Claire FerryRoss MillarPeter Lennon
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Reaching Great Heights – the 6 County 6 Peak Challenge

Posted on July 18, 2012 @ 5:11 PM in Walking

On the 23rd June 2012 Emma McCann and Pauline McGurk took on not one but six of the highest mountains in Northern Ireland in a unique fundraiser for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.  The intrepid pair certainly lived up to the challenge travelling across all six counties to reach the peaks of Slieve Donard in Co Down (850m),  Slieve Gullion in Co Armagh (573m), Cuilcagh in Co Fermanagh (666m), Trostan in Co Antrim (550m), Sawel in Co Derry (678m) and Mullaghcarn in Co Tyrone (542) in just 24hrs. 

Emma McCann has kindly written a guest blog for WalkNI.com on her highs and lows – both physical and mental during this inspirational challenge.

It’s the early hours of 23rd June and the wind is howling around the Slieve Donard Hotel.  Looking into the blackness, it’s hard to imagine that we will be out there in just 2 hours; heading up the first of 6 mountains to be climbed that day.

The official start of the 6 counties, 6 peaks challenge. Emma McCann (left) and Pauline McGurk

Starting out on Donard at 3am heightened all our senses, especially our hearing.  So much so that a donkey braying shook us from the surreal world we were entering from Bloody Bridge.  Having a pathfinder with us was reassuring and distracting and, with conversation flowing, the time passes quickly.  We soon reach The Saddle and the Mourne Wall.  This can be difficult at the best of times but here it acted as a windbreak for the 40mph gusts we experienced.  Cold and wet we reached the summit, but there was little time for photos as visibility was poor and the conditions were worsening.  The wind blew the mist into our faces so hard that it felt like sand.  Heading down was slow going but the dawn light and Molly the Search & Rescue dog lifted our spirits.  Back at our support vehicle we were heartened that we were ahead of schedule. 

6 peaks challenge

Climbing Slieve Donard (left) and reaching the summit of Slieve Gullion.

Porridge in the back of the car was welcome as we set off for Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh.  This Mountain was the only dry ascent we had, though visibility was very poor.  Once again we scrambled up and down and made up valuable time.  We were flying as we set out on the 2 ½ hour drive to Cuilcagh Mountain in Co Fermanagh.

Cuilcagh looked like it was beckoning us into Middle Earth’s Mordor.  Rain, wind and mist became our companions.  On and on, up and up, the rain relentless.  We could only imagine how beautiful this summit must be on a clear day.  The first feelings of wet socks were worrying as 3 more mountains waited to unleash their wrath on us.  Stew, dry clothes and a 3 hour drive to Co. Antrim served us well.

Cuilcagh mountain

Refuelling en-route and picking up more support team we reached Trostan.  It wasn’t raining!  However, a swollen river needed to be navigated twice to proceed.  The ascent here was slow and steady but at least it wasn’t raining - for now!  300 yards from the car and Trostan or some other celestial being decided we hadn’t suffered enough: the skies opened and the deluge soaked us again. But on the bright side, we had made up time again!

Refuelling on stew before ascending Trostan

Onwards to the Sperrins.  More pathfinders and support team provide motivation and soup.  Journeying through the Glenelly Valley we couldn’t see the splendour of Sawel Mountain but knew it was there, somewhere.  Number 5 was wet, zero visibility and despite being the Summer Solstice, it was getting unseasonably dark early.  Spurned on by everyone we dug deep and made it up and down though we lost some time here.  Spirits were low but the determination was high.  Yet another set of dry clothes and we were on our way to our final climb: Mullaghcarn Mountain Co. Tyrone.  Tired and wet we made the summit at 12.28am.

Sawel Mountain

The 6 Peaks of the 6 Counties threw everything at us on the 23rd June 2012 but we chewed it up, spat it out and fought back to show that we were indeed, ‘Ladies with Altitude’. 

If you would like to help Emma and Pauline reach their fundraising target for Cancer Focus NI of £3859, £1 for every metre they climbed on the day, you can make a donation through their justgiving page https://www.justgiving.com/Emma-McCann1

Emma McCann
Emma McCann  Keen Hill Walker and Fundraiser

Emma McCann took to hiking relatively recently when she decided to prepare for a charityTrek to Peru. From then on in, she was hooked. Using her skills gained in advertising and sales, she has become a seasoned fundraiser for various charities including, the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Focus NI and was the first female member and subsequent Female President of Cookstown & Magherafelt Lions Club. Emma likes nothing more than getting into the Sperrin Mountains where she lives with her husband John and considers herself so lucky to live in one of the walking gems of Ireland. Emma and John enjoy walking in Europe and hope to continue this for years to come.

2 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Mohamed on August 4, 2012 @ 4:26 AM

There's some great ideas here but it's a shame you're encouraging peploe to do 3 peaks events. The environmental impact of a 3 peaks is much bigger than any other UK walking challenge due to the huge distance that needs to be driven, and the often huge numbers of participants impacting on fragile and overused sub-arctic mountain tops, let alone the damage to footpaths and rural roads. The residents of Wasdale and upper Borrowdale have to put up with the noise and litter of literally hundreds of peploe getting out of minibuses in the middle of the night every weekend in the summer, often toileting inappropriately. Charity fundraisers are often not aware of these issues, despite a code of practice being published a few years ago. As responsible hillgoers, we need to make charities aware of the impact their good intentions have on rural communities and mountain environments.

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