Mount Errigal Summit Bivvy by Motorbike – Trip Report

Trip report and photo time…

… To be honest, this report is long overdue. I started writing it a few days after I got home and just haven’t been able to find the time since to finish it. The original post and prep-chat can be found here.

I’ll start with an updated kit list. The picture below shows all the kit that had in my ruck. The only other things I had with me were the clothes I was hiking in, the motorbike and my food and drink, which consisted of a couple of steaks, ciabattas, tobacco onions, garlic sauce and a bottle of Grouse 😀

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Here’s a couple of pics of the bike all fuelled up, with the new panniers packed to the gills. Any travelling I’ve done in the past was with a full ruck sack strapped to my back and it was a major pain over long distances and any time you stopped to refuel, or take a rest, the ruck had to come with you :

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The weather was awful and I couldn’t have picked a worse weekend if I tried. I had been promised a heatwave which is what inspired me to go away this particular weekend but fortunately the heatwave never arrived and instead the greenfinger types in Katesbridge were losing their soft fruit crops to frostbite! Not only had the weather become rather parky, but it was chucking it down every chance it got, and the wind was gusting between 30-40mph. Not to be defeated by our Northern Ireland weather at the outset, I stuck to my plans and set off anyway. Luckily enough, the downpours were well spaced out and being on the bike I was more aware of the dark clouds looming ahead and was able to pull in when it got real nasty. One such time was when I reached Letterkenny and I pulled in and took shelter in a trolley park while waiting for it to pass.

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It’s been 26 years since I was last in the Donegal hills, doing my DoE Gold, and seeing them again put a great big smile on my face and gave me a real feeling of excitement. I turned on to the R255 at Termon and followed that to the R251 which is a fantastic road for the bike and takes you right through the Glenveagh National Park towards Errigal.

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I hadn’t planned where I was going to set off from on my Errigal challenge and had planned just to ride around the base of it on the R251 until I found a decent approach but handily enough I found a car park which wasn’t actually marked on my 2005 Edition Ordinance Survey, Discovery Series 1:50000 map. It seemed to be located at the start of the tourist route up Errigal and give the weather conditions I thought that would be spot on for what I wanted to do.

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After getting geared up in torrential rain I set off on the trail leading out of the car park towards the Mackoght/Errigal saddle which looked like it would be a doodle. Oh how wrong I was. It was lovely firm terrain for about 300 yards until I was stopped in my tracks by what can only be described as a swamp. The swap turned out to be horseshoe shaped and I walk right up into it. Normally, in this situation you just poke about a bit with your walking pole and find a route through but it was not that simple here. I poke and poke only to find the swamp getting deeper, and swampier all around me. At one point that looked promising I approached with caution to stick in hand, only to step one step to close and ended up with one leg up to my knee in bog on the the first time ever that I had decided again wearing gaiters as I was wanting to travel light on the bike. So, within 15 mins of setting of I had one wet leg, a wet sock and a water logged boot :'( And guess what… Yep, I didn’t pack a spare pair of socks either! I was travelling light, remember!

Here’s a picture of the deceptively wet base of Mount Errigal:

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Once past the swamp, going got a whole lot easier, but the strong winds and driving rain had me wondering if I was mad to continue. Meeting a group of 4 young fella’s coming down of Errigal didn’t instil confidence either as they stopped to tell me that the conditions were awful and they had abandoned their attempt at the summit because the winds were making it just to dangerous. At that point I had to decide whether to batter on or return to the bike and ride for 2hr home with my tail between my legs. As you will see I opted to batter or it wouldn’t be much of a trip report :-\

Up at the saddle the rain subsided and I was able to dig the camera out again and here’s the view looking down over the Mackoght/Errigal saddle:

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At this point the terrain changes dramatically and the tourist trail seems to become more like the surface of Mars and it can be a bit of a scramble in places:

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Shortly after my Selfies the mist decided to join me again and my hopes for scenic panoramic shots from the summit began to fade:

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The terrain under foot doesn’t change much as you ascend Errigal, until you get closer to the ridge walk to the true summit. Once on the ridge walk the large loose rocks fade away until the path under foot is more familiar to what we have on the trails in the Mournes.

