Sunday, 9 July 2017

Coomloughra Horseshoe

Back in the Reeks and again and this time to do one of the best circuit walks in Ireland which takes Ireland's three highest peaks: Beenkeragh, Carrauntoohil and Caher, plus a few more.

Near the top of Cnoc Iochtair

At Beenkeragh Summit
Starting with the Hydro Road again (for the third time this year and there will be no more!) we made our way to the lakes, turned left then and started climbing up Cnoc Iochtair and then Skregmore. Very warm and sunny day soon changed into a chilly and windy one, but luckilly the sun stayed with us. After a quick stop at Stumpa Barr na hAbhann we climbed up Beenkeragh and started getting ready for the biggest challenge of the route which is Beenkeragh ridge. We split up  and reorganized the group. The two bravest decided to scramble every rock on the ridge, while the rest used easier route safely led by Denis.

Beenheragh Ridge

At Carrauntoohil Summit

The ridge was really enjoyable with glorious views. There's very little days like this in this country so every time it happens to be like this we feel really grateful and we try to make the best out of our trip. It's not a very difficult ridge, but think twice if you don't like heights. Even if you decide to use the path going around the rocky bits you'll still be quite exposed in places.

After crossing Beenkeragh Ridge we started climbing Carrauntoohil and soon the weather started changing bringing clouds and mist on top of us and they stayed with us all the way down and up again to Caher. Caher Ridge is not as exposed as Beenkeragh Ridge but you should still be careful in windy conditions.

We descended from Caher in foggy and drizzly conditions but we managed to escape the heavy showers.

A day like this will remind you how changeable the mountain weather is. Even on a warm sunny day you should be prepared and have your fleece and waterproofs ready just in case.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Howling Ridge with Kerry Climbing | The Perfect Hen Party!

Now, it isn't something Hard Core Hillwalkers do on a daily basis, but it had to be done as well just to feel more alive and thrilled. I have been thinking about doing it for almost three years and finally decided to wait no more and give it a go.

One of Howling Ridge's most iconic features high up near the last pitch 

When it all begun... 

It was September 2014 after my first ascent of Carrauntoohil when, after coming back home, I started reading a lot about Macgillicuddy's Reeks and all the routes in this magnificent mountain range. Than some day I came across the picture of Carrauntoohil with a red line drawn almost straight up from the Heavenly Gates. It looked like something completely mad and too extreme. I sent that picture to my friend, Kieran as a joke saying: "next time I'm taking this route, lol". I didn't have to wait long for his reply and that short message I got back was the cause of all the trouble. Yes, Kieran, it was all your fault! :)

The message was: "I did it years ago..."

Since then I couldn't pass the Heavenly Gates without looking up... "It must be done!" I said to myself.
And then one May day I had this brilliant idea of doing Howling as a part of my hen party. Well, I always imagined my hen as something crazy and out of norms, so this was just perfect! I'm a bit of a tom boy, but believe me, I really tried to find some female friends to join me, but I couldn't. Some were busy, some scared, some not available for other reasons.
Without thinking much more I messaged Kieran, Denis and a few others and we managed to make a group of five brave adventurers. I mentioned earlier that Kieran did this climb before with his friends, but I now should say as well that all the gear they had on the day was... a box of Benson & Hedges and a bottle of Lucozade. This time we decided to do it the safe way with proper climbing gear and hire a guide. I booked the day with Kerry Climbing and we were all set.

The Climb

This is a proper climb graded VDiff to Severe, depending on route followed, mixed with scrambling. The exposure must not be underestimated with some sheer drops on both sides in places. It should not be attempted without protection except the elite of some very experienced climbers.

Gearing up at Heavenly Gates...
Finally the 3 of July came and we went to Kissane's Food Store in Beaufort to meet our guide Piaras Kelly. Unfortunately Denis had a bad luck that day and couldn't make it. Well, we have to plan another day for Denis in the future as we know for sure that he would enjoy it.

Four of us: myself, Kieran, Shane and Mike went with Piaras to Lisleibane and walked to the Heavenly Gates, where we geared up. The weather looked promising at the start, but not for long. The higher we went the thicker the fog was. The rocks were wet and slippery of course. As soon as we started the first pitch, I just remembered that my almost three years old boots lost their previous grip and I can't trust them on wet rocks anymore... Yeah, we'll definitely have a ball today, I thought... I was on one rope with Mike and I knew I would give him a fright if I slipped pulling down the rope. I started placing my feet very carefully. In this conditions every boot could possibly slip anyway, so I soon forgot all about it and started getting the thrill of finally doing Howlin' !!!

