Walks: The Big Gun is a blast on the Reeks Ridge, Co Kerry
The Reeks Ridge in Kerry provides a rare scrambling opportunity
The Reeks Ridge, Co Kerry
Start: 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 for Carrauntoohil. This points directly to Cronin’s Yard.
Scrambling isn’t just rock-climbing for slow learners. Instead it is a compelling and hugely satisfying activity where both hands and feet are employed to gracefully surmount rocky obstacles.
Great fun and totally absorbing in its simplicity, it avoids the weighty equipment and other jiggery pokery that goes with vertical climbing.
Scotland is famous for its great scrambling, while Wales offers, among others, the sublime but sadly overcrowded clambering nirvanas of Tryfan Mountain and Crib Goch Ridge.
Opportunities are rarer in Ireland, but we have one ridge that ticks all the boxes and is discreetly tucked away in the Kingdom. Kerry folk don’t mention it very often, which is great, for it thus offers a wonderful outing that is mostly enjoyed in splendid isolation by discerning but experienced hillwalkers.
To complete the most compelling section of the Reeks Ridge, start from Cronin’s Yard, which offers cozy tearooms, pods for rent and a campsite. Follow the track up the beguiling Hag’s Glen, while dwarfed by the awesome grandeur of Ireland’s highest mountains.
Don’t cross the first bridge. Instead go left and upstream to reach open moorland, and then head southeast to ascend a long and increasingly steep slope. This attains the lofty summit of Cruach Mhór, which is crowned by a Marian grotto. Here is your first view of the difficulties ahead – the knee-knocking rock-blade ridge with great declivities on either side that leads to the incongruously named Big Gun.
If you are an experienced scrambler you will enjoy the challenge of pinnacle hopping this crest. Otherwise, prudence demands use of a less demanding track on the right, which avoids much of the exposure. Either way your eyes will inevitably be drawn to the brutal magnificence of Cummeeennapeasta lake far below.
Intimidating looking pinnacles now bar the way to the Big Gun, but generally the handholds are sound and surprisingly quickly you will be standing on the tiny summit. Regarded as the most difficult to reach of Ireland’s major mountaintops, it offers the comforting thought that the crux of the route is now behind.
Descend southwest on great boilerplates of rock to reach a col. Here a spectacular saw-tooth ridge conveys you upwards to Knocknapeasta’s summit, which marks the high point of the route.
It is Ireland’s fourth tallest peak, and offers an unforgettable 360 prospect over Kerry’s world famous mountains, lakes and fells.
An expansive crest now leads about 500m to the undistinguished mountaintop of Maolán Buí, and the beginning of your descent. A broad ridge, known locally as the Bone, now declines steeply if uneventfully right to reach the shoreline of Lough Callee.
Go north along the lakeshore to gain a consolidated track. This leads to Cronin’s Yard, where a welcome beverage and homemade cake awaits in the atmospheric tearooms.