Saturday, 14 May 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 MacGillycuddy 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 Chuillinn 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, 8 May 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