Before that we climbed it as a family on Easter Sunday 2018. This day also marked the 20th Anniversary of the day Catriona and I met for the first time.
This morning I started 2021 by climbing Errigal once again to witness the dawn of the new year.
The idea for this started as a joke on Xmas Day when I told the boys we were going to camp out on Errigal to witness the dawn. I’d no intention of camping but the idea of a dawn hike was rattling around in my brain ever since. I kept an eye on the weather all week and it looked like it was going to work out.
The alarm woke me at 4:10am and after just one snooze and my first attempt to talk myself out of the idea I was dressed, fed and out the door shortly after 4:45am having tried to talk myself out of it for the second time!
Driving over to Letterkenny I suddenly remembered that the new lockdown restrictions that came into effect yesterday included a resumption of the 5km travel limit. At this stage I was committed and drove on hoping not to meet a checkpoint on the road.
Approaching Glenveagh Muckish was suddenly on the skyline, reasonably visible due to the almost clear sky and the bright moon, just one day from full. Along the road the remaining “Seven Sisters“ appeared with Errigal finally looming large with some clinging cloud and a topping of snow.
Arriving at the car park there was a car, a van and a motor home already parked up. A second and third car appeared within 5 minutes. As I was getting dressed a hiker appeared over the ridge and into the car park. He had some route advice and showed us a video of conditions at the top. He had started out at 3:30am and didn’t want to wait for dawn as it was so cold.
The other cars and the original van turned out to be a small group of online friends meeting for the hike. They were pretty fit looking so once they were ready, after everyone sheltered from a fairly heavy shower, I let them get a 5min head start to keep us apart on the hill. This was my third and final attempt to talk myself out of it!
The initial section of the hike is across wet bog and along the bank of a stream. It’s pretty difficult terrain at the best of times, particularly wet this morning and very tiring in the dark. Keeping an eye on the lights in front I was able to plot my route pretty successfully and reach the start of the scree without falling in a bog hole. Despite the compacted snow and patches of ice the firmer ground made for much easier walking and surprisingly I soon passed the first group.
Following the footsteps in the snow and the path faintly visible in the light of my head torch I made steady progress and soon reached the rest point just below the summit. This is a ring of stones approximately 4m wide and built up to a height of about 1m. Just enough to provide shelter from the wind. Just as I arrived another heavy shower of snow and fine hail blew in but once I had my hood up and sitting on my seat pad, leaning against my rucksack it was reasonably comfortable. Less than 10 minutes later and the group joined me. We were way too early for the dawn and with zero shelter at the peak we waited in the shelter until 7:45am and then headed for the top all together. Along the way the clouds lifted and there was a tantalising vague view of the mountainside falling away and the nearby landscape and mountains highlighted with drifts of snow.
Very quickly we were on the first summit and crossed over the narrow ridge to the second. The cloud was fairly thick again but the brisk wind was keeping it moving with the full moon appearing every now and again as the clouds blew over.
The other group moved back to the first summit to check the view for photos and fire up a drone. I stayed where I was as I was keen to experience the dawn peacefully on my own.
The temperature was close to freezing and the windchill sub zero which made it difficult. As usual toes and fingers suffered the most, especially my right hand as I had to remove my glove to take photos.
As the light gradually appeared the sky started to ripple with the pink of dawn and as the clouds blew past I soon forgot about the cold. Ever so slowly the landscape below began to materialise as the light increased and eventually the sun’s glow was visible through the clouds.
The whole experience was amazing. It’s easily one of the best things I’ve ever done and I found it quite uplifting and emotional. A morning I don’t think I’ll ever forget ♥
The descent was pretty straightforward now that daylight had arrived. It needed care though as the path was compacted and slippy with a mix of snow and ice. Lots of people were making an early ascent of the mountain and it was really nice to get a chorus line of Happy New Year all the way back to the end of the scree. The bog was running wet for the rest of the descent and very muddy for the last few hundred metres but much easier descending and daylight made pathfinding much easier.
I met at least 40 people on my way back down and the car park was full to overflowing with more cars parked along the road. Seems like I’m not the only one who forgot about the 5km limit today!
Two of group I met on the hill are very talented photographers and are active on Instagram. These are the photos they chose from this morning. They have a lot more talent than I do and are worth following.
Header image by Aodh Mairtin O Fearraigh and published by “Donegal Has It All“.