Gareth Little's Wicklow round accountTuesday, 9th July, 2013 - Gareth Little
Well, where to start, so many memories to put into words but I have been putting it off long enough so here goes… For me this Wicklow Round adventure started three years ago. I remember it well, I was lying in bed one night, Mary was reading her book and I was glued to my iPhone reading the Wicklow Round section on the imra.ie website. I was reading all of the stories of previous success’s and failures and looking at the huge list of summits that need to be visited. I was getting sucked in! I got onto Zoran Skrba and Kevin O’Riordan a few days later and we agreed to team up and give it a shot. As it was late in the summer at this stage and we still had a lot of prep work still to do we agreed to set our attempt date for summer 2012. We had done a lot of the ground work by late August and were fairly prepared for our 2012 attempt but we had one small problem, we could not wait that long so in a moment of madness we went for it on August 26th, way later than any other successful attempt. Our eagerness blinded us to the almost impossible challenge that lay ahead. We were pretty much doomed to failure from the off with the way the weather was that day but we gave it a shot anyway and respectably got to Drumgoff before pulling out. The conditions were just too awful. You can read more about this attempt here – http://summit2summit.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/wicklow-round-report/ Awful weather on our 1st go at it Awful weather on our 1st go at it We took defeat graciously, moved on and in the process gained a much greater respect for the round, one which it wholly deserves. Not long after, I sent the lads a email with a decision I wanted to share with them. I told them that I was going to do it on my own in the summer of 2012 and thanked them for everything so far. For me a solo attempt of the Wicklow Round was the holy grail of mountain running, just me and the mountains, David v Goliath….. As luck would have it the weather was not great that summer and to add to my woes I picked up a bad ankle sprain that would turn out to dog my 2012 season. I was able to witness Finbar, Billy and Greg all cross the line on their successful round attempt that summer too which was a real bitter sweet moment for me. Wait longer was what I had to do and wait I did, patiently. My day would come eventually. This all brought me up to 2013. I was running well that year, my best years running ever in fact. I was injury free and confident. Like many a Liverpool fan out there, I said to myself, this will be the year. The weather in May was ok but not great for the round but that did not bother me too much as I was busy with other things anyway but June was free for me, I had every weekend kept free and just needed the weather Gods to pull a rabbit out of the hat. After the last few summers I really did not know what to expect but to my surprise there was a long dry period forecast for the beginning of June and it was to turn out to be hot, very hot indeed. The weekend of June 7th and 8th was the weekend that I chose and I knew as far away as the Monday before that this would be the weekend as the weather forecast was that good so I got planning straight away. I got onto friends and family to organise my support for the attempt. Everyone I asked was free which was great so I put a logistics plan in place. During that week I just had a few loose ends to tie up but everything was looking perfect and I was feeling good about the whole thing. I had planned a 2pm start on the Saturday and posted my intentions on the imra.ie forum – https://www.imra.ie/forum/topic/id/3417 in order to comply with the official rules. I chose 2pm as I wanted to have a good sleep on the Friday night and be well feed and fresh at the start line. I had my Father Colin, drive me to the start and then showed him on a map what it was I was going to try to do. I am not sure he realised the extent of the challenge until this moment in time. Off I set down the bog road at 2pm sharp on my way to the first summit of the day, Kippure. The weather now compared to my last attempt was the complete opposite, there was no wind or rain and the sun was blazing down. I got to the top, recorded my split and then set off over open mountain to the kink in the road where my Father was waiting. Soon after I joined back onto the Military road I was at the Sally Gap. I put on my bags and had a quick bite to eat and said my goodbyes to my Dad. The round for me started here. Bog road The start Carrigvore was next on the list and was summated easily. Still trying to get my head around the fact that the finish of this thing was not going to be on the same day, I made my way onto Gravale. After Gravale I faced my first challenging climb which would take me to the summit of Duff Hill and from here I made light work of East Top and Mullaghcleevaun. I had packed my iPod last-minute so decided to listen to a few tunes on the run off Mullaghcleevaun. I was in a real good place now with bags of confidence. I was on the hills for a few hours now without seeing a single person so was looking forward to getting to the next support stop and Ballinagee Bridge where some pizza and good company were waiting. The thoughts of this got me up and over Moanbane and Silsean and with a watering mouth I then arrived in on time to my three cheering and smiling support crew, Siobhan, Ger and Richard. I spent a small bit longer here than I had planned but the atmosphere and food were so good it was hard to leave but leave I had to and I was soon off again heading towards Oakwood. Those that know me know I hate Oakwood but it is a necessary evil that needed to be overcome. I got to the top ok but had to battle some rough terrain en route. 