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

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Crohane and The Cappagh Glen.

A rather magical start to the day
Yesterday was my first day off in a while from work and I was keen to get a bit of mountain air into me so I headed back to Kerry. I had thought to go to The Galtees but a very dodgy forecast and a look at the rainfall radar showed that the rain was already half way across the country with only the western half still dry so I decided that west was best. As I drove back towards the blue skies I decided to forgo my usual haunts and opted instead for the magical place that is the Cappagh Glen. This has many advantages because as well as being one of the most beautiful places in the country it is fairly low and sheltered so that if the bad weather arrived it wouldn't make too much of a difference here. One of the biggest drawbacks of the place is the terrible condition of the roadway that runs alongside Lough Guitane. The last time I was here with Frank we had parked a long way from the trail head and I expected to do the same this time so it was a delightful surprise to enjoy a beautiful new tarmacked surface all the way in to the usual parking spot. I got out of the car in a beautiful morning and was greeted by the sound of my first cuckoo call of the year. I walked in through the farmland which was full of cavorting newborn lambs and reveled in my wonderful surroundings.  It was a super start to the day.
Gaining height looking over Lough Guitane

Bennaunmore and Eskduff Mountain

Looking east from the shoulder of Crohane

The summit of Crohane

Once off the pasture I was all too briefly in the beautiful but narrow band of woodland that guards the open mountain beyond. Moss covered stony ground gives way to mostly boggy ground which after the recent reasonably dry spell was fairly solid underfoot so progress wasn't too difficult. I could see that the rain was well on its way to these parts as I got higher and by the time I reached the shoulder of the summit ridge of Crohane (650 metres) the first drops of rain reached me. I wasn't too bothered whether it got worse or not as I was just enjoying being out and about. I paused to don my rain gear and dropped down initially in a southerly direction before turning east as far as point 477mtrs. This is one of my favourite lunch spots but it was too early today so I dropped the remaining 200+ mtrs to the beautiful wild valley in which Lough Nabroda nestles and from where the volcanic genesis of Bennaunmore with its basalt columns is best seen.  Now there follows an even steeper climb of another 200 metres to the summit of Bennaunmore which even though it is only at the modest height of 454 metres is a wonderful place to be and offers as wild a vantage point as you could wish for. The rain which had threatened to get heavier remained very light so I enjoyed a quick lunch here before continuing on my way.

The east face of Bennaunmore

Some of the basalt columns can easily be seen

View down towards The Cappagh Glen

Next comes what I consider the highlight of the walk, the Cappagh Glen. It is only a drop of 100 metres from the saddle into the glen and some care is needed here as the ground is pitted and rough in places and chances are you will be looking ahead very often to soak in the beauty of the glen below and its sparse but beautiful "petrified " oak-wood. Once down in the flat floor of the glen the woods seem to envelop you more than you would expect and the running water of the streams and little river only adds to the magic of the place. Almost every time I am here I think to myself "I must come here and camp soon" but I never have and today was no exception and again I resolved to put that to right soon. After a few hundred meters the glen narrows up and briefly becomes gorge-like and you have to clamber over some boulders but this is short lived and you once again enter wider flat ground. Soon you exit the glen on the right hand side and cross the bottom on the spur that descends from the summit of Bennaunmore and after crossing some wild scrubby ground you once again enter the pastures and return to the car. The rain was still fairly light and I was easily able to change into dry clothes. It had been a wonderful and enjoyable if all too brief outing. The area is without a doubt on of my favourite places and with the new road it is a spot that I hope to visit more often.
Camping heaven

Some possible hard mountaineering routes

Looking back after the narrow section

The glen up towards Lough Nabroda

Friday, April 29, 2016

Snowdonia...Amphitheatre Buttress and Atlantic Slab.

