Four Paddies and Croagh Patrick

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Europe » Ireland » County Mayo
July 16th 2008
Published: July 14th 2008
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For those who don’t know, Croagh Patrick is not Irelands highest mountain but definitely it's most famous. For 40 days and 40 nights St. Patrick fasted on top of the ‘reek’ before he banished snakes from Ireland!! People climb the reek all year round but on the last Sunday in July over 25,000 people congregate at the bottom of the reek to make the climb up the holy mountain which is 764mts above sea level.

Machu Picchu and the Inca trail provided the inspiration to climb Croagh Patrick. We plan to do the trail next May and after reading many peoples blogs and reports of the trail we decided we needed some test to see if we were anyways capable of completing it. The walk to the top of the ‘reek’ is approximately 4km long, rising from sea level to 764mts high. The biggest incline I was ever on was in a gym on a treadmill, so this was surely to be a challenge. Back up was required for the hike so I called in the services of my girlfriend Michelle, my mother Mammy(Eileen) and my sister Siobhan. Michelle always loves a challenge (just read my blog on the Thai bungee jump in Phuket) day 9 - scaling new heights , Mam is a seasoned professional at walking the prom in Galway and I knew Siobhan would be too stubborn to ever turn back! She said it’s the last thing she needed to knock off her ‘before 24 list’ which she’ll be on the 18th of July! Happy Birthday!! With every Irish adventure there are a few essential items you need. A flask of tea, plain ham sandwiches and a packet of chocolate bars (preferably Kit-Kats or Taxi bars!) and don’t forget the pint of milk for the tea!

And… When
Armed with a good breakfast of porridge and toast the four of us loaded up the car (you would swear we were going for a week) and hit the road at 8:30am 13/07/2008. Leaving Ballina we had to go through Castlebar and Westport to reach Croagh Patrick. With two routes to Castlebar we decided to take the scenic route (which really just means smaller longer road) and it wasn’t long before we hit our first scenic traffic jam, except it wasn’t cars that were causing the hold up but a family moving their cows from one field to another. Soon again we were on our way and an hour or so later we arrived at the foot of Croagh Patrick. Here we unloaded from the car unsure of what lay ahead.
‘What part did we have to climb?’.
‘It couldn’t be that steep part, could it?’.

One thing that we had to get was our rent-a-stick. €1 charge plus €3 deposit. A worthwhile investment! I asked the kind man selling the sticks would he take a photo of the four of us, which he duly obliged but not before I stopped him taking a photo of himself upside down. Feckin digital cameras!

Onwards and Upwards!
Off we set, up what turned out to be the only real pathway towards the start of the climb. Full of energy and speed we climbed the first few steps and realized that this was not a race. The question was still there as to how far we had to go. ‘Was it that peak? Or that one?’. I think we all told ourselves it was the small one but really knew it was the one similar to a 45 degree angle, with clouds covering the top! We were told that it takes approximately 2 hours to reach the top and with a start time of 10:40am there were a few breaks within the first half hour. The reason of course was to let people pass and not for a breather! Every so often you thought you were maybe quarter of the way there but in reality no where near it. The path way up wasn’t really what we expected. It was just rocks and small stones with little grip and at times slippy. We reached what I suppose we were all secretly hoping was the top, because what lay ahead was surely too dangerous and steep to climb! Here we soldiered on for another few minutes before the first call for a ham sandwich was made.
Bags repacked we soon separated in to two groups (me out in front and the others way behind). I had stopped many times for the others to catch up but for this final hurdle(after hurdle) I needed to put my head down and go for it. The incline was very steep (45 degrees I have read) and nothing but stones and shale the whole way up. The whole way up you meet people coming down and most people are happy to stop and talk, if not for a breather but to encourage those going up. As I hiked up the steep mountain side people would tell you that you had only ten minutes left (which was lies!) The top was not visible so to judge how far was left was impossible. I would set points but when I reached these points I would realize that that I was nowhere near the top. Soon though, out of the mist, and with a pounding heart I could see the top and the famous church that has stood here since 1905. A quick stumble across the flat top and I saw a rock calling my name. Here I placed my ass and probably thought out loud ‘ham sandwich’! Well just my luck that I carried all the water! Not a single sandwich in sight. Shortly though a figure appeared out of the mist looking slightly worse for wear and also in need of a sandwich. Michelle had made it, just five minutes behind me. Just ten minutes later Mam and Siobhan appeared like an apparition, out of the mist, with them, the ham sandwiches! There was a real sense of achievement from us all after completing the ascent. Anyone who has ever climbed Croagh Patrick will tell you that the final climb is real tough and in no way easy. We stayed at the top for 30 minutes or so and enjoyed or lunch before we decided to make the descent.

