This is a guide to the route up Carrauntoohil, which I walked in August 2018 as part of the Irish 3 Peaks Challenge. I write routes for Trail Magazine, so I’ve done it in the style of that. Hope you enjoy!
Circular walk taking in the 3 highest peaks in Ireland. This is known as the Coomloughra Horseshoe:
- Caher (1000m – 3rd Highest)
- Carrauntoohil (1,038.6 – 1st Highest)
- Beenkeragh (1,008.2m – 2nd Highest
This route involves scrambling, exposure and the ability to not just follow a path!
The area is covered by 3 maps of varying scales:
- Harvey ‘Superwalker’ 1:30,000 “MacGillycuddy’s Reeks”
- Ordnance Survey Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Series Sheet 78
- Ordnance Survey Ireland 1:25,000 Map “MacGillycuddy’s Reeks”
We were unable to find anything other than the 1:50k in England, so that is what we used. I would highly recommend taking a compass and knowing how to use it.
We visited this area as part of a hiking and biking challenge through Ireland. So, we got there by bicycle after camping a night in Killarney. The route start point isn’t exactly close to anywhere and there doesn’t appear to be public transport in the area. At any rate, the cycle over was quiet and the lanes were narrow.
Carrauntoohil Route Description
Start from the carpark marked with a P on the route map above. It’s not really marked on the Irish OS map, but it definitely exists. Space for maybe 8-10 cars and a sign board about the Mac Gillycuddy’s Reeks. Big enough for there to be marks on the floor from someone doing doughnuts…
1 From the carpark, follow the sign post for footpath away from the road and towards the mountains. The track is a concrete highway through fields that goes uphill and the bends round to the right, where you meet a gate.
2 Climb over the stile and you are in open access land. Here the paths are not well marked or trodden. Although you will be on a stony track for a little while. Follow the river up towards the Lough Eighter, keeping it on your left. Then, as the terrain flattens out, branch off right to start up the ridge. Warning – this was boggy even in the summer.
3 Out of the bog, there is no real path. Follow the broad ridgeline upwards. The grass will become thinner with altitude and eventually give way to a more rocky and stony terrain. The day we went, the cloud level was at around 700m and so we used a compass bearing to stay on track.
4 Summits are marked on the Irish OS maps as a sort of bulls-eye. I’ve deliberately not drawn the white route line through them so you can still see the tops. The first bulls-eye you reach is not the top of Caher, but marked by a cairn and an obvious change in gradient. By this point we were completely surrounded by fog and using bearings to follow the ridge. Continue up to the top of Caher, also marked by a cairn.
5 This next part felt a bit sketchy in the fog. The ridgeline narrows with steep rocky drops on either side. A lot of the time you will be down-scrambling with some exposure. I’d guess about a grade 1.
You will descend into a col and then straight up the side of Carrauntoohil on a broader, less exposed slope. There is a bit of a path – in that you can see the line other people have taken. It is still rocky with boulders. On our walk, we found an abandoned tent on a plateau almost at the top…
I’m sure the views from the top are splendid on a good day. Unfortunately, ours was flat and grey. You’ll know you’re at the top because of the enormous cross marking the summit.
From here, it is important that you pick the correct descent route! Retrace your steps a little back off the top and then turn North West. There are no safe routes down to from North through to East, so be very careful with your bearings! The local Mountain Rescue team have put a “no entry” sign up to the North, so it must be pretty bad!
Speaking of, they have a great description of all routes up Carrauntoohil, plus necessary bearings here.
7 Our route takes us down Brother O’Shea’s Gully and on to the Beenkeeragh Ridge. This ridge is a brilliant scramble ridge, but not for walkers without prior scrambling experience – particularly in bad weather. However, if you have unlocked your inner mountain goat, it makes for a great scramble with some exposure. A lovely rocky arete – kind of like a mini Aonach Eagach…
Note that on the route map image above, the white line should ascend Beenkeeragh. My map was so folded in that area, I missed it at the time of drawing. The ridge tops out at the summit. This time, the top is marked by a standing stone.
8 Descend Beenkeeragh along the broadening and increasingly grassy ridgeline North West-ish, to complete the horseshoe. For us, this meant coming out of the cloud. You should see far-reaching views across the Loughs below and out towards distant mountains.
9 After a couple of bumps, you should reach the last summit. From here there is a steep westerly descent back down to river-level. The terrain is covered in heather which can be both a help and hinder to progress. Back at the river, simply cross and retrace your steps down the concrete track to the carpark.
To see what the route looks like when you get a view, check out this description of the route.
For more advice from Kerry Mountain Rescue about the area, see their website.
Any questions, hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.