Starting the ascent of Beenkeragh from the col adjoining Stumpa Barr na hAbhann.
Continuing my walk around the Coomloughra Horseshoe, I had been really enjoying the route so far, and already had three summits completed. Now, I was starting the really exciting stretch, with an ascent of Ireland’s second highest mountain, the 1008 metre high Beenkeragh. This in turn would lead on to the notorious Beenkeragh Ridge. The bulk of the mountain provided shelter from the unbelievably strong winds that had assailed me on various parts of the walk earlier, which I was glad of on the steeper stretches of Beenkeragh’s slopes. As I scrambled up and over huge rocks, it was precarious at times, and I didn’t want the wind threatening to throw me off – further back, at times it had been strong enough to actually blow me off my feet, thankfully in relatively flat places!
A look back along part of my earlier route, over Cnoc Iochtair, Skregmore and Stumpa Barr na hAbhann.
Caher, on the other side of the horseshoe.
Looking down on Lough Eagher, with the adjoining, larger Coomloughra, Lough Eighter, and Lough Acoose.
On one of the steeper sections on the way up Beenkeragh – hands were definitely required at times.
The Dingle Peninsula in the distance, with the protruding Inch Strand clearly visible.
Looking east to Lough Leane and Killarney.
After a lot of scrambling over the huge blocks of purple sandstone that littered the side of the mountain, the cairn on the summit came into view. As I reached it, the fierce wind, no longer blocked by the mountain, returned, bringing with it enveloping cloud that obliterated all views. It had been hard going on the steep ascent of Beenkeragh so I paused for a rest, hunkered down between a few of the many boulders to get respite from the wind. As I took a snack and some water, I hoped that by the time I was finished, the cloud would have cleared again, allowing a view of the next stage of the walk.
The summit cairn, with not much else to be seen.
Cloud beginning to close in around me as I reached the summit of Beenkeragh.
After a 20 minute break, I decided to get moving again. At this point, I wasn’t confident about getting across the Beenkeragh Ridge, which links Beenkeragh and Carrauntoohil, taking in The Bones Peak in between. The wind was frighteningly strong up here, and it would be dangerous on the exposed ridge, with huge drops either side. In addition, it is not recommended to try crossing in zero visibility, which was the case now. Just as I started to move however, the cloud began to clear, and I got a chance to see what lay ahead. The view was at once breathtaking and intimidating. The impressive ridge, with jagged rocks, long, steep drops, and the backdrop of Carrauntoohil and Caher, was stunning, and its grandeur made me both eager to try it, but also to retreat to safety!
Cloud lifting, revealing Carrauntoohil’s steep northern side.
The way ahead, inspiring fear and excitement simultaneously. The ridge leads to the conical shape of The Bones Peak, with Carrauntoohil still partly obscured by cloud at the other side.
Excitement won out over fear, and I decided to go on despite the wind. I would stay below the top of the ridge as much as possible, on the sheltered western side, and if at any stage it felt too dangerous, I would definitely turn and backtrack on my inward route.
I was hugely impressed by the view from Beenkeragh, along the ridge to Carrauntoohil. It seemed to be on a grander scale than anywhere else I’d experienced while hill walking in Ireland. The vertiginous drops, jagged peaks and the swirling, dark cloud all combined to create a rare, thrilling experience. I couldn’t turn back without at least trying to cross it.
Looking down on Cummeenoughter Lake, supposed to be the highest in Ireland, as I descended from Beenkeragh on to the Beenkeragh Ridge.
By now, the cloud was skimming only the very tops of Carrauntoohil and Caher.
It was becoming increasingly clear as I carefully picked my down through the rock from the top of Beenkeragh on to the ridge. Visibility was less of a problem now, but the wind remained the main threat to completing the horseshoe. I often found myself dropping a little below the very top of the ridge, on to its west side, where I was sheltered from the wind, and this encouraged me to keep going to see how far I could get. Any time I went up to the top, the wind became extremely difficult to walk in, and occasionally I would hunker down and wait for extreme gusts to pass. It became one step at a time as I progressed across the ridge.