Advantages A spectacular, lofty peak overlooking one of the fairest of scenes...
Disadvantages Well, unless you're lazy, none, really
|Is it worth visiting?|
The final part of my 'Places In Ireland' trilogy...unless and until I do the whole Douglas Adams 'Trilogy In Four/Five/Whatever Parts' routine.Carrauntuohill (3414ft) - (trans) Inverted Reaping Hook
For its many and multitudinous pleasures and wonders, Ireland isn't actually that mountainous a country. Huge tracts of the interior are fertile farmland swaddled in low-lying bog and huge, almost stygian loughs. On the east coast there are the Wicklow Mountains, rising from the suburbs of Dublin and providing an outdoor playground for its denizens, and further up the Mountains Of Mourne provide a similar (although slightly more distant) service to its Belfast-dwelling patrons. The tight little groups of the Comeragh Mountains and the Knockmealdowns and the Galtys rise cheekily from the plains in the south and centre, but the real Grade-A pointy stuff is to be found in the west. Overlooking the County Kerry tourist mecca of Killarney (with its vast array of accommodation, hint hint) is a range of marvellously lofty (and monikered) hills, Macgillycuddy's Reeks, which culminate at Carrauntuohill, Ireland's highest peak.The Reeks are a long, spurred ridge with much ground over the magic altitude of 3000ft (indeed, there's substantially more 3000ft terrain therein than in the rest of Ireland put together), and Ireland's four highest mountains are all located here. Carrauntuohill lies towards the western end of the range, with the main spine running east and two prominent subsidiary ridges (the basis of the Coomloughra Horseshoe, of which more later) fan out to the north and west. In keeping with many mountain ranges, the southern and western slopes tend to be steep and grassy, whereas the north and east slopes are often craggy and precipitous. With that in mind, the Reeks are not a place where the inexperienced can wander at will.
Hillwalking is not so well-established an outdoor pursuit in Ireland as on the British mainland: only on a few popular routes, such as the Pilgrim's Paths up Croagh Patrick (in particular) and Brandon, and the Devil's Ladder way to Carrauntuohill are you likely to see more than the most sporadic instances of human life. As we're dealing with Ireland's highest summit, there are a lot of 'non-hillwalkers' who've fixated on its height kicking around, and as such the Kerry Mountain Rescue team (which covers the area) is the Republic's busiest. And it warms the cockles of one's heart that their callout roll is superbly Irish and mad in terms of the incidents listed. Trust me when I say you do NOT get such cracking pub anecdotes as this anywhere else (I know a few MRT members). In the last few years the Reeks have born silent witness to such classics as:
The Team were alerted following a report of shouts for help on the southern side of Cathair con Rí. The callout was stood down after it was established that the shouts were not a request for assistance and were thought to be an attempt to listen to an echo.7th-8th August 2007. Corrán Tuathail (notice: like many Irish hills, many different spellings). Rescue.
Killarney Gardaí informed the Team that an 82 (no, that's not a misprint) year old female and a 16 year old male walker were overdue following an ascent of Corrán Tuathail. The Team were mobilised and the pair were located after a brief search and escorted from the mountain.21st August 2007. Corrán Tuathail. Alert.
The Team were mobilised following two separate reports of cries for help on Corrán Tuathail. On arriving at the scene it was ascertained that a local farmer had been rounding up sheep in the area and in addition a particularly vocal goat was present in the location referred to by callers. As no further cries for help were heard the callout was stood down.
