Carrauntoohill, December 2014

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Carrauntoohill is the large peak on the right

I’ve been hillwalking in the MacGillycuddy Reeks since the 1980s and I’ve probably been up Carrauntoohill, the highest peak in the range at 3,406 feet – and the highest in Ireland – at least once a year over that time.

It was in the news recently when some people carried an angle-grinder to the summit and cut down the steel cross that had stood there since 1976. This was in protest, apparently, at the number of schools run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The culprits have not been identified nor are they likely to be.

The incident resulted in some debate in the media as to what should be done – should the cross be re-erected or, as Atheist Ireland recommended, should there be a “more inclusive” symbol put in its place – if, indeed, there should be any object put there at all. The need for planning permission was mentioned, something that was not of concern back in 1976.

In the event, one week after the felling, the cross was re-erected by a group of local people and there it stands none the worse for its sudden impact with the stony ground. The culprits unwittingly helped in its swift restoration due to the clean cut at the base and because they did not cut it into pieces and hurl them down the steep northern side of the mountain. I suspect that once they felled it they got out of the area as quickly as they could.

I’m glad it’s back upright. The first sight of the cross as one makes one’s way through the last few hundred feet to the summit is always a relief – finally! I’ve made it! In poor visibility it serves as a useful landmark. I’ve never regarded it as a symbol of Catholic triumphalism – it’s just a simple steel cross that has been there for a long time and the summit would not be the same without it. Leave it be.

The incident prompted me to make another trip to Carrauntoohill last Saturday. The recent cold weather would have the Reeks looking their best with their winter raiment of snow. The forecast was for good sunny spells and the only consideration at this time of the year was the hours of daylight – it would be getting dark shortly after 4pm and the round trip to the summit would take about 6 – 7 hours so an early start was necessary. I left home around 5:45am for the 1.5 hour drive to the starting off point at Cronins’ Farm and I began my trek up the Hag’s Glen at 7:30am. The sky was beginning to brighten but a head torch was necessary for the first 20 minutes or so.

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Sunrise behind the Eastern Reeks

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Sheep crossing my path up the Hag’s Glen  

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The first rays of sunlight hitting the flank of Carrauntoohill 

My route was up the glen and thence the ascent of the Devil’s Ladder – a 500 feet steep gully – on to the saddle (a narrow, level stretch of ground between Carraountoohill and the Eastern Reeks) and thence the remaining relatively easy 1000 feet to the summit. This is the most popular route although there are more interesting options such as via The Bone, The Heavenly Gates or O’Shea’s Gully.

Devils-Ladder

Ascending the Devil’s Ladder

The snowline began about half way up the Ladder and it was thick on the ground on top. The usual path was not visible due to the snow and so I just followed the footsteps of a climber ahead of me. By the time I got to the summit visibility had significantly worsened. It was obvious that there wasn’t going to be any sunlit vistas of the Reeks anytime soon and it was too cold to linger there for  long. After a bite to eat I set off back down the slope. It was snowing now and the marks of my footsteps on the way up were becoming indistinct. I was soon down below the cloud however and the saddle at the top of the Devil’s Ladder wasn’t too far away.

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Looking towards the summit of Carrauntoohill from the top of the Devil’s Ladder

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The first glimpse of the summit cross in the deteriorating visibility

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I usually try to avoid going down the Devil’s Ladder as it can be awkward to negotiate and there is a lot of loose rocks to contend with. However, my preferred option of descending via the Zig Zag path would have meant climbing Cnoc an Toinne the top of which was above the cloud line and I wasn’t prepared to deal with poor visibility in the snow. I made my way down the Ladder therefore and my walking poles gave me badly needed support.

It was disappointing that despite the good weather forecast the night before there wasn’t a clear sky on top. The views are spectacular when there is and especially so when there is snow on the mountains. Still, seven hours traversing this wonderful part of Ireland is always a pleasure regardless of the weather.

5 thoughts on “Carrauntoohill, December 2014

  1. John, thanks for your inspired photojournalism. From many miles away, in Ballinskelligs at the tip of the Iveragh, we can look out on Carrauntoohill from our holiday home conservatory. It’s grand having eyes and ears on the ground to get us much closer. Thanks!

    That said, a few questions from the peanut gallery: Is there mobile coverage up there? Heaven forbid, but what happens if a climber were to take a spill and sustain a serious injury? Assuming you tell someone your departure time and expected time back, so they can send the dogs after you if it ever came to that. I’ve spoken to John Dowd, Ireland’s most accomplished mountain climber, several times, and we’ve gone on a camera club outing once. He’s made some amazing images in high places you don’t see from other sources. Anyhow, he told us some climbers are so conscious of the total weight they’re hauling up that they cut the labels out of their garments. I kid you know. What sort of camera rig did you take with you? Body/lenses? For your next cold weather assault, what one item would you bring with you, and which one you took this time do you plan to leave behind? Thanks!

    • Thanks Peter.

      There is excellent mobile coverage in the Reeks and that is very re-assuring – one can easily sustain an injury – or get lost in bad weather – and it’s good to know that a quick call to the police or the Kerry Mountain Rescue people will result in a speedy response. Only problem is the miserly battery life in cellphones – it’s important to set out with a fully charged battery.

      Telling people where one is going and when one is expected back is indeed very good mountaincraft and something that should be done by everyone going into the hills. I have to admit that other than telling my wife roughly where I’m going it’s not something that I assiduously practice. It’ll be my New Year’s Resolution.

      I took my Canon 5D Mk11 with a Canon 17-40 lens attached. Weight wasn’t really an issue as I was travelling light. I had a daypack with the camera, food, and some extra clothing. Going up 3,000 feet is small beer by international standards – I wasn’t exactly tackling K2!

      What would I bring with me next time? A thermos of hot drink – it was bloody cold on the summit when I stopped to eat. I had no excess items really.

      Have a Happy Christmas and a Great New Year, Peter!

  2. John..I marvel at your tenacity. I think we’re around the same age, but I don’t think I’d be fit enough for that climb. I suppose the weather was a bit disappointing, but if it was I that came back with that marvellous image of the snow swept cross on the summit, I’d be well pleased with myself. Thanks for the trip and the images.
    Season’s greetings to you and yours.

  3. First of all, right back atcha, John. A very Merry Christmas and lots of good luck in the year ahead. Thanks much for your kind reply. I pretty much figured anybody as skilled behind the lens would be just as skilled at safe logistics. Can only imagine how sweet a nice hot cup of tea would have been up there. Hope the weather treats you gently this winter. (Hey, we can always hope, right?)

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