It’s important when out in the hills to know where you are at all times.
That seems pretty obvious, but unfortunately it is often ignored when hiking through open and mountainous terrain.  Navigation is essentially about getting from A to B, but unless you know where A is then how can you find B?

If, at some point during your hike you no longer know where you are, either because of poor visibility or through a navigational error, then this three stage guide will help you relocate yourself.

1) Don’t Panic

We have all felt that rising sense of dread when we peer intently into the mist an realise that we don’t know where we are, or in which direction we should go.
At this point it’s important to stop, calm yourself down, and think clearly, maybe even have a little snack or a hot drink.  It’s no good heading blindly on in the hope that you might find a recognisable feature, the odds are stacked against it, and you will only make the problem worse.

2) Orientate (set) the map

This is good practice at any time, and should be the first thing you do at the beginning of every navigation decision.
To orientate the map when you have reasonable visibility, align recognisable features, such as hills, cols or rivers, on the map with their counterparts in the landscape.  The map should be rotated until you have a line of sight from you, through the map feature, and onto the physical feature you see before you.

If you have limited visibility, or cannot locate a recognisable feature on the ground, you can set the map using your compass.  Line up the edge of your compass with the north/south grid lines on the map.  Holding the compass firmly in place, rotate both compass and map until the magnetic needle also lines up with the north/south grid lines and the red, (north), end of the needle points towards the direction of travel arrow on the compass housing.

Orienting (setting) the map with a compass

 

The map is now orientated, but it is approximate, as we have made no allowance for magnetic variation. However, it should suffice for feature recognition purposes.
With the map orientated try to locate your position relative to the features you can see in the landscape.  Once your approximate position is determined it is then possible to plan your next navigational move on the map, and to give yourself a direction to head in.

3) Go Back

If poor visibility means you are still unable to relocate yourself, then you must return to your last known position.

This may be a summit, a col or a distinctive feature you passed. From here you can orientate the map again, plot your route, and determine your next move and your direction of travel.

Position known, decision made, direction of travel determined.

 

This basic 3 step plan can be used by anyone with minimal knowledge of navigating with a compass. It does not involve taking bearings from the map or walking on the bearing in the direction indicated, as these skills require a higher level of navigational knowledge.
To learn more about navigating with a compass in poor visibility, or to get a grasp of the basics of map reading and route finding, join one of our navigation courses.

 

What is ‘Wind Chill’?

 
The core temperature of a human body is around 37C. The air around us is usually cooler than this and so we lose body heat, particularly from exposed skin.
Wind chill is the term that describes this heat loss, and the increased effects of low temperatures and wind.
When wind blows across the surface of exposed skin it will remove heat from that surface, making us feel colder than we would in still conditions. Wet skin and wet clothing will exacerbate the problem, as the rate of heat loss increases from wet surfaces.
The body compensates by sending more warm blood to heat the surface layers, eventually reducing our core temperature and risking hypothermia, (see our previous blog on hypothermia).
Well prepared for the icy conditions in the Wicklow mountains.

 

How do we deal with it?

 
We need to reduce the heat loss from our bodies, and the best way to do this is to wear insulating layers of windproof and waterproof clothing.
Waterproof shell jackets are also windproof and the addition of an insulating layer beneath will keep our body warm.
A warm hat is a must, keep it dry by raising the hood on your jacket. Keep your hands warm by wearing gloves, and carry a spare pair to change in to if they get wet.
You can help your body to generate heat by keeping energy levels high, eat regular high calorie snacks and take hot drinks with you on your hike.
It is important to be aware of the potentially dangerous effects of wind chill, and carry appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable, warm and safe when hiking in the winter months.
As the nights draw in and the available daylight hours decrease, there is an increasing risk of having to finish your hike in the dark. Or on the other hand, maybe you want to try a bit of hiking after nightfall? Either way, hiking at night is a completely different experience, your perception of height and depth is radically altered and familiar landmarks disappear from view, so being prepared is essential.
Whether you are looking for a bit of adventurous night hiking, or you find yourself out later than you expected, the basic rules for survival and comfort in the hills and mountains after dark are the same:

Carry a headtorch. 

 
If you are planning to be out after dark, or you are hiking in the winter months with shorter daylight hours, you need to be carrying a headtorch. This is preferable to a hand held torch as your hands are free for other tasks, using your map and compass, for example. LED torches are almost universally used now, the battery life is considerably longer than with conventional bulbs. LED torches often offer a red light option, which can help preserve night vision.