Mike was first after Piaras, than me pulling up the second rope for Kieran and Shane. There's a bit of scrambling between each pitches, easy enough but with very little to stand on in places.
- Climb when ready!
- Climbing!

Mike and myself climbing in the rain
And off we go to the next anchor point. The other thing we could hear from time to time was our guide's "Yeehawh!" and after the third one we all got that strange feeling that in places where he was doing it, there was something difficult waiting for us...We managed any difficulties very well anyway and soon found ourselves under The Tower which is said to be the route's crux. This is 25 meters of very exposed and steep buttress with lovely views which we unfortunately couldn't see... After The Tower comes one of the very characteristic places of the ridge with a sharp piece of rock pointing eastwards just like the index finger. And that is it's name - The Finger. I personally remembered that bit as one of the most enjoyable on the route. The top of it would be just a perfect spot for one of my famous boots photo if the day was clear... After that point the route turns to the right and meets the neighboring Primroses Ridge. That part it's called The Bridge and it's an exposed knife edge ridge sloping down to the left. When you turn back to see it after passing it it looks like something impossible to stand on...

Piaras belaying Kieran and Shane
The next pitch brings you up to the very iconic feature of the route where most of the breathtaking pictures are taken. Well, we'll have to go back again to do it... This time we had no chance. There is a visible path going around these last little pinnacles if one wants to avoid them, but seriously, what's the point?!
After crossing the top of the gully between Howling and Primroses Ridge, another very exposed place on the route, we finished with the last short pitch with one tricky move. All its left after that is just a bit of scrambling to the top, about 15 - 20 minutes. Passing the sign: "Turn back now, no descent route" gives you that feeling of doing something awesome, only for the brave ones (the hard core ones!)

Descending via Devil's Ladder
The best and probably the most unusual Hen Party it was with one hen and four cockerels :)
We had a lovely day, despite of the weather and we definitely experienced the adventure thanks to Piaras and Kerry Climbing. We can't wait to do it again!
Howling Ridge is known as Ireland's famous mountaineering route. There's 7 or 8 pitches and shorter ones are better to avoid rope drag. It took us about 4 hours to climb that 300 m of a vertical ridge with all the rope work involved.
It was first climbed by Con Moriarty and John Cronin in February 1987. If you want to know more about how it all happened back then, click here.

It's not the most difficult route but probably the most enjoyable one. A good transition from hill walking and scrambling to more technical climbing. If you haven't any previous rock climbing experience you can do it as a 2-day course, offered by Kerry Climbing, where you learn all the basics in the Gap of Dunloe first and then You climb Howling. You don't need rock climbing shoes, you can climb it in your hiking boots, but I personally found my old boots a bit awkward. Approach shoes would probably be the best choice.
Climbing it doesn't feel very difficult. There's a few tricky moves there but I'd call them more awkward rather than difficult. One thing you have to have for sure is a head for heights. You can really feel all the space and the air around you. Loose rocks is something that you have to be aware of as well. Sometimes it takes time to find the right handhold.

The video of our adventure

Below there's a few pictures from some previous climbs done by Kerry Climbing, just to give you an idea of how the place looks like on a clear day. Now you have a chance to ask yourself a question if you would feel comfortable finding yourself there and if that kind of exposure is OK for you... or maybe you just love it already and can't wait to do it...

The view we missed... Photo: Kerry Climbing

Climbers at The Finger. Photo: Kerry Climbing

The most photographed feature of the route. Photo: Kerry Climbing

If your answer to the above question was 'YES', go and book your own Howlin' Adventure with Kerry Climbing. They are experienced and 100% professional. We can definitely recommend them as the best choice.


A quick note about me
Hard Core Hillwalker who wants to become a climber ;)
(climbing Sokolik in Poland)

I'm not a climber yet, but my brother who is a rock climber and does mostly sports climbing, trains me the hard way whenever we meet in Poland. Sometimes I'm afraid to go with him because he always puts me in some 'shitting-my-pants-situations' just to get used to the exposure and learn how to trust the equipment.
He is now able to lead HVS and E1 trad climbs and E3 sports climbs. I will probably never go that far, but I'd be happy to be able to lead some easier routes in the future.

