Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Coomloughra Horseshoe and Cnoc na d'Tobar (A Pilgrim Mountain)

Friday August 2nd;
After my trip to beautiful Brandon a couple of weeks ago I opted last week to head back to the Iveragh Peninsula and  on this trip to sample once again the delights of The Reeks and also to try and get a dip in the sea. The weather was fine so I decided to do the Coomloughra Horseshoe and head further west to one of my favourite campsites Mannix Point in Caherciveen that evening.

I arrived at a comfortable 10.15 at the fine carpark at the bottom of the hydro road and I was on the move a few minutes later. The mountains were cloud free and I was looking forward to this, one of the best hikes in the country. I was feeling good and set a good pace up the road and soon I reached the lake and wondered once again at the huge coum under the three highest mountains in Ireland. I opted to head up Skregmore first as this offers some nice scrambling once up at the ridge and when heading this way the descent later in the day is much easier. I had the mountains to myself until I reached the circus that is Carrauntoohil and once beyond that I was mostly alone again. I reached the summit of Caher and the descent went very well. I arrived back at the car just 4 hours 20 minutes after setting off.
Some scrambling to be had up at the ridge

Next up came the beautiful wild drive over the spectacular Bealach Oshin as far as Caherciveen. I really enjoyed the scenery all the way back and despite it being high season I met very few cars en route until I joined the busy ring of Kerry just outside the town. I drove the five or so kilometres as far as the blue flag Whitestrand beach and enjoyed a nice long soak in the sea. It is a lovely beach with very little in the way of waves so it is excellent for those that like to swim rather than splash around. Once my lust for the sea was sated I drove back into town and went to the very very busy campsite. I feared that they wouldn't have any places available but they managed to find a spot. It is in a beautiful place, right down by the waters edge and at high tide it is very easy to enjoy a swim right by the tent. I enjoyed a relaxing evening and rested up for tomorrows outing.

Saturday August 3rd;
An early start saw me arrive at the little carpark at the base of Cnoc na d'Tobar at 08.15. I was just after a short outing as I had to be at work for 7pm and I had a few bits to do at home before that. Cnoc na dTobar is one of Ireland's pilgrim mountains. Though not as well known as the likes of Croagh Patrick it does attract a few religious types throughout the year. It is mostly just tourists that climb it though and it has a good well marked track that wends its way gently up the mountain. At 690 metres and basically starting at sea level it is a worth while (if not too taxing) trek and soon I warm and moving well. I cut across some of the zig zags and once I was up two thirds of the way I made a direct line for the elegant ridge that drops southwesterly from the summit and continued up on that. The clear skies of yesterday were missing and today was more leaden and cloud flirted with the summit. A stiff breeze was blowing as well so it didn't feel particularly warm. Nevertheless the views were beautiful. The island of Valentia and all the surrounding seascapes and mountains make this a magical place. Easy it might be but it pays off big time in views. A series of crosses run the length of the route and the granddaddy of them all lords it over the summit. A crudely constructed 15 foot edifice looks over the town far below and here once a year mass is said. I wasn't in a praying mood so I turned and headed across the stony ground towards the north top and enjoyed the views across to the Dingle Peninsula and the blue sea just below. I followed the broad spur easily all the way back down to the shore just to the north of the pier and cove. Here there is a small stony beach that is hidden from view so I stripped everything off and went of another soak in the calm waters. Suitably refreshed I returned along the delightful super colourful lane as far as my car and I was heading for home not long after 11am. It was a short but delightful outing.
Wonderful views back

No spirit levels used here

The way down

Skinny dipping heaven
If you have to walk along a road it might as well be one a beautiful as this/

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Mount Brandon..Stradbally...and world class beaches

Friday July 26th;

