Abby, I love your idea for a Travel Tuesday feature! What a great way to remember past trips!
In May of 2012, Stephen and I crossed a big item off our bucket list and traveled to Ireland together. My mother’s side of the family is Irish, so I have long been curious about the country. We rented a car in Dublin and completed a big counterclockwise loop, exploring castles, eating lamb stew and taking hundreds of photos along the way. It was every bit as beautiful as we expected it to be.
Our vacationing style is pretty intense; we’re the sort of people that wake up early and go to bed late, cramming as many sights as we can into each day. Over the course of eight days in Ireland, we saw a TON, but today I want to recap just one particular memory: our hike up Mt. Croagh Patrick.
Next to rock-climbing, hiking is our favorite activity to do together as a couple, so we made a point to research popular treks and scheduled them into our trip. Mt. Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, nicknamed the Reek, is well known in Ireland as the site where Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days and banished snakes from the country. Every year on “Reek Sunday”, the last Sunday in July, over 15,000 people climb the hill in a group pilgrimage.
Wanting to beat the crowds, we left our hostel in Westport early in the morning and arrived at the base of the hill around 8:30. I think we were maybe the second car in the lot that morning.
Our guide book made the climb sound like no big thing, so we left snacks and water in the car, assuming we’d be back within an hour. I even remember thinking I would just pay for one hour of time in the car lot before (thankfully) dropping in a few extra Euros at the last minute.
The owner of the hostel in Westport had advised us not to climb if the morning brought thick fog. Well, of course it was foggy, and of course we ignored her caution. We’re not in Ireland often!
It was so foggy in fact, that you could only see about a third of the mountain from the car lot. We didn’t realize that at the time and wrongly assumed the summit was just above the fog line.
This photo makes me laugh, because we had no idea what was to come. Before we crossed the fog line, we snapped some great pictures looking back out to the water.
Into the fog we went…
Shortly after the fog line, the terrain started to level out, so we thought we must be getting close to the top. Nope.
Turns out, the trail leads you up a smaller hill and across a ridge before you even begin to tackle the climb to the summit. We had only reached the ridge, and with such thick fog, we had absolutely no clue how much farther we had to go. You couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of you.
Good thing we were in high spirits that morning!
We found some neat things along the ridge, namely this awesome toilet. Obviously we paused for a pit stop.
We also had fun trying to decipher the stone messages people had arranged on past climbs. I was certain this one read “wanderer” at the time, but it doesn’t really look like that now.
Not too long after the toilet station, we reached the first of three pilgrimage stations on the way to the summit.
The first station, Leacht Benáin, instructs pilgrims to walk seven times around the mound of stones while saying seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and one Creed. We recited one Our Father and called it good.
From this point on the trail was nothing but a steep slope of loose scree, all the way to the summit. It was definitely challenging. Plus, the fog was still thick as soup, so there was no rewarding view of the summit in the distance to motivate us forward. I was leading at this point, and I felt bad every time Stephen yelled up to me, “Do you see anything??”, because I never had a helpful answer to offer.
This is the only picture I snapped between the first pilgrimage station and the summit. I remember Stephen saying, “I guess Saint Patrick never heard of a switchback”.
Finally, we reached the top. And just in time too, it started to rain almost immediately.
There is a small chapel at the summit, where mass is celebrated on Reek Sunday and August 15th (Feast of the Assumption). Here’s what it looks like on a clear day.
Incredible difference, right?!
We didn’t stay at the top for long. Both of us were soaked and freezing cold at this point (I admit to being a wuss in the cold, especially now that I’m accustomed to Texas heat), so we quickly took a few pictures of Saint Patrick’s bed and the second pilgrimage station.
On our way back down, we finally started to see more tourists. Everyone seemed as discouraged by the fog as we had been while climbing, so it was nice to assure them that the summit was just X meters away.
And then, just before we reached the ridge, the wind picked up and cleared out some of the fog!
These aren’t the best pictures, but at least you can see more than the inside of a cloud!
Before we knew it, we were back at the car lot. We practically jogged the lower portion of the trail we were so ready for lunch and water. I think from start to finish, the climb took us 3 to 4 hours. Our parking meter was well overdue. Luckily we avoided a ticket!
From head to toe, this was the one dry inch on me.
We didn’t have to look far for lunch; we found a cute pub just down the street. Fried fish and a warm fire cures all.
Though it sort of sounds like a miserable hike, we really had so much fun on Croagh Patrick. It was one of our favorite adventures of the trip, and the fog and our lack of preparedness just makes for a better story.