Carry a spare headtorch.

If the batteries in your torch fail you can replace them, but have you ever tried changing batteries in the dark? It’s not that easy. What if you loose your headtorch, or it breaks?
Better to carry a reserve with fully charged batteries, one day you’ll be thankful you did.
Petzl headtorches

Try to preserve your night vision.

Delay turning on your light to the very last minute, you would be surprised how much you can see when you allow your ‘night vision’ to develop naturally as the light fades. Once you turn on a torch this is lost, and can take up to an hour to restore. So have faith in your eyesight.
When you are using your torch, remember to angle the beam down, and don’t shine it in the faces of your companions, it’s really not very pleasant.

Be prepared for darkness.

You know it’s going to get dark, so get your torch out of your rucksack and keep it handy, on your head or in a pocket. Similarly, keep your compass and map close to hand, and get out those gloves and warm hat, and maybe a jacket, it can cool down rapidly after dark.
Remember to stay warm.

You know how to navigate, right?

Polish up those navigation skills before you get caught out in the dark. Tick features, linear features. walking on a bearing, timing and pacing, and aspect of slope are all important navigation techniques when faced with the ultimate in poor visibility, pitched darkness.
Carrying a map-based GPS system is always a good backup plan. Viewranger for smart phones is a good option I have found, but don’t rely on it solely, phone batteries can run down rapidly, especially when it gets really cold.

Don’t be afraid.

The mountains don’t change shape after nightfall, it just looks that way sometimes, trust your map and compass.
Oh, and there are no vampires out there, those staring green eyes you see belong to the sheep, probably.
No, not Dracula.

Go with friends.

If you are trying night hiking intentionally, and why shouldn’t you it’s great fun, then go with company. It will be safer and a lot more fun.
At the same time, stick to a route you have done in daylight previously, it will look and feel different, but you have the reassurance of being on familiar terrain.

Check the weather.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast before you head out after dark. Night hiking in rain and hill fog can be unpleasant at best, and adds considerably to the navigation difficulties.
By being prepared, and having the right navigation skills, no-one need fear hiking after nightfall. Being caught out after dark and not being able to get off the hill is a poor excuse for calling out mountain rescue.

Russ Mills owns and runs Mountaintrails, guided hiking, navigation and hill skills courses in Ireland and the UK.

The mountains of south Mayo and north Galway straddle the border between the two counties, and here, on the rugged Atlantic coast they meet in the vicinity of Killary Harbour, the only fjord in Ireland.

South of the fjord the mountains of the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks dominate, their pale grey quartzite crags a magnet for hikers from all over Ireland and beyond. But here, in Mayo, they are of ancient hard sandstones, which give the mountains a severe and slightly malevolent presence, particularly when under low, glowering cloud.
Magnificent Mweelrea from Ben Gorm.
The best known of Mayo’s mountains, Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain, is to the north. However, here you will find Mayo’s highest and most rugged peak, Mweelrea, it’s 814 metre steep and rocky flanks rising straight from the sea. It is a complex mountain of several summits, and three dark, steep sided corries. It is a mountain not to be taken lightly, and has seen fatalities in the past.
To the east, across the adjoining valley, is the delightful mountain of Ben Gorm, with it’s subsidiary top Ben Creggan. Both these tops offer stunning views, both to Mweelrea and the sea, and to the Sheeffry’s to the north. Ben Gorm is smaller, at 700 metres, and has four stunning ridges leading off the extensive, rocky summit plateau to the east, like multiple tails of a speeding comet.
The start of the long ridge descent from Ben Gorm.
The best of these extends for nearly five kilometres from the summit. At it’s higher, western end, it is a wonderful narrow, rocky, undulating ridge; though never too exposed and rarely needing the use of the hands. The all round views are breathtaking.
Directly north of Ben Gorm are the Sheeffry Hills, perhaps misnamed, as the highest point at 772 metres is higher than many ‘mountains’.
Undoubtedly the best way to see the Sheeffry’s is by a west to east traverse, starting at the famine memorial at the head of Lough Doo, and heading straight up the steep grassy ridge ahead. It’s a tough climb, but well worth it, as once you reach the summit of Barrclashcame you have done the bulk of the days ascent.
The Sheeffry’s are essentially a flat topped ridge, deeply incised by corries and glacial valleys to north and south.
Mweelrea from Barrclashcame, this may be the best view you get.
Heading east the ridge narrows to only a metre or two wide, but after a few hundred metres opens out again to a broad, slightly undulating, and very pleasant ridge walk.
As you would expect, on a good day the views are magnificent, but you are at the mercy of the weather in these parts, and low cloud can rob you of anything but a view of your feet, and will necessitate careful navigation.
Continuing to the eastern end involves two descents and re-ascents, and requires two cars, as it’s a long way back to the starting point via the valley road.
To the southeast of this triumvirate of mountains lies the oddly named Devilsmother, smaller than these three it sits at the western end of Maumtrasna, almost cut loose by two deep valleys, one north, one south.
Killary Harbour and Ben Gorm (right) from Devilsmother south ridge.
As a result it’s whale back ridge runs broadly north to south, before turning west and depositing you in the lovely village of Leenaun.
Predominantly tussocky grass, with no great crags or dark corries, this hill might be overlooked, but can still make for a good shorter day. There are wonderful views down Killary Harbour and northeast to Ben Gorm to be had from here. The ascent is not as tiring as it looks, and the broad summit ridge and the descent are both very pleasant.
So, next time you are planning a hiking trip to the mountains of Galway and Mayo, why not give these special mountains a little of your time?
To find out more about Mountaintrails guided hikes, check out our website.

