“Not a feckin’ chance. No way. But wait – sure we’re here now, we may as… NO! Balls to that..!”
As I stood quietly in the car park at the foot of Croagh Patrick and gazed up at its enormous peak, a loud argument bounced around inside my head.
I ignored it and turned back to my dad who was at the car slapping on some sun cream.
His hip was at him and the log book for my lumbar spine is more weathered than a fisherman’s boot.
“We’ll end up dying up this thing“, I joked – secretly wondering whether or not my travel insurance would foot the bill for the pair of us being airlifted from the top of Ireland’s Holiest mountain.
Doubts aside – climbing Croagh Patrick was one of the best things I’ve ever done in Ireland.
So here you go – the guide I never had, but could have most definitely used.
1 – Before climbing Croagh Patrick – appreciate its history
Considered to be Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron Saint. It was at the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD.
Stretching back a whopping 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption, the pilgrimage takes place on the last Sunday of July.
Known as Reek Sunday, it attracts over 25,000 pilgrims each year and originally began during the time of the pagans, when people gathered here to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.
2 – Onto the climb – first up – the essentials
Right, this probably sounds obvious – but packing enough water is an absolute must.
We climbed it on one of the hottest days of the summer and ended up having to introduce rationing methods to stop us from draining the bottles dry after ten minutes.
On the food/fuel side of things make sure to pack something to chomp on to keep you going. I stuffed a little bag of almonds into my pocket along with a banana.
Now, carrying a banana in your pocket may seem a bit awkward, but let me tell you – it’s about fifty times more awkward than it sounds. We forgot to bring a rucksack which meant carrying everything. Not only is this a pain but it’s also pretty dangerous.
You need your hands free in case you slip to break your fall.
3 – What to wear on the day
The gear you wear will, of course, be decided by the delightfully temperamental Irish weather.
We had an absolute scorcher of a day as you can see above, so a t-shirt and shorts did the business. The only thing we made sure to have at the ready was a pair of runners with good grip.
Ideally, you’d want to set-off on the climb in a pair of hiking boots but we had to improvise.
The one thing you’ll realise pretty quickly is that the stone underfoot from the top to the bottom of Croagh Patrick is incredibly loose – so the more grip the better.
4 – Aid your climb with a stick
I’ll be honest – dodgy back or not, I wasn’t gone on the idea of renting a stick for climbing Croagh Patrick, but these are an absolute lifesaver.
You can rent them from a bloke in a little hut in the car park for around three euro (you get one fifty back if memory serves correct).
They’re dead handy on the way up and make things an awful lot easier on the way down. Just don’t be tempted to whack someone with it.
5 – Admire the views but be alert
Once you start to get stuck into your hike, you’ll realise that climbing Croagh Patrick isn’t as straightforward as just, well, climbing. The severely loose stone underfoot makes sections of the ascent and descent like walking on butter.
You’ll find that the ground beneath you moves and slides at random, making staying on your feet no easy task at times. Stay alert and move at your own pace.
This is when that walking stick comes in nice and handy.
6 – Prepare to eat humble pie
On our way up and down we came across kids and old (and I mean old) men and women absolutely flying up and down the mountain.
As I struggled up the first section, sun cream and sweat half blinding me, a kid that could have been no more than fourteen and a woman on the tail-end of sixty blazed by me.
Watch on in admiration and continue to take it at your own pace. The last thing you need at 2,000 feet is a twisted ankle.
7 – Have a chat with your fellow climbers
It’s impossible not to get stuck into conversation at one point or another as you collectively battle through fatigue and cramp.
It could be as insignificant as a shout of encouragement or an exchange of thanks after offering a helping hand to a fallen climber – but it could end up being so much more.
Chat with others on the mountain. It’ll make the journey all the more enjoyable.
8 – Don’t be afraid to take a minute to recoup
There’s no shame in resting. My calves felt like they were hanging off after the first ten minutes. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
As you ascend and descend you’ll see people catching a breather.
Sit back, take a gulp of water and bask in the beauty that surrounds you.
9 – Take a moment to consider the history of the summit
It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and, according to The Book of Armagh, built a Church.
During an archaeological excavation on the summit in 1995, the foundation of a stone oratory dating back to between 430 and 890 AD was unearthed.
The white Church pictured above was built in the early 1900s by Dr Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, and Fr Michael McDonald.
I’d just love to know how they had the energy to build it after the hike to the top!
10 – Feast your eyes upon clew bay
From the top of Croagh Patrick you’ll be treated to a mighty view of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside – if the day is clear, of course.
Kick back, take the weight off your weary legs and soak up the view!
10 – Be super vigilant on the way down
The journey from the summit to the bottom is dangerous. – make no mistake about it. The stones give way under you at times so take it handy and stick to the left.
There’s a slight edge from the summit that runs a good stretch of the way down.
You’ll be able to get a decent bit of grip here to help you on your way.
11 – Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.
As you finally hit the tarmac of the car park you’ll feel an immense sense of achievement – I did, anyway.
There’s a lovely little pub just outside the car park where you can grab a victory pint and a bite to eat.