Hiking Carrauntoohil in MacGillycuddy Reeks a historic treat
KILARNEY, IRELAND — The MacGillycuddy Reeks is Ireland’s largest and highest mountain range. Stretching slightly more than 19 kilometers (12 miles), it includes the highest peaks in Ireland and the only peaks on the island that are taller than 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).
The highest of these is Carrauntoohil at 1,039 meters, 3,414 feet above sea level. That may not sound unconquerable, considering we live at an elevation of 4,700 feet here in the Grand Valley. However, the rugged 12-mile ridge that Carrauntoohil anchors is in County Kerry, which sits in the southwest of Ireland. It consists of a series of mountainous peninsulas that extend into the Atlantic Ocean. The shoreline is deeply indented by Dingle Bay, Tralee Bay and the Kenmare River, between the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula.
Climbing to the top of this gem is no small feat, although it’s not an earth-shattering event, either. Thousands of people climb it every year. A number of them die, of course, or are maimed, injured and rescued from this mountain, but we said, “What the heck?” We thought we’d try.
Armed with an excellent climbing book about Ireland, good topographical maps, a functioning GPS and the advice of knowledgeable staff in the Outdoor Shop in Killarney, two U.S. foreigners trekked off to find the tallest point in Ireland. You’d think that would be easy on an island, but the mountains along MacGillycuddy Reeks were clouded over, and the sun hadn’t quite risen at 7:20 a.m. when we pulled into Cronin’s Yard.
The charge is 2 Euro ($2.71 U.S.) to park in their yard. You can pay when you return from your hike in another six hours or so. There are restrooms, showers for rent, even small campsites for rent. You can also purchase a great piece of apple pie with fresh whipped cream, but not at 7 a.m. It’s still dark out, and you don’t want to wake the family.
Three routes lead to the top of this mountain, but staff at the outdoor shop strongly encouraged us to stick to the main route: along Hag’s Glen and up the Devil’s Ladder.
Hag’s Glen had a nice ring to it, but the Devil’s Ladder?
We discovered in short order that while numerous sheep gracefully roam the hillsides here, Carraun-toohil is a pretty darn serious hike/climb. That Devil’s Ladder was tough on this old Westerner. The three-hour ascent was steep, slippery and sweat-inducing. With wet, slippery rocks, the descent was tricky, as others were climbing up while we headed down to Cronin’s.
Many well-preserved dolmens, stone forts, round towers, castles and abbeys still stand throughout this country, even here on the hillsides of the MacGillycuddy Reeks — a reminder that you’re certainly not the first person who’s passed this way.
In fact, the ancient history of this island is incredible. The day after our climb, we visited a prehistoric “beehive” hut along the Dingle Peninsula that dated to 2,000 B.C. Later, in Dublin, we went to the oldest pub on the island: Brazen Head began serving ales and mead to the Irish in 1198.
We also visited Trinity College in Dublin, established in 1592. It’s an amazing institution with fantastic architecture.
Outdating the college was the Book of Kells, housed in the Long Hall at Trinity College.
It’s an original, ornately illustrated and hand-printed manuscript (in Latin) of the four gospels of the New Testament.
It was transcribed around 800 A.D. by Celtic monks and preserved from the fall of the Roman Empire and the ransacking of Vikings during the dark ages between 400 A.D. and the early middle ages of Europe around 800 to 1200 A.D.
That’s how the Irish saved civilization, you know.
The people of Ireland are well-known for their great hospitality and relaxed approach to life. There are numerous walks in the Kerry region, and across the country, to suit anybody’s tastes, ranging from short strolls along old Boreens (narrow country lanes) to the challenges of Ireland’s highest peaks.
The city of Killarney and Killarney National Park sit in the heart of County Kerry.
“Killarney is lovely, isn’t it?” was an oft-heard line on this Emerald Island.
Ah, the Rock of Cashel. Lovely, isn’t it?
Ah, the Cliffs of Moher. Lovely, aren’t they?
Ah, yes. St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Lovely, isn’t it?
How about the views from Carrauntoohil? Lovely, I suppose, but I couldn’t swear to it. We were in the clouds by the time we summited, and we remained in the clouds down to the draw between mountains and the Devil’s Ladder.
“I’ve been up and down about 16 times,” said one young woman at Cronin’s Yard. “I’ve only seen a view from the top once or twice. It’s always cloudy. But it’s a lovely hike, isn’t it?”
There were plenty of lovely things to do in County Kerry, Killarney and Ireland in general:
■ Shop, although you can only purchase so many Celtic crosses and cable-knit sweaters.
■ Eat. The food was great everywhere we went, especially the seafood.
■ Drive the Dingle Peninsula. It’s breathtaking.
■ Visit the Rock of Cashel (fascinating), the Cliffs of Moher (spectacular) and Blarney Castle (a little like Disneyland).
■ And drink really good beer, cider and Irish coffee after all that nerve-wracking driving on the wrong side of the road.
Reaching the top of the island was lovely, too.