Irish Mountain
Running Association

Wicklow Glacier Lakes


Alan AylingStephen PerryGerry Brady

Alan Ayling

Gerry's excellent report has really captured that epic race, so I'll add a few thoughts of my own and try to paint a picture of what it was like to be out on that course.

It's the second time I've done the whole route solo, so I had plenty of experiences from last year to go on, but the conditions made this year's effort much harder and progress much slower throughout.

Down at the hotel before the 9:40 am start, conditions were not at all bad. Distant mist and snowy patches on the hills were visible, but the wind wasn't bad, the temperature was probably sub 10 celsius but seemed positively balmy compared to recent weeks. So I opted to go with a warm base layer and the Inov8 jacket, full leg cover, gloves but no hat. Decisions I would come to question later on. In the end, I didn't get worryingly cold, but not far off it; the lesson is to err on the side of caution in these situations. A lot of others seemed to underestimate the level of clothing needed as well. The wind on the higher ground was absolutely bitter!

Leg 1 starts out quite handy, only becoming interesting with the mandatory abandoning of the tarmac road. A lot of little variations on the way to the Brockagh ridge were in evidence, most of the runners ahead staying a bit further left than I did. Soon all the figures were lost in the mist on the ridge and it was time to check the compass to be sure of hitting the col between Tonelegee and its easterly outlier. I had swung slightly too far left and Mike Jordan appeared out of the mist and commented something about "too low" - well I think it was something like that, the wind made hearing difficult. I crested the ridge, left of the col and found myself stating down into an abyss. I thought about going further right to gentler ground, but the edge of the world disappearing below looked like far too much fun, so down I went. Mental. Using the snow as a brake and hoping it wasn't too deep or shallow... The lake was only visible when you got to within around 30 metres. Eerie. The climb back to the col was done on a bearing and proved difficult going on the steep ground in the snow. From the col, it was a long contour around the side of Tonelegee before dropping the last bit to a very windy Wicklow Gap.

Leg 2 is, in my opinion, the most difficult leg, even though it has a net descent of around 300 m. It features the trickiest navigation, wild open country and all manner of bog and peat hags - all the more difficult this year for the snow patches, whose depth was never certain until you sank into it (or not). The tarmac climb up the Turlough Hill service road is straightforward, then around the back of the little quarry at the top. With my brain threatening to freeze at that point, I made a slight mistake and picked up the wrong track at the quarry - a timely reminder that concentration over the next hour or so would be critical. A bearing, followed patiently with frequent checking of the map, resulted in hitting the lake spot on. Especially satisfying after the experience of wandering around in the mist for over half an hour looking for that lake in a rogaine a few years ago. The rules state that competitors must touch the water of each lake - touching the ice would have to do here - the lake was frozen over! And so to Three Lakes. I opted for sticking to the high ground of the broad ridge leading towards Conavalla - there's a path of sorts there, but near impossible to pick it up and stay with it in the snow, so a lot of traversing bog and when I reached the high point of the ridge it was bearing time again, direct for the middle of the larger lake. On a clear day you can see the lakes from that ridge. Not this time, so faith in the compass it had to be. And once again, it was bang on, hit the middle of the lake - this one not frozen. The section from this lake to the Table Track in Glenmalure is one of the messiest on the whole course, but navigationally not that difficult, you just have to pick your way through the peat hags and follow the little valley down, staying well above the stream at times. I stayed right of the stream more or less all the way down this year - better than last year's option on the left bank I reckon. The never ending descent of Table Track into an icy headwind eventually led to the sanctuary of the marshal point and some very welcome jellies. I'd had various thoughts of pulling out of the race during leg 2, but when Gerry offered me the option at the changeover it was a definite case of "No, I'm good to go on".

