Croaghnageer from Browns Hill.
My last post was on a very wet day on Browns Hill in the Bluestacks. Today’s is from the same location two weeks later, and conditions couldn’t have been more different. There had been a heavy snowfall in previous days, and Browns Hill seemed like a convenient choice as the road down is passable in all but the worst snow – some other mountains are difficult to get to on minor roads when conditions are bad. Once again, I had a vague intention to carry on over Browns Hill and Croaghnageer to Croaghanirwore, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up, having been defeated by the weather several times before.
The sun was shining as I set off from the car park at Barnes Gap, initially taking the forest track towards the mountains, and it was pleasant walking with the snow not too deep, and views of Croaghonagh and Croaghconnellagh through the trees.
Emerging from the trees, I got my first look at Browns Hill and Croghnageer, looking magnificent in the sun with their covering of snow.
It was time to leave the track, and head across the open bog to the foot of Browns Hill, and this was where the walking got difficult. the snow was much deeper off the track, and was lying on what was already tough terrain to walk across. I was constantly plunging through deep snow, and into tussocky grass, heather and soft ground. I would say it took me 3 or 4 times as long as normal to get across this area to the foot of the hill
At the foot of Browns Hll, looking over to Croaghconnellagh.
Ascending Browns Hill didn’t get any easier. It is a fairly steep climb, and the snow got deeper the higher I went. Again I was plunging through the snow, through the high vegatation, and my next step forwards and up could be anything up to waist high in front of me. I often found myself crawling upwards as it was simply impossible to lift my legs high enough to step up the slope over the snow. It was exhausting, and extremely slow progress.
On the ascent of Browns Hill.
Browns Hill has a false summit on this approach near the top, with the real summit hidden beyond, and I reached this part with some relief and very tired. The climb so far had taken me much longer than usual. I could see the real summit ahead, and paused for breath. Unusally for the Bluestacks, I could see two other walkers taking a different route up the hill, making similarly slow progress.
On the false summit looking over to Croaghconnellagh.
Barnes Lough nestled behind Croaghconnellagh.
The actual summit of Browns Hill, not visible on the way up.
After catching my breath, I started up towards the summit proper. Up here the walking wasn’t quite so difficult. The higher ground had clearly been exposed to the full force of the wind, and much of the snow had been scoured off, leaving a thin layer, sometimes compacted to ice, on the rocky ground. In places there were still deep drifts however, and the going would get hard again. On the way I met the other two walkers who I had seen on the way up, and who had stopped for a hot drink. They were also going to Browns Hill. I told them about my earlier plan to continue on to Croaghanirwore, but they looked at me very skeptically, agreeing that the walking had been extremely difficult, and suggesting that would be a walk for summer conditions. It had been extremely tiring, and I found myself agreeing that today would not be the day – once again weather conditions had foiled my attempt to reach Croaghanirwore. But once again, it was extremely enjoyable being in the hills to experience another of their moods, and I wasn’t disappointed. My two fellow walkers were well kitted out for winter weather, even carrying ice axes, so if they felt Browns Hill was sufficient, it would probably be wise to pay heed to them.
It turned out they were from Donegal and Derry. A Tyrone man, a Derry man and a Donegal man sitting on a mountain top – sounds like the start of a joke!
I pushed on for the top, and by the time I reached it, I had decided that the legs would never stick carrying on through any more deep snow to the other peaks, so it would be just Browns Hill for today.
Croaghnageer I found particularly impressive looking in its winter covering.
Reaching the top, it was a beautiful view around the rest of the Bluestacks, looking magnificent in the winter conditions. I could easily imagine I was in a much more isolated, higher range. At the very top, a lot of the snow had been blown away, only lying deeply in sheltered depressions, but I only had to look at Croaghnageer and Croaghanirwore to know that getting to them would be exhausting. I was happy now to wander around the summit taking in the views.
At the top and the summit cairn.
Not the first up here that day.
Judging by how long it had taken to get up here, it was time to start making my way back down again.
Looking down on the lower, false summit.
Looking back up at the summit on the way down.
Back down on the lower false summit, I took another breather, wandering around the cairns, and looking down on Barnes Lough again.
At one of the cairns on the lower summit, looking back the summit proper.
Looking down on Lough Mourne.
I set of again for the bottom of the hill – the steepest section, but it was a lot easier on the way down. A lot of the time I could just sit and slide down, and I made quick progress.
Getting close to the bottom of the hill. I would then walk across the flatter area below which had been leg-sapping on the way in with deep snow on top of heather and tussocky grass. Luckily, it was a short way before rejoining the forest track.
Almost back at the bottom of the hill.
Looking up from the bottom. It is only the false summit that I mentioned earlier which is visible, the actual summit hidden behind.
The direction I would be taking on the way out, across the flatter boggy area, to the path through the forest visible on the skyline on the extreme left of the frame, to the road under Croaghonagh in the distance.
Back on the forest track – the last leg before the main road and the car park.
The snow gives a whole new appearance to familiar ground, and the Bluestacks were magnificent in these conditions, made all the more rewarding by having to work so hard to experience it.