“Now if you want proper mountains, then we need to head to Connemara”. Andrew had suggested going to the west of Ireland way back in 2007. Having led group walks around there for years whilst based in Galway, he knew that Connemara had real mountains made of rock and cliffs and proper stuff. This makes for incredible views over valleys and lakes as well as exhausting ascents and scary descents. Connemara was apparently the antithesis of the softly slanting bog that makes up Wicklow’s slopes that I had come so familiar with.
I was to spend less than three weeks in Ireland this summer. It was a great excuse to finally make the journey over to Connemara three years on and to traverse the Mamturk Mountain Range in a single day.
The proposed route was to start at Leenane at the mouth of Killary Harbour and to journey south, ending at Maam village. It was a 30 kilometre route taking in nearly 3,000 metres ascent. And as if the distance and climb weren’t enough to contend with, the Mamturks have virtually no paths, forcing travelers like ourselves to pick their way through heather, grass, bog and rocks to go from peak to peak.
We had both been praying for good weather. The Mamturks lies on the Atlantic Ocean, and you never know from one day to the next what kind of weather will be swept up on Ireland’s western shores. The mist can transform the terrain into a deceivingly complex void that can cause mountain runners to veer off wrong ridges, to pick incorrect routes, to end up on the edge of dangerous cliffs, and to find themselves terribly, terribly lost. And what with having no paths on the range, any mist would demand constant map contact to make sure that we never lost our place.
In the end, the weather gods only partially answered our prayers. Up Leenane Hill, our first ascent of the day, we looked down to see Leenane town from where we had just come. And balanced on top of the town was a dark black cloud rushing straight towards us. Within minutes, we were in it, as it blasted us with icy sideways rain. I had forgotten cruel Irish weather could be even in the summer. Our views of the mountains ahead of us were instantly wiped away, leaving us with a white out to travel through. It was only when we reached the Col of Despondency that the valleys and peaks reinstated their place.
The “now you see it, now you don’t” rain and mist continued throughout the day. As soon as the mist lifted we’d quickly take in as much of our surroundings and check our maps carefully to make sure we knew where we were. And once the map checking was done, I’d hastily look around at the breath taking views that I never knew Ireland had. It reminded me of the Lake District or Scotland’s Highlands that have blown me away before. I had wrongly assumed that Wicklow was as good as it got, but the Mamturks have now proven me terribly wrong.
We kept going journeying along the Mamturks, the terrain turning from bog to rock as we climbed towards Maumturkmore, then up LetterBreckaun, Binn Bhriocain, Binn Mhor, Mullachglas, and then finally Corcog.
It was hard to run on such ground, the ascents being too steep for my legs, whilst the descents proving an exercise in staying upright and not slipping on the wet grass and rocks underneath. Records show that people have run the route in 5 hours. What with the misty conditions making us careful with our navigation and the poor conditions underfoot, we took a few more hours to complete the route.
I’m surprised the Mamturks have not yet been used to hold a mountain race. These are proper mountains, ones that would challenge the best of fell runners with their steep slopes, stupendous scenery, and unpredictable conditions. It would be the perfect place for a mountain marathon or a rogaine where good navigation skills would be a prerequisite to gain entry. Hopefully one day the Mamturks will make it on to the Irish mountain running circuit.