I went for a two day (well day and a half) trip to one of my favourite places the Dingle Peninsula on Friday morning to try and fit a combination of mountain, sun and sea into the trip. I packed up all my camping gear with the intention of staying at one of the campsites on the Maherees and set off early doors for the west.
It was lovely and warm at home but as often happens the cloud cover increased the further west I went and the tops of the mountains were well covered. Some rain drifted across the valleys and the temperature had dropped as well and it was down to just 17 degrees by the time I parked in the beautiful village of Cloghane. I didn't let the less than perfect weather bother me though...oh no I had other reasons to be a little pissed off. I had discovered that, even though I had loaded up the car with all the paraphernalia required for a short camping trip I had neglected to include one basic tent😡. What a complete numpty I am. So it is fair to say I was less than pleased when I set off into the beautiful wide valley between Brandon Peak and Sleivanea. My mood soon improved as I went on as it is hard not to become consumed by the beauty of this place. Soon I reached the turn for lake and once the track ended I crossed the outlet and I began my climb up the spur that rises to Gearane. Steep and unremitting for 600 metres it is a good test of the legs. I was pleased with how it went for me but once I reached the cloud it became quite chilly and coupled with the wind it was necessary to put my jacket and gloves on. With nothing in the way of views it was just a case of putting the head down and pushing on. Brandon Peak and then Brandon itself passed in the fog and rather than continuing along the ridge I dropped down into the wild coum and followed the normal route down to the grotto. Once under the cloud the views to the village at the head of the bay were as usual lovely. I hadn't met anyone while on the ridge but several groups were coming up against me as I went down. I arrived back at the car and decided what I was going to do next.
Back under the cloud..Cloghane bay below

I had resigned myself to returning home that evening but first things first, I was going for a swim. I drove the short distance to the nearby Fermoyle beach and headed for the water. The day was improving and here, away from the mountains the sun was shining. I had my usual doubts as I neared the water. Knowing that it would be cold and thinking that I wouldn't enjoy getting in made me question myself but I banished the negativity and walked into the onrushing wavelets.It wasn't too bad at all and after one or two gasps I was plunging into an oncoming breaker. It was exhilarating. Each wave surged and lifted and I was enthralled by the sensory delights of the experience. Clouds steamed off the summits of the nearby mountains. The water was blue and really pleasant and it is fair to say that the beach wasn't exactly overcrowded. When the weather is like this then there can be fewer places to come as close to the perfection of Brandon Bay. After five minutes or half an hour (who is counting) I returned to the car and changed. The body was aglow after the healing waters but now I had to make a choice as to what to do next. I went to nearby Castlegregory and while enjoying a coffee I rang a couple of B&Bs and I booked myself into one. It was actually in the village and I was soon settled. That evening I went to the stunning beach on the west side of the Maherees and walked in the waters edge for half an hour and enjoyed the sunset. It was truly beautiful and even though I had missed out on the camping experience I was a very happy man as I returned to my room. It had, after all been a really good day.
17 kilometres...1280 metres ascent and same descent...4 hours 30 minutes and a swim👍
Not a bad spot for a dip

Evening on the Maherees

Saturday July 27th;

A gargantuan breakfast of eggs,bacon,sausages and beans at 8am set me up nicely for the day ahead. I had to be at work for 7pm so a short day was the plan and a straight up and back to Stradbally mountain seemed to fit the bill. I drove the couple of kilometres to the main road and at the forestry entrance I parked up and set off . Clouds shrouded the hills again and occasional spits of rain were on the go but it felt good to be on the move again. The going is very easy for the first few kilometres as you follow the forest road up though the woods until finally, after passing a telecoms mast you emerge onto open mountain. One thing that struck me straight away was how much more complex the ground is. From below it looks like a plain slope that rises smoothly up to the main ridge but once out on the open ground then there are some gentle ridges and undulations and there was much more of an open feel than was evident from down below. The gentle going of before was now in the past and I set off up across the pathless heathery ground in a direct line for the highest point of the ridge. The cloud was down at about the 650 metre mark so views would be at a premium today as well but I was looking forward to the outing just the same. Once I crossed a stream I reached a wire fence and this I followed up to the crest of the ridge and once there it was a simple matter of sticking to it all the way to the summit. The cloud lifted with me and some sunshine broke the gloom but the views stayed absent. I decided to include Benoskee in my walk and this added some time and metres to the day. Despite the lack of views I found myself with a big grin on my face when the sun burst through. It was great to be out. I returned by the same route I went up and in typical fashion the cloud lifted as I descended but I didn't mind a bit.
Back under the clouds and things clearing nicely

