Monday, February 2, 2015

A Wonderful Winter Walk on Carrauntoohil

As I left home it was snowing lightly and dim and dull. Nothing about the day suggested that I would see any sunshine. The forecast wasn't too good for the afternoon with snow and rain due to arrive and I assumed that it had arrived earlier than expected. All the way back to the carpark the dull leaden skies spat sleety snow and the gloom reflected my mood a bit. Still it would be an outing in the Reeks and who could complain about that. There was no wind but I expected that to change as I got higher so I put on my full winter battledress and set off from the car. There was nobody else about and it promised to be a solitary outing. Soon I was far too warm and despite the 1 degree temperature I was sweating a fair bit and I had to shed some layers. Mist hung low in the sky so it was a pleasant surprise to discover when I entered the Hags Glen that I could see the summits of the east Reeks. Even though the grey was unbroken it promised that I might at least not be in the mist all day. I wasn't really in the mood to wallow up a gully that was sure to be full of fresh powder so I decided to climb Carrauntoohil via the Devils Ladder. It is rare for me to use this, the easiest route to the top but that actually made it something of a novelty for me.
Cruach Mhor and Cnoc na Peiste

Looking across to the Hags Tooth Ridge

The Ladder

There was a descent cover of snow down to about the 300 meter level which was soft and made the going a little tougher and the stream that comes down the ladder was in no danger of freezing. Eventually I started to gain height once I reached the ladder. There were plenty steps in the snow so it was easier to make progress now. It wasn't until I reached around the 600 meter level that some icy underlying snow appeared and made me ponder putting on some crampons. I didn't bother and once things didn't get worse I was able to continue to the exit of the ladder at 730 meters. There had been a distinct brightening in the sky as I neared the exit and it was such a joy to find myself standing in sunshine and able to enjoy a wonderful panorama of winter mountain scenery. My mood suddenly matched the glory of my surroundings and I set off up the 300 meter slog to the summit above me. The going was at times quite tough as I waded through some deep drifts but I didn't care as the beauty of everything around me meant it was no hardship to stop occasionally and soak up the views. It was warm as well and I could really feel the sun even though it was winter. Eventually the summit arrived and I found myself all alone in stunning weather on Ireland's highest peak.
View from the top of the ladder

Cnoc na Toinne

The East Reeks

Towards the summit

Towards Cnoc Duff

I relaxed for a short while and my eye was drawn to the shapely ridge towards Caher and I decided to do an out and back trip and then to cross the Benkeeragh ridge and back to the car. I could see out to the west some dark clouds but I was hopeful that I would get the rest of the day clear. I set off towards Caher and I really enjoyed the trip. The snow was for the most part soft with only occasional icy bits and again I left the  crampons in the bag. The ridge is normally a pleasant airy stroll and it was no different today but there was sufficient snow cover to make it an exposed traverse if it became icy. Anyway as I reached the summit some wispy cloud arrived and started to cover the views. Unfortunately the cloud stayed and only got denser so I made the decision when I reached the top of O'Shea's Gully to forget about Benkeeragh and head down from here. The gully was really well banked out and it is fairly steep near the top so I donned my crampons in case there were any icy bits and I was glad I did as there were frequent sections that only had a few centimetres of powder on a firm icy base. Progress down was rapid and it got faster when I decided to glissade, which I was able to do all the way to the lake. Unfortunately the mist only got denser and I couldn't see any of the ridges to see what their condition was like. Anyway the rest of the descent went very well and I re-emerged under the cloud at around the 400 meter contour. I was still buzzing after the wonderful sunny experience I had on the summit that made the early start and dull weather well worth it. Sometimes it pays to take the chance and venture out in less than promising conditions.
From Caher across to Benkeeragh

The East reeks


Looking west to Coumasaharn

The ridge to Caher

Looking back along the ridge as the cloud comes in

Some well rimed up rock

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