Carrauntoohil

Kerry, Iveragh Peninsula, Ireland

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

We climbed this gorgeous if tough mountain on a fine August day in 2017, of cloud and sunshine with vaporous, Turneresque light after the previous day’s heavy rains.

We approached from the Hags Glen to the north-east, as almost everyone has to as a result of limited access in Ireland, climbing north-east via Brother O’Shea’s Gulley to the north, the most direct and most beautiful route but a steep scramble in places, and descending the long way by Cnoc na Tionne on the main Reeks ridge to the east, then down the relatively easy if lengthy Zig-zags back into the Hags Glen.

This climbing route is less used than the Zig-zags and the Devil’s Ladder, the most direct but now degraded and unstable route up, and it feels it. The path is at times unclear as you climb steadily over grazed grass and rock, but the variants coalesce as you get to the steeper slopes, where you traverse above steep grassy slopes and clamber up bands of rock. Time is needed to enjoy the superb views out across the great bowl of the upper Hags Glen, with its pair of lakes beneath the huge cliffs of Carrauntoohil and the high Reeks ridges, and on over the gorgeous northern slopes of the little range, with  their bastions and cirques, some nestling further lakes and tarns.

The narrowing gorge has a couple of level-floored bowls separated by a puff up steep scree beside cliffs and a cascade, at the top of which we have lunch, enjoying the view across the hags Glen, now framed by the valley walls.

A further short clamber gets us to the perfect little disc of Loch Coimin Uachtair, nestled comfortably under cliffs and steep grass-and-rock slopes, which it reflects so sharply that it is hard at first sight to see where the water begins.

Then it is long slog up the consolidated scree of Brother O’Shea’s Gulley, which actually passes pretty easily, and is rewarded by exceptionally beautiful views at the col in the main Reeks ridge – even to Walkopedia’s at-risk-of-jaded palate – to the crags, ridges, lakes and eventually glimpses of the sea and the Beara Peninsula to the west and south. To the north, the ridge runs invitingly to the broken Bones Peak, and on to the shapely pyramid of Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second-highest peak at 1,010m. Immediately ahead is the gorgeous narrow ridge round to Caher; I lament the severe restrictions on walking in Ireland, but this ridge is an exception, walkable for 4 or 5 kilometres, with a long, steady descent to the little road above Lough Acoose.

Thence it is a somewhat easier slog up broken rock to the peak, which would be a bit of a boring chore after the rigours of brother O’Shea, but for the ever-expanding view, more of this gorgeous area opening up with every few steps, becoming 360 degrees at the peak itself. We are just below the cloud here, so our view is blurrily framed above, shreds of mist occasionally drifting dreamily across a crag.

The descent is ecstatically beautiful, the whole way along the ridge and down to the floor of the Hags Glen, where it become humdrum gorgeous. The drop off Carrauntoohil itself is a bit of a chore, an at times slidey path down a grey stony slope to the col above the Devil’s Ladder, which is once again relieved by the wonders you meet when you have a moment to raise your eyes from your feet. The climb to Cnoc na Tionne is somewhat boggy, but the flat ridge-top is smooth and green and gorgeous. You can walk on along the ridge for perhaps 8 wonderful-looking kilometres, with a mixture of grass-bashing and path. It is a walk Walkopedia would dearly love to do,[, although it is a bit unclear how much of it is actually permitted.

The Zig-zags are a long – very long-feeling – slog, but easy walking and still relieved by visual beauty whenever you give yourself time. We watch a rescue helicopter drop a hi-vis figure on the rim of a small lake, which trudges off in search of some stricken climber. There but for the grace!

The final trudge back down the Hags Glen gets a bit too much for our 12-year-old, and the 57-year-old is very happy to ready the roadhead!

An unforgettable day.

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