Up on the ridge approaching the summit of Knocknapeasta.
In Part 1 we had reached the summit of Cruach Mhor, the first top on our traverse of the eastern MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range in Kerry. Just as we’d reached that top, the weather had closed in, obscuring everything around us in thick cloud, leaving us with little or no visibility for the next part of our walk, the most difficult and dangerous part, over the next two summits, the Big Gun and Knocknapeasta. We had been keeping an open mind on whether we would follow the top of the ridge on this section, as we weren’t sure if we could manage it or not. The ridge has a fearsome reputation, with a lot of exposure and very steep drops on both sides. It had looked terrifying from a distance as we ascended Cruach Mhor, and now it was completely hidden from us. We didn’t want to start along it blindly, with the danger of continuing into areas beyond our ability, maybe even finding that retreat was also impossible – it is often possible to proceed along a stretch, particularly up a steep climb, but extremely hazardous to retreat again where footholds can’t be seen. However, we were aware that it was possible to drop below the ridge on the northern side and continue along less hazardous ground, by-passing the Big Gun, before ascending to the top of the ridge again, and doubling back to reach the summit of the Big Gun via the less difficult far side. Taking this route, we found that while it had looked impossible to walk along the face of the ridge when looking at it earlier, it wasn’t actually too bad up close. Care had to be taken, and there were some long drops on our right hand side, but apart from one or two narrow places, it was easily passable. The only thing worrying us was looking up at the sloping wall above, covered in huge, precariously placed rocks, and hoping that now wasn’t the time that they would come crashing down!
We soon by-passed the Big Gun, and found a track leading up steeply back on to the ridge, now on the opposite side of the mountain. By now, it had started to rain, and it was impossible to take the camera out without destroying it. There was nothing to see anyway, as we were enveloped in cloud, with no views of the ridge, the mountains around us, or anything below, so it would be well on the way to the next summit, Knocknapeasta before I got any more photos. In the meantime, back on top of the ridge, we doubled back and began to climb to the top of the Big Gun. This was undoubtedly the scariest, and most difficult part of the route – it couldn’t be called a walk at this point, as we had to use our hands to ascend the steep rocky summit. The rocks were extremely wet and slippery in the rain, and we were on all fours the whole way up the thankfully short climb. Occasionally the clouds allowed a brief glimpse of drops below, and even if it hadn’t been raining, I’m not sure if I would have spared the grip with my hands or my full attention, to take any photos! I would like to go back over this ridge in better weather and visibility to see if it is any less scary. As it was, we inched up the short, steep, slick slope and with no views to make us linger, were happy to reach a hand up to touch the highest point, and gingerly retreat back down to safer ground.
The route ahead to Knocknapeasta was a similar scenario as that from Cruach Mhor to the Big Gun, but this time, the safer route away from the knife-edge on top of the ridge, lay along its southern face. It seemed more difficult than the earlier section too, as we had to scramble over boulders for most of the way, and dropped a fair bit below the top of the ridge, before ascending again to the top just on the eastern side of Knocknapeasta’s summit. The climb up to the ridge top was steep, and as we left most of the boulders below, the grass and moss covered ground was treacherously slippery, sometimes giving way beneath our boots. Hands provided extra security, and care was required as a fall could definitely have been serious. By the time we got on to the top of the ridge, I had managed to grab and squash slugs several times on my handholds, not a pleasant experience! On the plus side, we were starting to get occasional glimpses of the area south of the Reeks, particularly Lough Googh.
Facing the ridge over to the Big Gun, a mere shadow in the cloud. It soon disappeared completely, so we elected to take an easier route below the ridge.
The Big Gun almost invisible ahead in the cloud.
My next chance of a photo was on the other side of the Big Gun, approaching Knocknapeasta, this time on the southern slopes of the ridge. We got our first view of the ground below and Lough Googh as the cloud began to thin out.
Looking back along the ridge in the direction we had come from (I think).
Visibility improving a little as we move over the boulders, and back up on to the ridge.
Eventually we emerged, tired and a bit relieved, on top of the ridge again, just where it started to rise up to the summit of Knocknapeasta. The knife-edge section that we had avoided was behind us, and it would be relatively plain sailing from here on. It would be walking, not scrambling, and although there might be drops to one side in places, the other side would be level with plenty of room to stay away from the edge. There would still be tiring, steep slopes to ascend, and a long walk ahead, but nothing as unnerving as the route behind. We were able to relax and enjoy fleeting glimpses through cloud, of the land far below, both to the north and south.
Back on the ridge, with views down to the northern side now, Loughs Callee and Gouragh making an appearance.
A view to the north.
A short stretch and we had reached our third 900 meter plus summit of the day – Knocknapeasta, the small cairn marking the top emerging from the mist. It was also our highest peak of the day at 988 meters.
The summit cairn on Knocknapeasta – top number three!
We spent 20 minutes or so wandering around the summit area, a more relaxed experience than the Big Gun had been! We wandered part of the way along the spur jutting out to the north, then back to the cairn, the landscape being alternatively partially revealed then obscured again by the veil of cloud. A lone walker arrived on the summit, a local Kerry man who stopped to chat, and he confirmed that our decision to avoid most of the ridge thus far had been a good one. He had walked this route many times, but this was his first time in a while, and he was doing it to re-familiarise himself with it in preparation for leading a group along it on an upcoming walk. Even he, with his local knowledge and experience, had dropped off the ridge in places today, being solo in poor visibility. Inevitably, a meeting of Tyrone and Kerry people in July also saw the conversation turning towards Gaelic Football – it doesn’t get much more fitting than discussing football with a Kerry man on top of the Reeks.
From the summit, looking along Knocknapeasta’s northern spur.
Our Kerry friend overtook us, continuing ahead, and we followed shortly afterwards, making for our next summit, Maolan Bui.
Looking ahead to Maolan Bui, obscured by cloud.
The cloud that still clung to the summits seemed to create an optical illusion, and Maolan Bui seemed a massive and distant climb away, but in truth it was an easy stretch, not far, with little descent and re-ascent to reach it, and the ridge was now more of a relaxing, broad saddle.
The clouds were frustrating, but they undeniably added drama too.
Maolan Bui ahead.
Looking into the valley to the south.
South to the Dunkerron Mountains.
On the brief ascent of Maolan Bui here.
Still steep drops in places, but it was easier now to stay back from them!
Maolan Bui, like Knocknapeasta, has a spur jutting out to the north.
Maolan Bui had seemed to tower above us as we stood at the low point between it and Knocknapeasta, but it was an illusion caused by the poor visibility, and in no time, we were arriving at the small summit cairn and our 4th peak of the day.
Part 3 to come.