P.S. I'll coil the rope properly next time, Piaras, I promise ;)

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Macgillicuddy's Reeks

One of our Big challenges planned for this year was to do the whole Reeks starting from the Hydro Road and finishing at Kate Kearney's Cottage. Now, we have to say here that we don't like the Hydro Road.... and we don't like climbing Caher, but the alternative route which would be up Cnoc Iochtair and Skregmore following to Beenkeragh is longer and more difficult and adds more time to the trip.

Misty Reeks

The conditions were tough with very poor visibility, wind and rain showers, but we decided to give it a go anyway. Caher route is very gradual and slow going from the lake up to the first high point. It feels like it never ends sometimes. After reaching Caher (thank God the torture was over!) we followed the ridge up to Carrauntoohil and had our lunch break. For a moment it looked like it was going to clear. The sunlight was trying to make it's way through the clouds and fog so hard, but unfortunately the clouds didn't give up keeping us all in the shadow for the rest of the day...

Eastern Reeks
Having in our minds that we had two cars, one parked by the hydro road and the other at Kate Kearney's, we had two options at this stage: go back or go forward, but we knew as well that if we went forward there would be no going back... We decided to be proper hard cores and off we went making our way down Carrauntoohil and towards Eastern Reeks.
There's something about Eastern Reeks in poor visibility... It's really easy to get lost there in the fog. Some of us can still remember getting misplaced while going down The Bone route from Maolan Bui last year and ending up in some steep gully... Once you pass Cnoc na Toinne and the top of the zig-zags route to the left, the path becomes not so obvious in places, disappearing between rocks and stones further on the ridge after passing Knocknapeasta.
We met a small group of walkers wandering and looking for the zig-zags route. We actually saw them passing the stone cairn and going too far just a few minutes earlier. They weren't even dressed properly for the mountains, not to even mention having any leader with navigation skills. We told them to go back and be sure not to miss the cairn this time.

Going down to the lake
There's a few ups and downs Reeks ridge with Cnoc an Chuillinn being the longest pull up after dropping down from Cnoc na Toinne. Maolan Bui is only a small bump and then after Knocknapeasta comes knife edge and exposed ridge to The Big Gun. The condition on the ridge were very tough with more rain and wind every minute. And guess what happened next...
We got a little bit misplaced (we never get lost by the way)...
It all happened when Denis started avoiding the exact ridge line to keep the group safe in this conditions. Myself (Anna) stayed on the top of the ridge and followed it to the summit of the Big Gun. Avoiding the ridge brought Denis too low and too far to the right. After contacting him I went back and then down a good bit to meet them. After looking at the map and discussing our current location which was the south eastern spur of The Big Gun going down to Lough Googh, we decided that we had enough of that rain and quickly planned our escape route. We descended to the lake, getting out of that cloud and then followed the river to the road. From there we walked through the Gap of Dunloe to Kate Kearney's Cottage.

Gap of Dunloe, cheers :)

It was the best decision not to go back up from the place where we met again with Denis as the rocks on the ridge were very slippy and uneasy to scramble. In this bad weather conditions I didn't feel comfortable enough on the ridge that I haven't done before and both of us, myself and Denis knew, that the others wouldn't be happy to continue.
Safety First. Always.
There will be another day...

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Glencushnabinnia Horseshoe | Northern Galtees

This horseshoe takes Slievecushnabinnia, Galtymore, Galtybeg and Cush starting from Clydagh Bridge and finishing at the same place.

Galtybeg & Galtymore seen from Cush

Lough Curra
The weather conditions on the day weren't great from the start and started getting worse as we followed the forestry road and the open field after crossing the fence. Soon we were forced to change our plan of doing the full loop starting with climbing Slievecushnabinnia. We decided that following the path to Lough Curra would be safer as we were more sheltered from the wind which can make rain unbearable. At the lake we were thinking about going back for a while but our decision was to give it a go and climb Lough Curra Gully and go to the top of Galtymore where we were going to make our last decision if to continue the loop or go down leaving Galtybeg and Cush for a better day..

