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Benighted on Carrantouhill

Date: July 2011
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
Not being Alps bound this year (and coincidentally spending more time in B&Q than Cotswolds these days) PJ and I were enticed to the Kingdom of Kerry by the images of sun kissed beaches and tropical flora on the Mannix Point Campsite website. We left Derry under grey skies on the Friday and arrived in Galway's Bayview campsite under greyer, with a stiff breeze whipping the tents. We opted for a long Indian dining experience to avoid having to spend too much damp cramped time in the wee Dragonfly. In the morning the cold showers didn't improve our perception of the bad Bayview facilities and we got on the road early, after explaining to our Swedish neighbour and Ireland virgin that the opening conversational phrase "How are you?" or, more colloquially, "How're ya?" does not require a detailed explanation of his current disposition but rather just a terse "Fine" or a responding "How're ya?". Not sure if he quite got it.

If anything the weather worsened as we got nearer to Kerry but we found that the campsite was well kitted out with a sitting room and long kitchen so that we could eat, drink and be merry indoors. A Polish chap kept the grounds trimmed and the facilities were kept immaculately clean by a French girl; piped music in the loos meant you could listen to Handel's Four Seasons or that music off The Apprentice, Dance of The Thingummys, during your morning shower. For the Saturday night however we slept in fear of the big Decathlon 4-man collapsing around us, getting little sleep as the tent poles creaked and groaned in the gale force winds. Accepting that our apprehension, curses and insomnia were having no affect on the tent's ability to stand up or the weather's ability to calm down, we resorted to ear plugs on the Sunday to drown out the noise and at least get some sleep. We'd spent the day earlier cycling round the wet Killarney National Park where a very young deer sprang out of the undergrowth not 2 feet in front of us and bounded off into the trees on the other side of the track.

By Monday the weather was still crap but we resolved to get into the hills and do something. We opted for a hoof round some hills near Coomasaharn Lake, Knocknaman 559m, Meenteog 716m and Macklaun 526m. Ascending in driving mizzle we were soon swamped in cloud and too late realised we should have been using the old map and compass. Anyway we pulled them out, had a guess where we were (already past Knocknaman, there would be no claiming THAT towering peak today) and put in a 500m, 200m dogleg to avoid the cliffs on the Meeonteog ampitheathre. We were only out by about 50m but our smugness was soon wiped out when we didn't quite trust the compass and nearly ended up in the next valley as we tried to find Macklaun. One backtrack later we got it right and smugness was duly restored.

We read a post by Columba on Facebook whilst ensconced in the Bonnan Bui in Cahersiveen about the Coomloughra Horsehoe taking in Ireland's 3 highest peaks of Benkeeragh 1010m, Carrantouhill 1040m and Caher 1006m, and so the plan was set for Tuesday. You start the horsehoe on the Hydro track off the Beaufort - Glencar road, the first 150m of which is merciless in it's steepness. The path then turns 90 degrees and levels off (thank God!) heading up to the lake, where we crossed the dam to another unrelentingly steep path up through the heather and Skregmore at 850m (we were doing the horseshoe clockwise). Once this peak is attained you never lose more than 150m of height so all the hard work is at the beginning. The wind had dropped but the tops were still "clagged in" and it was another map, compass and altimeter job, guessing the terrain and estimating times and distances. Visibility was less than 50m at times but it was great to feel strong on the hill and know almost exactly where we were.

We were soon on Benkeeragh and ready for the arete over to the big yin. I'd taken a rope because the guidebooks had all described the Benkeeragh Arete with some trepidation but it turned out to be straight forward scrambling, only to be given big props by those who'd get vertigo on a step ladder. Visibility was still awful and for some reason I had the figure 1140m instead of 1040m in my head, so after the arete thought we'd another 100m to climb. It was a nice surprise to see the big black cross appear out of the mist with the altimeter reading 1030m! Of course no other eejit was out in that weather (I shudder to think what it was like when Columba was up there on Sunday) so for a while, we were the 2 highest people on terra firma in the whole of the island of Ireland, a nice thought.

Despite the guidebook warning us about descending into the Devil's Ladder we almost ended up there, only realising our mistake when the cloud lifted a little but a quick detour west and we were back on track for Caher. There are some steep drops along the ridge here which we couldn't see but I can imagine it being breath-taking on a good day, the path sticking very close to the edge. Caher West at 975m provides the last bit of climbing before the descent back to the lake via Lyreboy, which starts on a scree slope but becomes very very boggy by the end.