Leg 3 is another beauty, if not quite as challenging as leg 2. It starts with a beast of a climb - handy fire road at first, up into the bottom of Fraughan Rock Glen, then pick a point to cross the brook and up the steep ground to Arts Lough, nestled in a pleasant little hollow below the cliffs of Cloghernagh. Route choice from here - I went up the shelf path that the Circuit of Avonbeg race uses, then around the 705 m contour (I use the Harvey's map!), around the southeastern slopes of Cloghernagh only losing height slightly into the upper reaches of the Carrawaystick Brook valley. Ken Cowley caught up with me along here and we ran more or less together for the rest of the leg. Swinging left, we descended a short distance before crossing the brook and coming in at a nice level to Kelly's Lough - arguably the most beautiful lake visited on the race, albeit pretty bleak in the conditions. Drop back down to the Carrawaystick Brook and follow its banks almost all the way to the zigzags. A very wet section, but a really delightful bit of running. The zigzags provide a handy descent into Glenmalure and shortcuts can save time if you pick your line carefully. A short road section in the valley completes Leg 3.

Leg 4 is very different - it can all be done on good trails and fire roads, so navigation is not an issue if you have recced the route. Being able to switch off the brain is welcome when you're going solo and by this stage tired, but on the downside, you have plenty of time to think about nothing except how wrecked you are. The climb eventually relents and a long, long fire road descent to Glendalough follows. Down by the Poulanass waterfall and into the last 2 km, which is really pleasant, picking up the two lakes in the valley and back to the hotel - some choose to go through the old monastic site and some go around. Just time for one last mistake then and I take the wrong path in the monastery! Still, there are worse places to get it wrong than 250 m from the finish.

So, a long, hard day - around 6 and half hours, 42.3 km, not quite 2000 m climb. Regrets? Definitely not. Very happy with the navigation apart from the slight mistakes up by Turlough Hill and in the monastery at the end. Learnings? A few - patience with the compass pays off; the Harveys map is the pick of the bunch, especially for contour detail; an extra layer and a hat would have been a good idea in the conditions; finally don't underestimate leg 4, it's a long way to go when you're tired.

Here is my Strava trace of the run:

It would be brilliant to see more teams in this next year. The solo version is not for the faint of heart, but if you like a good long day in the hills and you're fit enough and a competent navigator - do it! The easier option is to form a team with some friends - there is a leg for everyone here, 1 and 4 being easier, 3 is great for anyone with reasonable navigation ability and prepared to do a recce, leg 2 is for the purists but comes with its own rewards. The camaraderie of these events is amazing.

To finish, a huge thanks to Gerry, Pat and Leo for giving their time and effort so that the rest of us could go and have a superb day in the hills.

Stephen Perry

What a day, what a race. From the first time I seen this on the calendar it was a must do for me, I just loved the concept of this race.

Having done the Art O Neill and the Wicklow way ultra I was confident the legs were up to it so up to glendalough hotel for the 9.40 start. A bit late in the day in my opinion but what the hell. I was surprised at the small numbers of solo runners but the navigation puts a lot of people off.
We all started up st Kevin's way and the chat started, pace steady. Eoin Keith made clear his intent by hitting the front in the first km. up and across the road onto open hill side and three of us were at the same line and pace, Paul Mahon, Don Hannon and myself, the mist and fog quickly came in and visibility was down to maybe 30/50 meters heading to the first lake, " lough Ouler" . Just over the ridge the snow was still lying from the bitterly cold march that had gone, over knee deep in places made for difficult conditions under foot. Down to the lough of the ridge was extremely tricky due to the deep snow, touching the lake and turning back up the ridge " ice picks as monitory kit next year" skirting Tonelagee to reach cp1. A quick shout of names and up the reservoir road.

This is when the rain really started heavy, on with my rain jacket,round the quarry heading for the 2nd lake "lough Firrib" this is the smallest of the lakes and also hard to find due to its size . Myself and two companions still together headed for Three lakes " even though there's only two"
This part is what I call the "Bermuda triangle " of Wicklow. There's no contour line or landmarks to follow, just peat banks as far as the eye can see, in our case that was about 30/40 meters. The terrain is extremely tough around here and slowed us right down. Touching "Three lakes " we turned left and headed south to pick up the small brook that flows down to Baravore. Heavy rain being drivin by a gale force wind into my face made the thoughts of dropping down into the valley very appealing . Running along the brook I spotted a runner up ahead, on closer inspection it turned out to be Eoin, Paul following the brook, me 20 meters above him on the side of the valley and Don 20 meters above me again all four of us dropped onto the fire road at table track together. "Race on " some might say but at this stage it was all about survival . Four of us ran down table track to Baravore to cp2 , "which was heartbreaking to go down to the hostel and turn around to go back up the fire road" steady pace up the lane, across the river and the start of the steep climb up to "Arts lough"

