Treacherous Way up Ireland’s Highest Mountain, Carrauntoohil

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.

Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s Highest Mountain at 1,038 metres, in Co. Kerry

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.

IMRA’s route up Carrauntoohil via the Caher Ridge. Note no crazy descents over cliffs.

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.

The steep scree strewn slope up the Devil’s Ladder.

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.

Significant numbers of people on the summit of Carrauntoohil – I was surprised by the amount.

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.

View from the Devil’s Ladder back down into the Hag’s Glen back to Lough Gouragh and Lough Callee.

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.

6 thoughts on “Treacherous Way up Ireland’s Highest Mountain, Carrauntoohil

  1. I found this mountain very treacherous and unsafe. going down the Heavenly Gates we bad to climb over a waterfall which only left a tiny ledge to hold on to while there is a 200 metre abyss behind you. Guide didn’t even have a rope to secure nervous hikers. Rain and mist made clinging in to the rock nearly impossible. never again. what a horrendous experience.

  2. The mountain is most often climbed from the north-east, along the Hag’s Glen and up the steep Devil’s Ladder to the col between Carrauntoohil and Cnoc na Péiste , and then north-west to the summit. The route has become more dangerous in recent years due to loose stones and crowding.

  3. The problem with the other routes (from the east anyway) is they require much stronger navigation abilities and wouldn’t be able to handle large volumes of people without ending up in an even worse state than the Ladder. I’m not normally a fan of sacrificial routes but probably a necessary evil in the case of the ladder.

    Or just ban all charities from sending people up there 🙂

    1. What I would suggest Kevin is that a route is actually carved out and prepared from the east that wouldn’t need navigational abilities – most other countries’ park services in the UK or US would do that. Either that, or prepare a switchback route up the Devil’s Glen. The way it is now is a disaster waiting to happen.

  4. We stayed in a cottage on the Glencar side three summers back and watched a rescue helicopter try to get to someone up there when it was covered in the mist. We also had hillwalkers who’d become lost knocking on our door during pouring rain in the dark of the night..asking for a dry place to sleep..definitely tougher than it looks at first glance up there..good advice Moire!

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