Galtymore summit
Climbing up Lough Curra Gully wasn't too bad but when we reached the top and found ourselves in more open space it started to feel more like winter... We were trying to hide behind the stone wall and the shortest ones of us were the luckiest getting more shelter from the wind. That wall is the border between Limerick and Tipperary an it's one of many famine walls in Ireland. 
After having our lunch at the top of Galtymore the weather started to improve a little bit so we decided to continue the loop. At the col the clouds started clearing and we even got a little bit of Sunshine but Galtybeg summit was covered with fog again.

Foggy Galtybeg

The path going down north east side of Galtybeg is very steep but the views of lough Borheen Lough below on your right hand side and Cush mountain in front of you are amazing. Thankfully we got some sunny spells, but the wind was still very strong. Taking pictures from the top of Cush wasn't easy because of that wind and we didn't stay there long. As we followed our descent path we could see all the beauty of the Galtees.

A little bit of sunshine at the end of the day

The full horseshoe is about 14 km long and it's quite tough with some steep climbs. It offers amazing views on a clear day and takes about 5 to 6 hours depending on your pace. We missed Slievecushnabinnia this time because of bad weather at the start, but we managed to continue and finished the loop.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Black Mare Gully up Carrauntoohil

Carrauntoohil from the other side for change and much less know ascent route. Black Mare Gully is located at the eastern end of the Coomloughra Glen and it starts from the Hydro Road car park. 

Climbing up the grassy Black Mare Gully

Follow the steep concrete road until you reach Lough Eighter and  then, instead of climbing up for Caher route or Skregmore to Beenkeragh ridge, continue on the left side of the lakes rising up slightly. The path might not be clearly visible in places, but with having the lakes on your right hand side you can't go wrong.

Caher Ridge in front of us
The views of the lakes and the valley on a clear day are just fantastic and luckily we could enjoy them, despite a few showers, as we walked straight towards the steep slopes of Carrauntoohil and Caher, having Caher Ridge just in front of us. Soon we arrived to the top of the last of the three lakes and started climbing up to the bottom of the gully. The gully is very steep and grassy with some small loose stones. It's much less climbed than the other gullies (O'sheas, Central and Curved) and that makes it more difficult. There's no obvious path, you just have to find your own, avoiding standing on loose stones when possible and using your hands when needed.

Half way up the gully

Looking towards Caher
It can be very slippery after the rain. This side of the mountain  remains in the shade for most of the time and stay wetter for longer. And we were climbing it just after the rain... 
We had to hold on to the grass with our hands with each step. It was a bit awkward sometimes but we managed to the top without any major problems.

At the top of the gully you join the path which is Caher route and a part of Coomloughra Horseshoe. You're only 10 - 15 minutes away from the summit and its only about 300 m of a gradual climb north-west direction.

The view from the top of the gully

From the top after lunch break we descended via Caher route following the ridge to the top and then down and up again to Caher West Top. All it's left after that is a long and gradual descent, just perfect to kill your knees if they didn't suffer so far. And if they're still ok after that, the last steep section of the concrete road will do the job. But you'll of course forget everything about the knee pain the day after (or maybe two) and go climbing again as soon as possible. That's what we always do. We're addicted with no doubt :)

Caher, another climb before descending

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Stumpa an tSaimh (Hag's Tooth) ridge up Beenkeragh

This route is not for the faint hearted. You need a head for heights and some scrambling experience if you plan to do every bit of it. It's a grade 2 scramble, but you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want. Anyway don't take the word easy too literally as it's still a steep route, quite exposed in places. Do not attempt it in windy conditions. Luckily the weather was kind to us this time. There wasn't even a puff... Calm, incredibly quiet, warm and dry.

Hag's Tooth
The gully up Hag's Tooth
We started at Lisleibane car park as usual. and followed the track to Hag's Glen and turned right at the lake starting to climb up the path going to O'Sheas Gully and then turned right again and started climbing the gully up to the bottom of Hag's Tooth pinnacle. From now on you have the choice of following the edge of the ridge or the path which goes around on a bit easier ground. There's a few options of climbing to the top of Hag's Tooth. As it was our first time there, we found an easier one (a little gully on the right side), leaving the front face for the next time.