3 lakes en route to Tale Mountain 3 lakes All was still going to plan at this point as I set off to Table Mountain. It was about 8pm now and the sun was still belting down and it was very hot for that time of the day. I passed the three lakes and had Table in my sights. I am not sure if my splits were off or if it was the line I took but I was about 15 minutes off schedule when I summated Table. Not to worry I thought as I had a 90 minute buffer to play around with. I was still feeling happy and also very comfortable with where I was on the Wicklow hills, these parts are where I ply a lot of my trade so it really felt like home soil for me. Next up on the agenda was Camenabologue which was tackled with no great hassle. I was still carrying that small deficit in my splits but that did not bother me. As the sun was setting behind me it made for a wonderful image of Lugnaquilla in the evening sun in front of me. Lug was the highest point of the round and was calling out to be climbed. It was just me and the sheep when I got to the summit cairn and it was just magic, I was really starting to get a feel for the challenge now. After Lug I threw back on the iPod and very quickly made my way down the fast decent towards the saddle just before Corrigasleggaun. Corrigasleggaun came and went in a breeze and I soon found myself at Carrawaystick which was the last summit before I was I was back to the land of the living. I had organised for the next support crew to meet me at the track head at Kelly’s Lough and was glad to see them as the last of the light faded behind me. Brian and Kevin gave me food and drinks here and plenty of words of encouragement. They were to go on a play a key role in my success. I left the lads here with a full belly and set off for Drumgoff crossroads but unknown to me disaster was about to strike. There was a short cut that I had planned which was to take me through a tiny gap in the tress. I use it regularly while running and hiking but I have only ever used it in daylight. I left the track to take the shortcut through the trees but soon got disoriented. I went to back track but my worst nightmare came through when I could not find the way back to the track, everything just looked the same. I was in a panic at this stage while trying to battle my way through low hanging branches. I was even reduced to crawling on my hand and knees at one point! I eventually made it the where I was supposed to be but lost about 25 minutes in the process. That loss coupled with the fact that I was already 20 minutes behind schedule made me feel very flustered now. I eventually made it to Drumgoff crossroads where Kevin and Brian were waiting along with my support crew from BalinageeBridge. I was still in a little panic over time and only stopped here for 30 seconds as I was keen to make up for lost time. Saying a quick hello and goodbye I took off again with Kevin and Brian following. I was due to meet them soon after at an old hut at the end of a track that was close to the summit of Mullacor. I had planned to walk up that hilly track but as I was behind schedule I took it at a light jog. To run uphill was not in my plans but a necessary thing to do at this time. I meet the lads once again at the hut, refueled and set off up Mullacor. The great feelings I was experiencing around Lug were no replaced with the thoughts of “will I? won’t I”. I was desperately running the numbers in my head but I kept saying to myself that I just needed to get the night-time section boxed off with no issues and then I would still have a 45 minute buffer to play around with. This put my mind at ease to some extent and I was able to get on with the task in hand, night navigation. The walk up to Mullacor went smoothly and soon after I was on the Derrybawn Ridge. I ran along this undulating ridge knowing that I would soon be back with the lads at Glendalough car park. The run off the summit of Derrybawn to Glendalough was a killer. At the latter stages of long challenges like this I start to prefer going uphill rather than downhill as strangely enough I find it easier on my legs. It was great to hook up with the lads once again even though I had only just left them not long before and to my surprise my Father Colin had joined them. The support crews, especially during the night hours gave me a huge mental boost. I took a seat in the camping chair that was laid out, this