Making my way down from Beenkeragh on to the Beenkeragh Ridge.
Walking the Coomloughra Horseshoe in Kerry’s MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range, I’d really enjoyed the day so far, but as I started to make my way down from Beenkeragh, the really exciting part of the route was just ahead. The next stage would be to cross the notorious Beenkeragh Ridge, which spans the gap between Ireland’s second highest peak – Beenkeragh, and its highest – Carrauntoohil. On the way, mid-ridge, is another high summit, The Bones Peak.
If this was as far as I had gotten, I would have been happy just to have stood on Beenkeragh, as I’d been driven down from these mountains in the past by terrible weather without attaining any summits. From the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete the route, firstly because the ridge has a reputation for its steep drops and high exposure, and I wasn’t sure if it would be within my comfort or ability levels. Secondly, even if it was, it is not recommended that a crossing is attempted in high winds or poor visibility, both of which I was faced with on the day. As I descended the steep, rocky side of Beenkeragh towards the ridge, the cloud was increasingly lifting and breaking up, but the wind remained the main issue. At times, I had actually been blown off my feet it was so strong.
I decided for now to try to reach The Bones Peak at least, and see how I felt then, but I was quite prepared to abandon even that goal if I thought it was too dangerous.
I was getting a good view along the ridge from the slopes of Beenkeragh.
Cloud threatening to close in again.
Down off Beenkeragh, and on the ridge.
It was a steep drop down from Beenkeragh, and it offered great views along the ridge as far as Carrauntoohil. It looked an intimidating prospect – narrow, with long, steep drops on both sides. There were also several rocky rises, one being particularly prominent, that looked like they would be difficult obstacles. The Bones Peak itself, a conical 956 metre high summit, also looked to be a scary prospect. As I started across the ridge, I found that it was difficult to walk on the top due to the wind, but in several places it was possible to drop down below it a little on to the sheltered western side. This also reduced the exposure greatly in most places. Parts of the route that looked extremely dangerous and narrow, also didn’t actually seem so bad up close once I reached them. There were many places where care was needed, with the use of hands required, but I was finding it exhilarating rather than terrifying!
Carrauntoohil’s steep northern face, now almost completely cloud free, marking the far side of the Beenkeragh Ridge.
One of the steeper sections where caution was needed.
Occasionally, I would emerge back on to the top of the ridge, where I was again exposed to the fierce wind.
Looking backwards, with the steep descent from Beenkeragh rising out of the frame on the right.
Reaching the most prominent of the rocky outcrops that had seemed to bar the way. Fortunately, there was a way to by-pass it a little lower, so avoiding the risky climb over the top.
The Bones Peak directly ahead, backed by Carrauntoohil.
Looking down the eastern side of the ridge towards Lough Gouragh and Lough Callee.
Up on top of the ridge again, and once more, apart from the wind, it was a lot less scary than it appeared from a distance. Parts that were genuinely scary could usually be avoided.
Having got past the large rocky outcrop, the next difficulty would be getting up to the summit of The Bones Peak. Like the rest of the route, it had looked impossible from a distance, but up close a way could be seen. Climbing directly up it seemed out of the question, but a path could be found by-passing it on the western side, and I hoped that it would be easier to ascend it from the far side.
By-passing Bones Peak to ascend the hopefully easier far side. Looking back here at the rocky rise which had been easier to get round than it had looked.
A closer look back at that outcrop.
Another climber, as I round The Bones Peak.
A high degree of exposure now in places, but I still found that so long as I took it slowly and carefully, it was always possible to proceed.
I rounded The Bones Peak and found that, as I had hoped, it was a lot easier to ascend it from the southern side. I carefully made my way up, the wind being the main difficulty. It was blowing hard enough to blow me over if I fully stood up, so I scrambled up stooped over and using my hands. There was no way I was going to stand up on the pinnacle in these conditions, so I went up to within touching distance, reached out to lay a hand on the summit, and retreated a few feet to sit wedged between some sheltering rocks for a rest. It was an amazing place to sit, with some of the best views in Ireland surrounding me.
Sheltering below the summit of The Bones Peak. Below, the Hag’s Tooth pinnacle catches the sun as it rises from the slopes of Beenkeragh.
Taking in the views.
The view towards Caher.
Looking towards Carrauntoohil, with the cross on the summit being jsut about visible.
To complete the Horseshoe now, I would need to first descend part of the way down the much steeper eastern side of the ridge, before ascending again and making my way up Carrauntoohil. The route would then continue over Caher and Caher West Top, before a long drop down to rejoin the Hydro Track which I had come up earlier. The next stage, as far as Carrauntoohil is said to be the most difficult and exposed part of the route, and I was in two minds whether I should even attempt it in these winds. I decided to set off anyway to see how I managed, but it quickly became apparent that, for me at least, it would be madness to proceed. For the first time, I was on the eastern side of the ridge, where the drops, just a foot or so to my left, were terrifying! It would have been possible to inch slowly down, but I was also fully exposed to the swirling wind here, and its strength was unbelievable. I descended about 100 feet or so I’d say, but it constantly threatened to pluck me from the mountainside and send me crashing down. I had already had too good a day to feel disappointed as I retraced my steps back up to The Bones Peak, making sure I had three good contact points with rocks at all times as I ascended. The rest of the Beenkeragh Ridge and the Coomloughra Horseshoe would have to wait for a calmer day!
I didn’t fancy retracing my steps all the way back over Beenkeragh, Stumpa Barr na hAbhann, Skregmore and Cnoc Iochtair. Instead, I went as far back as that rocky outcrop I mentioned earlier, where the slope down off the ridge to the west seemed manageable. I could descend into the valley and walk alongside Lough Eagher, Coomloughra Lough and Lough Eighter, giving me a different route back to the Hydro Track.
Starting down the steep, grassy slope leading off the ridge towards Lough Eagher, with the huge, steep mass of Caher on my left side.
It wasn’t my planned toute, and parts of the descent were hidden due to the steep terrain, but I was fairly confident that I could get all the way down this way. If the worst came to the worst I could always come back up and return via Beenkeragh. It was steep enough that if the grass had been wet and slippery, it would maybe have been too dangerous, but as it was, I was able to carefully pick my way down. The final part of my walk would be past the loughs and along the Hydro Track to the car park, and I’ll cover that section in a final post.