Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mweelrea...Sheeffry Hills...The Twelve Bens...Connemara Magic

Taking advantage of a good weather forecast (a rare thing at this time of year) and having a long weekend off work I decided to head to the west of Ireland and have a few days hiking. It being not too far from the shortest day of the year I opted to forego my usual camping style for the "luxury" of sleeping indoors, so with that in mind I booked into the Wild Atlantic Hostel which is part of the Delphi resort for Friday and Saturday nights and then I really went to town and booked into the Clifden Station House Hotel (I just can't seem to get away from trains) for the Sunday night. So all set I set off from home at 15.30 for the long 250kilometer drive which thankfully went without a hitch and I was checking into Delphi at 19.30.

Saturday December 3rd;

Even though I was up at 7am it was 08.15 by the time I emerged from the hotel to begin my walk. The beauty of staying in this location was that I could leave the car where it was and start and finish my walk from the front door. Leaving in the early light it was wonderful to see the stunning  surroundings that were hidden by darkness when I arrived the previous evening. Across the road Ben Gorm soared and the Sheeffry Hills book-ended the valley and of course the impressive east spur of Ben Lugmore stretched westward. I had chosen to do a big round of the Mweelrea Mountains today and this meant I had to cross the very boggy ground until I reached the slopes of Teevnabinnea, a long hill that rises from the northern shores of Killary Harbour. Even though it is only 379mtrs high it is a worthy start as the resort is only just above sea level so every meter is hard earned. I must say it felt great to be back here. It must have been over ten years since I did this particular route and it felt fresh and new. I had of course climbed Mweelrea last January 2015 in stunning winter conditions and it is one of my favourite mountains in Ireland and it is always a pleasure to return. From the summit the views to the south open up and the Twelve Bens, Bencoonaghs and Maumturks come into view over the waters of the harbour. I continued west and the route drops over 200mtrs which gives a steep 300mtr plus pull up to Mweelrea east spur at 495mtrs before another drop and a long 400mtr slog around the spectacular coum to the summit of Mweelrea itself which at 814mtrs is the highest in Connaught.

Looking back to the start

The Twelve Bens

Mweelrea and Ben Lugmore then down to the right

The Connemara Mountains

The southern slopes of Ben Lugmore
A stiff wind made the already low temperatures feel even lower and in the exposed summit sloped I didn't delay too long while I had a bite to eat before I set off for the second half of the route that took in the beautiful ridge that traverses Ben Lugmore which soars above the huge and spectacular coum that rises from the shores of Doo Lough. This is for me the highlight of the walk so I set off eagerly after lunch/brunch. Broad easy ground led to the wide saddle below the gentle climb to Ben Bury 795mtrs where I stopped to marvel at the spectacular views to the east and north before then continuing over the three tops of Ben Lugmore with the highest being 803mtrs. Cloud was unfortunately making an appearance on the tops but I mostly had a view and I was enjoying myself immensely. As I went along the ridge that gradually turned to the northeast and dropped in an east southeast direction I debated which way to reach the valley floor. I could have dropped on another spur to the expanse of bog that led directly to Delphi but I chose instead to drop steeply down directly towards the river which I crossed via a footbridge (rather cheekily as it was marked private) that entered the back garden of a house and I quickly exited to the public road. I wouldn't have done that normally but the house seemed deserted so I took the chance. I then walked easily the two kilometers on the quiet (off season) road past Fin Lough and entered the hostel just over 6.5 hours after starting off which wasn't too bad for a circuit that stretched to around 18kilometers and had over 1400mtrs of ascent. I relished a long soak in a hot bath and relaxed into the long evening.

From Ben Bury to Ben Lugmore

Doo Lough and Ben Creggan and Ben Gorm

Back down across Fin Lough
Sunday December 4th;

 I once again had had the room to myself so I had slept very well. I got up again at 7am so I could make the most of the short days and I was breakfasted and packed and on the move by shortly after 08.30. I had thought to climb Ben Creggan 697mtrs and Ben Gorm 700mtrs which rose steeply directly across the road from the hostel but at the last minute I opted for the Sheeffry Hills which were just a few kilometers away and they stretched in an east west axis from the shores of Doo Lough. I parked my car a short way along the little road that ran through the valley under Ben Creggan and The Sheefry's and after crossing the river using some slimy rocks as stepping stones I set off up the steep slopes that rose a full 700mtrs towards Barrclashcame 772mtrs. It was another chilly morning and the wind was a little stiffer today so there was little chance of overheating as I rose steadily. One thing that delighted me was how dry the ground was and it stayed that way throughout. It always makes it a little easier when you don't have wet bog sucking at your feet. Again as I rose up the views got better and looking over the lake to Ben Lugmore was great and Ben Creggan and Ben Gorm rose to the south and after a little while the Connemara mountains also drew the eye.
Getting high on Barrclashcame
Mountains everywhere
Croagh Patrick to the north

