James Forrest climbs 273 mountains in Ireland in record-breaking expedition

UK adventurer, James Forrest, has officially climbed every 600m mountain in Ireland in just eight weeks – the fastest ever time. The 35-year-old walked over 1,000km in his mission to stand atop all 273 600m high mountains across Ireland and Northern Ireland. He ascended the height of Everest every week for eight weeks in a row, completing the peak-bagging challenge solo and unsupported in 56 days. The expedition is believed to be the first continuous ‘single round’ of the mountains of Ireland.

James, a freelance adventure and travel writer from Cumbria in England, walked up to 25 miles a day and slept wild in the mountains in a one-man tent. He began his adventure on Thursday, August 9, and reached his final summit – Knocknadobar in County Kerry – on Wednesday, October 3. He said: “I feel on top of the world to have finally completed this epic expedition. It has been the adventure of a lifetime and an incredibly tough challenge, both physically and mentally.”

“Mountains are good for the soul. I love the freedom, the fresh air, the isolation, the unpredictability, the escapism – and this journey has let me experience these joys more than most.”

James Forrest

It wasn’t all plain sailing for him and the weather certainly wasn’t always the kindest to James. He faced his fair share of bad weather during his challenge, battling against torrential rain and gale force winds during Storm Ali. “I faced such brutal weather during this challenge at times I felt like giving up”, he added. But like the true adventurer, James soldiered on to complete one of his biggest challenges to date.

To get more of an insight into his record-breaking adventure, Water-to-Go managed to ask a few questions to the man himself.

Where did you first get the idea of climbing all 273 mountains in Ireland, and what did the planning and training involve? In 2017 I climbed all 446 mountains over 2000ft in England and Wales – the so-called ‘Nuttalls’ – in just six months, the fastest ever time. It was my first ever major peak-bagging expedition and I loved it. It was a life-affirming experience; a challenge that changed my life really. I wanted to go on a similar adventure in 2018 and the idea of Ireland popped into my head. I’d never hiked in Ireland so I was drawn to the idea of new experiences and exciting landscapes, especially in the wild, rugged, remote west and south-west of Ireland.

To be honest, I really didn’t train for the challenge, simply because I walk a lot in my everyday life, so I was already fit for hiking. And, similarly, I didn’t spend loads of time planning. I love the unpredictability of adventures and the joy of ‘going with the flow’, so I’ve never been one to over-plan. All I did really was jam-pack my car full of expedition food and camping gear (especially chocolate and Nutella) and plan routes on my phone using a GPS app. Simple.

What gear did you rely on the most during your journey?
Definitely the GPS navigation app on my phone. Many of the mountains of Ireland are pathless and, in poor weather, navigation is very tricky. My GPS certainly got me out of a few tricky situations – I might still be lost in the remote Dunkerrons in County Kerry if it wasn’t for the wonders of GPS pinpointing. I used my phone as my primary navigation tool for all 273 mountains and it never let me down. I also loved my Water-to-Go bottle, however – it went everywhere with me and enabled me to access clear water whenever I needed it on my wild camping trips. It was invaluable.

What were the biggest challenges you faced? There were, naturally, loads of lows: falling violently ill (stomach problems) after my first week in the wild; losing my wallet in Killarney (only to luckily get it back after it was handed into the police}; being berated by an angry Air BnB owner for ‘making his house smell of old socks’ after stashing my hiking gear in the room (one of the most awkward and cringy moments I’ve ever had!); and forgetting my lighter on a multi-day wild camping trip meaning I couldn’t use my stove (luckily a kind man gave me one on day two!).

But easily the biggest challenge was the weather. I faced so much rain and wind and cloud it was utterly gut-wrenching. At one point I hiked for 10 days in a row, climbing over 50 mountains, and it was torrential rain every day and I didn’t see a view from a single summit. It was horrific. I felt like giving up so many times. It was demoralising and I felt broken mentally. But I persevered, as I didn’t want to be a quitter, and I’m so pleased I kept going.

What was the best moment? There were so many highs and ecstasies: the freedom and escapism of the mountains, the nature, the solitude and tranquility of walking alone, the magic of sleeping wild under the stars, the sense of achievement that comes with a big challenge, the heartwarming generosity and kindness of the strangers who gave me lifts when I was hitchhiking around, the unpredictability of a big adventure (and the joy of overcoming the mishaps and obstacles in my way), and the beauty of the wild landscapes of Ireland. But my most euphoric moment was waking up to a perfect cloud inversion on a mountain called Knockowen in the Beara Peninsula. I unzipped my tent and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was truly beautiful, like waking up heaven. I will remember that moment forever.

Anything you can tell us about your next expedition – or are you taking the chance to rest and recover for a bit first? Well, I’ve now climbed all of the mountains in England and Wales in 2017, and all of the mountains in Ireland in 2018. So, perhaps, the past 719 mountains have just been training for the inevitable – an attempt on the Munros in 2019 maybe. But, for the time being, I’m planning on spending a lot of time with my sofa, watching Netflix and eating Dominos pizzas. I think I deserve the rest!

James, whose expedition was supported by outdoor clothing brand Salomon and expedition food company Summit To Eat, hopes to write a book about his adventures in Ireland. His debut book Mountain Man – about his 446-mountain challenge in England and Wales – will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2019. To follow James’ adventures visit www.instagram.com/jamesmichaelforrest or www.facebook.com/jamesmichaelforrest

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