The Crean Challenge Expedition: Arran and Cathal’s Experience

This year, two Limerick Scouts, Arran Kinsella (14th Limerick Murroe-Boher) and Cathal Ward (46th Limerick Ballybricken) took part in the Crean Challenge Expedition. Before they departed, they wrote about their training and preparation. Here’s how they got on during the Expedition to Iceland.

Arran Kinsella

Last week, during the mid-term break, I took part in the Crean Challenge. This is one of the most challenging events in the scout calendar, where 32 scouts from around the country spend 6 months preparing for a week-long expedition in Iceland. The main event is a two-day trek across the snows to mountain lodges with no running water or electricity.

Hiking in the snow

The first day we travelled to the Úlfljótsvatn Scout Centre, about 2 hours East of Reykjavik. We were lucky to make it since there were weather warnings and many roads were inaccessible. After some food and quick allocations of bedrooms and chores, we got to bed.

The next day after breakfast we did route cards for the training hike and got ready to spend the night in a tent. Each patrol dug a square, with a perimeter of about 10 feet. We had to dig down through the snow until we hit the ground. My patrol had a good spot and the snow was only about 2 feet deep with solid ground underneath. Other patrols were not as lucky, with some patrols having to dig twice as deep as we did, and others pitching their tents on what was basically an ice rink. We were given two 3-man tents to put up in the space, which were pretty cosy with four 6-foot lads crammed in there. That night, the temperature dropped to -11 degrees.

The next day we went on a training hike. This gave us a chance to test our gear and get a feel for the environment that we would be trekking through later in the week. What we thought was going to be a light hike around a lake actually turned into both a physical and mental struggle as we were hit by an unexpected storm and had to change routes, at some points in danger of being blown over by the ferocious winds. That was definitely an experience, but getting back into the warm house felt amazing after being so cold and miserable the whole time. We had time to shower, change, and fill in our logbooks before the Cultural Night.

Training hike

Everyone asks about the infamous “Cultural Night” where you eat traditional Icelandic food. We had sheep’s head and tongue, whale blubber, rotten shark and, probably the worst of all, sheep’s testicles. Some daring people also ate the eyes of the poor sheep. It wasn’t all that bad, with not much taste and a texture like a cherry tomato!! After that, we had roast beef and sugared potatoes, which people either loved or hated. 

The next day was pretty uneventful. Since we still had red weather warnings, most activities couldn’t go ahead. We did up the route cards for the long-awaited hike and did some First Aid specific to the cold. Everyone kept checking the weather reports, hoping that we would have good enough weather to do the hike the next day.

Sadly, because of avalanche warnings, the hike was cancelled. Instead, we did a hike which was a little bit longer but wouldn’t be going to the mountain huts. That was definitely a disappointment but the hike was still fun. We had a very early start, having breakfast at about 5:30 and the first patrol leaving at 6:30. We were accompanied by members of the Iceland Mountain Rescue who taught us how to use crampons as some areas wouldn’t have been possible without them. Little did we know but the Chief Scout, Jill Pitcher Farrell, was joining our patrol on the hike, which meant we had to make very, very sure we knew where we were going! Because of the fresh snow that had fallen, the conditions were not the best. Snow was waist-high in parts. This made the hike a lot more challenging than the route cards made it seem, and added to the satisfaction of finishing it in good time. 

One of the plus sides of not hiking to the huts was the fact that we didn’t have to hike the next day. This meant we had the chance to use ice axes and learn about self-arrest. Jumping off a steep slope and controlling yourself using an ice axe is second only to abseiling using only the axes and a rope. We left soon after for Reykjavik and once we got there, we walked to a nearby geothermal pool. It felt amazing to just lie there in the warm water after being so cold and uncomfortable all week. To top it all off we got pizza. 

Úlfljótsvatn Scout Centre
Úlfljótsvatn Scout Centre

The last day was a lot more low-key than the others. We were supposed to go and explore Reykjavik but because of further bad weather, the plans were changed. Instead, we went to a nearby mall, which was still pretty fun. Later in the evening, we had the awards ceremony, presented by our Chief Scout and the Vice Chief Scout of Iceland. 

Before I joined the Crean Challenge, I had no idea of what was in store for me. I knew I would be challenged, knew I would learn a lot. What I didn’t know was how close I would become to the other participants. During the training weekends, I got to know the people in my patrol extremely well, I barely knew anyone outside of this. Everything we did was in our patrols. But in Iceland, they didn’t seem to matter much anymore. Everybody was eating, chatting and doing activities together. This meant we got to know everyone taking part, and make new friends. It was so, so fun. Chatting after a hard day, dancing around while washing the dishes, nearly throwing up on a testicle – the shared experiences we had and the friendships that were made – there isn’t a thing I would change. 

But everything has to end, and so did this. As we waited outside the arrivals for the check-in bags to come, everyone was quiet. When we walked through the doors, we were greeted with applause by our family and friends. We were back. That was probably the worst part of the entire expedition. It felt like a massive shock – all the training, all the work and preparation we had all put in and then, suddenly, there was nothing. It was over. There would be no more training weekends and no more Iceland. This was something that had been a part of my life for the best part of a year and as I walked through the arrivals it all just hit me that all that was over. But as Dr Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. 