 

Normally your body temperature lies between 36.5 and 37.5C. If it begins to drop below this you will feel cold, you might start to shiver, rub your hands together or look in your pack for a fleece.
If it drops below 35C you will start to shiver, your mood may change, your lips may go blue, you may become clumsy and irrational.

You have hypothermia

At this stage there is plenty you, or your buddies, can do to reverse the cooling process, and you need to act immediately to prevent the situation worsening. But how did you get to this point in the first place?

Causes

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 35C, and has several causal factors:
Cold: 
A cold air temperature in itself will not generally cause hypothermia, but it is a considerable contributor when combined with the other factors below.
Wet:
Water will reduce the insulating properties of your clothing, and as it evaporates from your clothes and skin it takes a lot of heat away from the body.
Wind: 
Wind will remove the warm air layer next to your skin, and increases evaporation of water from wet clothing, which in turn increases the cooling effect.
Exhaustion:
Your body heat is maintained by metabolising fuel into energy. If you are low on fuel reserves your body will be unable to ‘make’ sufficient heat to maintain your body temperature.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of mild hypothermia are all to common, you may have come across someone displaying these yourself. They will be shivering, possibly be incoherent, will have bluish lips and pale, cold skin. They will have the ‘umbles’ (stumble, mumble and grumble). They may be irrational and may deny they have a problem.
If the body temperature falls towards 33C then moderate hypothermia symptoms appear. The victim will show uncontrollable shivering and cannot stop if you ask them to, they will be confused and will have heightened signs of the ‘umbles’. They may try to remove layers of clothing in their confusion. Their heart and respiratory rate will increase.
Around 32C they will become stiffer in the limbs, the shivering will stop, they may become semi-conscious or unconscious and collapse. Heart rate will be harder or impossible to detect as blood is drawn away from the limbs and into the core of the body in an attempt to keep the vital organs functioning. This is severe hypothermia.
Cardiac arrest occurs at around 28C.

Treatment

Treatment for all levels of hypothermia is to attempt to rewarm the victim.
In the case of mild hypothermia you should seek shelter from the weather, either a tent or bothy bag would suffice. If possible remove wet clothing and replace with dry, and add insulation layers, jacket, fleece, hats and gloves will all help. Give food in the form of a sugary snack, and a hot drink, (but avoid alcohol, and caffeine if possible).
Get them active, slapping their body with their arms for example. Give them plenty of encouragement and get them to walk when they are ready, but keep them supervised.
Remember to check other members of your group, if one person is suffering from hypothermia then it is likely that others may be too.
For cases of moderate hypothermia you should again seek shelter and insulate the body of the victim. Handle them gently, to avoid sending cold blood to the vital organs in the core of the body and do not rub the extremities, such as hands, to try to warm them. Give them sugary foods and a warm drink, but only if they are able to swallow.
Immediate recovery is unlikely, so call out Mountain Rescue to evacuate the casualty.
If the victim is losing consciousness, and showing signs of severe hypothermia, then find shelter as above, insulate and put into the safe airway position. Handle with great care and do not try to feed or put drink into their mouths. Call out Mountain Rescue immediately.
A casualty is never ‘cold and dead’, they are only ever ‘warm and dead’ after rewarming in the hospital.

