Go walk: Mount Errigal, Co Donegal

The summit of Errigal is made of hard stuff

 

Go walk: Mount Errigal, Co Donegal

Map: OS Discovery Series Sheet No 1. Start/Finish: Cloghaneely townland to CP on R251.
Get there: Carsplit or bicycle/car. Time/Effort: about 4hours, 7/8kms, approximately 600m of climbing.
Suitability: moderate level of fitness, some easy scrambling, a knowledge of mountain navigation required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Mweelrea, Errigal is my favourite mountain. Its dramatic shape, its isolation and its story have always drawn my eye, my imagination and my boots.

I’ve climbed it in baking 30 degree heat, watched snow plumes smoking off its summit on a day of blustery Atlantic snow squalls and, best of all, stood enthralled by the winter dance of the Northern Lights, behind its black-dark outline, from deep in a silent frost-bound Poisoned Glen.

It has stood for aeons as a bulwark to Atlantic storms, blizzards, deep ice-age cold and grinding ice sheets. Its summit is made of hard stuff; its resistant quartzite is lined and craggy and broken, piling up like a collar around its wide base; it’s certainly the worse for wear but still exhibits real beauty.

The only problem with Errigal is the limited options for climbing it. There is an access carpark off the R251, to the southeast of the summit, with a damp initial approach to the stony southeast trending summit ridge. It’s normally just an up-and-down job.

So recently I came to the area with the intention of exploring another approach. My plan was to do a linear, essentially north to south, walk from the wild bogland of Cloghaneely back to Errigal IYHA Hostel, taking in the summit via Errigal’s north ridge. That requires a carsplit but all I had was my bicycle so I’d have to cycle the 14km or so around Errigal to retrieve my car.

I approached the mountain from Cloghaneely townland via a broad heathery north/south promontory, stopping under a high sunny sky to admire the beautiful vista of Aghla More, Altan Lough and the Errigal massif.

I’d only ever seen the scree slopes of the north face of Errigal from a tight angle, previously only approaching the summit from the east. Now, closing on them from the north, they presented to me full-on, revealing their immense scale and their story of a timeless but losing battle with the elements.

I’d peered at the seemingly impossible north ridge for years, even leaning over to assess it from the summit on occasions. It has always looked risky and dangerous; and so it still seemed as I got to the foot of it and perused it over lunch. But, as often happens, I found a fairly distinct path which was easy enough to follow and very atmospheric. It contrasted nicely with the broad heathery access promontory as it picked its way to the summit through an unstable chaos of cracked and shattered quartzite tors and outcrops, attesting to the power of severe glacial freeze/thaw when the mountain was a nunatak, clear of surrounding ice.

Errigal has two summits, very airy with little room to hang out. If the wind is blowing it’s a hands-and-knees situation. Thankfully, conditions this time allowed for taking in the distant skyline of Aran Island and the beautiful wilderness of the Derryveagh Mountains and their always fascinating Poisoned Glen.

The way down to the car park is well worn and easy. A cup of tea in the hostel, after a tedious road walk, followed by a pleasant cycle around to my waiting car rounded off a good day.

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