Croaghbane

Croaghbane is a 641m high mountain in the Bluestack range, and I’ve had my eye on it for a while now, eventually deciding to climb it, partly on its own merits, and partly as a scouting trip for a much longer walk. Climbed from the Reelan Valley, it can be the starting point for a challenging walk over six summits; itself, Ardnageer, Ardnageer SW Top, Croaghgorm (the highest peak in the range), Lavagh More and Lavagh Beg. All six are over 600m high, and the distance on the circular walk is about 17km. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tackle this walk yet, but decided to try Croaghbane first, to check out the lie of the land, familiarise myself with the starting point, and get a closer look at the other mountains involved. I suppose it was in the back of my mind that I might actually do the full walk on this occasion if everything went well, but as it turned out, for a few reasons, mainly the weather, I had to settle for just Croaghbane this time.

As I mentioned, the walk starts in the Reelan Valley, next to an abandoned school house, and I set out to find it early in the morning. This didn’t prove to be as easy as I thought, and I took several wrong turns before finding the right turn off from the R253 road. As a result, I actually started off walking too late in the day to realistically tackle such a long walk that I wasn’t sure of. However, I felt the wrong turns weren’t completely wasted as they introduced me to some wonderful scenery amidst the Bluestacks. Many of these views were dominated by Gaugin Mountain.

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I stopped to chat with local farmers on two separate occasions, and they were extremely friendly and helpful. With their directions, I eventually reached my intended starting point. Despite the delay and late start, the weather was very good, and at this stage I still felt it was just possible that I might complete the whole walk, and I could now see all the mountains on the circuit. Unfortunately, the weather can change very quickly in the mountains, but more of that later.

Croaghbane is steep on this northern side, so the usual route is via Glascarns Hill. From the summit there is a short drop down onto a ridge which would take me high up the northern face of Croaghbane. So, off I went descending into the valley, to cross the Reelan River and begin the ascent.

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As I gained height on Glascarns Hill, the views opened up back into the valley, and to the surrounding mountains.

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Almost at the summit of Glascarns Hill here, and looking across at the ridge leading up to Croaghbane. By now, the weather had begun to change. The wind was rising, and dark clouds were moving in from the west.

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At the summit of Glascarns Hill, it was becoming murky, and it was now difficult to stand upright in the wind. The summit had a marvellous rocky character however, and I had a good wander round exploring.

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New views opened up from here to the south and east, over the wild Owendoo Valley, towards Gaugin and Altnapaste, and Croaghbarnes in the heart of the Bluestacks.

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The drops to the south and east were extremely steep, and as I could barely stand in the wind, I couldn’t get too close, but I ventured close enough to get a glimpse of Cronloughan lough, seemingly almost directly below. I don’t know if the photos convey it, but this view was breathtaking at the time.

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I took shelter on the summit for a while, behind one of the massive rocks, out of the wind, and took lunch, while I considered my options. I had walking poles with me, and without their help for balance, I doubt whether I could have walked at all in the wind now. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like it before, and it was obvious now that the whole walk was out of the question. But it was a short hop to Croaghbane, and it seemed a shame to come so far and not “bag” it. I decided I would go that far at least. It wasn’t far, most of the altitude had been gained already, and the bulk of the mountain sheltered me from the worst of the wind as I ascended. I soon reached the summit cairn, but sheltered no longer, I could not use my tripod, and took many shots in succession to get the photo below, hoping at least one would come out sharp. This was the best of a bad bunch.

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I could see far to the west from here, and it reinforced my decision that this would be my last summit. In addition to the wind, dark clouds were moving in rapidly. At best, they would mean photography would be pointless in the murk and gloom, and at worst, I could find myself in a whiteout, making navigation extremely difficult. A quick retreat was called for, but I thought I would have time for a quick look round Croaghbane’s broad summit with its many small peaks and mini valleys. The rest of the photos around the summit are very poor – dark and gloomy due to the cloud, and not sharp due to the staggering wind. It almost knocked me over constantly as strong gusts hit me.

The tiny Lough Aduff at the summit.

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Another cairn on one of the minor summits.

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Some views to the east.

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Looking over to Croaghbarnes.

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A final set of views of Lough Belshade, with Lough Eske at a lower altidute barely visible in the conditions.

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To add to the misery, it now started to rain heavily, so the camera was packed away, and I made my way back to Glascarns Hill and from there, down towards the Reelan Valley again. With every foot descended, the wind became more managable, until back at the car, it was raining and windy, but there was no hint of the unbelievable wind on top of Croaghbane. I might not have done the long walk over six peaks, but I had bagged one at least. I also knew the starting point and route now, and had seen enough to know I would be back with an earlier start, and hopefully better weather to have a go at a great mountain walk. In the week since this walk, we’ve also had some great weather, so i’ve had two or three brilliant days in the hills and mountains, and around the coast to make up for the disappointment, along with a few more posts in progress.

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