Walk for the weekend: The Irish Kilimanjaro

This Galway range is said to be harder than Kilimanjaro – so start with a small section

I met a friend of mine recently who was just back from climbing Kilimanjaro. "What was it like?" I said. "Tough," said he, "but not as tough as the Maamturks walk". The latter walk is spoken about with respect in hillwalking circles and is generally regarded as the toughest route in Ireland, not only because of its length, roughness of ground and navigation difficulties but also because the cols along the route are deep, involving steep descents and calf-straining ascents.

No longer being made of such stern stuff as “Maamtuckers” are made of, I opted for the middle section, which contains the highest peak, Binn idir an Dá Log (Peak between Two Hollows), 702m.

From the car park, there is a track up to Mám Éan (The Pass of the Birds) which is the site of a visit of St Patrick and contains a small chapel, an altar stone and two holy wells. Just beyond the second one you will notice a fence which is a useful guide almost to the top of the first peak, Binn Chaonaigh (633m), and is very useful as finding a route would be difficult among the numerous crags on its grassy slopes.

Thick mist

There was a thick mist as I started out but I carried on in the expectation that it would clear as a ridge of high pressure was reported to be forming. I left the fence when it turned east and continued north to arrive at a lake beyond which was the summit cairn perched among a swath of coarse scree; a presage of the surface ahead. The low cloud cleared and I had remarkable views in all directions, with dramatic cliffs, the sinuous ridge ahead and the Connemara lowlands darkened by the sunless sky with the numerous lakes scattered like shards of gunmetal.

You must walk a few hundred metres to the west to pick up a scree path that leads down to the col; from there it was a slog on the rocky slopes up to Binn idir an Dá Log SE Top (659m). To the east are the impressive cliffs of Binn Mhairg with profuse scree slopes at its base and a view of Lough Corrib beyond.

There is a dogleg course from here around to Binn Idir an Dá Log and on which you will experience all the underfoot conditions that the Maamturks offer, from bedrock to boulders to large, coarse scree, and occasionally some stretches of smaller stones to give you a break.

Scree paths

The crux of this walk is the spur that leads down to the lake at Mam Ochoige. It is steep, rocky and surrounded by cliffs, especially on its western side. There are stretches of scree paths, which are a help, as are the cairns which mark the way to a steep track which eases your passage to the col. Past the lake you will come to a grassy slope which leads down into a rocky amphitheatre. Follow the left-hand side of the stream which brings you to the road and a 3km walk back to the car.

I suppose I can now call myself a bit of a Maamtucker.

Map: Harvey Superwalker map of Connemara. 1:30,000. harveymaps.co.uk The OSI Map does not show the names of any of the peaks while the Harvey map shows many of them in Irish. The large scale and the fact that the cliffs are marked makes it ideal for these mountains. It is used by Mountain Rescue Ireland. OSI 1:50,000 map. Sheet 37 with the car park on sheet 44

Start/Finish: Car park at the start of the track to Mám Éan. Grid Reference: 892 495

How to get there: Go west from Maam Cross on the N59, Galway to Clifden Road. Eleven kilometres west, at Caher (GR: 873 475) turn right on to a third-class road. Go right at the fork and the car park is 500m beyond a sharp left-hand bend.

Effort: 14km, 850m of climbing, 6 hours

Suitability: Hard