Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Coumloughra 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.

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