Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Three Ridge Route On The Reeks

Friday 13th;
With a stellar forecast and after only one day off in the previous seventeen I was anxious to get a good gulp of mountain air into me so I headed back to the Kerry mountains and decided to do a circuit of the Hags Glen in the Magillycuddy Reeks. Temperatures in the twenties and little or no wind meant that sunscreen was applied before I set off from home. I was quite excited about the upcoming challenge and I decided to do a route I hadn't done in several years...namely The Three Ridge Challenge that crosses the Cnoc na Peiste Ridge, Howling Ridge and finally Beenkeragh Ridge so it would provide plenty of hands on rock-climbing.
Carrauntoohil looking great against the clear blue sky

Sunlit tree in Alohart

Wild and rugged

It was 09.45 as I left the car and it bring such a wonderful morning I decided to add a little extra on to my day and visit Alohart which meant that instead of heading directly for Cruach Mhor once I crossed the river I would instead traverse easily under its northern flanks until I reached the wide gully that rises to the col between Cnoc na Bhraca and Cruach Mhor. Over the previous three days I had done a first aid course at work and as luck would have it when I crossed the second bridge on the way towards the bit of forestry there was a young man lying on the track. He was having a seizure and was already being attended to by his friend and another walker. I ensured that his head was being protected and he was already in the recovery position so it was just a matter of waiting for him to come out of it which he did after several minutes. Once it was clear that he was reasonably okay I left them to it and continued on my way. I really hadn't expected to have to put new found knowledge (however small) into practice quite so soon. Anyway I traversed on boggy ground until I reached the wild and rugged area above the twin lakes in Alohart. It was my first time visiting this place and I was delighted by its beauty and ruggedness. It is definitely a place I will revisit sooner rather than later. I found the unfamiliar heat quite draining and I was sweating a fair bit but it beats the wind and rain any day. The 270 metres from the bottom of the gully to the col was tough but it was lovely to emerge onto open ground and feel the cooling breeze and enjoy the new views into the Black Valley and beyond. I turned right and enjoyed the delightful ground that rises in steps to the summit of Cruach Mhor 932mtrs.
Approaching the grotto on Cruach Mhor, the ridge ahead looking gnarly

Across the Hags Glen towards Carrauntoohil

A short rest in this lovely eerie and it was time to put away the walking poles and enjoy the delightful scramble over the rock steps that lead to the Big Gun. It can look a bit intimidating to some but there is nothing difficult and good holds are there in abundance. The last time I was here there was a good covering of snow but today warm abrasive rock was the norm. From the Big Gun there is a 90mtr drop to the next col and there then follows an exhilarating knife edge scramble to the summit of Cnoc na Peiste 988 mtrs. Easy ground follows and it was nice to be able to stretch out the stride for the next couple of kilometers as far as Cnoc an Cuillan 958 mtrs where I enjoyed another rest and a bite to eat while I basked in the glorious sunshine and views. After the rest I dropped around 200 mtrs to the col before another pull to Cnoc na Toinne and then to the Devils Ladder where I turned and headed towards the Heavenly Gates. An initial 30 or so metre pull see you gain the trail and it then traverses at first pretty level before gradually losing height until you reach the delightful "gates". I was running pretty low on water by now and had only a mouthful left but I reckoned that I would be able to refill the bottle in Collins' gully by the start of the climb. I fished out the bottle and drank the final drop in it but when I entered the gully to get near the trickle that flowed I almost stood on the leg of a sheep and I reasoned that the rest of it would be higher up the gully so my need for water would just have to wait. I started up the route and it was a joy. I went steady and careful (a slip would have dire consequences hereabouts) but I made steady progress and all too soon I reached the end of the real climbing. Howling ridge has a grading of VDiff ( I always feel that it doesn't merit this grade, I would put it as a Moderate myself) and unencumbered by rope I was over the technical 30 minutes after starting up the route. There remains about 150 mtrs of steep ground to the summit and this I found more tiring than what went before. It was with some relief that I planked my backside on the summit and had another rest and bite to eat.

The "crux" of the Cnoc na Peiste ridge...not as difficult as it looks

The knife edge second half of the Cnoc na Peiste ridge

Wonderful climbing on Howling Ridge. Looking towards "The Finger"

The final sections of Howling Ridge

Looking down at the end of the difficulties
Having climbed over 1600 mtrs by now most of the hard work was done but not quite all. After chatting with a few guys from Cork I set off across the final scramble of the day, the Beenkeragh Ridge. Tired and dehydrated as I was I still enjoyed this simple but delightful scramble. Sticking faithfully to the crest gives some nice exposed moves, especially in the initial sections before the ridge broadens out and allows one to take in the majesty of the landscape. I found the pull to the summit of Beenkeragh tough going but I was most focused on reaching the water source on the col between it and Knockbrinnea. What a gift the spring was and I sat and relished the cold water and allowed it to restore me somewhat. Next up the gentle tops of Knockbrinnea and then I faced into the long descent back to Lisliebane. I arrived back seven and a quarter hours after setting out which wasn't too bad as I had had some distractions and had added some extras into the round. I left quite tired and sun-burnt but very very pleased with my day.
The north face of Carrauntoohil from the Beenkeragh Ridge