Walk for the weekend: A ramble to the roof of Ireland
Carrauntoohil: always memorable whether you’re a newbie or seasoned walker
‘Detaching myself from the throng, I gaze upon the 360 degree cornucopia of wonder that I never grow weary of’
This week my offering comes from a room in the sublimely located Castlerosse Hotel, which offers some seriously attractive views over Killarney’s renowned lakes and fells and makes the perfect end to a day when I have stood among friends on the roof of Ireland. In Kerry for the 21st annual Kerry Charity Challenge, my task this morning was to lead a group of mostly maiden summiteers up Carrauntoohil. Reaching the traditional start point at Cronin’s Yard by 9.20am, we discover the expansive carparks are already almost full. Immediately, this has me harking back to the first time I ascended the mountain more than 30 years ago when another couple of hardy souls was all I encountered. Carrauntoohil has since morphed into something of an industry, and a good thing too, for it brings welcome additional spending to rural Kerry.
As we set off, Carrauntoohil peeps out flirtatiously from behind the other Reeks. With none of the in-your-face exuberance of saliently handsome hills such as Errigal and Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s highest mountain is something of a gazelle: slender and retiring but amply rewarding those who seek her out.
Onwards and upwards now, over two bridges and another stream on stepping stones while absorbing the awesome grandeur of the Hag’s Glen. Carrauntoohil’s austere northeast face towers above us as we approach the infamous Devils Ladder, which has given sleepless nights to many a Carrauntoohil aspirant. In reality the Ladder is just an egregiously eroded gully that should create few problems for those properly prepared and ascending with care. Today, it is awash with summit seekers ranging, as usual, from well-kitted hillwalkers to abysmally prepared box-tickers. Golfers are also present, for when someone above dislodges a rock a cry of “fore” echoes down the gully.
Ladder safely complete we regroup in generous April sunshine. Here Carrauntoohil dissolves into a slog: a stony switch-back track with little to commend it. Everyone is glad when the summit cross pokes above the horizon and, re-energised, we push to the top. We find the summit already well colonised: a Californian stag party; a Galway charity group; some German visitors and around the cross, the obligatory gathering of selfie-seekers.
Detaching myself from the throng, I gaze upon the 360 degree cornucopia of wonder that I never grow weary of. Northwest is the Dingle Peninsula and the Mount Brandon range; southwest lies Kenmare Bay and the mountains of Beara; immediately below a spectacular ridge links to Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second highest mountain. Then everyone is called in for the obligatory group picture and individual snaps for those on their maiden ascent.
An English lady then enquires about alternative descent routes. I point her in the direction of the somewhat more challenging O’Sheas Gully, but for us the rule is safe rather than sorry. We retrace our steps by the ladder, which everybody completes with aplomb before finishing off the day basking in sunshine outside Cronin’s tearooms. Over Esther’s delicious apple pie, we then conclude Carrauntoohil is always memorable whether it be the first, or in my case about the 90th time.
WALKS: Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry
Suitability. Even in good weather, this is a demanding outing. 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.
Comprehensive details for all Carrauntoohil’s routes are within Jim Ryan’s pocket guide, Carrauntoohil & Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, published by Collins Press.