Saturday April 23rd;

 I went back to Snowdonia last weekend with Denis O'Brien for another taste of what this wonderful place has to offer. Denis had never been here before so it was nice to get the chance to show him around a bit. He is also trying to get more experience of rock climbing/ mountaineering so there is nowhere better to come. The weather forecast was reasonable and we were hopeful of getting some good days under our belts. We traveled overnight on the ferry and hoped to catch a few hours sleep on that before driving to the mountains and climbing on Saturday. We were booked in to stay at the excellent Tyddyn Bach bunk huts for Saturday and Sunday nights and we were booked to return home on Monday evening's ferry so we had three days to look forward to. The chance of a sleep on the ferry evaporated thanks to a few bus loads of teenage girls that were as noisy as they were excitable.
A Bothy or clubhouse on the way in.

The route in red

We emerged from the boat into a beautiful dawn and we were soon on our way to the hills. This being promised as the best weather day I decided that Amphitheatre Buttress would be a worthy day out. We drove around to the Tal y Bont side and went up the steep little lane and parked at its end. We got ourselves sorted and set off in past the old dam walls and around the end of the U shaped valley when the climb comes into view. This would be my third time on the route. The first time was way back in 2008 when Tim Long led the route. The second time was in 2010 when myself and Neil Nand alternated leads on another good day so this would be my first time leading the whole lot. It is fair to say that I haven't been doing a whole lot of proper climbing in recent years and after taking a bit of a tumble in Scotland I was a bit anxious to see if I would still enjoy leading. We arrived at the base of the route and I donned the fully laden harness and started up. The first real test arrives after around twenty meters when you arrive at a notch and you have to move left onto the slab. It is (or at least it was for me) quite tricky and as I was climbing in boots the little footholds didn't inspire much confidence. Still it is well protected and after a couple of moves I was established on the slab and moving up again. I was now fully immersed in the climbing and enjoying myself to the full.

Looking up at the start of the route
On Pitch 2

Denis looking...epic?

It is a lovely varied and interesting route that offers a wonderful day out. It has good pro when you need it and for a plodder like me it provides thrilling climbing in a remote mountain setting. I ran out a full rope-length for the first pitch and the second saw me climbing the beautiful slab section. This was over all too soon and next up came the crux section which was super polished but it went okay and I was soon above it. After this the route becomes more broken and we moved together until we reached the narrow little arret that is easily protected with a couple of slings. We continued up the remainder of the route and topped out in beautiful sunshine and enjoyed a well deserved lunch. I had really enjoyed the whole thing and it was pleasing to have got a good lead under my belt. We continued up to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn and from there descended easily along the gentle spur of Tal y Llyn and back to the car. It was a short spin around to Betws Y Coed where we were soon settled in for the evening. The fun wasn't quite over however as after we went for a walk into the village on our return, as we walked by the A470 we saw a man lying in the briars down the embankment below us. We had seen him shortly beforehand in the village and he was clearly the worse for wear. To say I got a fright would be an understatement. I told Denis to stay where he was and I went down the 10 feet or so to him. I thought maybe he had been struck by a vehicle but on closer inspection he seemed intact except for some cuts to his face and hands from the thorns. A young guy who had seen him moments before stopped and rang the emergency services and we stayed with him until they arrived. He had woken up before they came and thankfully he was okay but confused. Trying to keep him where he was and not fall further down the bank was all we had to do until the police and the ambulance arrived when we left them to it. It had been a full day.
The narrow arret

Looking down from the top

Happy chappie

Sunday April 24th;

Where does the time go ??. Today we were meeting with Paul Harvey with whom I have had a couple of lovely days out in the past. I was astonished to find that it had been almost two years since we last met. He has had his injury problems and a knee operation put paid to his outdoor endeavours for a considerable time. We met in the Siabod Cafe in Capel Curig where some good coffee and chat followed and after looking at the guide book Paul suggested looking at the Atlantic Slab. I was delighted to agree as it had been on my wish list as well. We originally had thought to go to Little Tryfan or maybe Milestone Buttress but we reckoned on a fine Sunday morning they would be very busy but it was a real surprise to not see a soul on either crag as we drove by. We parked at a lay by on the road down by Ty Gwyn and had a pleasant stroll across the valley floor until we were past the farmhouses at Maes Caradoc. After this there is nothing for it but to turn and climb the steep ground up into Cwm Perfedd where the impressive slabs are fully revealed. Further steep ground follows before we eventually arrived at the base of the slab. Our route for today was Central Route on the Atlantic Slab.
The impressive slabs. Red slab on the right..Atlantic slab in the centre

