The Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) knows the best way up mountains. Take its race route up Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. It directs its runners up soft slopes, along the Cahir Ridge, and then back down a bouncy fun descent.
Up until last weekend, that was the only route I’ve known up the 1,038 metres of Carrauntoohil. But there’s a far more popular route that walkers use, up via the Devil’s Ladder from Cronin’s Yard. And, after last weekend’s excursion, I’d say that’s one of the most dangerous routes I’ve seen in Ireland and one that should be immediately closed to tourists.
On Kerry Mountain Rescue site, it states “In recent times (April 2009) significant movement has occurred in the Devil’s Ladder, particularly in the upper section, and several large rocks appear to be quite unstable here. Extreme caution should therefore be exercised. Whilst many people continue to use the route safely, some have suggested selecting alternative routes as a safer option whilst this situation still exists”. The Kerry Mountain Rescue call-out reports for the mountain route also makes for grime reading.
I was shocked by the state of the route. It involved clambering up and over boulders, pushing yourself up scree, negotiating the streams of water that were coming down the steep slope. What made it all the more unsafe was the numbers of people going up and down the route, making it all the more important to keep an eye out for dislodged rocks coming from above.
I had assumed that it would be safer. Several Irish charities invite people to climb Carrauntoohil as a fundraising activity. That means that people who have never climbed a mountain before could potentially turn up for the event. So if newbies are going up and down this mountain, the least that they could do is take a route that doesn’t involve being accidentally crushed by boulders or falling head first down a steep scree slide.
Going up Carrauntoohil, I also met quite a number of people who were desperately ill prepared. There were people wearing cotton and inappropriate shoes. There were people looking lost in the misty conditions. Others were struggling desperately with the climb.
Though its brilliant that people are getting out and about in the mountains, I’m not sure Carrauntoohil is the most appropriate mountain for a first time experience. There are far safer, yet challenging mountains in Ireland. But if people insist on climbing Ireland’s highest peak, then they need to be directed along a far safer route. And, after my experience last weekend, the Devil’s Ladder is far too dangerous a way to get up Carrauntoohil.