The easiest of the lakes to find, touching the water and up the green gully to skirt Clohernagh onwards to my favourite of the lakes " Kelly's lake" tucked away in the valley Corrigasleggaun and Carrawaystick mountain. As we made our way down the valley we could see Eoin coming out a good 10/15 minute ahead. Touching the water we followed Carrawaystick brook out the valley on towards the zig-zags. The down hill was great, onto the road and up to cp3 , quick shout again an then the long climb up Mullinacor .
Then conversation started about what a good idea it would be to finish this race just back down the road at the Glenmalure lodge, where a pint of Guinness and a mouthwatering steak would surely be waiting !!!! Up over Mullinacor and down the seemingly endless fire road to the upper& lower lakes in Glendalough and on to the finish, across the line as we had been all day "together" . Joint 3rd place in 5.42 . Thanks to the great companionship of Paul Mahon, and Don Hannon. Tough day in the hills due to the weather, which I was told after people last year was a case of what factor sun cream to wear, but hey that's the joys of being in the mountains.
This is truly a great race. Would I do it again ?? Ask me in a weeks time when the body has forgotten how bad it feels right now.!!

Gerry Brady

Eoin Keith with a solo effort won the Wicklow Glacier Lakes relay by 13 seconds from the Walsh family. However for many teams, the Wicklow mist prevailed on Tonelagee, Lough Firrib, and Three Lakes with 16 teams starting and 8 teams finishing. Huge thanks to Pat Quill and Leo Mahon who made holding the event possible.

A calm early morning at the hotel in Glendalough did not give indications of the mist that was to quickly settle in over the entire route. The hotel allowed us the use of a room for registration so this was done in comfort with the start a mere ten seconds walk! Higher up towards the Wicklow Gap, the wind, mist, and remnants of recent snow would combine to make the race very challenging. What seemed a straightforward climb, ridge run, drop to the lake, and climb back-up became a mixture of eerie low visibility and doubt. The drop to the lake was guarded by a bank of snow creating uncertainty as to the wisdom of attempting the descent! But some teams never got far enough to look down into the chasm where the lake should be. Sense of space and sense of distance was lost in the mist resulting in inadvertently returning on the Glenmacnass road, on Brockagh, and back down the Wicklow Gap.

Walkers familiar with Wicklow are familiar with tales of woe from under-estimating the difficulties of finding Lough Firrib and Three lakes. Add in mist and snow and deep wet bog and a few short kilometres can be a day wandering in despair. Early starter James Cahill was first out on leg 2 passing through the checkpoint at 10:29 around 29 minutes ahead of chasers Eoin Keith and Colin Walsh who started leg 2 together. Keith had assessed the challenging conditions and quickly knuckled down to a steady pace with constant checking of map and compass. This stood to him as he moved smoothly through the leg. Starting leg 2 five minutes behind him were fellow soloists Paul Mahon, Don Hannon, and Stephen Perry. They must have been pleased as they caught him and Walsh on the descent into the Glenmalure valley. Behind him a number of teams were calling it a day and making for Glendalough.

At the handover to start leg 3 the marshals were waiting and it was a relief to see five teams appearing in close succession even though they were around 20 minutes down on Adrian Tucker’s leg times in 2012. Next through was Alan Ayling at around 18 minutes down on the leading solo runners. It was another half-hour before more teams appeared and the lack of signal coverage was preventing calls of abandonments getting through. The race director went up the valley with spare clothing and to get better signal coverage. This left volunteer Pat Quill with a quandary of when to leave handover 2 to rush down to the next handover. With the weather not lifting and times much slower, later soloists were asked not to continue on after leg 2.

