‘Everest calling Rongbuk. Come in please, over . . . Dermot. The altimeter is reading 8,848 metres and I’m sitting on the summit of the world.”
This was the moment Dawson Stelfox radioed Dermot Somers to let him know that he had reached the summit of Mount Everest. Stelfox was the leader of the 1993 IRISH EVEREST EXPEDITION, which included Frank Nugent (deputy leader); Dermot Somers; Robbie Fenlon; Mike Barry; Richard O’Neill Dean; Mick Murphy and Tony Burke.
27 years on, Dawson Stelfox relives the experience in an interview with Sarah McInerney on RTE Radio 1. Tune in to Today with Sarah McInerney.
The Irish Uplands Forum (Fórum Cnoch na hÉireann) commissioned Dr Brendan O’Keeffe and Dr Caroline Crowley to write this study of the Irish uplands. The Heritage Council published it in October 2019. Michael Viney had an interesting review of the study in The Irish Times over the weekend, under a headline that says it all: These hills are made for walking. Viney, however, highlights access as a key issue for the 13,000 plus mountaineers and hillwalkers who make up the membership of 186 clubs in Ireland.
He identifies two factors that will have influence on access in the future. The first is a shift from sheep farming to off-farm employment and a parallel rise in (a) the number of “large sheep ranches” and (b) hillside houses occupied by “commuters, retirees and holiday homeowners.” We have seen the problems this has created in places like Glanteenassig in County Kerry.
The second is that government action on the roll out of access programmes stalled since 2009, when voluntary agreement between mountaineering interests and landowners created pilot projects in two areas, Mount Gable near Clonbur, Co Galway and Carrauntoohil in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, Co Kerry; just two of the 57 mountain ranges identified in the report. However, O’Keeffe and Crowley note that “key stakeholder groups remain committed to its vision.”
As Viney points out, most of Ireland’s uplands are farmlands but adds that “sheep, significantly, get a mention on only four of the study’s 140-odd pages.” That is worrying, given the traditional partnership between mountaineers and sheep farmers, people like Martin (RIP) and Nóirín Griffin in Derrymore Glen (Slieve Mish), Mick Murphy in Knocknagantee (Iveragh) and, of course, John and Esther Cronin of Cronin’s Yard in the Reeks. That partnership is captured by mountaineer and photographer Valerie O’Sullivan in The MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: People and Places of Ireland’s Highest Mountain Range , which Frank Miller, former Picture Editor of The Irish Times, described as ‘An intimate and beautiful portrait of the people and landscape of Ireland’s loftiest place.’
This aspect of the Irish uplands deserved more attention in the study. Nevertheless, A Profile of Ireland’s Uplandsis essential reading for mountaineers and hillwalkers. To obtain an Executive Summary click HERE. To obtain the full report click HERE.
Links / Resources
For more information, have a look at the current edition of the Mountain Log
Forecast was for settled weather. There was a little rain at the beginning but it remained clear for the rest of the walk. Conditions underfoot were good, especially on the bog between Barnacurrane and the Devil’s Punchbowl.
A panorama taken from a spot height on the ridge south of Barnacurrane.
We assembled in the carpark above Torc Waterfall, reached by a side road to the left about 300m metres from the main entrance to Muckross House on the N71. We left the carpark and headed south, climbing through the forest on deer and mountain bike trails – watch out for bikers hurtling through the forest – until we reached the end of the forestry track.
We climbed the final section of forestry to reach Barnacurrane, a gap in a rocky outcrop that marks the boundary between the lowland and the mountain. The trail is well worn and there is a steep section just below Barnacurrane. There used to be a stepped path here but that has mostly disappeared and good footwear is essential.
Nuala Finn and Bertie Hickey heading towards Barnacurrane.
At Barnacurrane one of the group pulled out and Ciarán returned to the carpark with the member before making the return trip to Barnacurrane. His route on the day is marked in blue on the map above.
The red route shows the line taken by the rest of the group. It climbs across the bog, following the line of a wall and the dry ground alongside the stream to reach the track leading to the Devil’s Punchbowl. From, it follows the track/trail to the summit (843). From there it crosses the plateau to the aréte descending northwards to the ridge formed by the Devil’s Punch Bowl and the back wall of Glangappul.
