Scramble to the top
You’ve summitted many of Kerry’s most iconic mountains by their normal routes. Now you’re considering the southwest again and a little voice is murmuring – what next? You know these murmurings can only be silenced by a something a little more challenging but you don’t want the scarifying complications that go with roped ascents. In such circumstances your answer may be a demanding, but decidedly non-technical route that brings you up close and personal with Carrauntoohil’s sublime north face.
Start from Cronin’s Yard (see panel) where parking costs €2 and there are toilets, showers and tearooms. Head up through the mesmeric attractiveness of the Hags Glen and cross two steel bridges. At a ford on the River Gaddagh, go right, and ascend a stony track beneath a pinnacle known locally as the Hag’s Tooth. Later, a stream crossing and mild scrambling over rock shelves is required to reach a spectacular hanging valley. Continue ascending a track circling left beneath the breathtaking north face of Carrauntoohil to reach a second hanging valley. Near the left (south) corner of this valley is the narrow entrance to Curved Gully. Here a steep and wet, but otherwise enjoyable scramble brings you to a third level above Cummeenoughter Lake, where Curved Gully swings sharply left. If fortitude fails at this stage, you can escape right to finish by the shorter Central Gully.
Now the Gully climbs benignly enough with great scree slopes separating it from the well trodden O’Sheas Gully. Continuing upwards, the rock littered terrain becomes more enclosed with the serrated edge of Curved Gully Ridge rising to the right. A series of bouldery steps now bars the way but these are easily overcome, sometimes by briefly leaving the gully on its left flank.
The looseness underfoot now means that retreat becomes impractical and the safest option is to continue upwards. The angle of ascent is never too demanding but negotiating the ubiquitous loose rock requires concentration. Near the top, the terrain becomes grassier and somewhat eroded, so care is required on exit. Beyond, you will emerge onto the path from the Beenkeragh Ridge with Carrauntoohil’s summit immediately to your left. In clear weather the views are beguiling, with a succession of mountains and ridges flowing in all directions to the horizon.
Descend from the roof of Ireland by traversing above both of Curved and Central Gullies. Continue downwards until you reach a grassy coll at the lowest point of the Beenkeragh Ridge. Here you swing right and descend the broad ramp of Brother O’Sheas Gully to Lough Cummeenoughter, which is Ireland’s highest lake.
Next, continue down by the outfall stream to reach a hanging valley. Here you will encounter the original ascent path. Now it’s just a question of retracing your steps to Cronin’s Yard and, perhaps, a welcome coffee by the fire in the tearooms.
* Support the visually impaired by climbing Carrauntoohil for the Kerry Charity Challenge, April 12-14th. The weekend costs €159. midtipphillwalkers.ieor tel: 086-4009 989
CURVED GULLY, CARRAUNTOOHIL:
Starting point:Leave Killarney by the N72. At Fossa turn left for the Gap of Dunloe. Continue, leaving the Gap on your left until you see a finger sign (left) for Carrauntoohil. This minor road leads directly to Cronin’s Yard.
Suitability:A challenging route lying close to where hillwalking merges with mountaineering. Suitable only for well equipped, accomplished hillwalkers.
Time:About seven hours.
Map:Harvey Superwalker 1:30,000 MacGillycuddy’s Reeks