Here’s Nathan and Johnny’s story, please read on…
We arrived at Ben Nevis at 2pm and waited anxiously for our 4pm start. The weather was not good, cloud at a few hundred feet and drizzle at sea level. After departing on our way we arrived at the summit in 3 hours 25, at 7:25pm. The views were somewhat blighted by the low cloud and driving rain. The weather was more favourable at the halfway point and allowed us to get a few photo’s. The return journey took 3 hours with the last 1.5 hours in complete darkness (by head torch). This was not made easier by our driver informing us on our walkie talkie’s that the car battery was flat! As we descended in to the car park the recovery services had just completed their work. This gave us a time of 6.5 hours for the completion of Ben Nevis and we had allowed 5 – not a great start. From here we had a 6 hour drive to the lakes and Scafell Pike. During our climb we both questioned our sanity and kept thinking this was only the first of 5.
We arrived at Wasdale Head, a popular start point for Scafell Pike at 4:10am and we were on our way by 4:35 – again in total darkness. Although our driver had managed to pull back some time for us we soon lost this again by being unable to locate the path up Scafell Pike for some 20 minutes. We eventually climbed the path alongside a river we could hear flowing beside us but we could not see it for the first hour. We made the summit by 8am and returned back down and to the car by 10am. Descending in light is definitely easier! Again, the weather at Scafell Pike was not good and I found Scafell Pike to be the ‘worst’ climb of all 5. The ground conditions were not good at all – the last 50m climb was across loose boulders with no firm ground to see anywhere. From here we had a relatively short 4 hour drive to Snowdon which would leave us tight but not out of the game just yet.
7 hours later we had only just reached Snowdon… this would now cause massive problems in achieving our 48 hour target. Caravans, holidaymakers and idiots were cursed and we set off to climb Snowdon at 5:10 pm. Knowing how dark it was at Nevis at 9pm we knew we were up against it – not to mention that our ferry over the Irish sea was scheduled for 8:30pm and was a good 40 minute drive away. Fortunately we had already contacted StenaLine to ask if they would be willing to allow us flexible times due to the nature of our challenge and they had obliged gracefully. We reached the summit in a cracking 2 hours 15. I have never felt winds as strong as at the summit and, yet again, we could not see anything from up here. We set off on our descent and made it back to reasonably ‘safe’ ground before darkness. We still had a good mile or so to walk and we arrived back at the car at 9:25pm.This gave us a time of 4 hours 15 to conquer Snowdon. It looked like we were getting the hang of this now!
We arrived at Holyhead Ferry Port at just after 10pm – a 3 and half hour crossing and 2 hour drive would still mean we could make all 5 in 48 hours. Just. If we really pushed.
2:30 am was the next available ferry. We were devastated. 2:30am plus a 3.5 hour crossing plus a 2 hour drive to Slieve Donard plus a 5 hour drive to Carrauntoohil would leave us 3 hours to climb 2 mountains! Our challenge, as such, was over.
After crossing the Irish sea, taking a taxi to the airport and collecting our hire car we drove to Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland, arriving at 9am. We began the long walk along the river, zig zagged up the side of the saddle between two peaks and from there saw the summit of Slieve. This was to be the steepest part of the climb up rocks roughly resembling steps and alongside the steepest dry stone wall I’ve ever seen. We reached the summit by 11 and the skies here were clear and bright and the weather was reasonably warm – we took the opportunity to take a few photos and have 10 minutes at the summit – the 4th climb had taken its toll and our legs and lungs were starting to feel their age. The scenery was amazing, Newcastle could be seen on the shore far below but we could not manage to see the Isle of Man, the cloud was just too low over the Irish Sea. Our descent was reasonably quick and we were back at the car by 1:30pm. We considered driving to Carrauntoohil straight from here and beginning a climb at 6:30 pm thus giving us 2.5 hours of useable light. However, the Devils ladder at Carrauntoohil was supposedly one of the ‘easiest’ routes up to the summit and as we thought this over, knowing how difficult the other sections had been in the dark, we decided not to risk anything as we had already missed our target.
This meant, unfortunately, that an early start on Sunday would be needed in order to climb Carrauntoohil and return to Cork in time for our flight home. No night out for us then.
After a 6 hour sleep in a hotel in Cork, Republic of Ireland, we had a 3am start and a 1 and a half hour drive to Cronin’s Yard. Our chosen start point for our last climb. The drive took us close to 2 hours as the lanes in to the start points were not well signed and our Sat Nav was having some difficulties too. We began our walk at 5am, again in darkness but with a more defined path, at least for the first mile. As we walked we could see a twinkling light in the far distance – Someone had set off before us! As the sun rose and the landscape appeared out of the darkness we could see what was obviously the Devils ladder. Although we both had read and seen pictures we were not ready for this. A 50 degree climb up scree and loose rocks flowing with water was not what we had trained for! This section was at least a 150m vertical climb. Slowly, carefully and surely we climbed taking 1 hour 20 for the ladder alone. When we reached the top of the ladder we saw the summit to a right and a huge cross jutting from it. This was another 200m or so up but at a steadier angle. I had already ‘quit’ twice by now, my legs were telling me they had had enough but my climbing partner and the thought of the guilt I would feel if I did not complete this spurred me to finish. As we began to climb the last section the group who had set off earlier were on their way down. We asked them if there was an easier way down than the notorious ladder (already knowing there wasn’t but hoping, just in case). The 3 of them took a good look at us and said ‘Not for you’! I think that meant we either looked finished or too inexperienced to attempt any of the other routes. We successfully managed the summit and we were surrounded by sheer drops around 120 degrees of the 360 available! The views here were simply stunning. 360 degrees of mountains, lakes and blue skies. Unforgettable.
Our descent of the top section was consumed with discussions about how to get down safely… we talked about another route which involved another similar climb on the opposite side of the saddle and then a long walk down to another start point. We would need a taxi but we didn’t know where we were let alone where we would be, nor did we have a number for a taxi or any idea where to tell the taxi driver to go to! The ladder was our only option and I was not looking forward to it.
We inched our way down, slipping several times on the wet rocks, in a time longer than it took to climb up – 1 hour 30 – and reached our ultimate goal back at the car at 11:30am, some 67.5 hours after we started.
However, our total Climb time for all 5 mountains was only 27.5 hours and our total travelling time (taking out waiting for the ferry, stationary time in traffic and the overnight stay) was 24 hours. That would give us a more respectable time of 51.5 hours. We were both pleased with our efforts and annoyed at missing our target.
This was both the most unforgiving thing I have ever done and the most rewarding. A challenge that is emotionally charged, physically demanding and, at times, sheer lunacy for 2 (nearly) 40 year old, overweight and under-fit lads to attempt.
At the halfway point of Ben Nevis we were asking why we were doing this… by the summit of Snowdon and from then on we were working out how to do it quicker – we will be trying this again for our own sadistic enjoyment next year!