I would like to thank all the people who helped me during this: my scout group for teaching me the skills I needed to get into the event in the first place, my parents for driving me to what felt like every mountain range in Ireland and for supporting me so much throughout my journey. I would also like to thank everyone involved in organizing the event, especially our mentors, Morgan and Megan for sticking up with us. And last, but not least, the lads – Pearse, Cillian and Bruce – for not making it too weird in the tent. 

Thank you so much for reading this and have a great rest of your day.

After the award ceremony
After the award ceremony

Cathal Ward

My name is Cathal Ward from Ballybricken 46th Scouts. I am 15 years old. I have recently completed the Crean Challenge Expedition which is an annual Scouting Ireland Challenge taking place over 6 months, which culminated in a week-long expedition to Iceland starting 19th February 2022. 32 scouts from across Ireland participated with the support of a team of 11 Scout leaders.

In the six months leading up to the Iceland Expedition, there were four training camps with the Crean Team in Castleconnell, the Galtee Mountains, the Wicklow Mountains and Carrauntoohill. I also completed four individual training hikes and two projects in preparation for the Icelandic expedition. 

Flying the Group Flag in Iceland
Flying the Group Flag in Iceland

On day one in Iceland, we had an interesting start – we landed in the middle of a weather warning, with very strong winds and heavy snow – on the trip to the Úlfljótsvatn Scout Centre we had had to stop and wait for an all-wheel-drive bus to come and take us the rest of the way! This scout centre, located on the shore Úlfljótsvatn lake, 75km east of Reykjavik, was our base for most of the week – it had dorms and facilities for lots of outdoor activities. During the week we did many activities and learned and experienced about winter hiking and camping.

On our second night, we slept in tents, which meant digging out the snow to get down to the earth to pitch the tents and building a snow wall to shield them from wind and snow. Despite the freezing temperatures outside it was actually comfortable in the tents.

Preparing our tents
Preparing our tents 

We did two hikes over the week. The first was a training hike that was originally meant to go around the lake. However, the weather turned against us with strong wind and snowfall closing in which forced us to return to our base. That hike gave us many lessons about preparing for a hike and knowing the differences between hiking in Ireland and in the snow and unpredictable weather of Iceland. The second hike was the main expedition hike. The original plan was to complete a one-way hike that would end at mountain huts far away from Úlfljótsvatn where we would stay for the night. Unfortunately, severe storms during the week had caused an avalanche warning in the area which made part of the route unsafe. Instead of the original hike we did a different route in the opposite direction and then returned to Úlfljótsvatn. Having learned our lesson from the first hike and with support and advice from the local Mountain Rescue unit we set off a 6.45am in the dark. Thankfully the weather was much kinder with little snowfall and light wind. This made the hike much better and more fun than the first. We still had to take safety precautions though. Two mountain rescue people hiked with the front and back patrol, and we had to wear crampons on our boots due to the frozen snow surface, a new experience for us all. Overall, the hikes were a great experience.

On our Expedition Hike
On our Expedition Hike

The week wasn’t all work though, most days included some fun activities – we did archery, learned mountaineering rope techniques, had movie and games nights, went to a geothermal swimming pool and sampled some Icelandic traditional foods- sheep head, whale blubber, fermented shark and sheep’s testicle!

Trying the local food
Trying the local food

For the last two nights, we moved to a Scout Centre in the capital, Reykjavik. On the final night, there was an award ceremony where the awards for completing the challenge were awarded. The award is given in three levels:- Certificate; Certificate and badge; Certificate, badge and Medal. The awards were presented by the Chief Scout of Ireland, who had travelled out during the week and joined us on the expedition hike. Everyone this year got the full award, Certificate, Badge and Medal which doesn’t happen every year, so we were all very happy and very relieved.

Receiving my award from the Chief Scout

We didn’t sleep on the final night because we had to leave for the airport at 3am to get our flight home – we all had a great craic that night. We got a great welcome home at Dublin Airport, though I was sorry that the week was over. The Crean Challenge has been an incredible experience and like nothing I have ever done. I have learned so much, had so many experiences and met so many people and new friends. This has definitely been the best thing I’ve done in scouting so far and probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I can’t thank the Crean Team, my Ballybricken leaders and the other leaders in Limerick who have helped me enough.  

With the other Limerick participants: Arron Kinsella of Murroe-Boher Scouts and Ger Malone, Leader.

Preparing for the Crean Challenge

Later this month, two Scouts from Limerick will be heading off to Iceland to take part in the Crean Challenge. This event is one of the toughest challenges on the Scouting calendar and requires several months of preparation. We asked Arran and Cathal to tell us about what they’ve done to prepare


Hi, my name is Arran and I’m from 14th Limerick Murroe-Boher Scout Group. On the 9th of June, 2021, I opened my phone to see an email from the Crean Challenge confirming that I got accepted. Over the next few months, we went through four training weekends and many, many evenings of preparation to get ready for the Land of Fire and Ice.

