Treks

Carrauntoohil: Taking on Ireland’s Highest Mountain

Have you taken on Carrauntoohil? Here’s Kevin’s story…

The Backstory

Hi my name is Kevin Best and I am 42 years of age now. I currently live in Toome, though I was brought up in Ballymena. I have been into Photography for about 4/5 years now and along with Landscapes I love to do weddings, Couples, Clubs and Events.

I really love getting out and about exploring and most of the time I have my camera with me to capture all these beautiful moments which then become amazing memories and this is the thing that I love about photography. When you photograph anything and you have the image, it’s there forever and you have captured a beautiful moment in time. So be it a landscape a wedding or whatever you have a memory of that special place or person always to hand.

I also think printed images are an important thing nowadays as we all live in such a digital era we forget about how beautiful printed images are to touch, the quality of the images after print and not just a file is that stuck into a computer. Sometimes a photo can be all you have someday of that special place or person.

I love to do a lot of walking and I was doing this long before I even picked up a camera, but I was always taking photos with my phone and then decided after going out with the N.I. walking photography group I wanted to get better at the photographs and images.

It was here I met David Doyle who is a great photographer and so after a while I got my first camera. Joining the walking group was great as it introduced me to not only new walks routes and adventures, but also like minded people sharing and talking about their interests. My favourite places to both photograph and walk in N.I. would have to be the Mourne Mountains with so many mountains and routes you just never get bored and the stunning North Coast.

I think I have been going to the coast since I was little and I still go down at least once a week even now. You just have so many beautiful locations from Ballycastle, Kinbane, Ballintoy, Causeway, Portstewart, Castlerock….. just too many to mention not to mention all the wee hidden gems in between these beautiful areas.

My parents were a really big influence to me as well as they both love walking and even to this day they are still out every weekend. It was them that introduced me to Donegal on our summer holidays as kids and I have to admit I really do have a soft spot for Donegal with its Rugged mountains like Errigal and Muckish. The amazing Coastline from Malin Head, Bloody Foreland and right down to the Amazing Cliffs of Slieve League, County Donegal is definitely one of my favourite places to get away from it all. These are just a few of the areas I love but the ones close to my heart and so many fond memories of all these places.

READ: A Hiker’s Guide to the Mourne Mountains

The trek I am going to talk about today is one I took on recently – Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest Mountain, in the beautiful County of Kerry.

The Journey

After a good 5/6 hours driving with my friend Mark Lewthwaite we checked into the B&B which was actually great after driving non-stop for so long. We then went and had food and a pint (just the one) as we knew we were going to do the hike the next morning.

So on to the day of the hike and what was one of the best yet craziest days of our lives. Carrauntoohil is Ireland’s highest peak at 1,038m (3,407ft}. It was a beautiful sunny day in County Kerry and we knew there was snow on the peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, but didn’t think it would be too bad.

As with every hike though you have to come prepared and so you have to make sure you are wearing a good pair of hiking boots to start with and a decent rucksack to store extra clothing, extras and most importantly food and a flask if you think it will be really cold. Great for a coffee or a Pot Noodle if you are feeling the cold. We both had done a lot of walks around the Mournes but we wanted to try out something different and a new challenge so this is why we decided to do Carrauntoohil.

We started the walk from Cronin’s Yard which is probably about 30 minutes away from Killarney. There is a carpark there and the day we went there weren’t too many cars there. We knew this was either a really good or a bad thing. (most people were probably more sensible).

Although it was March it was actually a really beautiful day as we started the walk up the Valley along the Gaddagh River and really it is a simple enough walk up the Hags Glen and so beautiful until you get to the Devil’s Ladder part of the walk. This seemed to be the most popular route to take when looking online but I think there are another two routes you can take, and it also depends where you are walking from.

READ: Top 5 Hikes for Children in the Mourne Mountains

Just before you come to the Devil’s ladder you walk between two small lakes called Lough Gouragh and Callee and it was around here you really started to notice the air getting a lot cooler and crisp, and you had to wrap up warm. You must make sure to always bring a hat and snood/neck warmer even in the summer in Ireland. You really won’t regret it and they are light essentials. The area here is really boggy as well so remember to wear good footwear that is waterproof and warm. I wear Gri sport footwear which I find amazing and so comfortable but there are so many out there nowadays.

It was from the Devil’s ladder things were slightly more difficult as the walk up until now was pretty much a gradual climb and really quite flat and easy. Once on the Devil’s ladder though the rocks were very slippery and covered in slight snow and ice but we managed to get up not too bad and there wasn’t really much of a wind. This was until we got to the top of the Devil’s ladder and the gusts were crazy.

From here you turn up right to head up to the Summit of Carrauntoohil – this is where it started to get really difficult… not really because of the actual climb up the mountain, but because we were starting to get hit with the ice cold winds which were also blowing snow and ice off the ground and into our faces (the gusts would have taken you off your feet).

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I was really glad to have a snood on around this time. Although it was so cold, I was still walking around and trying to get photos and as you can see from the images I think most people were coming down. The main thing that I did find about Carrauntoohil was how quickly the weather can change. You really have to respect the mountains when it is like this and just be careful and watch out for each other.

