Camping in the wilds

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Sitting in the car unable to see the top of Errigal I ask myself do I really want to do this. Rain and cold outside, dry and warm inside. Maybe just listen to the news before setting off, wait, what’s the weather forecast. It’s too easy to stay, the challenge is to push yourself outside of this comfort. So out we hop, full waterproofs donned and loaded backpacks hefted onto shoulders, here we go. It’s not so bad, and we settle into the slow familiar pace of trekking with full overnight kits.

From the Errigal CP we follow a mucky trail upwards along the stream and then veer off towards Mackoght. Traversing around its shoulder we pass up an ideal camping spot, just because its too soon. On around and close to Lough Nabrackbaddy we find a heather oasis within these rock and boulder fields. It’s a bit uneven but will have to do for our camp site and it is below the snow line. We pitch tent while a golden eagle circles below snow laden clouds.

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Leaving camp we head up the mountaineering route on the north shoulder of Errigal Mountain. Straight up the scree-covered slope as it slips disconcertingly away underfoot. There is a bit of track but this gives way to larger rocks and boulders. Perhaps the path continues but we are now walking on rocky ground covered with light snow. This is an in between world, there is thick mist above and below. Visibility allows a hint of the steep gully we are traversing and the view upwards vanishes mysteriously just beyond reach. It’s a scramble from here on up and it would be too tricky now to go back down this route. Upwards and to the right there is a naturally formed rectangle window in the rock. This is our cue, go straight up from where we are. I find it very tricky and the nerves are getting the better of me. I do like being scared though – so I am loving this! As soon as I get past the troublesome spot I wonder what the fuss was about. A little more scrambling and we pop out onto the summit bound north west ridge with fresh wind at our faces.

On top of Errigal it feels like it could be anywhere, especially as we can see nothing around but white cloud and snow. How exhilarating to be here, its fantastic. We catch the well worn south east track down, quickly loosing height. Veering off to the left to nip over the should of Mackoght. Back to camp and our now traditional pasta and chorizo dinner is prepared and eaten under canvas as the snow comes down. Hot chocolate and cake and then its off to sleep, well as much as possible in the cold. We awake early to a snow covered tent and are in the midst of a blizzard. Tea and flapjacks for breakfast, break camp with painfully cold fingers and make our escape. This has been a mini adventure and though an uncomfortably cold night I do feel a real sense of life and achievement.

The memories of cold quickly diminish once back home and we brew up some more ideas. Next time, how about waking up on St Patrick’s morning on top of Lugnaquilla, the highest summit in Leinster?

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St Patrick’s morning on top of Lugnaquilla. A fiery orange sunset gave way to an almost full moon and starry sky. With dinner already eaten this means a lighter kit and I carry extra clothes for another cold night ahead. The 2 hour hike from Fentons to the top of Lugnaquilla is so peaceful and relaxing.
The summit is a huge plateau and an ideal camp site. Picking a spot we set up the tent just as the temperature plummets, icing the tent with a thin layer of frost together with wind-chill beckoning a minus 4 degree Centigrade ambiance. Inside for a cuppa and some cake before putting in the headphones and settling down to sleep. Despite the additional layers, a space blanket and survival bag I am still very cold all night long and sleep very little. I listen enviously to the snores of sleep beside me – but morning does arrive and I have survived!
I had envisioned waking up looking out at a sunrise to sea from our easterly facing front door. But poking our heads out we can hardly see through the freezing fog to Percy’s Table which was less than 100m away. It’s hard to get up as however cold it is inside it’s going to be freezing work taking down the tent in this weather. Once packed we set off and quickly warm up on the way down. Just as we headed off the summit at about 7.20am two hikers appeared towards the top, no doubt hoping to be the first on top on St Patrick’s day – sorry for you!

Another great winter break with a real sense of escape, and all without having to travel too far.

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