At the top of Hag's Tooth 

We all climbed to the top except of Denis who was minding our bags down below on the other side. Well, somebody had to ;) There's enough space for 5 maybe 6 people which was actually a surprise as this little pointy pinnacle seems to look much smaller and almost inaccessible when you look at it from the bottom of the valley. You can stand on it safely on a calm day no problem. It might make you feel dizzy, so maybe better sit down and than enjoy the views ;) Going down on the other side requires a bit of courage but it's not as high as the side you climb up. It's just a few steps and you're down.

The view from the top

Scrambling up the ridge
At this point we all needed a snack break. We still had about 350 m of steep and rocky ground to the top of Beenkeragh so it was a good idea to refuel before that. As it was said before you can avoid all the rocks on your way up or scramble them if you want to get more out of it and that's exactly what I (Anna) did myself, while the rest of the group followed the path going around. You can do most of that scrambling without a rope, but I have to say that I found one place where I couldn't trust the loose rock pieces enough to make another move and I had to go down again and find another route.

Still not high enough ;)

Enjoying the rocks
Lots of the rocks are loose even if they don't look like that at a first glance so using a rope would be probably advised for safety if you really want to follow the very exact ridge line without missing anything. I did as much as I could without a rope.

The ridge becomes more scattered closer to the top. The final ascent of Beenkeragh  is more like a walk on big rocks, you can stop using your hands now. The top was very calm with no wind, quite busy though as we met Limerick Climbing Club, who were doing Coomloughra Horsehoe, and some other walkers too.

We could really enjoy sitting at the top this time without getting too cold and that is very rare in Irish mountains...

At the top of Beenkeregh

Going down towards Knockbrinnea
After lunch we started our descent which was very rocky at first but eased and leveled for a while at the col. We used the path between Eastern and Western top of Knockbrinnea before turning left and following the path down towards Lisleibane car park.The middle section of this route down is a knee-killer, steep and long with high heathers. It levels then for the last stretch.
We had a brilliant day out. We missed the sunshine but we're blessed with no wind which is extremely important on this route. Just remember that it requires a good fitness level, some scrambling experience and head for heights.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Galtymore & Galtybeg from King's Yard (South)

This was our first time in the Galtees as a club. The south side of this mountain range is much more gradual and easier to climb than the north one, but still it's a good hike especially if you do both Galtymore and Galtybeg. King's Yard has some facilities including bathrooms and refreshments similar to those known from Cronin's Yard in Kerry. To get there turn left from Mitchelstown bypass after Kilbeheny when going Cahir direction. You're now in County Limerick.

Galtymore summit | Looking North - West 

Galtymore | April 2017
From King's Yard we walked the road up to the sheep's pen and then turned right and started climbing straight up. It's a long but gradual climb, easy to follow on a clear day.

Galtymore | February 2016

The pictures above were taken in the same place and show how different mountains can look at different times of the year.

Us at the top
Luckily the top was clear and we were able to see the north side which is one of our next destinations. We discussed all the possible routes and can't wait to do the full loop taking Slievecushnabinnia, Galtymore, Galtybeg and Cush. After lunch we headed down and up again to the top of Galtybeg (Co Tipperary). This part of the trail is always busier and you meet a lot of people climbing up as you go down. This is the most known and popular route up Galtymore with the start point at the black road. The easiest but the longest as well. We used that route for going back after descending from Galtybeg but we didn't go as far as the black road.

The path to the river
We took the path turning right and down to the river to the point where we could safely cross it. Going back this way is longer as you have to walk back towards Galtymore a bit to avoid the forestry but it's a beautiful valley and a lovely walk. After having a closer look of this side of Galtymore we possibly found our new challenge for the future which is a steep gully going straight up to the top... There's more research to be done about the place but as far as we know it can be done and if it can be done it must be done and that's it.

After crossing the river, we climbed a little bit up where it was easier to walk and soon we met a path which will take you to the remains of an old abandoned cottage surrounded by some beautiful trees. What a location! We stayed there for a while and took some pictures. The way nature takes back places we once built and lived in is amazing. From that place the path becomes a little road which was long ago providing the only access to that remote house. That road soon meets the road to King's Yard near the sheep's pen. You can easily guess why nobody lives there anymore while walking all that distance back to the car park and from there there's still more to go to the nearest town or village.

The abandoned cottage

A nice walk we had again. See you soon on Hag's Tooth!