Prevention

Clearly, it is better to avoid the above scenarios occurring at all, so ensure you and your group have sufficient warm clothing for the weather you expect to encounter, hats, gloves, (and a spare pair), and extra insulation should be carried. Make sure your footwear is waterproof, and take gaiters if wet conditions are expected.
Take sufficient energy producing food to last you the day, and a hot drink, (try to avoid caffeine).
It is vitally important to always carry effective waterproof clothing, including leggings.
Plan your route to take into account the weather forecast and the conditions you expect to encounter.
Finally, remember that hypothermia can occur at any time of year, not just in the winter months, so be prepared.

Glencorbet, at the northern end of the 12 Bens range in Connemara, Co. Galway, does not immediately inspire like it’s southern counterpart, the Glencoaghan horseshoe. And whilst on a sunny day Glencoaghan will attract many hikers, you can find relative solitude to the north.

Glencorbet, like all the glens here, was formed by scouring glacial processes during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, and is currently drained by the Kylemore river, which flows into the lough of the same name. Here you will find the well know tourist destination of Kylemore Abbey, with its Victorian gardens and well stocked tea rooms.
Not for us today, though, as we seek the quieter and more solitary slopes of the hills that overlook the lough.
On the grassy, northern flank of Glencorbet
The route starts on the northern flank, up wet slopes of mountain heath and grasses to the beginning of the ridge at the modest Minnaumore. From here we follow the ascending broad crest to a final pull to our first top, Benbaun. This is not the Benbaun that boasts to be the highest point in Galway, that comes later, but a hill of lesser stature using the same name, masquerading if you will.
From here you can look down to Kylemore Lough and the abbey, the cars on the distant road and the milling visitors unaware that they are being observed.
Now we are turning south, over rockier ground, and climbing through bare pale grey quartzite outcrops to reach the summit of Benbrack. On this day the cloud was low, barely above our heads and this gave the mountain a Mordor like feel, dark and somewhat foreboding.
Benbrack in low, glowering cloud.
From Benbrack we must descend 260 metres to the grassy col that separates Benbrack from Muckanaght, an imposing pile of rock with steep ascents all round, much of the route here is on steep grass and in wet weather it should be approached with a good deal of caution.
Another descent to another col before a grassy ramp leads to the long rocky and scree strewn pull up to the summit of Benbaun, the big fella this time, and at 729 metres, (2392 ft.), the highest point in Galway. (Now I know my American readers will think this a bit odd that I describe a mountain of this modest altitude as a ‘big fella’, but round these parts that’s respectable, and the route does start at around 40 metres above sea level).
Benbaun summit looking north towards Benbrack
By now we had clearing skies and magnificent views of the rugged ramparts of Bencollaghduff and the mountains to the south, Bencor and Benbreen. These craggy tops form the headwall of Glencoaghan, most often climbed from the south as part of the horseshoe of that name.
Our route now takes us down over boulder, rock and scree, as we head east on the southern flank of Glencorbet. The scree gives way to grass, heath and eroded peat hags along a gently descending and narrowing ridge, before we reach the outcrop of Knockpasheemore, and the end of the horseshoe.
Bencollaghduff from Benbaun
A step grassy descent north is followed by the crossing of the valley floor, a precarious undertaking in wet weather, but dry enough in July, where we find a conveniently placed foot bridge over the Kylemore river, and a short hike back to our starting point and waiting transport.
Though maybe modest looking on the map, this is a fine outing with several re-ascents during the day and some difficult terrain for the less experienced.

As with all mountain routes, treat it with respect, and pick a day when you can enjoy the superb views.

When organising our hill skills overnight trips, we give our clients a list of the essential gear they should take. In this blog I have expanded that list to add explanations and notes on my own experiences of over 35 years of wild camping.
Perhaps the overriding consideration is the overall weight of your full pack, it is no good packing to make your trip uber comfortable only to find you cannot lift the rucksack off the floor, ( believe me, I have seen this). A good guideline for total pack weight is that it should not exceed 20% of your body weight. For a 75kg person like me that means no more than 15kg, which is manageable.
When wild camping as a pair, with a friend or partner, you can share the weight of communal kit like the tent and cooking equipment, this helps considerably with the overall load.
Tent.
This will be your heaviest bit of kit, and also your home, your shelter should the weather turn nasty, so the right tent choice is essential.
A two-person tent is ideal for you and a partner, they do tend to be a little snug, so if you are going with a friend, make sure you are both ok with the close proximity this will inevitably mean. Aim to get a tent under 2kg, and one with a geodesic design, where the poles cross each other over the tent. This will give the tent much more stability in stormy weather.
If you are going it alone then a one man tent will suffice, some are very light, less than 1kg, and may require your walking poles to double up as tent poles.
Both two man and solo tents would normally be double skinned, they would have an inner tent, often with a mesh door to keep out unwanted midges and flies, and a waterproof outer, or fly sheet. This combination is best to keep down condensation in the tent and to give you a refuge from the midges.
For lightness, some folks prefer a single skinned tent or even a tarp. Tarp is short for tarpaulin, and is a lightweight waterproof flysheet that you erect with guy lines to trees or walking poles. There is no inner tent and the trade off for lightness is the exposure to insects.
My own preference is for a double skinned tent, if you have experienced Scottish midges then you won’t need to ask why.