Paul and Denis almost there

Curious geometric split...Swastika Rock?? Almost

As Denis doesn't lead and Paul had been out of the game for a long time I once again took the front. I climbed up The Runnel, the gully on the left side of the slab until mid way in the slab and set off up. Well I did for perhaps fifteen feet as I found the going delicate (I was once again in boots) and wet patches of mossy rock and nowhere to place any protection meant I came back down. I went a little to the right and spotted a much more likely line and set off up, this time successfully. The route is long and varied and entertaining. There are some delicate little sections and some vegetated heathery sections but the rock is so grippy that it is a pure pleasure to climb. I stayed well to the left of the right edge and we climbed pitch after pitch (8 in all) until we emerged on the sunny plateau a little tired but with big grins on our faces. Over 300 metres of super climbing lay below us and we hadn't seen another soul all day. I had really enjoyed the route and it is definitely a place I would like to explore some more. I was also pleased with how the climbing went as it is never that easy to climb with three on a rope but we kept it as simple as possible and things went very smoothly. We enjoyed a well deserved late lunch and turned towards the spur on the southern side of Cwn Perfedd, which looks very steep but it offers a nice easy way down to the valley below. Paul was feeling the effects of the day by now but considering the fact that he hadn't been  out on the hills at all he had done really well. It had been great to climb with him again and hopefully we will get the chance to get out again soon. We returned to the cafe in Capel Curig and after a brief coffee and chat we said our goodbyes. Nothing unusual occurred in Betws y Coed that evening.

Paul and Denis following on

The route we followed

Snowdonia really is great.. Tryfan and Glyder Fach

Monday April 25th;

We had had a great couple of days so far and whatever the weather would bring today the trip had proven well worthwhile. We were hoping to do Flying Buttress at Dinas y Gromlech but it was raining quite heavily by the time we reached the Pen y Pass. We decided that the Snowdon Horseshoe would be a fitting finale to the trip and after waiting a little for a lull in the rain we changed and set off up the Pyg Track to Bwlch y Moch where we turned and headed for Crib Goch. The wind was fairly strong here and the rock ran with water but progress was never too difficult and eventually we reached the summit with its super narrow crest. We traversed the ridge, always taking care not to be dislodged by a sudden gust and then we reached "The Pinnacles". These I tackled direct and Denis decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stuck to the track. As usual the pinnacles provided great sport but the fun is over all too soon and we arrived at Bwlch Coch. In the cold windy conditions and in the absence of any views we didn't linger and soon reached the next scrambly section. Again I climbed the rocks direct and Denis stuck to the track. I continued on past the narrow section and reached the cairn and easy ground but there was no sign of Denis.
Denis....before his disappearing act on Crib Goch

I had a few bites of flapjack while I waited for him but there was no sign. I was getting a bit worried so I returned along the ridge to the start of the rocky section but again could see nothing. Getting more worried now I reasoned that he must have gotten ahead of me and was probably waiting at the summit of Garnedd Ugain so I hot footed it to the top but again no sign. At this point I should perhaps point out that Denis didn't have a map nor had he ever been here before. I was really worried by now so I again retraced my steps all the way to Bwlch Coch and called and down-climbed in places to see if he had fallen and I wondering if I should call the rescue. I had tried his phone several times but it wasn't ringing. Finally I decided that perhaps he might have continued to the summit of Snowdon and if so he would surely be waiting there. I went more in hope than expectation by now to the top but again there was no sign of him. I was reluctant to get the emergency services involved as I didn't know for sure that there was anything wrong with him but if he wasn't back at the car when I got down I would have to make the call. I went down the tourist route as quick as I could fully expecting the worst but there he was sitting in the car waiting for me. I wasn't sure how I would react but its fair to say that anger was to the fore. Lets just say the trip back to Ireland was long and silent. It was an unfortunate end to what was otherwise a very good trip.