was the first time I had sat down in 12 hours! I now felt like a boxer in his corner in between rounds with the trainers giving me liquids and shouting encouragement at me. Glendalough support stop Glendalough support stop At this point I had made it further than my ill-fated attempt in 2011 but was still very aware that I was only half way around with a lot more to go. I just needed to keep pressing on and take one summit at a time. I was full of sugar leaving Glendalough and to my surprise made light work of the nasty climb that lead to the side of Camaderry. I breezed past Camaderry’s smaller summit high on a cocktail of jellies and fresh encouragement but this all came crashing down as the sugar wore off. I could not help but think of negative thoughts then and the time I had lost, the rough terrain I was on and the lack of any daylight. This all started to weigh heavily upon me. I was a real battle for me now and with no teammates on the hill with me to lift my spirits I had no choice but to plough on. I was also finding it hard to eat real food at this point but I knew that I could not survive on jellies alone much longer so I made a promise to eat well at the Wicklow Gap which I was to get to via Camederry main summit and Turlough Hill. Wicklow gap support stop Wicklow gap support stop I was glad to get to the lads again at the Wicklow Gap after the emotional ups and downs I experienced on Camederry. I could now sit down and take stock of my situation. I ate and drank well here as I had promised myself and also took a look at my splits. I was 50 minutes behind but still had 40 minutes to play around with. As long as I kept putting one foot in front of the other and tried my best not to lose any more time I should be able to pull it off. The tiredness was slowly starting to creep in but I had to try to put that to one side and get on with the job at hand which was climbing Tonelagee. I said my goodbyes to the lads and set off. It was now beginning to get bright, this was to give me a real shot in the arm as it lifted my spirits to no end. I got to Tonelagee summit with no major hassles and knew I had a good bit of nice running ahead which added to my confidence. The negative thoughts I was having before the last support stop were know beginning to fade away like the darkness which was much to my delight. While running off Tonelagee I was lucky enough to witness a beautiful sunrise just hours after witnessing a stunning sunset. Sunset Sunset Sunrise Sunrise I knew the night section was behind me now and I did not lose any additional time so that timekeeping worry was now shelved for the time being. I now found myself approaching the car park at Glenmacnass. It was about 5am at this stage as I crossed over the river. I saw some campers sitting around a roaring fire drinking beers on the river bank, what must they have thought of me, I thought to myself as I passed by looking tired and wet. I sat down in the chair again and got some food and drinks into me. This was to be the last stop for Kevin and Brian as they were due to head home for a well-earned sleep. They had played a pivotal part of the challenge and really did prove to be instrumental in my success. I was very grateful. After this stop it was up Scarr in the lovely morning sun. Scarr is a long drag up and an out a back section, as in you go one way just to come back again but it was on the list so had to be climbed. As always when I left a support stop I was feeling my best and made it up Scrarr ahead of my split time. The sun was now properly out but the temperature was just right at about 9 or 10 degrees. Out came the iPod again and I had a lovely run off Scarr listing to some Sigur Ros. This was one of the highlights for me as my mood and the conditions were perfect and I was making good ground on my decent. The line I took near Kanturk lead me through some heavy undergrowth on my way down to Logan’s Way. My bare legs took a bit of a beating here but at that stage it was just one more pain to add to the list. Again, I just had to put one foot in front of the other and suck it up. I ran along the river banks of the InchavoreRiver and started to make my way up towards Knocknacloghoge summit. I was glad to get climbing this mountain as the terrain from Logan’s Way to the foot of this peak is pretty terrible. I was fairly happy with my time now and kept thinking after Knocknacloghoge I had only two more difficult climbs, Luggala and Djouce. The sun was heating up a lot now but it was still only a little after 8am. That coupled with my tiredness and dehydration played a funny trick on me. I had summated Knocknacloghoge but for a good 30 seconds I thought I had climbed the wrong mountain. After sitting down momentarily and drinking some water I looked around again and realised I had done no such thing and was exactly where I wanted to be. I dropped off Knocknacloghoge, crossed Cloghoge Brook and started to make my way up Luggala. The mental sharpness I felt when I left the lads had worn off by now and I was really struggling to eat any real food, a dangerous combination. I