Three great routes for summer scrambling fans

Dan MacCarthy highlights the best walks if you’re a scrambling fan — get ready to test your dexterity, balance, and confidence
Three great routes for summer scrambling fans

For the vast majority of hillwalkers, all you need to traverse a mountain is a strong pair of legs, a sturdy pair of boots and a few lungfuls of air.

For the harder walks on climbs such as the Beenkeeragh Ridge next to Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry, you may require a range of other skills, including belaying — the ability to work with a rope in anchoring a fellow climber. Another skill for the upper echelons of the risk sport is abseiling where the climber descends a cliff face in a bouncing fashion.

One of the important skills required for tougher walks is scrambling: The ability to move fast over steep ground, often over loose rock known as scree. It requires a fair degree of dexterity, balance, and confidence.

“The simple way to describe scrambling is hillwalking but using your hands for travelling over rocks and ascending or descending gullys and steep slopes,” says mountain leader Michael Carey of Bishopstown Hillwalkers in Cork. “You need a good sense of balance and you will need to be confident in exposed areas.”

Alan Tees from Derry has climbed in the Alps, Rockies, Andes, and Himalaya and has logged more than 300 new routes in Ireland in Great Scrambling Routes. The routes are concentrated in Galway, Sligo, Mayo, and Ulster, and range from ones that will suit a beginner to those of a death-defying nature.

Here are three routes to whet your appetite

Cutting Edge, Malin Head, Co Donegal.
Grade: Rock climb; V diff [very difficult].
Time: One hour.

As the name describes and the picture reveals, this is more like walking a knife edge with your qualification as a fully certified lunatic in your pocket. That’s on first appearances. And probably second. For the experienced scrambler, though, the Cutting Edge is not only a doable climbing excursion but one of the most thrilling in the country. The route was designated in the 1930s and has remained a classic of Irish climbs since.

It is located at the extreme north of Ireland — in fact at the extremity of the extremity.

The climb involves an ascent to the arête of the Cutting Edge with straightaway an option to include Lizard Line which involves an abseil into an area known as the Cauldron. Without an abseil rope, Tees instructs the climber to follow a descent on the left-hand side of the arête and climb back to the summit before proceeding back doen to the ‘nick’. The rock then soars upwards to a tower. Some belaying is now required on the descent before safety is reached “with a big smile on your face”, says Tees.

Benwiskin and Diarmaid and Grainne’s Cave, Co Sligo.
Grade: 1.
Time: Four-five hours.

One of the most dramatic of Irish peaks says Tees. It rises like a wave over the Sligo Leitrim coastline.

Climb to Benwiskin from the Coillte carpark at Keeloges. Follow a steep fence and gain the spectacular summit. There is a sheer drop here so it is only for the sure-footed. Walking along the ridge for 40 minutes brings you to an area dubbed the Cauldron by the Sligo Mountaineering Club. Diarmaid and Grainne’s Cave is just below here but not accessible from this point. You need to continue along the hill and descend by the Truskmore mast access road. From here the carpark is 2km after you walk left to the head of the glen. The climb to the cave is obvious from here. The cave contains fossils and sea shells which provides evidence of huge land-lifting, or isostatic response, after the last ice age. Climb it and ponder the lovelorn myth.

Croaghaun and Achill Head, Co Mayo.
Grade: 3.
Time: Four-five hours.

A jewel of the west, says Tees. This mountain has Vandeleur-Lynam status — climbing terminology for a mountain over 600m with at least a 15m metre drop on all sides.

Start 3km before Keem beach on western Achill. As you exit the carpark, walk up the road but leave just before you get to Lough Acorrymore. Circuit the shore clockwise before entering a valley. Across the valley a an obvious rocky slope stands out. Having reached this point you now join the summit ridge to one of the most exhilarating sections of ridges in Ireland. The views are incredible, similar in character to Slieve League in Donegal, says Tees. Descend into the valley before climbing to the spine of Achill Head. The undulating ridge can be followed “towards America” as far as you wish or dare and provides many spectacular photo oopportunities he says. This is borne out by Helen Fairbairn, whose Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide, also by Colins Press, who describes a slightly different route here as a class ic walking route in an epic landscape.

Scramble back up the ridge where you soon come to an old signal tower with more magnifcent views if your over-worked sense of awe can take any more. From here, it is an easy descent to the banana skin-like beach at Keem and a short 2km on the road.

The above scrambling routes are just a taster for the superb scrambling routes in Ireland for an activity that is growing in populartity. For beginner scramblers, it is best to join a hillwalking club or mountaineering club. The activity usually does not involve ropes, harnesses, or other technical gear and you will be scrambling in hiking boots not climbing shoes, says Carey.

He advises a visit to the local climbing wall, which are growing in number, or go out on the mountains with experienced, qualified people. Know your limits and never be afraid to turn back, especially on new routes where you do not know what lies above the next step or two.

“I would always recommend carrying a light rope and/or a sling or two in the event that members experience difficulty with exposure, weather conditions, poor rock, etc,” says Carey. “Depending on the terrain it may well be advisable to carry a helmet especially if there is a lot of loose rock.”

Other highlights in the book include Donegal, which has some outstanding scrambling routes with many climbers making a beeline for Owey Island and Gola Island just west of Gweedore. These islands are comprised mainly of pink granite and have some beautiful sear arches, caves and sea stacks. A great spot for sea kayaking if you are so minded — giving you an opportunity to explore the lake beneath the lake.

The North has some spectacular routes in this guide, including Fair Head and the Mourne Mountains. Tees refers to a climber he met after negotiating a difficult climb at Malin Head as being in a euphoric state. The fact that you are defying death while all of your instincts scream stop must be the main contributory factor to that plane of being. If its euphoria you’re after, you don’t need to head to the pub — just try a few of these routes by Alan Tees.

Scrambles in Ulster and Connacht: Great Scrambling Walks, Alan Tees, Collins Press, €14.99

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