So in August 2019, my son and I decided to go to Ireland and climb both the highest peak in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains and the highest peak in all of Ireland, Carrauntoohil in the Reeks in County Kerry in the Republic of Ireland (Slieve Donard is covered in another posting on this site).

This posting covers Carauntoohil…

For those of you not already aware Carrauntoohil is the highest peak in the Reeks in all of Ireland at 1039m (or 3,409 feet). The Reeks are in County Kerry in the Republic of Ireland.

So, for my son and I to get there from ‘Old Blighty’ (England), we took a flight to Belfast International Airport and stayed the night in the center of Belfast. Climbed Slieve Donard the next day, all 850m of it, then traveled by train the following day to Dublin and then caught another train to Killarney in County Kerry. This was to be our base for the rest of the trip and the attempt to climb Carrauntoohil.

This is what the route looks like on my TT 1:50K Look n Feel British Isles map (yes it includes all of Ireland too). The grey track is the actual recorded track that we walked on the day…

The route up the mountain in 2D mode – TT 1:50K Look n Feel map of the British Isles, from Cronin’s Yard

The route up the mountain in 3D mode – TT 1:50K Look n Feel map of the British Isles, from Cronin’s Yard

The first full day in Killarney, Friday the 30th, it was doing the usual thing in Ireland, raining, not just a little but lots, so we decided (quite rightly) that it wasn’t the day to attempt to summit Carrauntoohil as it is not a simple climb, even in good weather. Instead we went on a tour of Killarney and the surrounding area; beautiful place it is too. All the while we were keeping our eyes on the weather forecast for the next day; Saturday the 31st, which looked more promising.

Even when the weather is looking good, as the Reeks are close to the Atlantic the weather on them is very changeable, as we found out, but already knew and went prepared for most eventualities.

We woke up early the next day, looked out the window; it had been raining all night, and the ground was still wet, but the sky was fairly clear with scattered clouds and the sun was showing up for duty, hurrah! We had a hearty breakfast and set off to get the shuttle bus to Cronin’s Yard, only to find that this doesn’t run anymore despite a web page saying it does (please take note)!

Plan B was called into action. Get a taxi to Cronin’s yard (costing around 25-30 Euros). OK, we took the bait, in we get and 20 minutes later we arrive at Cronin’s Yard (which is in the middle of nowhere) and climb out of the taxi, 26 Euros lighter, grab our rucksacks, poles, etc. check the GPS, start the Fenix 5x recording the attempt live (for my wife to follow, I also did this on Slieve Donard), and we are off!

We left Cronin’s Yard and followed the trail up to the first bridge across the river Gaddagh. This is the first view from Hag’s Glen, just before it started to rain the first time!

View from Cronin’s Yard (looking towards the Reeks) | Me on the track leading to the first bridge over the river

The view of Carrauntoohil and the Hag’s Tooth from the Hag’s Glen on the track from Cronin’s Yard

So, as usual we went prepared for everything, waterproof walking boots, over-trousers, waterproof coats, walking poles, water, food, emergency bothy, you name it, we had it!

Out with the coats for the first time of many during the day. The ground was already sodden; luckily most of it was gravel, scree and boulders. About 10 minutes later after a drenching, and crossing the stepping stones to head for the Devil’s Ladder, it stopped raining, so off with the coats again!

As we approached the Devil’s Ladder my son started to say “I’m not sure about this, this doesn’t look safe“, to which I replied, “it looks worse than it is, and let’s see how we go“. As we get nearer the start of the Devil’s ladder the ground is either a bog or a stream (or both), and the bottom of the Devil’s ladder is a waterfall and a stream!

Left to Right: Heading up to the foot of the Devil’s Ladder | The foot of the Devil’s Ladder (or as it was that day, the Devil’s Waterfall/Stream!)
Again, my son starts to raise his concerns, I again state, “let’s try and see how it goes“. From the initial look, it is going to be a challenging but not insurmountable climb up the ladder (which is not an actual ladder, it is a boulder and scree filled gully that varies between 35 and 45 degrees in steepness and is over 1,000 feet (330m+) of scramble/clamber.

I used to climb up and down the sides of quarries as a child and teenager, it looks not much worse than that; OK, I’m somewhat older and less agile than I was then, but I believe it is an acceptable risk. There are also quite a few other hikers/climbers on the Ladder today.

After climbing the first 30m (about 100 feet) over boulders and the waterfall the lower part of the Ladder is on this day, my son slips and twists his ankle and says “that’s it I’m not doing this, it is too dangerous!” I reply “Are you OK? If you really want to stop and go back down, that’s fine” it seems that he didn’t do any damage, and whilst I am talking to other hikers/climbers on the Ladder, I turn around and find he is now further up!

So I catch up with him and  say “I thought you wanted to go back down, and that you didn’t want to do this?“, to which he replied “I don’t want to spoil it for you“. I said “you won’t spoil it for me, but going back down now would be far more dangerous than continuing on, and you will kick yourself if you don’t try after coming all this way“.  He agreed and we slowly but surely made our way up; luckily the rain held off, and as we climbed and scrambled over the boulders and scree the footing got drier and safer.