The Maherees stretch away

 As I got lower my eyes were on the beauty of the blue ocean and I scanned the ground to see which section of beach I would head for once down. On the west side of the Marherees the sea was calm but on the ocean side there was plenty of breakers so that was where I opted for. I drove to Stradbally strand near the golf course and I wasted no time in heading for the water. Breakers there certainly was aplenty and at times it was akin to being in a washing machine but it was great fun all the same. At times it was wonderful to simply gaze around in wonder at the simple beauty of this stunning place. No high rise hotels to be found here, just mile after mile of near empty perfect beach and a stunning mountain backdrop. I felt fortunate indeed. A half hour later I was hurriedly putting on my clothes before setting off on the 70 mile journey home. Legs a little tired after a workout and skin aglow. It had been another good day.
13 kilometres...880 metres ascent and descent...3 hours 25 minutes 🌊
Stradbally strand

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Magillycuddy Reeks-Three Great Ridges and Glenbeigh Horseshoe

Sunday July 14th

It can be strange to revisit your home mountains after visiting somewhere like the Alps. After 13 wonderful days hiking in the finest of mountain scenery I was a little apprehensive that I might go to The Reeks and find them somehow lessened or diminished in my esteem. I needn't have worried. When I went back on Sunday in a glorious weather day, I was enchanted and excited even as I drove into Cronins Yard.
Starting up towards Cruach Mhór

Always an inspiring sight  Carrauntoohil

The way Cruach Mhór towers over the valley as you drive in never fails to inspire. It definitely is the best way to approach these mountains. It being such a nice day I was determined to make the most of it so I decided to have a go at doing the "Three Ridges". This, as well as offering one of the best hiking experiences in the country also can I guess be classed as a mountaineering day as in the middle of it you climb Howling Ridge, a classic VDiff route. I parked up at the super busy Cronins Yard. Carrauntoohil has become something of a circus these days. The numbers climbing it on a fine summers day can now be numbered I would guess in the thousands at the weekend. There is booming industry surrounding the mountain with guiding companies being kept very busy year round. Cronins Yard has been at the centre of life on this mountains for many decades...first as a place that offered access and sanctuary to the mountain rescue whenever they went about their vital work and also as a place to park and meet old friends. They have been expanding their facilities over the years until today, wonderful tearooms, toilets, changing facilities as well as self catering and camping can all be enjoyed. Parking costs just €2 per car which is super value and this is in stark contrast to parking costs in Wales and the Lake District.
I was tempted to go for a dip

From the summit across the glen
After a brief chat with John I set off towards the Hags Glen. Once I passed the Black Stream I was able to leave the crowds behind and I set off up across the boggy slope towards Cruach Mhór. It was sunny and warm and soon the sweat was flowing. The climb up to the lake goes on and on and the energy sapping ground make it a challenge every time. The relief to finally stop and enjoy a long draught of cool water from the lake was the reward before setting off again on the steep climb to the summit of the first of seven 3000ft peaks. Now the fun begins. As Tom Hutton once described it in a magazine article he wrote ( for a British audience) "this is the best ridge you never heard of" and of course he is right. While the Beenkeragh Ridge gets more attention as it is part of a route to or from Carrauntoohil the Cnoc na Péiste Ridge offers a more exciting, narrower, more sustained outing and if you opt for all the best bits I would say it is a solid Grade 2 scramble. Warm rock made it a pure joy to cross the ridge and I made sure to stick faithfully to the crest. Once on the summit of Cnoc na Péiste (988mtrs) then it is easy going all the way to Cnoc an Chuillinn (958mtrs) and I was loving every step. I have good hill fitness and with the walking easy and the situation so spectacular it is easy to have a good time. I wasn't completely alone but the East Reeks were very far from crowded or even busy.
This all changed of course when after a quick lunch stop on Cnoc na Toinne I reached the Zig Zags which is fast becoming the descent route of choice from Carrauntoohil. As I neared the Devils Ladder the numbers heading up the eroded trail to the summit could be seen. It is not a place for quiet reflection. I headed towards the Heavenly Gates and was once again in quietude. I always feel a sense of excitement as I near the base of Howling Ridge. It is set among a series of spectacular ridges and there is definitely a high mountain feel to the place. As I reached the base I could see a group higher up that were pitching the route. I hoped they would be easy to get by when I reached them. In my less than practiced state when it comes to climbing I was feeling a bit of self doubt before I set off up but I reminded myself to take my sure of each hold and I would be fine. This I did and indeed I was. Soon all that matters is the rock before you and I was once again engrossed in and enjoying the climb. I reached the group and climbed up past them. They were being led by two seasoned campaigners from Killarney Mountaineering Club who I used to climb with in the past. I pushed on through and all too soon I was up at the pinnacles and then it was all over. The 150 metre climb to the summit was tough but passed soon enough and I was once again in the hoards as I stopped for another bite to eat.
The Cnoc na Péiste Ridge