Downwards and….. Downwards and……
If traveling up was physically tough, going down was mentally tough. The biggest problem was trying to get a grip and not end up rolling down the reek. The thought did enter our minds to try rolling but that would be cheating! There seemed to be more people coming up as we were going down than when we had started. Of course we told them too that they were only 10 minutes away. The poor souls! The descent was slow for reasons that will remain unsaid on this blog, (isn’t that right Mam!) so it gave us time to observe the different types of people that were climbing the reek. It was really unusual to see how over prepared/under prepared people had come. Some wore flip flops, others had the latest hiking gear. There were men in their dubbary shoes, good jeans and Sunday mass shirts! There were Spanish, French and Polish, lots of people from the Irish traveling community, young kids, old folks, fat people and small people. All types really. Everyone said hello. Everyone laughed. Everyone made jokes at the task ahead or the task gone by. People questioned their sanity I'm sure on numerous occasions. I know I did. After a difficult descent we finally made it to the bottom. A knew set of muscles abused for the hike down. Any sort of incline was seen as a welcome relief from the descent.
Aching all over as we reached the final steps before the car park, there was a 14-16 year old boy in a wheelchair. This kind of hit home with me and I felt grateful that I could even attempt to climb Croagh Patrick.

Tea and Tayto
After reaching the car and returning our wonder sticks, we headed for the café without any hesitation. Two large pots of tea, four mugs and bags of Tayto (Irish crisps) was the order. The café was typically Irish and a perfect place to rest our weary bones.

The general feeling was, that if we knew what we had to climb we might not have done it. We agreed that when the pain goes only the sense of achievement will remain. Only 24hrs later and I’m wondering when will I do it again. Coincidently, my mother met a woman on the reek, who she knew, had recently completed the Inca trail. She told her that Croagh Patrick is much tougher than the trail and the altitude was the biggest problem in Peru.

It started out as an experiment for Machu Picchu and ended up being an experience in itself and worthy of a blog on my travels around the world, even if it was close to home. I'll let the photos talk for them selves.

p.s. could Patrick not have picked an easier mountain. there's lots of nice smaller ones there!!!!

Additional photos below
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10th October 2008

Good climb
Congrats on getting to the top, it sounds like a great hike. I must try it climb when I'm next home in Ireland. Apparently the hardcore pilgrims climb this barefoot as a form of penance! The Inca Trail is probably the easiest trail to MP but I wouldn't underestimate it. Make sure you're acclimatised - also, it's worth doing a few practice multiday hikes beforehand as a good warm up.
28th October 2009

Nice work
Im loving this blog! Congrats on getting to the top!! My Nan comes from Clew bay, and I climbed the Reek in September! I use a wheelchair, and I climbed on my hands and knees. It took 7 hours for me to reach the top, but the sense of acheivememnt at the top was and still is indescribable! I really can't wait to go back and do it again! Anna. X
28th October 2009

Your achievement far outweighs anything I could ever do. Inspirational wouldn't even begin to describe your climb. Fair play to ya. I'm delighted you like the blog. X

Tot: 2.095s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 34; qc: 141; dbt: 0.0882s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.8mb