Sleeping Bag – Synthetic or Down?

 
There are pros and cons to both. Synthetic insulation filled bags will be cheaper and will perform better if they get damp. Down filled bags will be more expensive, but will give a greater warmth to weight ratio, they do not function at all well when the down gets wet, having virtually no heat retention.
In either case you will need a three season bag for summer wild camping in Ireland and the UK, as it can still be chilly in the mountains at night.
I use a light down bag, rated to 0C, in summer and keep it in a waterproof dry-bag to avoid it getting damp in wet weather.

Sleeping mat

 
When lying in your sleeping bag your body compresses the insulation between you and the ground, this is where most body heat is lost, so a good sleeping mat is important.
There are really two choices here, closed cell foam mats, which are cheap but bulky, and air filled mats, such as Thermarest, which are expensive, but pack down small and offer excellent insulation. This would be my choice.
If you opt for a closed cell foam mat be sure to keep it dry, if you attach it to the outside of your pack then put it in a waterproof dry-bag.
Alternatively, you can open it out around the inside of your rucksack, and pack the rest of your gear within it.

Pillow

 
Some people like to take a blow up pillow along. However, I would consider this an optional extra, and prefer to fill a stuff sack with clothes and use that instead.

Cooking equipment – stove, pots, mug etc.

There are so many stove options available now, using a variety of fuels from gas to petrol, and from solid fuel to wood.
Consider your needs, and the availability of fuel. In Ireland and the UK, screw in butane/propane gas cartridges are readily available, and in combination with a simple lightweight cooker, like the MSR Pocket Rocket, you can have a lightweight, convenient, relatively safe and easy to use option that will boil a litre of water in a couple of minutes.
Choose the smallest volume gas canister for your needs, the shorter the trip the less gas you will need. How much you will need depends on burn time, and what food you intend to cook, (see below for more on this).
For boiling water I use a 750ml lightweight pot with a lid, the lid doubles as an extra pan but I rarely use it. I can fit a gas canister wrapped in a cleaning cloth snuggly inside my pot, saving space. I also use this pot to eat from, avoiding the need to bring a plate.
I have a good sized double skinned plastic travel mug for hot drinks, this keeps my morning tea nice and hot!
For eating I use a spork, mine is plastic, but you can get titanium models if you wish.
Finally, don’t forget a lighter, and reserve matches, some folk like to take a fire-steel ,but two stove lighting options seems fine to me.

Water filter

Clean water is a must in the hills, and gone are the days when you could drink, worry free, from mountain streams.
 Wild and grazing animals, and humans, all live in the mountain environment, we all eat, sleep and poo there. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure the water we collect is safe to drink.
By far the best way to do this is to boil it, and this we do when we prepare food and hot drinks, but boiling all our drinking water can be costly, and use up vital fuel.
The alternatives are to filter the water, or to treat it with chemicals. Since the EU banned the use of iodine as a water treatment I have been a little unsure of the efficacy of the chemical treatments available, (mostly based on chlorine). Therefore my preference is for water filters.
There are now some excellent water filters available, taking out all pathogens. They range from drinking ‘straws’, to bottles with filters in the lid, to pump action high volume filters. By using a water filter you don’t have to carry so much water with you during the day, you can make clean water as you go, but be sure to use fast running streams, and take it from as high in the mountains as you can.