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The ridge walk to the summit was treacherous and torturous. It’s not a long ridge walk, but the howling cross winds made it near impossible to stay up on my feet. It doesn’t look like a narrow ridge from the photographs but when your up there surrounded by mist, and can’t see what lies on either side of the ridge, your heart is in your mouth every step of the way.

There are a number of false summits along the ridge and between each summit the trail gets very narrow. Every time I thought I was at the summit I was able to see another slightly higher peak through the mist and at each peak I sat down to allow myself time to pluck up the courage to get to the next one, across an ever narrowing path.

Finally, I managed to crawl my way across the final ridge on all fours to the true summit, keeping myself low to minimise the effects of the crosswind, and also to maximise my contact with the ground as standing up and walking across just wasn’t an option! Ideally, I would have ditched my ruck for the final stretch, but in the back of my mind was the thought ‘If I get blown off this ridge, my kit will be needed to keep me going till the search party arrives’. I know anybody reading this with think this sounds a bit far fetched, but this really was one of the most nerve wrecking ridge walks I’ve been on, due to the conditions and gusting gale force winds and also because I was on my own!

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The summit itself was about 3 metres square and when I eventually reached it I sat myself down for a while to rest for a bit and give my legs a chance to stop shaking. By this stage they really were like jelly!

The peak you can see behind the map in the photo above is the second highest on Errigal. If the conditions had of been better I would have loved to have walked over to it but there was only a ridge trail about a two foot wide over to it and there seemed to be nothing but a 200ft drop either side from what I could see through the mist. It would have been stupid to go any further on my own so I will keep that peak as a good excuse for visiting Errigal again another time.

Summit conquered, it was time to find my self somewhere to bed down for the night. On my ascent I had spied a man-made cairn, in the shape of a giant birds nest, about 300 yards back from the summit.

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At the top of Errigal there’s nothing but large rocks and stone so it was just a matter of finding the comfiest collection of rocks to sleep on. The giant birds nest was the obvious choice as it would provide a bit of shelter from the gusting winds and it seemed to be lined with large flattish slabs of rock which I would be able to re-arrange into a flat sleeping surface.

I don’t normally carry a roll mat as I’ve never been anywhere that I haven’t been able to fold myself between a cluster of rocks, tree roots or foilage, but Errigal was a bit of a challenge. As I said above, the best I could do was select the largest flattest slabs and arrange them like 1970’s crazy paving into a flat surface to to sleep on. This was the result… the photos don’t do it justice, but it turned out really well and there were now sticky outy bits that would disturb my beauty sleep:

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Re-arranging the rocks warmed me up as the temperature was starting to dip as it was around about 7pm, so I decided to keep re-arranging and fashion myself a little cooking area while I was at it. The wind was so strong, even my Primus Multi-fuel would have struggled, but the resulting make-shift kitchen did the trick, and I was able to get a bit of grub on:

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On the menu that night was two ribeye steaks, tobacco onions, in ciabatta with garlic mayo, all washed down with a drop of Scotch.

My only injury throughout the whole trip was received by cutting too far through my ciabatta whilst preparing my steak sandwich. This was before I even started the scotch, and I put it down to my hands being numb with cold. It was a small cut, but it was wild stingy when I got some garlic mayo into it :-[

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The rest of the evening was spent setting up my bed, taking a few photos when the mist cleared, and drying my sock and boot from when I stepped into the swamp earlier in the day:

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My bed had to be held down with rocks when I wasn’t in it or I wouldn’t have had a bed to sleep in with the wind:

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Here’s a few more photos from around camp with a few showing the view in the few minutes that the mist cleared briefly:

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After a great sleep, possibly induced by the two steak sandwiches and steak, I awoke to another misty with just the occasional clear spell. During one of the mist free moments I spotted an old church ruins down at the foot of Errigal and decided to pay it a visit on the bike before setting off for home.

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The dander back down the hill was easy going and around halfway the mist cleared completely and gave me the opportunity to squeeze in a few more photos before heading home:

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All in all, my first Motorcycle Bivvy turned out to be an excellent trip, a great experience and combined two great passions of mine.

I can’t wait to get my next one organised and just hope the weather is a bit more favourable next time

8)

Original thread here

With thanks to Dowser

 

This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

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