The legs were stiff on Wednesday but the excitement of readings books on my new Kindle had lost it's fizz and my impromptu demonstration of changing boxer shorts without taking off my trousers or boots (what can I say - it's a gift) wasn't enough to keep PJ amused for long. So we cycled over to Valentia island via the ferry and then up to the Geokaun Mountain (can it be a mountain at 266m?) and the mediocre Fogher Cliffs. We paid €2 to see this?? The sun came out however and the view from the top was quite lovely, you could see the Skelligs and quite a few of the Reeks. After some ice cream and Guiness we stopped back at the mainland for more imbibation at The Point Bar, a cracking seafood restaurant if you can afford the prices. We couldn't so headed to the Bonnan Bui again to dine more cheaply.

This was followed by a game of in-bar bingo, which I thought would be a bit of mucking about with the patrons but the place soon filled up with clipboard wielding geriatrics and excitable housewives who all took it very seriously. You should have heard the ripple of disapproval when PJ mistakenly called a house when she was still "sweating" on one number. I'm never suggesting bingo as an evening's entertainment again until we've reached the bad tempered old age where your fellow human beings can all just feck off and you long for death to just fecking take you.

We rested up on the Thursday because the weather was to be glorious on the Friday for our attempt at Howling Ridge on Carrantouhill. The sun actually came out early so a wee drive to Derrynane beach was called for. It stayed out on Friday morning and we hoofed up from Cronin's Yard (€2 for parking in the honesty box) in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the warm sunshine. There were plenty of clouds about though, so that by the time we got to the Heavenly Gates we were glad we'd packed longer sleeved and legged things to climb in.

When you look at the ridge from below it's mightily impressive and steep but the route starts off easily up some good scrambling. We moved together with our 50m rope coiled alpine style around us. The first steep bit of climbing is a short bit of VDiff stuff and we'd enough slack between us to allow PJ to belay me. She then followed through up to the end of the next sloping plateau. We uncoiled the rope at this point and I led the next section for nearly the full 50m, steep scrambling with one high-footed VDiff move to start. Again PJ followed through for 50m up a flatter section to the base of a large tower that looked like "An Droichead", connecting to the mountain on top via a narrow section. Having read several reports about exposure and Severe style climbing I was still waiting for the scary stuff to start. After the scrambling section there were occasional moves that required you to edge out into space but the holds were so massive that you'd have to be near suicidal to take a fall. Gear wasn't abundant but when you're only placing 1 piece every 20m, you'll find enough to muddle through, mostly mid size nuts, hexes and cams.

Anyway the tower looked imposing so we both changed into rock shoes, even though we'd managed in big boots so far. We needn't have bothered. Up close we found a nice blocky line and I was soon almost over the bridge. Rope drag was a problem however and I used the whole 50m without getting quite all the way over. PJ came up behind and led the final 50m of steep scrambling after which I scooted around The Finger and saw that we wouldn't need the rope any more. Back in boots we scooted to the top in about 10 minutes, getting there quicker than expected. We'd set our altimeters to 610m at the start of the route instead of 690m, so once again reached the summit while thinking we had another 80m to go. Nice.

This time the summit was crowded with several parties of walkers in various states of exhaustion but the views were impressive and we could make out Caher, Benkeeragh, Brandon and all the others we'd missed first time round. We descended via Devil's Ladder, which is a horrible gouged scar of a gully in the side of Carrantouhill and makes for a slow tricky descent, even in the dry. Near the bottom 2 fellas were scrambling quickly up and just as we re-entered Cronin's Yard about an hour later they jogged in behind us! Kudos. All in the route took us about 8 hours, 2 hours in, 2 out, 4 climbing.

It took almost the same time to drive back to Derry on the Saturday, bum numb wasn't funny. I'd definitely go back though, Kerry's a quare spot in the sunshine, beautiful beaches and hills, charming locals and not nearly as densely populated with loud American tourists as I'd initially feared.

PS I knew it was Vivaldi. And it's Dance of the Knights by Prokofiev of course...

PPS Sorry to suck you in with the misleading title. How many of you thought "Jaysus, Feeney has done it again"?

26 Jul 2011

Me, for one.

26 Jul 2011

Is that a pic of PJ and a big notice saying turn back now? Its a sign!! talk of young deer, icecream, and Bingo!! you've changed!!

27 Jul 2011

Well done to both of you, ye packed a lot into your week in Kerry :)

Photo of Route