Green Patrol on summit of Galtymore (Training Weekend 2)
Green Patrol on the summit of Galtymore

What is the Crean Challenge? It’s an annual event where 32 scouts from around the country spend 6 months preparing for a week-long expedition in Iceland. They stay at a campsite a couple of hours from Reykjavik and, yes, they camp in the snow! At some point in the week, they do a two-day trek to some mountain lodges with no running water or electricity. Sounds fun, right?

The preparation for the expedition takes place over the course of 6 months, in which time you go to 4 training weekends, do 4 training hikes and complete 2 projects. Each training weekend takes place in a different part of Ireland. We had a Backwoods Camp in Castleconnell, hiked in complete fog in the Galtees, stumbled down the Wicklow mountains in the dark and climbed Carrauntoohil. 

Rest stop on Carrauntoohil (Training Weekend 4)
Rest stop on Carrauntoohil (Training Weekend 4)

Probably the best thing about the challenge is how independent you are. While there are adults there, they don’t really tell you if you’ve gone wrong and all the navigation is up to you to figure out. You’re in charge of your gear, your tent, and if you mess up the dinner, you’re gonna be hungry. Each weekend focuses on different skills, and over each weekend I have learned so, so much.

On top of the training weekends, we had to do 4 training hikes in our own time, all of which had to be over 500m and over 15km long. These were to test your fitness and also helped to practice navigation and break in your new equipment. I did mine in the Knockmealdowns, Ballyhouras, Comeraghs and Slievenamon. I did Slievenamon with Cathal from Ballybricken Scouts and the rest with my family, who are involved in scouts, and other scouters from my group. 

 Arran and Cathal Ward (Ballybricken SG) at Slievenamon
 Arran and Cathal Ward at Slievenamon

At the start of our Crean training, the organisers split everyone up into 4 patrols of 8. In these patrols, you do everything from hiking the highest mountain in Ireland to doing the dishes together. This is what really sets this event apart from others I’ve done. In the course of 6 months, I’ve gone from a Level 4 hiking badge to Level 6, climbed the highest mountain in Ireland and played a 16 person game of snap. I can’t recommend the Crean Challenge enough to anybody who thinks that this is the type of thing for them.  I am extremely lucky to be part of this and am so glad that I decided to join. It is a life-changing experience and I assure you that you will enjoy it too.


My name is Cathal from Ballybricken 46th Scouts. I am 15 years old. I am currently doing the Crean Challenge Expedition which is an annual Scouting Ireland event taking place over 6 months culminating in a week-long expedition to Iceland starting February 19th, 2022. Over the course of 6 months, participants must complete 4 training weekends, 4 training hikes and 2 projects prior to the expedition to Iceland.


Two scouts from my group had done the Crean challenge in previous years so I already had an idea of what it involved and had heard their exciting stories. I sent in my application, which was an essay on my Scouting life and a short video about myself and my reasons for wanting to participate in the Crean challenge. I was one of the lucky ones to be accepted.  After being accepted the Challenge began. 

Over the course of six months, there were four training camps with the Crean Team in Castleconnell, the Galtee Mountains, the Wicklow Mountains and Carrauntoohill. Over those four camps, I’ve met and made friends with lots of different people from all over Ireland. I learned new skills and had lots of challenges – navigating across the Galtees, a night hike on the Wicklow mountains and climbing Carrauntoohill in January.

With my Patrol on Carrauntoohill peak
With my Patrol on Carrauntoohill peak

 As well we had to complete 4 personal training hikes to make sure we were fit enough for the expedition. I did mine on Moylussa, Slievenamon, Keeper Hill and the Knockmealdowns. I did these hikes with my family, scout leaders and another Crean participant from Limerick, Arran Kinsella from Murroe-Boher Scouts. 

Giving a skills talk to local Beavers and Cubs
Giving a skills talk to local Beavers and Cubs

The last part of the challenge is to complete 2 projects related to scouting. I did my first project on renewable energy in Iceland and the other on teaching younger sections about hiking over several sessions. Through these projects, I’ve learned skills such as public speaking and researching. 

Throughout the whole challenge, we must keep a logbook of everything we do. The logbook contains logs of all the camps, hikes and projects, and is what the instructors judge to decide whether you have completed the challenge. We will be going to Iceland in February where we will be hiking and camping. The Crean challenge has already been my greatest experience in scouting. I’ve made so many new friends and had so many incredible experiences. I want to thank all the Crean challenge team for this opportunity and thank my own scout leaders from Ballybricken and other groups in Limerick who helped me along with this challenge.

Crean Challenge 2022

Official Opening of County Campsite

The Official opening of our campsite was held on Saturday 7th August. The opening was attended by Ned Brennan (Scouting Ireland Board), Michael Dempsey (Provincial Commissioner), Cora Foley and Martin Duhig (Limerick & Clare Education & Training Board) and the County Team as well as representatives from the various Scout Groups in the County. During the ceremony, County Commissioner Phillip Kelly presented County Campsite Coordinator Ursula Cosgrove with her Gold Merit Award for all her hard work.