Big crowds out...people lining the track all the way to the top

A group heading up Howling Ridge

The group at "The Finger"..Spectacular place
After that I set off across the Beenkeragh Ridge and again I stuck to the crest. The best scrambling is at the start but it is short lived and soon I was on the point on the ridge called The Bones. The view back to the north face of Carrauntoohil is great. I was surprised to see two guys heading down very steep ground towards O'Sheas Gully. It seemed that they had decided to take a direct line down towards the gully shortly after passing Tripod Gully. One fella disturbed some rocks and these crashed down into O'Sheas gully not far above where another group were descending. It was a fraught situation. I shouted over at the guys and after several attempts I got there attention. I indicated that they should head to their left and to be fair they complied straight away and soon found a route to safer ground. My good deed done for the day I set off for Beenkeragh and enjoyed the rest of the route. On the descent you cross over the twin topped Knockbrinnea (854 mtrs) where Carrauntoohil offers yet more eye candy before the long descent to the valley. This went smoothly and before too long I was back in Cronins Yard enjoying delicious coffee and apple tart. It had been a wonderful day.

16 Kilometres...1780 metres climbing...6 hours 25 minutes.

Monday July 15th

I had camped overnight in the village of Glenbeigh and my aim today was to to the Coumasaharn Horseshoe. The amazing weather of yesterday with the clear blue skies was absent and a warm muggy cloudy morning greeted me when I exited my tent. I drove in to near the shore of the spectacularly situated Coumasaharn Lake and started my hike from there. Starting so far into the glen kind of limits the range of routes you can do as to do an extended hike from here would mean walking a fair old way on the road at the end. Today I decided to keep it simple and just do a circuit of this lake. Thankfully all but the highest top was cloud free so navigation would be simple. Straight away the climbing is steep as I took a direct line up through the craggy ground of Knocknaman. This got the blood pumping and I even managed to pick out a few nice scrambly bits on the way. After 400 steep metres the gradient eases right back and easy walking follows as you head towards Meenteog. The broad spur offers fine views across the huge and complex coum towards Drung hill. The Reeks were shrouded in cloud and distant views were hazy at best.
After Meenteog the route follows the ridge as it swings west towards Coomacarrea which at 772 metres is the highest in the area. The views down to the lake and the convoluted mix of steep cliffs and gullies is wonderful. I must venture in as far as the back of the lake sometime to get a view of all this from below. The 170 metre pull to the high point is really the end of the climbing and easy walking follows as you basically follow the coum around until you can cross the narrow ridge to Teeromoyle Tooth after which a super easy descent in the northwest spur sees you reach a farm road. Follow this until you pass above the first few houses and when you reach an old farm shed turn right onto the road and then easily back to the car. After the rigours of yesterday today was a much easier outing and that was no harm. Less than 12 kilometres...710 metres of climbing in a leisurely 3 hours 30 minutes.

 It is a lovely place and is definitely worth the effort to get to. Wild coums in which nestle sparkling lakes, all surrounded by wide boggy ridges and views from the nearby sea to the mighty Reeks. Whats not to like?. To finish off the outing I went for a dip in the sea at Rossbeigh beach. It was the first time this year and I was bracing myself for a frigid experience but I was delighted to find the water was not too bad at all. Dunking myself in the breakers was thrilling and I was loving it. Now that I know the water is good I hope to combine more mountain days with a dip in the sea..Perfec