Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Slieve League Lunger

A joint venture between Tango and Cash, and Trump Enterprises Inc. enabled the staging of the first ever “Slieve League Lunger” in County Donegal on Saturday 16 August, despite the terrible flooding that wreaked havoc all over Ireland.

The Lunger (pronounced Lun-jer) begins in Ardara, striking west for the ancient enclave of Glencolmbkille via Maghera and Port, before the downing of hot whiskies in Teelin and tackling of Slieve League (Europe’s 2nd highest sea cliffs, supposedly), returning to Ardara via Glengesh. A total of 80km and over 2300 metres of vertical climbing.

Davy was regrettably unable to attend the event of which he is patron, but Mark, Enda, Ian and Rick all received Finisher’s medals. Conor, having had to stop early to go and do some tiling, pledged to complete unfinished business in 2009.

The success of this year’s Lunger has kick-started planning for the 2009 event, which will be staged again in August and will follow the same route, with the spice of an added kicker at Slieve League.

For anyone interested in the precise route, contact

Slieve League, Donegal Slieve League, Donegal
(The 4 successful Lungers enjoy a hot one before the big climb up Slieve League. Conor's blushes at not making it all the way were far outweighed by his embarrassment at being caught on camera arriving in a VW Jetta)

The route map:

Slieve League, Donegal

WARNING: Boring unless you were there, or are planning to take it on (possibly boring anyway).

The 2008 Slieve League Lunger participants gathered in a sodden Ardara at 9:30am on Saturday 16 August. Ian, Conor and Rick were already in County Donegal on other business, but Enda made the trip from Sligo, and Mark from Antrim town!

The five bikes left Ardara at 10:00am heading west towards Maghera in torrential rain, and in a couple of minutes we were completely drenched and thinking our target a pipe-dream. The waterfall on the coast road, normally a trickle, was simply awesome, chucking more water than probably at any time in the last 50 years, and we stopped to enjoy the power and the noise. We didn’t stop at Maghera, and soon we were pounding up the steep valley known as Granny. The heavy rain stopped and we had superb views behind us.

Conor, more used to Dublin City cycling than crossing mountain passes, quickly came to the conclusion that proceeding would surely end in his untimely death, but we managed to cajole him to the top. We were stopping for lunch in Glencolmbkille, but had another big climb to do, and Conor elected to take the short-cut down with no more climbing. Rick, navigator for the day, sent the poor chap the wrong way and, after being assured a free-wheel to the village, he had a 120 metre climb thrown in just to keep him from getting bored!

Oblivious to Conor’s troubles, we had a fantastic descent down to the dead end of Port, with a great view and dry skies on the way down. Arriving at the road end, the river was crashing in torrent down over the rocky beach, and we noticed a sheep-dog just standing stock-still in the middle of the river. On watching for a moment, we realised the poor thing had attempted to cross, had fallen badly, and was now stuck and terrified. Given the water level and the foul weather, the shaking hound (who had clearly been there for some time), was now in some danger of dying of exposure!

Rick decided to be hero, and waded out to the dog in a strong current with uncertain footing, but the worst that could happen was being swept 30 yards down the beach and into the tide to the enjoyment of the rest of the lads. Ultimately with Ian’s assistance as chief catcher, we rescued the beast, which had badly cut its leg in its attempted crossing. Satisfied we were now in positive karma, we left the dog in the care of a passer-by as we started our last big climb before lunch, Ian soon pitching over the bars in classic O’Seibhlinn style.

The grassy path up the mountain afforded fantastic views of the bay behind us, but the rain was soon torrential once more and the mist closed in. We could hear the dog barking frantically down in the bay, at which point it struck us that we should have perhaps thought to look for the dog’s owner in the river too! Whoops!

On summiting the hill, our stomachs were pining for lunch and, Mark leading the way with total disregard for life and limb, we made short work of the high-speed tarmac descent. Down into Glencolmbkille, we made our scheduled stop and met up again with Conor at the Tea Room of the Folk Village, cold drowned rats.

Hot soup, bread, doughnuts and coffee soon had our spirits up once again, but Conor had elected to phone for a lift to make his escape, knowing that even tiling for his brother-in-law John was preferable to climbing any more hills in the rain. We could see in Enda’s cold, dead eyes that the only thing that would stop him summiting Slieve League today was the Second Coming, so the rest of us got ready to battle the elements once more. We didn’t hang around for long in the cafe, as it was pretty cold in there – even the folks preparing and serving the food were wearing duffle-coats!

Back out into the rain and feeling very cold, we started for Carrick up the walking route, safe in the knowledge that we had a 200 metre climb to warm us up again. We took ten minutes just to watch the river at Carrick Bridge, as it was in awesome flood, and then pushed on for Teelin. At Ian’s suggestion, we stopped in a pub for a hot whiskey before our climb up Slieve League and, just as we drained our glasses, it stopped raining for the rest of the day.

It took us a good 90 minutes to summit League, which was in a blanket of fog above about 400 metres, but the views were superb below that. We decided to dump the bikes rather than take them over One Man’s Pass, which turned out to be a good idea as it was very slippery and windy up there. We didn’t hang about at the top, as there was nothing to see or do, so we somehow found our bikes again in the mist and were down at the bottom in about 40 minutes from the summit, stopping on the way to fix Mark’s puncture and break Rick’s pump.

Following a quick pit-stop in Carrick, we headed south-east towards Kilcar, and then turned north-east for the long tough climb up the Ballaghdoo River valley in glorious sunshine, and the coats were off. The top sections of this beyond the road were extremely boggy and hard going, particularly through the forest at the very top, but it was good for the fitness, I suppose! We were by this time ready for home. There was no marked path as such once we got over the top, but we picked our way down open ground, loosely following the way-marked posts down to the river, which had been torn to shreds by a huge mudslide a couple of acres in size about half a mile up the mountain. A farmer at the road told us the mud-slide had come down the mountain like thunder.

Now back on the road, all we had to do by way of work was climb to Glengesh Pass, and we were bathed in early evening sunshine as we took the switch-backs and tucked for the long high-speed descent, recording a top speed of 49 miles per hour before the final 2km back into Ardara along the main road.

A long day, made longer by the amount of rain we endured, but a superb route and highly enjoyable. Definitely one for 2009.

For anyone interested in the precise route of the Slieve League Lunger, contact


Rowan said...

You kept that one quiet!

Anonymous said...

why didnt you come across to Inishowen the day after?!

Tango said...

Don't worry Rowan, it doesn't count on 2 counts!!

1 The bikes didn't go over Dead man's Pass

2 i wasn't there

Next year we will become the first do COMPLETE the official route.

Now when are we doing the Growler?