A mountain of a molehill
Ireland’s two highest peaks pack a serious punch
It’s the greatest of mountains; it’s the littlest of mountains; it’s the most compelling of mountains. A molehill by world standards, it is, nevertheless, inconvertible proof that, in the uplands, size isn’t everything, for Carrauntoohil packs a punch disproportionate to its unassuming height. Ireland’s roof still retains – even in extravagantly materialistic times – an ageless cache as a non-monetised accomplishment that, rich or poor, we can only gain by investment in sweat and aching muscles. Ideally suited for those who value accumulated experiences above amassed possessions, our highest peak remains, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement lying serenely beyond the advantages bestowed by wealth and status.
Experienced hillwalkers can get two for the price of one by also bagging Beenkeragh (Ireland’s second-highest peak) on a sublime outing commencing from Cronin’s Yard (see panel). From here, proceed up the Hag’s Glen on a broad track traversing two bridges, before breaking right at a stream crossing and following an eroded path uphill towards the brooding north face of Carrauntoohil. When the unmistakeable tooth-like eminence of Stumpa an tSaimh towers directly above, swing sharply right and ascend a grassy gully to pass right of the “tooth”.
Now the delights of the Stumpa an tSaimh ridge beckon, with rock scrambling opportunities abounding. Reassuringly, however, you can choose to ascend à la carte, by either accepting the challenge of an obstacle, or finding an easier route around it.
Like most Kerry mountains, Beenkeragh doesn’t yield easily, and there are a few false summits as you ascend through a chaotic jumble of sandstone boulders. Ireland’s second peak is a rugged beast with few of Carrauntoohil’s delicate complexities. You will, however, be amply rewarded with intoxicating views encompassing startlingly sheer cliffs on Carrauntoohil’s great north face and the glories of the Coomloughra Valley.
Next, you will be drawn instinctively downwards on the steep descent to the Beenkeragh Ridge, the best route to Ireland’s highest point. Here, experienced scramblers will likely tackle all obstacles head-on, while others will tag easier tracks to the west. Everyone comes together at a grassy col before tackling the sharpish ascent over bouldery terrain to Carrauntoohil’s rugged, cross-adorned summit. On a clear day there are beguiling views northwest over the Dingle Peninsula, while to the southwest, Kenmare Bay is sublimely bookended by the West Cork hills.
Scenery savoured and obligatory photo snapped, you now descend by a long line of cairns until an egregiously eroded gully appears on your left below a grassy col. This is the infamous Devil’s ladder, which isn’t really as dangerous as its awe-inspiring reputation. Nevertheless, care is required on a knee-jarring, unstable descent to the boggy Hag’s Glen where you immediately pick up a track. This conveys you back to Cronin’s Yard and the reward of a steaming coffee beside the fireside in the well-appointed tearooms.
CARRAUNTOOHIL AND BEENKERAGH
Start/Finish: Leave Killarney by
the N72. At Fossa turn left for the Gap of Dunloe. Continue, passing signs for the Gap until you see a finger sign (left) for Carrauntoohil. This minor road leads directly to Cronin’s Yard.
Suitability: Even in good weather, this is a demanding outing suitable only for experienced hillwalkers
with scrambling experience. Carry a map and compass, prepare for an energy-sapping day and leave enough time to complete before dark.
Time: About 7 hours.
Map: Harvey Superwalker 1:30,000, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.
Further info: Details for all Carrauntoohil’s routes are in Jim Ryan’s excellent pocket guide, Carrauntoohil & Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, published by Collins Press.