Rhododendron rescue: walkers trapped by plants for five hours

Trapped couple were experienced walkers and guided rescuers to their location


It took five long hours for two hillwalkers trapped in a thick “virtually impenetrable” forest of Rhododendron plants in the Knockmealdown Mountains to be rescued.

The married couple, in their 50s, are experienced hillwalkers and regular visitors to the area at the Tipperary-Waterford border near an area known locally as the Vee but got into trouble when they took a shortcut down from the slope of Knockshanahullion.

South Eastern Mountain Rescue team leader Ray Bradfield said they received the distress call at 5.26pm and sent a full team out to the rescue the duo from a treacherous area of steep ground overlooking Bay Lough.

“They’d climbed up along the open mountain on trails surrounded by heather,” he said.

“On the way down they took a different route and they had committed themselves as they went down, so they couldn’t go back up. The ground got steeper and more treacherous until they couldn’t go forward any longer,” he said.

Mr Bradfield said the team first tried to find the hillwalkers through their smartphone GPS but it did not work.

Then mountain rescue spotters were able to see the couple 400m from the lake.

The hillwalkers kept in contact with rescuers on their mobile and guided them to their location.

“It was very, very challenging. The vegetation is very dense and as close to impenetrable as us you can get,” he said.

“They basically had to go under, over and around as best they could, and force their way though. It took half an hour just to get 100m.”

Cahir River Rescue responded to the last leg of the journey to avoid the “risky and arduous trek” back up the jungle-like conditions up the slope, and by boat carried the rescuers and couple across the lake to safety.

“If would have made it an all night rescue to go back up and can’t walk around the lake because of vegetation,” he said.

“When they got back rescuers were exhausted and covered in dirt and scratched because nothing grows under the Rhododendron plants.

“But the team are very satisfied they’d done some good and there was a happy outcome with no injuries.”

Mr Bradfield said while Rhododendron plants were “visually stunning”, they have made some traditional walking routes no longer navigable.

“They form quite an impenetrable forest and you can easily get lost in them,” he said.

Rhododendron plants are an invasive non-native species that are widespread in Ireland.

It was introduced to the country in the early 19th century as an ornament and game cover.

Killarney National Park said it spent hundreds and thousands of euros in an effort to eradicate the “destructive” plant each year.