Monday Memory: Mt. Croagh Patrick

In May of this year, Stephen and I crossed a big item off our bucket list and traveled to Ireland. My mother’s side of the family is Irish, so I’ve long been curious about the country. We rented a car in Dublin and completed a big counterclockwise loop, exploring castles, eating lamb stew and taking hundreds of photos along the way. It was every bit as beautiful as we expected it to be.

Ring of Dingle Ireland

Our vacationing style is pretty intense; we’re the sort of people that wake up early and go to bed late, cramming as many sights as we can into each day. Over the course of eight days in Ireland, we saw a TON… enough to inspire Monday Memory posts from now until 2015. Before the details start to fade in my mind, I wanted to be sure to recap one of my favorite memories from the trip: our hike up Mt. Croagh Patrick.

Mt. Croagh Patrick County Mayo Ireland

Next to rock-climbing, hiking is our favorite activity to do together as a couple, so we made a point to research popular treks and schedule them into our trip. Mt. Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, nicknamed the Reek, is well-known in Ireland as the site where Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days and banished snakes from the country. Every year on “Reek Sunday”, the last Sunday in July, over 15,000 people climb the hill in a group pilgrimage.

Wanting to beat the crowds, we left our hostel in Westport early in the morning and arrived at the base of the hill around 8:30. I think we were maybe the second car in the lot that morning.

Croagh Patrick car lot

Our guidebook made the climb sound like no big thing, so we left snacks and water in the car, assuming we’d be back within an hour. I even remember thinking I would just pay for 1 hour of time in the car lot before (thankfully) dropping some extra Euros in at the last minute.

Warning at Mt. Croagh Patrick

The owner of the hostel in Westport had told us the night before that we shouldn’t climb if the morning brought thick fog. Well, of course it was foggy, and of course we didn’t listen to her. We’re not in Ireland often!

It was so foggy in fact, that you could only see about a third of the mountain from the car lot. Of course we didn’t realize that at the time. We (wrongly) assumed the summit was just above the fog line.

climbing Croagh Patrick

This photo makes me laugh, because we totally didn’t know what we were getting into. Before we crossed the fog line, we snapped some great pictures looking back out to the water.

Croagh Patrick view

Croagh Patrick view

Croagh Patrick view

Into the fog we went…

foggy Croagh Patrick

Foggy Croagh Patrick

Shortly after the fog line, the terrain started to level out, so we thought we must be getting close to the top. Nope.

Turns out, the trail leads you up a smaller hill and across a ridge before you even begin to tackle the climb to the summit. We had only reached the ridge; we probably weren’t even at the halfway point yet. Of course, with the fog so thick, we still had absolutely no clue how much further we had to go. You couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of you.

foggy Croagh Patrick

Good thing we were in high spirits that morning!

Bathroom on Croagh Patrick

We found some neat things along the ridge, namely this awesome toilet.

toilet on Croagh Patrick

I mean, that’s pretty cool, right? Not exactly warm and welcoming (considering how frickin cold and wet it was that morning), but certainly deserving of a picture.

stone message on croagh patrick

We also had fun trying to decipher the messages people had laid out in stone. I was certain this one read “wanderer” at the time… not so sure about that now.

wanderer croagh patrick

foggy Croagh Patrick

Not too long after the toilet station, we reached the first of three pilgrimage stations on the way to the summit.

Croagh Patrick pilgrimage

Croagh Patrick

The first station, Leacht Benáin, instructs pilgrims to walk seven times around the mound of stones while saying seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and one Creed.

From this point on, the trail was nothing but a steep slope of loose scree, all the way to the summit. It was definitely challenging. Plus, the fog was still thick as soup, so there was no rewarding view of the summit in the distance to motivate us forward. I was leading at this point, and I felt bad every time Stephen yelled up to me, “Do you see anything??”, because I never had a helpful answer to offer.

Tired on Croagh Patrick

This is the only picture I snapped between the first pilgrimage station and the top. I remember Stephen saying, “I guess Saint Patrick has never heard of a switchback”.

Finally, we reached the top. And just in time too, it started to rain almost immediately.

church at the top of Croagh Patrick

There is a small chapel at the summit, where mass is celebrated on Reek Sunday and August 15th (Feast of the Assumption). Here’s what it looks like on a clear day:

croaghpatrickchapelview

(source)

Incredible difference, right?!

St. Patrick's bed

Stephen in fog Croagh Patrick

We didn’t stay at the top for long- both of us were soaked and freezing cold at this point- but we managed to take a few pictures of Saint Patrick’s bed and the second pilgrimage station.

St. Patrick's Bed

pilgrimage station croagh patrick

On our way back down, we finally started to see more tourists. Everyone seemed as discouraged by the fog as we were, so it was nice to be able to say that the summit was just X meters away, even if you couldn’t see it.

backside of croagh patrick

And then, just before we reached the ridge, the wind picked up and cleared some of the fog for us!

backside of croagh patrick

croagh patrick

croagh patrick

croagh patrick

croagh patrick

Not the best pictures, for sure, but at least we could see more than fog!

croagh patrick

Before we knew it, we were back at the car lot. We practically jogged the lower portion of the trail we were so ready for lunch and water. I think from start to finish, the climb took us between 3 and 4 hours. I’m so glad we didn’t get a ticket for short-changing the parking meter!

wet hiker croagh patrick

From head to toe, this was the one dry inch on me.

pub at croagh patrick

pub at croagh patrick

Thankfully we didn’t have to look far for lunch; we found a cute pub just down the street. Fried fish and a warm fire cures all.

fish and chips in ireland

Though it sort of sounds like a miserable hike, we really had so much fun on Croagh Patrick. It was one of our favorite adventures of the trip, and the fog and our lack of preparedness just makes for a better story.

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