How to Climb Mount Errigal

Climbing Mount Errigal was one of the most memorable excursions of my first and only trip to Ireland. After two weeks of music festivals and beer tents and hostels filled with drunk Germans and Americans who really will try to crawl into bed with you, a mountain free from tourists and people and beer and Germans was perfection.

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Dog was unimpressed with our visit, but agreed to pose for a photo.

Mount Errigal, located in picturesque County Donegal in north west Ireland, was not what I would call a tourist hub at the end of September. Maybe in the summer, it would have been crawling, though I somehow doubt this. The hostel we stayed at was surrounded by nothing but mountain. The small village we walked through had three visible dogs, and no visible beer. No visible people either, though I am fairly certain the locals were watching us, just to see if we were really as nuts as we looked.

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Only a little desolate.

The lovely Irish women at the hostel had given us the following, hugely helpful instructions: “Just go round back, you’ll see the path up the mountain!”

This may be true, and we are inept. Or, those are really poor instruction that in another context may be a lie. It’s really hard to say at this point. We marched our way down the shoulder of the highway, past the big rock with the sign in Gaelic reminding us that we were still where we thought we were (I have no idea what the sign said. I felt fairly confident we hadn’t gone far though). We went into the village, through the church with no roof, and back out the other side. Only then did we manage to navigate ourselves onto the mountain proper.

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Peek-a-boo house.

The other slightly deceptive instructions: “It’ll take about an hour.” This was, again, simply not true in our case. Four hours later, we were up the mountain, through the sheep, not fallen down more than three time (each) and had consumed all of our meagre snacks. And then, we still had to get back down.

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It was far colder than we had planned for.. but that view!

Having had this enjoyable but fairly haphazard experience, follow these tips to have what will hopefully be an equally rewarding but perhaps less exhausting trip up the mountain:

Get clearer instructions as to where exactly the path is

Or, go with a guide. Or, if none of those suits, acknowledge that this endeavour may take all day. It’s pretty, and there are sheep. What more do you want? It’s worth taking your time.

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The surrounding countryside

Pack a lot of snacks, water, and general provisions

This walk took a lot longer than anticipated, and (shocker) it is indeed uphill.

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And the reward when you finally make it!

The weather at the bottom has zero connection to the weather at the top

Wear layers, bring an umbrella. And snow pants. And a raincoat. And a t-shirt. And a sun hat. And proper shoes. And bandaids. And a sherpa for all your stuff. I had a tank top on when I started out, and by the time we stopped for lunch at the top, we needed a parka and it was raining. We were also greeted by hikers with proper footwear, some lovely warm-looking jackets, and walking sticks! We were up there, freezing, with our rain coats and regular walking shoes, feeling like we had seriously missed the information session on how this should work.

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We made a little friend and managed not to step on him

Don’t forget to turn around

On your way up the mountain, the view is very much behind you, and on all sides, but all of your energy is likely to be spent trying to find somewhere to put your feet on those terrifyingly unstable rocks. Stop and turn around and take it in. Just don’t try to walk backwards. It doesn’t work. But seriously, the view is behind you!

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There was no life to be seen but for these sheep.

Even as you wander down the highway, you are surrounded on all sides by rocky, curved-top mountains, seven in all, and a perfect view into the valley below, with the fog gradually lifting from around the little stone cottages to reveal the small river flowing between. You are in the heart of the Seven Sisters mountains. The stillness is absolute, and the sheep are very friendly.

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