Walk for the weekend: Snowy splendour in Wicklow

The Camaderry hike in Glendalough is usually fairly easy - but not with snow and mist

For children too young to remember 2010, the snowfall of mid-December 2017 brought a truly magical Christmas experience, and gave a very special "white" first birthday to my grandchild Sophie. A couple of days later, the Paris climate conference, and a Met Éireann symposium, heralded a time in their lives when such major snow events may be just fond memories. And for some of us hikers with seriously shorter futures, the snows of December offered a rare Alpine opportunity that we dared not pass up on.

So from calm, sheltered Glendalough village, we set off with a simple plan in mind – to go up over Camaderry, down to the Glenealo river and back to the village via the Upper Lake. A good plan, except it turned out not to be so simple: the snow cover, weather conditions and the mountain’s particular topography turned an otherwise straightforward and often-used hiking route into a major challenge of navigation and even physical endurance.

For access, we used the track by the Lodestone brook (or Glendasan river) just west of the parking area after the Glendalough Hotel, and after 750m took a clear path to the left on to a forestry extraction track up to the long east ridge of Camaderry. Very soon, the sharp contrast with conditions down below forced a hurried deployment of full winter gear. A disorienting perspective of white mist and snow began to play tricks on our ability to gauge distance and slope, and increasingly deep snow not only obliterated any hint of the well-worn path but doubled the effort of progressing.

Initially we used the snow-trail of three descending hikers to get us, in low visibility and some blowing spindrift, to the cairn marking Camaderry’s east top. From there on, the snow cover was un-trodden and merged imperceptibly with grey-white mist, its sometimes “level” surface hiding snow-filled hollows, often frustratingly waist deep.

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It became virtually impossible to walk a consistent bearing as we sought to gain the west top. And all the time, the north wind inflicted a lengthy punishment for even the briefest exposure of fingers.

‘Safe’ bearing

The mist, snow and terrain meant we could not accurately locate ourselves at the featureless west top of Camaderry. So we took a “safe” bearing down into the valley of “Seven Churches”, and used the river there as a gathering feature. We walked down the river, sometimes exploiting the snow trails of surprisingly un-spooked Sika deer, to the footbridge over the Glenealo river. We were now under the cloud-base, and proceeded down the icy zig-zags to the lakeside track, and then road, to Glendalough.

For us that day, even though we were well-prepared and in no danger, the mist, snow and cold came as something of an unpleasant surprise given a good forecast. Perhaps Met Éireann might consider the provision of publicly accessible data on real-time high-level weather conditions, via simple automatic weather stations within, say, RTÉ’s four mountain-top TV installations, starting with Kippure.

Walk for the Weekend: Camaderry (698m), Glendalough, Co Wicklow

Map: EastWest Mapping, Lugnaquilla and Glendalough 1:30,000

Start/Finish: Beside Glendalough Hotel, Glendalough Village

Effort: 12kms, 600m and about four hours (over 6hrs in snow conditions)

Suitability: High levels of fitness/navigation skills in snow conditions