Anyway, so how does one climb Carrauntuohill? There is a considerable degree of choice with regards to routes, and I'm going to look at three in detail (and touch on some others). Of these three, two are reasonably possible for the inexperienced-yet-fit-and-able-bodied in good, settled conditions: the other is a more tasty number but still possible for a fit person with an experienced companion and a head for heights. Others may disagree, but I believe country like this is best tackled with sensible footwear (something with decent ankle support) and the ability to read a map, although on a fine summer's day the ability to use your eyes and follow everyone else like a lemming may suffice on the first route. You'll look less of a prat if you aren't in jeans and trainers, mind. And in winter? If you aren't experienced, forget it. Really.1) Via Hag's Glen and the Devil's Ladder
This is the 'tourist route' to the top, and starts from the farm of Cronin's Yard (continue west from the access road to the famed Gap Of Dunloe, and follow the signs for Carrauntuohill). You can park here for a charge of 2 Euros (as of September 2007) and there is a very friendly tea room (best patronised on your return). Alternatively, one can park at Lisleibane a bit further west, but parking is more limited there. Despite being the most popular route (particularly amongst those for whom Carrauntuohill is to be the only hill they'll ever climb) it should not be underestimated, as there are a couple of unbridged rivers to cross (perfectly easy and dry so long as the water level is 'normal', but bear in mind how quickly weather can change in the mountains: given the choice of plummeting hundreds of feet to a splatty doom, and drowning in a raging torrent, I choose the splat option every time) and the ascent of the Ladder itself is rocky and loose. Also, do not assume that the path will be of motorway obviousness the whole way: it isn't.From the yard a path leads south towards the glen, eventually fording the Gaddagh River to join the wide track from Lisleibane. (Remember where you crossed for the return journey, on which its location isn't as conspicuous). An easy walk now leads up the glen, with the elegant spire of Carrauntuohill soaring ahead, and the stern crags of Beenkeragh (the second highest peak in Ireland) gradually coming into view on the right. You will pass the striking pinnacle of the Hag's Tooth, at the foot of a ridge providing an exciting (and a rather too 'interesting' for the novice) route to Beenkeragh. The path eventually fords the outflow of Lough Callee before becoming a smidge boggy and indistinct on the slope between that lake and Lough Gouragh. But in clear weather the Devil's Ladder should be obvious ahead: a rather eroded gully. This isn't technically difficult (i.e. it's definitely not rock climbing), but care and alertness is most definitely required...especially if you return by this route. Be aware of the loose rock, and the possibility that you or others may dislodge it. I'd imagine it to be a somewhat unfriendly place in wet weather, but under those circumstances you should be propping up the bar in Kate Kearney's Cottage anyway.
The Ladder steepens towards the top, and particular care will be needed. (But it's still nowhere near rock climbing, regardless of what some melodramatic bloggers may say). My enduring memory of the place (and it's the sort of place a hillwalker avoids, not because it's dangerous but more because it's awkward and bruises the feet, and you're at a little bit of a risk of being brained by a shower of rocks kicked down by someone clumsy) was a couple in their 50s having a seismic domestic argument as it became painfully obvious that the female half was NOT enjoying herself and disagreed bitterly with her husband's (foolish) attempts to 'avoid the issue' of the gully by descending the slopes to the side. (So don't do that, then). With the treadmill out of the way you emerge (hopefully) into sunshine at the top of the gully, and on turning right are presented with the final 1000ft slope of Carrauntuohill.The path is faint at first, but becomes more defined as you proceed (see accompanying photo). There are a fair few branches, but they all generally reconvene before the summit. Even with the ever-widening, ever-improving views (back over the rest of the Reeks and to the lonely Black Valley to the south), such ascents are treadmills enjoyed by no-one, and the summit cross will come as a welcome sight to all save masochists and vampires. And one doesn't have to be spiritual to appreciate the superb panorama of land and sea. One looks to Killarney, and as one turns left through 360 degrees your eyes trace a path over the plains to the north, the mountains of Dingle over Castlemaine Harbour, the fantastic lonely hills of the Iveragh interior, the loose broken finger of Beara reaching out into the Atlantic, and finally the closer hills of the Killarney National Park. Looking down rather than out, there are dizzying drops to the loughs of Coomloughra, Curraghmore, Lough Gouragh and especially the spectacular bowl containing the Eagle's Nest. The three ridges radiating from the summit are prominent: the main ridge of the Reeks continues east to climax in the spectacular section over Cnoc na Peiste, The Big Gun and Cruach Mhor, while the two shorter arms enclosing Coomloughra (over the peaks of Caher and Beenkeragh) I will deal with next.
