Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Coomloughra Horseshoe..Winter Perfection

On Tuesday I went back to Kerry with my old friend Connie Looney for a long overdue outing together. It had been years since we were last out and this meeting was a sudden last minute arrangement (as Connie is busy with cows calving etc just now) but we decided to meet in Rathmore early doors and take it from there. This winter has been a series of "almosts" and "nearlys" with fairly frequent cold snaps that are quickly followed by warm rainy fronts that wash away any chance of good winter climbing. Last night seemed to have been another one of those occasions when some recent snowy cold weather promised a wintry outing but during the early night heavy rain could be heard on the roof as I went to bed. Ah well such is the lot of a winter climber in Ireland. It was therefore a delightful surprise to find that the rain had turned to snow overnight and as I drove back to Kerry the hills were looking wonderful under a decent coating of the white stuff.
The north face of Caher

Towards Coumasaharn

Mullaghanattin and beyond

Connie..three-sticks 😆

Towards Skregmore and Beenkeragh

Connie is a delightful warm character and we immediately left the long gap since our last outing behind and fell easily into chat and banter. We had a lot of catching up to do and the time just flew by as we headed towards The Reeks and our chosen outing for today the Coumloughra Horseshoe. This is one of the finest horseshoe walks in the country, taking in as it does the three highest peaks, Carrauntoohil 1039mtrs, Beenkeragh 1009mtrs and Caher 1001mtrs. It isn't overlong (just about 12 kilometres) but it has a decent amount of climbing (over 1200mtrs) and has some excellent scrambling as you cross the Beenkeragh ridge. It promised to offer a wonderful outing in winter conditions. If the route has a downside it is the unavoidable slog you face immediately from the carpark up the "Hydro Road" which certainly gets the blood pumping. Connie's fitness certainly hasn't diminished and I was struggling to keep up with him as we climbed. There was a fair bit of ice on the roadway which wasn't too bad on the way up but it would have been quite difficult to go down. We reached the spectacular viewing point at the end of Lough Eighter where the huge magnificence of the coum is fully revealed and it looked all the better as it was surrounded by the snowy giants. Not that this was the only view to be enjoyed.. Further afield the delights of the Glenbeigh mountains and the mountains that stretch along the Everagh Peninsula looked wonderful as well. The next thing we had to decide was which was to approach the round. We decided to do it in a clockwise direction as this gets the steeper climbing done first and offers the gentlest descent so we set off to the left towards Skregmore.

The ground was now covered by a good dusting of powder snow which made the going a little more ponderous but we were loving it none the less. There was little or no wind about and with the sun hitting the snow it felt almost like an alpine day. The climb to the first top (Cnoc Íochtar 747mtrs) is always surprisingly long and today was no exception but it is a great feeling to arrive on this airy top and soak in the surrounding sights. Another delight of winter walking in Ireland is the colour that is still to be seen in the surrounding valleys. From here we could see blue seas rolling onto long beaches, green fields, plus the russets and golds on the lower boggy slopes. It all added to the spectacle and the enjoyment of the day. As we crossed next couple of tops (Skregmore 848mtrs and Stumpa barr na hAbhann 851mtrs) the wind arrived and suddenly it felt a lot more like a proper winter outing. Snow covered rocky ground slowed progress and when we reached the slopes of Beenkeragh the wind had scoured away much of the snow and rimed up icy ground and rocks had us wondering if crampons would be needed. We decided that it was still just about okay and we climbed the rest of the way to the top. Once at the summit crest we seemed to leave the wind behind again and we enjoyed a bite to eat here before crossing the ridge.

