Walk for the Weekend: Experience Alpine ambience here in Ireland
This walk allows you to enjoy the craggy Reeks without any of the danger
Lough Callee and Lough Gouragh with Beenkeragh and Carrauntoohil in the background
“The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.”
EE Cumming’s observation should be a warning to all those who head for the hills when there is a significant fall of snow.
The most popular destination, The Magillicuddy Reeks, is also the most testing and presents a variety of dangers such as familiar paths obliterated by the snow; frozen slopes and verglas (a thin coating of ice on rocks) where a slip can see you hurtling down the mountainside at a destructive speed.
As the higher slopes present the greatest challenges they should be attempted only by the experienced who do not need advice from me. I am outlining a route that will allow you experience the Alpine ambience of the Reeks in snow while proceeding at a safe level. There is a good window of opportunity for this walk as there can be snow on the Reeks at intervals from late November to the end of March; and even outside these parameters. I remember many years ago building a snowman on the summit of Carrauntoohil in the last week of May.
From Cronin’s Yard start by following the Hag’s Glen Loop Walk as far as a stile after which you veer off to the left and take a diagonal course up towards Lough Cummeenapeasta. A glacial moraine (a mound of rock, stone and soil) runs along the side of the glen and it is an increasingly steep pull to the top. If there has been a severe freeze-up, this ground will not be safe and, unfortunately, you will be unable to continue but with luck the snow will be soft or crunchy and will not be an impediment to your progress.
When you reach the top of the moraine, the lough and its surrounding cliffs provide a stunning view. On the day I was there, the low winter sun caught the sharp pinnacles which crown the cliffs to create a shining serration and then for one mesmerising minute, an eagle soared above the ridge in stupendous swoops etched against the blue sky.
The next leg of the walk is a descent westward to the northern end of Lough Callee, taking care to avoid any downward sloping rocks which are treacherous in wet conditions and even more so in snow.
Numerous boulders at the mouth facilitate an easy crossing on to the stony track that leads into the infamous Devil’s Ladder. As you proceed, the full Alpine glory of the head of the glen engulfs your senses. The soaring bulk of the ravaged north face of Carrauntoohil (1,040m) dominates the scene.
Across from it a triangular rock face marks the start of a ragged crest which leads up to Beenkeragh (1,010m). Ensconced between them are a brace of formidable coombs, The Eagles Nest and Coomeen Uachtar, linked by a frozen waterfall.
This is the limit of the walk and, leaving the rest of the mountain to the mountaineers, head back down the track to pick up the markers of the Hag’s Glen Loop which lead you back to the warm comfort of the cafe at Cronin’s Yard.
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 78.
Start and finish: Cronin’s Yard. Hag’s Glen. Grid Reference. 836 874.
How to get there: Go west from Killarney to the turn-off for Gap of Dunloe and Glencar. Follow the Glencar road for 7km. Carrauntoohil is sign-posted.
Time: Five hours.
Suitability: Hard. Boots, rain gear, map and compass required. Gaiters essential.