It should be blatantly obvious that this is not a peak that can be descended just anywhere: the inexperienced should return the way they came (and are thus familiar with). There are other routes back to the same starting point (such as the Heavenly Gates track, and Brother O'Shea's Gully), but they run more of a risk of straying onto dangerous ground, in my opinion: if interested, make further enquiries.2) Via Caher
If we assume that the weather is good (and if it isn't, you shouldn't be attempting a peak like this without a fair degree of experience), then the Devil's Ladder route is a bit unsatisfactory. The scenery of Hag's Glen is gorgeous, but the Ladder itself and the final slope are purgatorial. On a fine day the route from the west over Caher (the third highest peak in Ireland) provides easier going and much finer views, and while there are some huge drops nearby, adherence to the paths does not require intimate acquaintance with them. This is half of the fabled Coomloughra Horseshoe, Ireland's pre-eminent mountain traverse: the other half, over the Beenkeragh Ridge, will be addressed next.The Horseshoe can be started at several points along the minor road north of Lough Acoose (although I never could find the bohreen (a lane used by farmers) that allegedly leaves the bridge at Breanlee, as suggested in Joss Lynam's excellent Irish hillwalking primer 'Best Irish Walks'). No matter: there is a small abandoned quarry slightly north of here that gives easy access to the hydro-electric road leading into Coomloughra (but you might want to get there early in summer: I'd imagine the parking space goes very quickly). The hydro road is not accessible to cars, but provides an easy, if steep, start to the day. As one ascends the views over Dingle Bay become progressively more pleasing, and help make the climb more palatable than it would be otherwise. You'll arrive at the dam staunching the outflow of Lough Eighter soon enough, and the mighty headwall of Coomloughra confronts you. To the left is Beenkeragh, then the serrated edge of the Beenkeragh Ridge leads the eye to the slightly subdued (because it's the furthest away) knob of Carrauntuohill, before the huge blunt pyramid of Caher completes the scene.
Crossing the dam and pressing on in the same direction will soon have you plodding up a slightly squidgy slope: on emerging on the ridge ahead, I could just say 'turn left up Caher'. But this is a long climb, and I should probably make reference to the superb retrospective view that you'll probably use as the excuse for a rest on more than one occasion. There are assorted non-continuous paths, and the slope gets rockier the higher up you get, but it's far more of a pleasure than the dusty claustrophobia of the Devil's Ladder. Carrauntuohill's pre-eminence becomes more obvious as the climb progresses, as does the huge cliff Caher throws down into Coomloughra, but both excite rather than frighten. You'll pick up a clear path over the spectacular triple-topped summit of Caher, and from there a short drop and an easy rough climb lead up to Carrauntuohill.The non-hillwalker should drink in the orgiastic view and retreat the way they came. But if you are a hillwalker, or you've blagged a trip out with one, read on...
3) The Beenkeragh Ridge
7 miles (full Horseshoe), 3750ft ascent, 6-9 hours
All thoughts of grand promenades are likely to wither and die at first sight of the apparent catwalk leading from here to Carrauntuohill, mind you. The Beenkeragh Ridge has a fearsome reputation in some quarters, and it would indeed be a bit unwise to fall off it. But once the initial descent from Beenkeragh is accomplished (an uncomfortable journey over angular boulders) then it's mostly a hysterically airy walk, favouring the very steep slopes on the Coomloughra side rather than the colossal cliffs overlooking the Eagle's Nest on t'other. The one exception is the subsidiary top known as The Bones (there's a joke in there somewhere): you don't have to go over the very top of it (which is wondrously giddy), but the path thins dramatically before taking a rather implausible course on the more precipitous side of the ridge. Hands most definitely come out of pockets here, but it's soon over and a steep loose slope leads up to Carrauntuohill. Descent via Caher completes the Coomloughra Horseshoe: one of the very best mountain days to be had in these islands. Pay for my flight and lodgings and I'll quite happily escort you round it: I accept cash, all major credit cards and McVitie's Belgian Chocolate Boasters.
(Rather than just listening to me, a peruse of the KMRT page on Carrauntuohill routes is highly recommended: http://www.kerrymountainrescue.ie/routes/index.html ). It also features a map that can be used to visualise the routes I've described.And if you enjoy Carrauntuohill, fix your gaze over to the Dingle Peninsular...because Brandon's even better.
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