Careful navigation is needed here in poor visibility. Sean O’Suilleabháin warned mountaineers, in his classic guidebook on climbs in the southwest, that Mangerton means the “deceiving one.”
The route continues up to the unnamed summit known as Mangerton “North,” heads East on the southern ridge of Glangappul before descending to the trail that leads into the valley. It follows this trail until it turns northwest from the lake shore, crosses the Owgarrif River –caution – and continues across bog close to the foot of the mountainside until it reaches the track for the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
It follows the Finoulagh River downstream for about 300m and heads west into Tooreencormick, the site of a battle between McCarthy of the Glens (Old Kenmare Rd) and the Normans in 1262, during which Cormac Mac Carthy died. The place name marks his burial on the site of the battle. Keith Woodard, a photographer based in Killarney, gives a really good account of events leading up to the battle.
From Tooreencormick the route continues west, into the forest and back the caprpark.
We took up residence in the Dunlewey Hostel for a week with the aim of doing some new routes in the Derryveagh Mountains (Slieve Sneachta), Errigal, and Muckish, travelling further afield if the weather improved.
There were a few other people in the hostel but we had it to ourselves more or less. It was fantastic. The facilities are first class, especially the drying room and the kitchen. We were given the run of the place by Erin and her team and we are very grateful to them.
Day 1 Errigal North West ridge, led by Gerard O’sullivan.
Park Run | Dunloe (Bairbre and Bertie)
Day 2 Poison Glen to Slieve Sneachta (Peer Led)
Day 3 Muckish (Miner’s Track)
Day 4 Derry, taking in the Grianán Aileach.
Day 5 Loch Altan to Errigal
Day 6 Arranmore Island.
Day 7 Park Run Letterkenny (Bairbre and Bertie)
Day 1 | Errigal North west Ridge: 20-10-2018
Nuala Finn, Gerard O’Sullivan, Ciarán Walsh.
Start time 10.30
Forecast was fairly good. Ireland lay at the top end of a slack depression with a very light band of rain covering the North West, very or light wind. It was lovely and clear “at ground level” but cloud over remained at around 600m for the day.
This was a car split. We dropped a car at at the start of the tourist track and retraced our steps to Dunlewey, turning right at the old hostel and following the way marked route to the foot of the beautifully named Sliabh Bealtaine. We left the car here and headed up a track for about 700m before taking a direct line across bog to the foot of the North West slope, which we ascended keeping to a sheep trail to the right of the a stream.
We continued up the next slope, skirting around some scree and reached a lovely ridge of morraine. We followed it around to the base of the spur, where we picked up some trails through the scree on the lower end of the spur. They became one and continued up through a narrow rocky arrete. The route was fairly clear but it did take some trail finding. The rock was very slippery and a detour around a step ended in a narrow scree fill gully and a nervous moment or two. Rule no 1 on a rocky ridge, don’t divert.
We reached the summit in drizzle and very poor visibility, marked the moment, and headed for the carpark. It is a lovely route but one that require some scrambling and short sections of narrow exposed ridge walking just below the summit, which could be very challenging on a windy day. Some experience on exposed, rocky ridges is necessary before tackling this route. Having done it, I don’t think that I will be doing the tourist route again.
TMC members met in the carpark at Lisleibane and headed in the Hags Glen, crossing the Gaddagh just south of the bridge and headed south to the start of the spur called the Bone. As soon as we gained height it became clear that the wind was too strong to stick to the planned along the spine of the spur.
The route was changed and we went up the side of the spur to a small coum. We contoured across to the spur on the southern side of Cumeenapeasta Lake, on ground that we would’t normally be on, so we did a bit of exploring and identified some interesting routes for future outings. We descended along the stream running from the lake to the Gaddagh and headed to Cronin’s Yard for a cup of tea. Thomas treated us to apple tart.
An interesting thing happened on the way to the Bone. A Kestrel hovered above for about 5 Minutes.
You may have noticed that TMC Members’ Blog has been offline for a couple of months. In the good old days of terrestrial television in Ireland, whenever service was interrupted, the following words were put up on screen: is donagh linn an briseadh seo. We are taking our cue from this. We regret the break but we have spent the past few months accompanying a family member on their way to the big summit in the sky.
The resumption of blogging is marked with a tribute to Una Finn (nee Sullivan), a pioneering mountaineer and a lifelong member of Tralee Mountaineering Club.
Una left us on 7 August 2007. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.