24 August 2009

Kerry Way Night Hike



Saturday midnight - live Irish music pouring from Kate Kearney's Pub, wind steadily increasing, misty drizzle dampening the air, and us standing in our hill walking boots and waterproofs waiting to meet 14 hardy hikers who had signed up to climb Carrauntoohil.

Because of the gale force winds and torrential rain forecast, after much discussion with my guides, we had changed the route to one of the longer, more challenging, sections of the Kerry Way, which would have us sheltered from the imminent gales!

It was difficult to leave Sean's cosy bus but as the mild night air struck our faces and the tarmac road rose to meet us the adrenaline began to flow and sleepiness disappeared. We crept through a farm yard, disturbing what sounded like twenty dogs, and into Gearhanagour Glen. At a quick break, with the torches turned off, the three sides of the glen rose up around us, slightly darker than the black starless sky. Ahead of us, although the path was invisible, we could see the height that would soon have to be ascended...

After about an hour into the walk, and several streams later, we left the comforting Kerry Way sign posts and the path dissolved into steep open and rocky hillside. Huge boulders littered the ground, with deep knee-wrenching holes between them, often covered by thick heather. The rain was steady and persistent now, silver drops in the torch beams... Mist passed over us in intermittent waves, as we surfed through it our torches pierced only ten or fifteen metres ahead.
After a couple of hours of zig zagging and careful route picking we crested the saddle between Glencar and the Brida Valley. For a short time we were exposed to the full brunt of the wind and rain as we followed a rickety fence along the saddle. Dropping into mist and shelter the hardy, but slightly wet and tired group pulled bright orange kissus over their heads and protected from the weather gulped hot tea and chocolate while Niall and I located our descent route.

Darragh's flickering head torch was a welcome sight as he climbed up to meet us and guide us down into the Brida Valley. The descent path is called the Lack Road and is an old butter road, used by farmers since the 1600s to sell their surplus butter to the Cork Butter Exchange. This was quite a dangerous butter road. Because it's so high and exposed; bandits would sometimes lie in wait to rob the farmers few shillings on their return journey from Cork.

The Brida Valley translates as 'Prison Valley'. Crossing the noisy rivers and rocky slopes leading up towards the MacGillycuddy Reeks it's easy to see why this remote, desolate spot was once referred to as a prison...

The little path leading through the impressive pass between the Brida and the Black Valley is solid and dependable with the occasional wrong detour quickly corrected. The dark mass of Broaghnabinnia looms on our right and looking behind us the sky is beginning to lighten to a dark grey with swirling mist caressing the boulders and spurs. An eerie stone row thrusts bluntly into the grey sky, thought to line up with the rising sun on the autumn equinox by some, or an ancient ancient burial site by others.

The Black Valley opens out before us, people quieter now as 6am and 7am trickle by. The silver jeep, parked beyond the highest house in the Black Valley, is a welcome sight and a carefully planned surprise of 5 litres of steaming drinking chocolate and chocolate bars await us.

Later that morning we sit down in the warmth and comfort of Dromhall Hotel to a delicious breakfast of pastries and full Irish. Toast and marmalade never tasted so good!

I'm running two upcoming Carrauntoohil Night Hikes; one on Saturday 5th September and one on Saturday 14th November.

Click here for more details.

I've four Night Kayak Trips on Lough Leane coming up:
Thurs 3rd Sept
Mon 7th Sept
Sat 19th Sept
Sat 26th Sept
These special trips will begin at 10pm and last for two to three hours, through the little islands on Lough Leane, along the wooded shorelines and into some of the secretive inlets.

The price is €45 per person and all equipment is provided.
To book contact me on info@outdoorsireland.com or 086 860 45 63.

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