The East doesn't get much better

Up here at over 3000ft things were very wintry indeed and the rocks were well rimed up. As we crossed the ridge some care was needed and finally we decided that crampons were necessary before we tackled the crux of the ridge. The ground on the west side of the ridge was mostly scoured by the wind but the east side was heavily coated with snow and the Coumeenoughter basin was well buried. After putting on the crampons we were careful as we climbed over the narrow rocky crest as a fall from here would be pretty disastrous but we were soon past any difficulties and tackling the final slopes to the summit of Carrauntoohil. We left the crampons on as we headed to Caher and we were glad to have them as some hard nevé was encountered in places. Caher presents a beautiful shark-fin profile that always looks great in the snow. I have never done any winter climbing on it but I'm sure it would offer some wonderful outings. We crossed the west peak and dropped easily down the long spur back towards the lake, glad now that we had done the hard work first. All that was left then was to descend the now ice free Hydro Road and to our car. It had been a wonderful outing and the company was a match. We couldn't have picked a better day or place to get out again. It won't be so long before the next one. Thanks Con.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Attychran Horseshoe on the Galty Mountains

I was lucky enough to have a gander again today on the mountains with Kevin. Some wintry weather had arrived and there was a nice dusting of snow on the Galtees so we met up in Mitchlestown and headed to Kings Yard where we started our route. We were super optimistic and brought crampons and ice axe but it came as no surprise that in the end they were superfluous to requirements. Still it was great to get out and with a forecast of rain arriving before the afternoon we wasted no time in setting off.We opted for the Attychran Horseshoe but instead of the normal anti-clockwise option of heading up Knocknagalty towards Galtymore first we decided to head into the glen between Monabrack and Knocknagalty as far as the footbridge before climbing the steep 300mtr+ pull to the summit of Monabrack. Then we dropped to the boggy saddle before the long slog to the crest of the main Galty Ridge. Even though it was just a dusting on the lower slopes the mountains always look better when covered in their icing and as usual the craic and company was mighty.

The normally mucky peat hags were very navigable today as they were mostly frozen and by the time we were up over 800mtrs on the main ridge things looked very wintry indeed. In the practically still air and under the increasing cloud cover things were delightfully mild despite appearances, so much so that I didn't even put on gloves until we turned towards Galtymore where the breeze picked up a little. The climb to the roof  of the range was nicely frozen and we had a look at the steep ground over the coum of Lough Curra which looked like several short single pitch mixed winter routes might be had. Perhaps a little explore might be called for if we get the opportunity in the future. The cloud actually lifted with us as we headed up Dawson's Table (for a change 😃) and we even enjoyed some views from the nicely rimed up summit. On the descent towards the Black Road we even managed a little bit of glissading before we dropped easily alongside the Attychran river and then followed a forest road back to the car. Coffee and a pastry back in town (I blame Kevin) finished off a very nice outing. I for one am already looking forward to the next one.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Beenkeragh to Carrauntoohil. A Winter Walk

With a dusting of snow above 600mtrs I took the opportunity to head back to the Magillycuddy Reeks today for a blast of fresh winter air. I had nothing too ambitious in mind as it was more of a chance to get some exercise in but I took my crampons and axe back just in case. As I suspected it was just a precaution but it's better to have them and not need them as for the opposite to be the case. I wasn't too sure exactly what to do but as I walked into the Hags Glen I on a whim decided to climb up the slopes to the right of the grassy gully that gives access to the east ridge of Beenkeragh. This makes for a stiff pull initially followed by a traverse of the steep ground above the gully until you reach the easier wide bay above the Hags Tooth. It was nice to thread somewhere different and it had the added bonus of giving some spectacular views of the toothy ridge with Carrauntoohil's north face rising beyond. I hadn't intended it but I ended up climbing the crest of the ridge as it rises towards the summit. While there was a nice dusting of snow there was no ice so it was straightforward enough to make progress. Eventually I reached the top of Ireland's second highest peak but it was a bit chilly to tarry so I headed off down and enjoyed crossing the beautiful and sometimes exposed Beenkeragh Ridge as I headed for Carrauntoohil. A nice scramble to the summit where I took advantage of the shelter and enjoyed a nice lunch and great wintry views. Down the Heavenly Gates and back to my car finished off a very enjoyable day. Hopefully more winter outings can be enjoyed soon.

Nice to get a different perspective

A nice wintry scramble

The views are always a bit more special when a bit of snow is about.