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Irish 3 Peaks Challenge

The National Three Peaks Challenge is getting too mainstream. When hoards of people are driven round the UK to pop up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon every day – it loses its magic.

The Irish 3 Peaks Challenge was a new take on an old idea. Let’s nip up the tallest 3 mountains in Southern Ireland. But spending most of your time driving is no fun, so let’s cycle to them instead! We had 2 weeks to cycle from Cork to Carrauntoohil and back.

Peak 1: Carrauntoohil

Unless you’re deluded like me, when you think of Ireland in September, you probably don’t imagine glorious sunshine. In fact, over the two weeks, it rained almost every single day – though often not for long.

When you’re planning to cycle round the western peninsulas, you imagine stunning coast views. If you’re me, you forget that means you’ll be cycling into a headwind for at least half the trip…

The original challenge was to do literally the 3 highest peaks in MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. We did this exactly 1 week into the challenge, having cycled around most of the peninsulas on the Wild Atlantic Way. The summits were in thick cloud when we arrived, but it blew out towards the end of the day. We were left with nice straightforward scrambling ridges and incredible views.

I’d describe walking in those mountains as a cross between the Lake District and Snowdonia. There’s a heck of a lot of rock, but not in such a harsh, angular way as Snowdonia. It seemed friendly like the Lake District, but with basically no paths or people. What’s not to like?

Peak 2: Brandon Mountain

Cycle touring challenges are always pretty fluid. By that I mean, I rarely decide an exact route ahead of time. So when we’d completed the objective too quickly, we changed the plans to do the 3 highest peaks in separate mountainous areas. The next highest peak, outside of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks was Brandon Mountain.

After torrential rain in the morning and enough wind to take out half the tents in the campsite, the weather completely cleared up. Leaving the bike and all our stuff locked to a fence, we headed up the obvious pilgrimage route to the summit.

I loved the view. Brandon Mountain is right on the edge of Dingle peninsula. Everywhere you look, there is sea. That’s not something I’d ever experienced before in the mountains!

Peak 3: Hungry Hill

It’s not always clear how to access the mountains in Ireland. We were quizzing the campsite owner about how to get up our final peak (involving turning right at a lawnmower repairs sign…)

“And,” he said with a flourish, “it’s the second highest mountain in Ireland.”

We couldn’t help laughing. Two days earlier, we’d read a sign below Brandon Mountain that said exactly the same thing. It was some 200m higher than Hungry Hill – which, oddly, is a mountain.

“Ah, well the Irish will have you believe whatever they want to believe,” he said.

The mountain was deserted. We couldn’t climb it the way we’d hoped because the rock steps were too sheer. What had looked like a nice scramble from the road below looked like it required a rope from the base of the mountain. With just two of us and the weather coming in, it wasn’t worth the risk.

Instead we did a classic 3 Peaks action: shot up the easiest path to the top and headed straight back down as quickly as possible. The weather had really set in and it was time to cycle back to the ferry.


Author Bio:

Emily is an advocate and guide for people who want to have a more adventurous life.

Through her blog posts, articles and videos, she's here to help you step out into the unknown whilst showing you the behind-the-scenes reality of adventure.

Her motto: Be Yourself - Know Yourself - Challenge Expectations.