Left to Right: Heading up the Devil’s Ladder | About a third of the way up | View from the top (looking down) | My son exiting the Ladder (at the top)
I overtook him and got to the top, which was very eroded and narrow, before him. The climb was technical, but not as physically demanding as I had expected. My son clambered off the top of the Ladder about 10 minutes later.

Yes we had successfully climbed the infamous Devil’s Ladder on Carrauntoohil; this was achieved on Saturday the 31st of August, 2019 (it was more like the Devil’s Waterfall or Stream that day, as it had rained extensively for the last week).

Now for the final leg up to the summit! However, the top third (almost from the top of the Devil’s Ladder) was in cloud, and the rest of the climb was over scree and boulders, and was more demanding than the climb up the Ladder. At the start of the climb to the summit, a torrential downpour started (back on with the coats), this lasted about 15 minutes, but as we we now over 2,000 feet up, it was quite a bit cooler than when we had started. 10 minutes later it hailed! The joys of Irish weather and climbing mountains 😉

Views towards the top of the Devil’s Ladder from the start of the final leg up the last third of the mountain (just before heading into cloud)
The final slog to the summit in the cloud with visibility at less than 10ft (3m) was tough, but we finally made it. Thankfully there were no mishaps, no wrong turns, etc. and the GPS with the track on was spot on.

Yes, we successfully summited the mountain which we did with nothing more than getting wet (several downpours, and even hail on the last push to the summit) and cold; it was about 20c at the bottom, but close to 0c at the top, when we were over 1,039m (3,409 feet) up, and a complete white-out, as you can see.

At the top (yes, there really is a cross at the summit!)

As it was a complete white-out  at the summit (well actually the top third of the mountain for most of the day), it can be easy to lose your way as visibility is very limited (a matter of a few meters at best), so veering off the path is easy and can be lethal, as there are cliffs around the summit on most sides of the mountain. I however had two GPS devices (with maps on and the route pre-planned) so that this was not an issue for us. I also had a compass and a paper map (as well as two smartphones with the 1:30,000 Harvey’s map on); so I had multiple backups in case one or more of the technical solutions failed!

We also summited a second mountain in the Reeks range that day (Cnoc na Toinne), as we decided not to risk coming back down the Devil’s Ladder (the risk was high/unacceptable that day, going up was an acceptable risk), we decided to take the lower risk (but not risk free) route down via the second peak via the Zig-Zags.

Views from Cnoc na Toinne on our way to the Zig-Zags – the rightmost picture is of the top of Carrauntoohil
The Zig-Zags is often described as the ‘easy route’ up and down the mountain, however that same week there had been two accidents where the victim underestimated or didn’t respect the path (which although easier is not without challenge and risk). One wrong or missed step can see you falling down the side of the mountain (with nothing to stop you) until you get near to the bottom. This is a potential fall of over 800m (or over 2,500 feet)! To put this in perspective, the Shard in London is 310m (just over 1,000 feet) tall, so it would be the equivalent of falling over 2.5 times the height of the Shard (ouch)!

Most of the experienced hikers/climbers that day also decided against going down the Devil’s Ladder; like us deciding on a safer way down, either using the Zig-Zags or the Heavenly Gates and/or Brother O’Shea’s Gully route instead!

Coming down the Zig-Zags, that’s my son above me, and this picture does not show how steep it is in reality!

As we were descending via this route, ironically a very experienced hill/fell/mountain walker just ahead of me tripped and almost fell over the edge, so this shows that things can still go wrong, even to the most experienced. Luckily that day, if he had fallen over the edge there were members of the Irish Mountain Rescue on the mountain (just below him, in fact), so help was at hand, had it been required, luckily he was fine, with just a few bruises to his body and his pride!

A final look at the path to and the actual Devil’s Ladder from the bottom of the Zig-Zags,
again this does not show just how steep and challenging the terrain is in reality, farewell Carrauntoohil!

As we were heading back to Cronin’s yard there were more people heading towards the mountains, most of them were wearing trainers or deck shoes and denim jeans. Many didn’t have a coat, water, rucksack, or anything that they really should have had. Unfortunately these ill-prepared people are the ones that often end up being rescued by the Mountain Rescue teams who do a fantastic job as unpaid volunteers.

Please don’t put their and your lives at risk by not having the right clothing, equipment and experience. Climbing any mountain is not a walk in the park, as the temperature at the top can be 10 or more degrees Celsius cooler than at the bottom, the weather can change very quickly and the terrain can be very unforgiving! There have been over 40 fatalities on and around Carrauntoohil so far, and many more falls and injuries that require expert help.

If you have conquered Snowdon (via one of the more challenging or interesting paths) and Ben Nevis and want a more technical challenge, then Carrauntoohil is for you, it is described as suitable for: “Pretty hardcore hikers who want to tackle Ireland’s highest peaks, or intermediate hill walkers ready to step up”.

Even with the very changeable weather I enjoyed this mountain, I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been a whiteout at the summit, as I’d hoped to tackle Beenkeragh (the second highest peak in the Reeks) too and come back down via Brother O’Shea’s Gully. Maybe next time?

However, who knew that this would be the last mountain that we would climb for over a year as Covid-19 arrived later in 2019! Hopefully we will get to do more in the future?

All photographs used in this article are Copyright, 2019 by Talkytoaster or Ben Overton, All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “Carrauntoohil

  1. Great report of an exciting mountain range! Not a set of hills to be taken lightly!!

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