It was on leg 3 that Eoin Keith opened up an eight minutes gap on the other teams. However Derek Walsh knew that leg 4 could be a waterloo for the solo runners and he chased hard narrowing the gap down to a mere 13 seconds at the finish in Glendalough. Mahon, Perry, and Hannon finished together for joint third. Alan Ayling became the only runner to have two solo finishes.

The lessons for 2014: given the number of solo runners – stricter conditions have to be imposed regarding experience and safety precautions. More volunteers are needed so one could remain at the hotel to gather all notifications of non-finishes. Lough Firrib and Three Lakes – not much can be done with them unless the President would allow volunteering duties to be used to make them much bigger!!! - competitors will have to recce them and develop reliable navigation strategies in the event of misty conditions. The race could be moved to June/July in the hope of more reliable weather but that could remove some of the potential challenge! The five hours barrier remains and no woman has yet completed a solo run in the race.

Can teams please check the provisional leg times results below and email me with any corrections (gerry.brady at Team times have been adjusted for early starts on various legs.

1. Eoin Keith 15:08:27 (actual time 5:28:27)
2. Team Walsh 15:08:40 (actual time 5:48:40)
3. Don Hannon 15:21:30 (actual time 5:41:30)
4. Stephen Perry 15:21:30 (actual time 5:41:30)
5. Paul Mahon 15:21:30 (actual time 5:41:30)
6. Alan Ayling 16:10:48 (actual time 6:30:48)
7. Team John Bell 18:03:42 (actual time 8:28:42)
8. Team Cahill 18:18:08 (actual time 8:38:08)

Leg 1
Team, Runner, Category, Time
18, Eoin Keith, M40, 1:18:29
19, Paul Mahon, M40, 1:24:47
13, Stephen Perry, M, 1:24:48
16, Don Hannon, M40, 1:24:50
15, Alan Ayling, M, 1:25:59
10, Mike Jordan, M, 1:35:45
12, Gareth Little, M, 1:35:45
4, Eileen Walsh, W50, 1:39:07
9, James Cahill, M40, 1:59:04
14, Sam Scriven, M, 1:42:45
17, Ray Caulfield, M, 1:47:05
7, Jim Fitzharris, M50, 2:50:56

Leg 2
Team, Runner, Category, Time
16, Don Hannon, M40, 1:27:58
13, Stephen Perry, M, 1:28:00
19, Paul Mahon, M40, 1:28:01
4, Colin Walsh, M45, 1:32:25
18, Eoin Keith, M40, 1:33:21
15, Alan Ayling, M, 1:44:10
5, Pol O’Murchu, M, 2:21:23
9, James Cahill, M40, 2:24:22
17, Ray Caulfield, M, 2:27:17
6, Stuart Scott, M, 2:29:22
10, Mike Jordan, M, 2:33:11
12, Gareth Little, M, 2:33:11
7, Peter Bell, M, 2:41:18

Leg 3
Team, Runner, Category, Time
7, John Bell, M, 1:26:01
18, Eoin Keith, M40, 1:26:10
9, Ken Cowley, M40, 1:32:13
19, Paul Mahon, M40, 1:33:12
13, Stephen Perry, M, 1:33:12
16, Don Hannon, M40, 1:33:12
4, Frank Brazil, M50, 1:34:52
5, Melanie Earwaker, F, 1:35:20
15, Alan Ayling, M, 1:35:30
6, Henrik Pettersson, M, 1:47:06
17, Ray Caulfield, M, ?

Leg 4
Team, Runner, Category, Time
4, Derek Walsh, M40, 1:02:16
5, Kevin O’Riordan, M, 1:08:48
18, Eoin Keith, M40, 1:10:27
19, Paul Mahon, M40, 1:15:30
13, Stephen Perry, M, 1:15:30
16, Don Hannon, M, 40, 1:15:30
7, Peter King, M, 1:30:27
9, James Cahill, M40, 1:42:29
6, Fiona Sheerin, F, 1:40:09
15, Alan Ayling, M, 1:45:09