Easy wonderful walking ahead

Towards Clare Island and Achill in the mists beyond

Eventually I reached the broad almost flat summit ridge and I wandered easily to the inconspicuous summit. Ahead stretched over four kilometers of gently rolling ridge that made for super easy and very enjoyable walking. I gamboled along and enjoyed the views and tried to ignore the biting and occasionally buffeting as I passed over Tievummera &62 mtrs and then Tievnabinnea 745mtrs before dropping easily southeast towards Tievnabinnea south east top 525mtrs and then dropping down steeply to the harvested forestry below and easily back to the road. I then had a further 5kilometers on tarmac but it was a delight on the deserted lane that led back to the car. A very enjoyable 4.5 hours had been spent on what was new ground for me and it is a nice undemanding circuit with good underfoot conditions. When the cloud would be down and visibility poor it would be a good place to practice map and compass skills. I was all set and on the road again by 13.40 and I enjoyed the fifty or so kilometer drive to the lovely little town of Clifden where I checked into my hotel and enjoyed an evening of luxury in the plush surroundings and made full use of the leisure centre and had a three course dinner thrown in as well. It was worth it.

If you have to walk a road it might as well be one like this
Monday December 5th;

I stuck to my 7am rising time and after a full Irish breakfast I was checked out of the hotel by 08.30 and on the road towards the biggest little mountains in these islands...The Twelve Bens. Today I was going to do the Owenglin Horseshoe which is a big circuit of about 20kilometers and involves around 1800mtrs of climbing so I wouldn't have any time to waste if I was to get it all in before dark. I drove in the little bog road that exits off the main road a few kilometers before the Benlettery youth hostel and after several kilometers  parked where a narrow bridge crosses the river. I was on the move at 8.48 and for the first couple of kilometers I walked back along the road until I could start across the bog towards the slopes of Benglenisky 517mtrs. Soon I was climbing steadily up the increasingly rocky slope and eventually crested to a crumpled crest with several cairns. The view over the wilderness of water and bog to the south is always wonderful and this was added to by the sun creeping through the cloud on the eastern horizon. Passing the rocky crest you cross a broad boggy saddle before climbing onto the ridge that rises from Benlettery to the first of the major tops on the round Bengower 664mtrs. Unfortunately the cloud was a little lower today and seemed to have settles at around the 600mtr mark so once I reached this top I had little reason to tarry before setting off towards the next mountain Benbreen 691mtrs. Some care is needed here as the descent is steep in places and precipitous drops are to be found if you take the wrong route. Today though it wasn't too long before I was back under the cloud and I could once again enjoy more expansive scenes.

Looking into the Owenglin Horseshoe...A couple of tops cannot be seen

It is often magical to come out from the cloud

Looking south over Roundstone Bog

See what a full Irish does to you..
A feature of the Twelve Bens is the relatively large drops between each top and once I reached the col I had 200mtrs of steep ground to climb to reach the rocky top of Benbreen. The undulating rocky crest that follows stretches for around 1.5kilometers before another steep and at times tricky descent sees you reach the col under Bencollaghduff. From here you traverse the slopes to reach Maumina, the lowest point in the horseshoe and a glorious place to be right in the heart of these beautiful mountains before climbing the over 300mtrs required to reach the highest in the range Benbaun 729mtrs. I had stopped halfway up this slope for lunch and as I was once again in cloud on the summit I continued quickly for the next top Benfree 638mtrs. Even though I had the bulk of the climbing done I still had three tops to go over so I pressed on. This part of the round was all new ground to me and the first thing I noticed was that these mountains were much grassier and more peaty than the ones before. They were still pretty dry however so progress was straightforward. The 100mtrs to the summit of Benfree passed easily enough but next col was down at 470mtrs so I had 180mtrs of steep ground to climb before reaching Muckanaght 654mtrs. Once again the next col was down at 470mtrs and thus once again the climb to Bencullagh 632mtrs was substantial but thankfully less steep. I finally felt I had cracked it once I reached here and the 50mtrs of ascent required to reach the final top of the day Maumonght 602mtrs was blessedly short. Patches of fine scree made for some easy descent before I reached the boggy ground once again and turned for my car. Nearing the forestry I had some fences to cross but the proximity of the end kept the spirits high. I was fairly tired by the time I reached the car but I was very pleased to have finished the circuit by 15.20. I was changed, sorted and on the move by 15.30 and now all that remained was the 250kilometer drive home. Lets just say I was tired but well satisfied by the time I reached home. It had been a wonderful few days in a wonderful place. I'm looking forward to returning in the future.
In Maumina. The heart of the Twelve Bens

Not a bad spot for lunch..Looking towards Bencorrbeg

Looking towards Diamond hill and Tully

Less rocky but still lovely

The sentinel??

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