sandwich of his entire life while I take some pictures and soak up what we’ve done. After 10 mins or so we start back down the trail and after only a few minutes we were surprised to see Tag still powering his way up the final climb to the summit, we thought he might have bailed once it got really steep. Tag didn’t care about summiting, so we sat where we met and had a celebratory beer that Tag carried up looking out over the Mournes before taking our sweet ass time to descend the rest of the route including actually getting slightly lost at one point because none of us were paying attention to where we were going. We got back to the car at approx. 8pm. At the car Tag surprised us with a congratulatory cake he had made up from a bakery that morning, what a legend.


Tag drove us back to Citywest, I said goodbye to the lads and drove the rental car back home to Mullingar. After a shower it was nearly midnight before I got into bed and with the exception of the 20 min nap in Tags car on the way to Donard, I had been awake for 40+ hours, climbed the highest mountain in each province in Ireland in under 24 hours, drove 1000+kms, hiked/ran 48+kms with 3000m+ of elevation gain and even with all the hardship, delays and disasters I absolutely loved every second of it, this is the kind of stuff I live for.