Macgillicuddy Reeks, Co Kerry
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. 1:50,000. Sheet 78.
Start: The car park at the base of the “Dam Track” on the road to Glencar.
Finish: Cronin’s Yard car park.
How to get there: Take the turn off for the Gap of Dunloe on the N72. Keep on the Glencar road until you come to the track leading to the dam. The turn for Cronin’s Yard is just beyond a shop.
Time: Six hours;
Food: Cronin’s. Kate Kearney’s Cottage
Road users may swear but a ripple of excitement will run through the hill walking community if there is a forecast of snow. There are plenty of safe slopes in the Irish mountains for hill walks in Christmassy conditions. But, for the mountaineer experienced in winter climbing there is only one possible destination, the Macgillicuddy Reeks. With its vertical gullies, frozen waterfalls and sharp-edged arêtes this mighty massif will be their playground while the freeze-up lasts.
The upper Reeks are no place for the inexperienced in such conditions but there is a mid-altitude traverse that will give you a snowy Reeks experience in comparative safety if the surface is not frozen.
The track to the dam will bring you up to the mouth of the Coomloughra Horseshoe. It’s a spectacular sight with its snow-enshrouded cliffs and the sharp pinnacles of the Beenkeragh Ridge etched against a clear blue sky.
Head into the coom keeping to the edge of the steep ground until you arrive at Coomloughra Lough; then you can start heading up the steep slope to the col between spot height 747 and the first peak of Skregmore (848m).
Most of the surface is grassy and if the snow is reasonably deep you will have no problem. Just keep a keen eye out for any rocks on your way as these may have a thin covering of ice. The mountain term for this is verglas. For the average walker it is to be avoided.
The two summits of Skegmore have rocky surfaces and unless they are well blanketed, contour under them around to the col at 830m, which is at the base of the steep boulder-strewn upper slopes of Beenkeragh (1010m). The edges of the boulders are likely to be fringed with icicles and the deep gaps between the rocks will be masked by snow; leg breakers for the unwary surely.
Skirt around the north side of this formidable surface on to the col between Beenkeragh and Knockbrinnea (847m) where you will have a wonderful view down into the Alpine setting of the upper Hags Glen. This is the playground of mountaineers experienced in these extreme conditions. You will spot climbers edging their way up the steep gullies of the north face of Carrauntoohil or balanced on the narrow outcrops of the Hag’s Tooth Ridge while across the valley the eastern Reeks form a magnificent backdrop in their icy majesty.
You will be spellbound until the cold seeping into your bones reminds you that it is time to get moving on to Knockbrinnea (854m). Don’t be tempted to drop down into the glen too soon. Keep on the spur that runs to the northeast until you are off the steep ground and then you can drop down into the valley when you are above with the track that leads to Cronin’s Yard, where the roaring fire in the caf e and a mug of hot tea provide a Dickensian ending to the day.