Climbing The Howling Ridge, Carrauntoohil's hidden gem
Brought to you by MINI Ireland
Experienced climber John Burke tells us what hiking The Howling Ridge means to him.
We may not be the largest island in the world, but we're blessed with some truly incredible landscapes. As anyone who has climbed Carrauntoohil will tell you, the views around Ireland's highest mountain would rival anywhere else on earth.
Seeing as he has climbed Mount Everest before, John Burke is one man who would certainly know what he's talking about. The Howling Ridge is a place that will always hold a special place in his heart, as it's a hell of a lot more than just a training ground for his bigger climbs.
If you'd be up for a trip to Carrauntoohil yourself, MINI Ireland is offering a 48-hour test drive of their 2019 range.
"It’s a place I have had many great laughs"
The McGillicuddy Reeks have been my training ground for most of my bigger climbs. It holds a place in my heart for so many reasons. It was the first ever mountain I attempted to climb, all be it unsuccessfully the first time out. It’s a place I have had many great laughs, felt glorious sunshine on my skin on more relaxed days, to experiencing howling wind and bitter rain on extreme days.
I estimate I have touched on summiting the most Instagrammed cross in Ireland about 250 times. Towards my final days of Everest preparations I even managed to secure eight consecutive summits in 24 hours, a great confidence booster before hitting for Nepal. Hanorah, my daughter managed to climb her first summit about seven weeks before her arrival date!
The route options are endless here. Of course if you’re a less experienced mountaineer the standard route up Carrauntouhill has got to be the best option as it has no major navigation challenges. It’s also important to never underestimate the scale of this mountain as that has led to a hectic recent past for the Kerry Mountain Rescue team. Any route on this mountain is a big day out, even with good weather.
My most memorable experiences on the McGillicuddy Reeks have got to be on the Howling Ridge, a route famed in mountaineering circles. Now while this isn’t extremely technical - at grade V. Diff – it’s important that you have some rock climbing under the belt as it involves extensive rope work. Secondly, book a guide. There are experienced guides that I have really enjoyed doing this route with like Piaras in Kerry Climbing, or Brian in Climb It, who will ensure you’ll navigate it well, and will fill you with great stories and information along the way. It’s also a summer route so try to ensure you have good weather ahead before setting off on it.
Starting point for me, for any route on Carrauntoohil, has got to be from Cronin’s Yard, where John, Esther and a team run a wonderful café with showers and facilities. John coincidentally was the first person to climb this route with Con Moriarty. They appropriately named the route after the howling sounds Con’s dog Grimsel made while awaiting their return.
"Put it on your bucket list"
After heading in through the Hag’s Glen and then routing towards the Heavenly Gates, it’s at that point the technical climbing starts. All in, there are about eight pitches so it’s a long day. The most challenging part I found was ‘the Tower’, a steep section of high rock that must be passed about half way on the route. All in, car to car, it took approximately eight hours at a nice pace, with time to top out on the summit which is a relatively short scramble from the top of the route.
After a hard day’s work, the only thing needed to finish an epic day on Carrauntoohil is a warm bowl of Esther’s soup and a toasted sandwich. Every minute of the day will take your breath away. The exposure is incredible, the terrain nicely challenging and the history along the way from stories about Eagles Nest, the Hags Tooth, to all the active farming that still goes on the mountain is great soul food.
I remember well on one occasion topping out on a tricky section to meet face to face a grazing goat who seemed a lot more relaxed than I was to the exposure. The views from a route less travelled on this famed mountain will leave you with memories and photos that so few get to experience. You will look out across the lakes of the glen, surrounded by the highest peaks on our land, Beenkeragh 1,008m, Caher 1,000m, which along with Carrauntoohil are the three peaks that are over 1,000m. Put it on your bucket list, prepare and train for it, get in touch with a guide, and enjoy!
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