By Helen Riddell
BROUGHT up in Castletownbere, in the shadow of the Caha Mountains, it was inevitable that climbing would play a big part in Simon Byrne’s life, and by the close of 2014 he became the first person to successfully climb all summits over 500m in Ireland within one year.
Simon took up hill walking at the age of 16, joining the Castletownbere Coast Guard Unit, before starting a career in computers. However, it wasn’t long before he realised that a desk job wasn’t for him, and after training to become a rock-climbing instructor, he now runs his own company ‘Adventure Burn’ in Dublin, which offers indoor and outdoor rock-climbing training throughout Ireland.
Simon is passionate about climbing, and regularly sets himself challenges. It was at the start of 2014 that he made the decision to attempt to climb every mountain in Ireland – over 500m – within a year, a total of 454 summits.
Speaking of his decision to undertake the project he says: ‘I always need to set myself a challenge. At the start of 2014 I felt I really needed to re-ignite my passion for climbing, and I came across this list I’d put together sometime ago, listing all Irish mountains over 500m. That’s when Project Mountain Goat began to take shape.’
He worked out that in order to climb the 454 summits within the year, he would need to cover at least 38 summits a month. ‘It does sound a lot, but certain peaks were close enough together that I could link them and climb a number in one day. Some days I could achieve 15 peaks in 40km, and then other days it took me 35k just to reach two summits.’
Starting on January 10, 2014, with the Great Sugar Loaf in Wicklow, he crossed the length and breadth of Ireland throughout the year, finishing on December 27 at Mullaghcarn in the Sperrin Mountains.
It was a tough challenge, even for an experienced climber like Simon. ‘Physically, I knew I could complete the challenge in a year, my only real obstacles were financial and time constraints.’
Fortunately, he completed Project Mountain Goat without suffering any injuries, but did have a scary moment climbing one mountain in Kerry when a thunderstorm was literally directly above him. ‘I’ve crossed the Alps and climbed in South America during thunderstorms, but I’ve never experienced anything like I did in Kerry, it felt like it was right on top of me.’
He also feels his level of fitness has changed since doing the challenge. ‘I managed to climb the Macgillycuddy Reeks in one day, and traversed the Mamturks in 11 hours.’
For his grand finale in December he was joined by 17 family and friends for the ascent of Mullaghcarn in Northern Ireland.
‘I walked to the Trig Pillar at the summit, touched it, grinned a lot, and that was it, summit 454 – I had actually done it!’
Never one to sit back, Simon is now busy planning his next challenge, before the end of 2015 he plans to kayak the entire coastline of Ireland.