The longest and most challenging one-day mountain walk in Ireland is called the Maamturks Challenge. It starts before dawn and hits 12 peaks.
Right before the last one is the “Col of Despondency” — a last climb that’s challenging on any day and even more so with 11 other peaks already under your belt.
You can do or feel whatever you like at the base of the col, but the choices are really just two: walk, or quit. The only way to the finish line is up and over.
When I arrived at the col, I was almost completely exhausted. I’d been up earlier than most to volunteer at the start, walked as hard as I could, and hadn’t managed my nutrition well at all.
Looking up, the name made sense — but, looking around, I was encouraged by my friends at the checkpoint and in the group I was hiking with.
After a snack and a few photos, we started the climb with all the energy we didn’t know we had left. Soon enough it was over, and we walked down the far slope on jellied but victorious legs.
I’ve never been back to that particular piece of ground, but I have been through other cols of despondency since then. More often than not, there’s a steep climb before a goal. The approach is the same, though: looking up at the climb won’t help, but looking round at friends does.