made it up Luggala just about but need to take two 90 second rests on the way up as I was starting to feel really exhausted. The terrain on the way up too was very overgrown compared to when I recce’d it a month ago so this made the going a bit tougher. But with all of that aside I made it to the top knowing that when I got back down and crossed the road, Brendan Lawlor would be there with a cup of coffee. Lough Tay from Luggala Lough Tay from Luggala I crossed the river at Sheepsbank Bridge and sure enough there was Brendan waiting. I was really tired now so gave myself the best part of 10 minutes to rest up and re-fuel. I had a coffee, a bun and some coke here, that was about all I could manage. Brendan told me straight up that I was tight for time and gave me some strong words of encouragement. I knew that if I could get Djouce out of the way I would be in a really good position. I said my goodbyes to Brendan and set off for the last tough climb of the day. To summit Djouce would be a real mental hurdle for me as I knew I would finish the round if I got there in one piece. Whether that would be sub 24 hours or not still remained to be seen. I got to Djouce summit at about 09:45 and was expecting to see other people. I was actually looking forward to seeing other people as I had seen only one person on the hills since I left the Sally Gap. But the summit was clear of all human’s and it was just a tired me and some birds singing in the morning heat. I was very happy to be leaving Djouce and made short work of War Hill which was only 20 minutes away. Now I thought to myself, there were only 3 mountains left. My tiredness was starting to lift and was being replaced slowly with adrenaline. The thoughts of achieving this were starting to creep into my mind. War hill was directly behind me and I had Tonduff North firmly in my sights. I got to the summit of TN but I was very hot at this point as I was entering my second mid day sun heat. Looking back now, the heat took a lot out of me and definitely slowed me down at times. There was no hiding from the sun so I just had to keep moving and try to stay hydrated. I took my split at TN and made my way to the back to the Military road where my girlfriend Mary, my father and friends Ailish and Sam were waiting. All the cheering was great and it really set me up for the 5k road section I needed to do. I quickly ditched my mountain runners and put on my trusty pair of INOV8 X-lites and shot off towards Oldboley’s. I surprised myself here and covered 4k in about 20 minutes. The last of the 1k stretch was uphill so I walked that to save what little energy I had left for the last two summits. Start of 5k road section Start of 5k road section I got to Oldboley’s at about midday. I knew I had 2 hours left to get to the finish via Knocknagun and Prince William’s Seat and I knew at this stage that I would make it. I was running on fumes and adrenaline at this point and only took a phone, pen and paper with me to save carrying weight. I kept on my X-lites too as the ground was good and solid. I made it up to Prince William’s Seat at 12:44 did a u-turn and locked onto Knocknagun, the last summit on this epic adventure. I was making my way across to Knocknagun as I was going through every emotion all at once. There was also a huge bush fire just behind Knocknagun and it all felt a bit surreal. Mary, who was waiting back at Oldboley’s was concerned that I had not re-appeared and thought I was having difficulty with the fire but luckily for her Jason Kehoe, who was now there with a gathering crowd, decided to head up the track and look for me. He was only a few hundred metres from the road before he caught sight of me on the track and we made our way back to the road for what would be the last kilometre of the round. Jason ran alongside me as we chatted about Richard’s, Zoran’s and Jeff’s successful round attempt a litter over 12 hours earlier. I could see the end in sight now, there were a few vehicles and lots of friends and family there. I picked up the pace now and sprinted the last 300 metres to cross the finish line in a time of 23h39m. I had done it with 21m to spare. I was elated! Success!! Success!! The finish was a bit overwhelming for me, so many voices chatting to me, people taking photographs, clapping, drinks being handed to me, pats on the back. I thought I was going to faint at one point so I just sat down in the back of one of the cars there. It was great to get out of the relentless sun that I could not escape from over the last 24 hours. After some water and an ice towel (thank Jason!) I was feeling semi normal again and was able to chat properly to all that were there. The sense of achievement was immense, a feeling that I had not felt since I did my first marathon 6 years ago. Finally I could close this chapter that was the Wicklow Round. Although it had taken 3 years since I first laid eyes on it, I had finally conquered the mighty round! I’d like to offer my sincerest thanks to all the support crews and all who came out to cheer me on, without you this simply would not have happened for me.