There were even points during the walk where we had to sit down with our backs against the wind as it was like glass hitting your face, and along with the winds we were starting to get blizzards now and again. The higher you got, you weren’t walking on the rocky areas and ended up in the smaller ridges, and the snow was nearly up to my waist in places… so that’s up to most people’s thighs.

The higher you climb up Carrauntoohil you start to see the Cross at the summit and when you see it you really start to get exciting to think you are now the highest person in the whole of the island of Ireland. It’s such a good feeling and an accomplishment to be able to do this and grateful for the fact you can do it. Even though we made it to the summit little did we know the hardest part of this whole adventure was about to begin.

As we made our way down from the summit we thought we would go towards O’Shea’s Gully as we had read about this online, but I don’t think I would recommend going this way especially in the winter. The snow on this area was starting to get really deep and by the time we got to the gully area there were a few different ones and had to make a decision to go back or to go down.

READ: Photographer in Focus: Leigh Parke

We decided to go down what we thought was O’Shea’s gully but looking back now we think it was actually the Central gully as we were in between two others. Standing at the top of this was daunting enough as the image shows. This was so steep around this area and like nothing we had experienced before, especially in this weather. Every foot was taking forever and I had to put the camera away until we got down the Gully. There was snow over the really loose rocks below and between these was about an inch of ice, so the conditions were terrible in this part and it wasn’t a great experience at the time but amazing looking back at it all now.

After the slow snail’s pace down to the lake (which we were starting to think was one of the lakes we passed on the way up), we looked around and realised that we were still higher than the Hag’s tooth rock and this was Ireland highest lake called Lough Cummeenoughter, still 707m high up. And from here we got our first views of the countryside below and everyone looked to be having a beautiful spring day.

Eventually, we reached the Hag’s Glen side of O’Shea’s Gully and from here the conditions started to get a lot better although wet areas were already turning to ice but seeing the path we came up brought a little warmth to our hearts after the painfully slow climb down the Gully.

Once you get back down the Glen a little you get to the route that brings you straight down to the Cronin’s Yard car park and by this time the legs are thanking you for it. I’m not sure what this walk would have been like with no snow and ice but I’m sure it would’ve been a lot easier. If you are doing Carrauntoohil definitely bring a friend or two along!

READ: How hiking can boost your creativity

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this trek more than others because it was totally new to me and with that you get a totally new experience – you don’t know what is around the corner. The weather was so unpredictable it really opened my eyes to how much the weather can change in these mountains and you have to realise as well you are right on the Atlantic as well and anything can happen, even if the weather is beautiful below.

Even before we got to near the summit the views were just amazing, everywhere from the Hag’s Glen to the Gaddagh river, and when you started to go up a lot higher you really got to see the Macgillycuddy’s peaks and just how dangerous some of the ridges were, but yet so stunning. They aren’t the highest mountains in the world but still some of the most beautiful and challenging in parts. I really can’t wait to get back to climb them again but maybe in spring or summer, although it really was amazing in the snow.

I think maybe for this walk you have to have a bit of fitness about you as some of the areas can be quite challenging even in the summertime I reckon. If you are going up for the first time I definitely would go in spring or summer and make sure the weather is going to be really good beforehand. Make sure you have everything well packed and bring extra clothing, food, water and a hot drink if it’s cold.

Always bring a battery charger for your phone as you never know if you may need it. Plan out what way is best to go and if the weather changes, change your plan and go on the easiest route. Apps like Viewfinder can help you with planning routes etc. Weather & Radar is great for up to date weather reports and is usually really accurate, giving you a live view of where clouds, rain, etc, will be. The Photographer’s Ephemeris and Photopill’s are great for planning photos although I just took candid shots as we walked along.

I think this route took us about 6/7 hours but that was because of the snail’s pace on the way down the Gully, so I think you could do it a lot quicker. The main thing is to just go out and enjoy yourself and there is NO time limit in doing things. Get out and enjoy the experience, look after yourself and your friends, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes Ireland has to offer. It’s the best fun you can have and it’s all free.

If you haven’t been and you are thinking of doing it just go out and enjoy it all. You won’t regret it. Take care and have fun everyone!

You can follow Kevin on Facebook, Instagram and via his website (coming soon).

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Hi my name is Kevin Best and I am 42 years of age now. I currently live in Toome, though I was brought up in Ballymena. I have been into Photography for about 4/5 years now and along with Landscapes I love to do weddings, Couples, Clubs and Events. I really love getting out and about exploring and most of the time I have my camera with me to capture all these beautiful moments which then become amazing memories and this is the thing that I love about photography.

3 comments on “Carrauntoohil: Taking on Ireland’s Highest Mountain

  1. Steven Craig

    Fantastic read. I’ve been following Kevin’s work since the start and all I can say is…wow!! His work is 1st class.

  2. Margaret Agnewm

    I doubt at my age and fear of heights i will have to give this a miss but really looks great. Love the views and until now i never heard of this mountain. So it shows how much we dont know of our island and the beautiful scenery captured in these photos. I would love to be able to climb and see these first hand but have to settle for photos which i thank Kevin for in showing how beautiful Ireland is. I enjoyed the reading of it. Thank you Kevin for sharing.

  3. Terrific photos. Carrauntoohil is on my wish list however I wouldn’t climb it in snow and ice conditions (you’re mad!) lol Looks amazing though.

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