On Muckish’s broad plateau, looking towards Errigal.
Muckish Mountain, at 667m, is one of the highest and most recognisable mountains in Co. Donegal, and one of Ireland’s iconic mountains. It is one of the “Seven Sisters”, a sub group in the Derryveagh Mountains, standing at the eastern end of this chain, with Errigal, another iconic mountain, at the western end. Its name means “The Pig’s Back” in Irish, and its shape does resemble the back of a wild boar, which were native in Ireland at the time of naming. I had climbed Errigal earlier in the year, and Muckish had always been on my list, having photographed it many times. So large and distinctive are Errigal and Muckish, they are visible from much of Donegal, and even from Tyrone and Derry if even moderate height is gained.
Above, and the next three below – some shots of Muckish from the archives, from various angles.
So, I set off to ascend it on an overcast day in September. There appeared to two main routes to the summit: the exposed Miners Track on the northern side, and another route starting at a roadside shrine on the southern side. I chose the reportedly easier southern route, this being my first ascent of Muckish.
At the starting point and shrine.
A short walk from the road, across the bog brought me to the foot of the mountain which rises abruptly even on this route which avoids the steeper sides, and the legs were tested at many points. The best views at this stage were towards nearby Crocknalaragagh, the nearest of the other peaks in the Seven Sisters chain, although overcast conditions and haze meant this was not a great day for views or landscape photography.
The top of Muckish, a long, broad plateau, is covered in small rocks, and probably the mostly widely used phrase to describe it is “moonscape”, and although i hadn’t reached that area yet, rocks were beginning to make an appearance. Far from the uniform grey appearance they presented from a distance, they were fascinating close up, with subtle colours and banded patterns. Taking an interest in them also gave me an excuse to rest tired legs of course.
The rest of the Seven Sisters becoming visible now behind Crocknalaragagh.
A fellow traveller, taking in the views.
The views opening up too to the northeast and the coast.
The summit plateau stretching eastwards. The route was taking me close to the south western end of the plateau, and I was now entering the stony region.
Another pause to rest, and examine the patterned rocks.
On the plateau, covered in rocks with many small cairns.
Reaching the plateau, I found the “moonscape” description very apt. The sense of other-worldliness was reinforced by the large prehistoric cairn, prominent on the skyline, further east on the plateau, and the hazy conditions seeming to isolate the summit from the world below. I was also the only person on the mountain.
I set about exploring the southern/western end of the plateau, covered in numerous small cairns, with ever-changing views as I walked around the edge of the flattish top, the sides dropping steeply below.
A more elaborately constructed cairn, with the huge burial cairn in the background.
I began to move westwards along the plateau to the summit proper, and I could see the prehistoric burial cairn, the trig pillar and the cross, all of which I wanted to visit. On the way, on the northern side, I was able to look down on the Miners Track – the alternative route to the summit.
Looking down at the Miners Track.
Near the top of the Miners Track, looking north across Lough Agher to the Horn Head peninsula on the north coast.
The Miners Track looked like a very interesting route up Muckish. More about it in subsequent posts in this series.
Some of the old abandoned mining equipment on the Miners Track.
Having had a good look around, I knew that I would not be able to leave without further investigation of the Miners Track. I could not descend via that route, as it would leave me on the wrong side of Muckish’s massive bulk, with a long hike back to the car. I promised myself however, that I would at least partially descend, and then reascend, giving me an opportunity to get a taste of this exiciting looking route with its winding ascent and exposure on the steep sides of Muckish. I would also get a closer look at the mine and the old equipment. I’ll go into more detail on that in my next two posts. For now, I made my way towards the the massive, prehistoric burial cairn.
The burial cairn, dominating the top of Muckish.
Further along the plateau, to the east, I could see the trig pillar, marking the highest point, and the cross nearby.
A closer view of the cairn.
I climbed to the top of the cairn, and admired the views. It was not the ideal conditions for photography, and it is difficult to capture the majestic views in haze and flat light, but it was easy to appreciate the views when I was actually there, and I could imagine how magnificent they would be in good light. An excuse for another visit I think. Once again, I also reflected on how apt the moonscape description was. The stony surface, and the flat light, lending an almost monochrome appearance to everything, made it easy to imagine I was in an alien place. The impressive cairn added to this atomosphere, looking like something constructed by some remote non-human civilisation. An absolutely brilliant mountain.
In part 2 I will continue on the eastern end of the plateau, the trig pillar and cross, and my partial descent of the Miners Track.