Corrán Tuathail / Carrauntoohil, highest mountain in Ireland.

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Corrán Tuathail / Carrauntoohil

, 1039 - Info | Trip Report

Coomloughra Horseshoe :

On the afternoon of my father's sixtieth birthday, I had told him that we should spend more time together. Time that is, doing something more than bringing round his grandson, having tea and cakes, and watching television. Quality time, to use a phrase heard more often but little realised. We had not spent a day together, going somewhere, having fun, since I had sought my independence as a teenager, so I asked him to join me on one of my mountain trips. Carrauntoohil in Ireland, I suggested, would be an excellent choice. He was not sure, could he at this age stand up to such a physical challenge?

It was not until over a year later that the vision of father and son striding out into the wilderness became a reality. Of course I use the word wilderness lightly, since there is so little true wilderness left in the British Isles. Our pre-expedition trip was a day's mad dash to Snowdonia at the end of May. We left early in the morning encouraged by an excellent weather forecast, and drove four hours to North Wales. At a steady pace in weather that never quite matched expectations, we ascended the 905 m peak of Aran Fawddwy and returned to the valley in approximately six hours. My father was feeling fine and pushed me on the Irish question. When were we going?

Ascent of Caher with Lough Coomloughra below. Coomloughra Horseshoe, Ireland. Ascent of Caher
with Lough Coomloughra below.
The answer to this was not easy to find, and after a false start, we settled on June 21st, the summer solstice. Thus, after a demanding drive the previous day, we stood below the western end of the Macgillycuddy's Reeks (named after a former local landlord). At 10:20 it was a little later in the morning than planned, but we had few worries since the longest day of the year was before us. Our chosen route, that of the Coomloughra Horseshoe, taken from a guide book to Walks in Ireland, had us starting on the shore of Lough Acoose at 150 m. From here we had to clamber over rough, often pathless moorland to the western ridge of Caher. The first hours were the most disheartening. Rain came and went at such speed that we were caught again and again taking waterproofs off or putting them on. The summit of the first peak in the horseshoe (Ireland's third highest) was often out of sight behind the next rise. For a short while we found interest by following the course of a tumbling mountain stream, stepping between boulders in the broad gully and listening to the gurgling of the water. Above the gully we stepped into a gently sloping basin, paused for breath, and enjoyed the view down not only to Lough Acoose but beyond to Dingle Bay and the mountains of western Kerry.

Stone shelter on the first summit of Caher. Coomloughra Horseshoe, Ireland. Stone shelter on the first
summit of Caher.
A summit of sorts was in view now, though a look at the map indicated that this could be a bluff. I did not dare tell my father that the destination he had in his sights was not the enrire story, and so we continued on, gently and easily, bearing left, climbing out of the basin for our first views of Lough Coomloughra and of Carrauntoohil itself. We were mighty impressed, not least by the Beenkeragh ridge that linked Irelands highest with it's north westerly neighbour, Beenkeragh, the last peak of the day on my mental list.
"I hope you don't expect me to climb that!" My father exclaimed. And indeed from where we stood there was no discernable route up the steep pyramid like summit.
"Let's not think to much about that. Let's just think of this hill in front of us. We have all day." I replied, the latter sentence had become a mantra to be repeated whenever time passed without distance.

Caher narrow ridge. Coomloughra Horseshoe, Ireland. From Caher we descended a
narrow ridge to below
the slopes of Carrauntoohil
Eventually we did make it to the top, or rather a top of Caher, there are two. There was a cairn and a small stone, roofed shelter with the capacity for two or three, but only after they had squeezed through the low doorway. Again we sat and enjoyed the view but with the knowledge that one short descent was required before finally topping out.

But from there on it all seemed easier. The couple whom we watched clamber up Caher behind us overtook and turned out to be two athletic women just a little younger than my father's age. Perhaps it was this that triggered his determination thereafter.

From Caher we descended a narrow ridge to below the slopes of Carrauntoohil and walked steadily up to Ireland's highest point along a broad path. We were joined by a group of twenty or so oddball walkers who had traversed the Beenkeragh ridge. They were a friendly, cheerful lot of mixed ability on a management training course led by "the first Irishman to have climbed Everest", or so we were told and had no reason to doubt. My father had his photo taken with him beneath Carrauntoohil's large iron cross. We had made it and we were justifiably proud.

Iron cross on the summit of Carrauntoohil, highest mountain in Ireland. Standing beneath the cross on the
summit of Carrauntoohil,
highest mountain in Ireland.
The views from the peak were magnificent. To the east the Reeks offered up its remaining five Munros (peaks over 3000 ft), and to the west, Dingle Bay and the Ring of Kerry sat bathed in sunshine. There now remained the matter of our getting down. The comments from the management team gave my father little encouragement when I revealed Beenkeragh as our chosen path. In hindsight it was easy to tell that this was due to lack of experience, for the ridge, spoken of as the best traverse in the Emerald Isle, was easy, a little exposed in places, but a lesser challenge than Crib Goch on Snowdon. This is not to diminish its excellent line, and indeed we found the occasional clamber exciting, the gritty rock providing plenty of friction, even if in places it was a little rotten. Whenever I took a more challenging line, there appeared to be a less exposed route for my father, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right of the main pinnacles. And also to the right, surrounded by steep slopes on three sides, lay a previously hidden pool cradled by the mountain and reached by scree slope and path. It was a secretive place, possibly the Eagle's Nest named on the map, below us, but still high above Hag's Glen.

It was around four in the afternoon by the time we picked a path up Beenkeragh's boulder strewn summit. The weather remained favourable, accommodating us with time for a short rest, the opportunity to take more photos, and admire the ground we had covered that day. Then, once again it was time to push on. From the top of the mountain, we had spied a probable path that ran diagonally up from the western end of Lough Coomloughra to an undetermined place on Skregmore's southern flank. Skregmore is the last mountain in the Coomloughra Horseshoe. It has three rounded summits, all below the magical 3000 ft line, and thus cruelly excluded from the Munro bagger's hit list. But it was satisfaction with the walk already behind us rather than any classification that caused us to cut short the official circuit and head down to the above mentioned path. The thought of a curry and pint waiting for us in Killarney may also paid a small in the decision.

WCarrauntoohill and Caher from Beenkeragh, Coomloughra Horseshoe, Ireland.
Ireland's highest mountain, Carrauntoohill, and Caher from Beenkeragh, Coomloughra Horseshoe.

From the saddle between Beenkeragh and Skregmore's first hillock, we crossed grassy slopes and boulder fields before reaching the questionable path. A little further and now running parallel to the stream that feeds Lough Eighter, it's status was confirmed. Though we had only dropped half the height we had gained during the day, we felt that we were down. Now on easier ground, our pace quickened, the kilometre to the dam at the tiny lough's northern end was brisk.

There was now a choice, either scale the fence and cut across questionable ground to the shores of Lough Acoose and our car, or take the rocky track, at ninety degrees to our destination, down to the road. The latter was definitely longer, but the ease of walking along a clear track outweighed anything heathery moorland could offer this late in the day. I believe our choice was a good one, we reached the tarmac quickly enough and a hitched lift soon saw us back with our car.