Ascent of Carrauntoohil on 2017-10-06

Climber: Ed Wandall

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, October 6, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:3409 ft / 1039 m

Ascent Trip Report

Spent 10 days in Ireland right across from Carrauntoohil,just off the Ring of Kerry between Killgorlin and Glenbeigh. Of the 10 days, you could see the tops of the Macgillicudy Reeks about three of the days. We had a lot of things to see, so I kept putting off the climb until the end of the week. On Thursday, it was gorgeous and was probably the best day for the climb, but it didn't work out.

On Friday, I got up at 6am, dressed and headed out to the Hydro Track trailhead. The Hydro Track is a mostly ruined cement road that was put in to service the dam at Lough Eagher. There is a new carpark with an honor box and a suggestion to deposit five Euro's. It is worth it to keep the landowner and trail volunteers funded. A word on the landowner; the entire range is owned by farmers who use virtually all of it to pasture their sheep herds. Don't be surprised to see sheep on the very summit. Because of this, there is NO DOGS ALLOWED. Seriously, leave them home or at your rental. A sign at the trailhead says that the owner can shoot any trespassing dogs.

As I was only 8 kilometers from my bed to the summit of Carrauntoohil, but it took nearly half an hour to get to the trailhead. Allow yourself plenty of time due to the small one-lane roads (booreens). There was one care in the lot, but it was a contractor van, so I ended up with the mountain to myself. At 7am, there was just enough light to start the hike, but I had a headlamp just in case. I should have put it on, as right after the stile to enter the hike, I stepped in a drainage ditch and nearly twisted my ankle. I put on the light for the first half hour.

The Hydro Track is pretty steep for a road, but it is a good indication of the hike to come. Expect steep and wet, very wet. The first section of the Hydro Track is under half a mile with the climb to the dam just over a mile. Grit it out, you get a short flatish section after the dam. There is a gate at the dam area, with the steps/stile section taken down for service. Gate was locked, so I just climbed the fence adjacent to the gate. Here is where you want to get off the road, just after the river (Cottoners River) coming down from Lough Eagher. There is a road going up to the dam and a trail continuing south, but do not take this, as it leads into a peat bog. In July or early August, this may not be an issue, but in October, it was a muddy hell. Find faint trails east of the dam right after you cross it. Your goal is to mainly sidehill the berm in front of you, as this will keep you mostly dry. If it gets boggy, keep east until you get to the ridge heading up Caher.

After spending 30 minutes correcting my mistake and getting totally soaked and muddy, I was able to gain the ridge of Caher. At first this is a moderate hike, but then steepens and gets close to the northern cliff. Basically, expect the terrain to drop off steeply toward Lough Eagher so care must be taken in bad visibility. There are not a lot of cairns to mark the way, but a trail network is easy to follow in good visibility. On Friday, clouds covered probably the upper 1000 feet of the mountains.

Entering the clouds it became a very interesting hike. The clouds deaden noise, so it was a quiet, murky climb. Occasionally the trail I was following (there are several, weaving around boggy areas and sheep trails) would get close to the cliff edge. Sharks teeth of the approaching peaks (three of them) of Cahir would loom ahead, mostly shadows in the cloud until you got within a few meters. The wind picked up, which pretty much eliminated doing the horseshoe which is continuing past Carrauntoohil on to Beenkeragh and down to the dam. The col between Carrauntoohil and Beenkeragh is narrow and is not a good idea in windy wet conditions. I had plenty of both, so for me this became an out-and-back.

Finally a cairn of sorts appeared out of the mist ahead. The climbing had been pretty steep on wet rocks and boggy grass, so I was happy for it. As I got closer, I realized it was a hut, with the top of Caher's west peak right behind. A short and steep descent, followed by another short climb brought me to Caher's main peak, the third highest mountain in Ireland. The descent from Caher is again a bit steep and care should be taken on the undoubtedly wet rocks you will find. Off to your left is quite a drop, so slow and steady will see you through. When you get to the col between Carrauntoohill and Caher you still have just under a half mile to go. Watch for cairns near the top. In bad visibility make sure you remember the trail you are on if you intend to go back the same way. There are a myriad of sheep trails and climber trails in the area. There are a few different trails that come up from Cronin's yard and some of the other peaks in the area. A GPS is a big help.

Passing two cairns I finally saw the top of the cross marking the top of Ireland emerge from the mist. I had seen no one on the climb, which surprised me. The climb up took three and a half hours, including the meandering through the peat bog. Remarkably, I had cell coverage on top (the car park and some of the climb up Caher showed 'no service') so I texted my wife and took a few quick pics. I started down the trail and realized I hadn't seen the expected cairn. I kept on for a few more feet, then checked my GPS. Sure enough, in the fog (maybe 10 feet of visibility) I had actually started across the trail toward Beenkeragh. Big mistake in the conditions I was in. I climbed back up to the cross and followed my GPS breadcrumbs to the correct trail. Be very careful! Epic averted, I hiked back down Irelands highpoint and over the two big bumps of Caher. At the col between Caher main and the west top, I met another climber, a seasoned veteran of the Irish hills. I said I was surprised it was so empty, and he replied that this is often the case in October.

Descending is tough on the knees and hiking sticks help. I left mine back in Pennsylvania due to weight/baggage restrictions. Don't expect to find sticks to make your own. It is very worth bringing a single collapsible in your baggage. This would have helped a lot.

From the lower ridge of Caher, you can see that the main trail does in fact go lower on the sidehill closing off the Eagher valley. I was able to avoid the peat bog quite easily. Due to the steepness, fog and the constant wetnees, it took 2 hours down. The horseshoe would be great if you have the weather for it. I will have to go back for Beenkeragh and some of the other peaks in the Magillicuddy Reeks, it is a gorgeous place.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3787 ft / 1154 m
    Extra Gain:394 ft / 120 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Route:Hydro track
    Trailhead:Hydro Track trailhead  410 ft / 124 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Windy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 
Ascent Part of Trip: Carrauntoohil

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Caher-West Top2017-10-06 
3Carrauntoohil2017-10-063787 ft / 1154 m
Total Trip Gain: 3787 ft / 1154 m    Total Trip Loss: 3787 ft / 1154 m

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