Food

This is a subject that generates much debate amongst seasoned backpackers and wild campers. You will burn a lot more energy when trekking in mountainous terrain, at least 3000 calories a day if you are male, 2500 if female. Therefore it is important to consider the calorie content of your food and also its weight, your chosen meals should have a high calorie to weight ratio.
The food should also be quick and easy to prepare, no gourmet dinners here, consider dried packet meals and carbohydrate rich foods.
Experiment with your food choices at home before you go on your trip, it’s no good if you can’t stand the taste!
Every seasoned wild camper will have their own favorites, and here I offer a sample menu of my own. Whatever you decide to take, remember you have to carry it in, so keep it lightweight and quick to prepare.
Breakfast – Muesli with extra oats, dried fruit and seeds. I mix in milk powder at home and keep measured portions stored in a plastic container. This is packed with slow release energy to fuel my morning. Just add hot water, stir, and eat.
Tea/coffee – some folk don’t bother with this, but I need my tea!
Lunch/Snacks – I take homemade flapjacks, my own recipe contains oats, fruit and honey, they can last several days in my pack and are are full of energy. I also take dried fruit, typically apricots, prunes or dates.
Snickers bars are great for a quick energy boost, and as an emergency food supply.
Dinner – Packet dried meals, they come in many forms and your local supermarket will no doubt have a good selection, but check the preparation times, some can be up to 20 mins. I use Lidl dried meals, as they are not expensive, taste reasonably good, and are quick to prepare.
Instant hot chocolate drink is packed with calories and will help you sleep, and well worth taking along.

Rucksack

This has to be big enough to take all your gear and be comfortable when on your back. You should consider anything from 50 – 75 litres, depending on the length of your trip, for an overnight trip I would use a 45 litre pack.
Ladies should get a womens specific rucksack, they are designed to fit the female form, and you may not need such a large volume pack as the men, as you should be carrying less weight, (see 20% rule above).
Try out packs at your local outdoor store, get advice on features, fit and back length as it is important to get this right. Ask them to add weight to the pack, if they cannot oblige, go to a different store.

Spare clothes

On overnight trip I might not bother with this, but on longer trips you would want to take a change of underwear, socks and a baselayer. These are great as bedtime clothes too, giving you something fresh to change into before you get into your sleeping bag.
 

Headtorch

This is a must have item, chose one of the many LED types around. The more expensive models have very bright beams, (measured in lumens), and a long beam distance, but a mid-range headtorch would be sufficient for moving around camp and emergency use.

First aid supplies

Someone in your party should ideally be first aid trained, carry a first aid kit, and know how to use it. For the rest, an ‘ouch pouch’ is enough, this should contain antiseptic wipes, plasters, minor burn cream and blister pads.

Insect repellant

If you hate being bitten by the little critters, then this is an important item, anything containing DEET will keep them off, but other options are also available, if not so effective.

Toilet kit

A trowel to bury poo, (which should be buried 20 cm deep and the turf replaced). Toilet paper, ideally the used paper should be burned or carried out in a ziplock bag, but if this revolts you then bury it too.
Don’t leave it on the surface, that’s just disgusting, unsightly and takes many weeks to decompose, do think of others that come after. Antibacterial gel is a good way to clean your hands.
 

Personal toiletries

For an overnight wild camp you might consider washing and cleaning your teeth unnecessary, for a longer trip you will want to bring a microfibre towel, biodegradable soap, and a toothbrush and small amount of paste.
Do think carefully about what extras you might bring, do you really need deodorant, or a razor?

Repair kit

In here you should keep spare batteries for your headtorch, a small penknife, duct tape, and cable ties. On a longer trip you might want to take a repair kit for your sleeping mat.

Optional Items

Some folk like to take a little luxury, or something to make the trip more comfortable, for them the extra weight is worth it. Typically someone might take a book, camp shoes, or a little of their favorite tipple.
The rest of your kit should be the same as you might take on a day hike, but be sure to keep your kit dry with a rucksack liner and dry-bags.
For more information on Mountaintrails guided hikes, check out the website.

 

Heading towards Beenkeragh
On a hot summers day in June, a few days before the summer solstice, I hiked a popular route in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a compact but stunning range of mountains in the southwest of Ireland.  This circular route is known as the Coomloughra Horseshoe.
The hike is around 12 km ( 8 miles), with 1300 metres (4265 ft.), of total ascent in the day, and goes over the summits of the three highest mountains in Ireland; Carrauntoohil, Beenkeragh and Caher.
At 1040 metres Carrauntoohil is not a huge mountain, but its high crags rise from near sea level, and give it an imposing air more typical of mountains on the west coast of Scotland.
The impressive Carrauntoohil
The circuit takes in the Beenkeragh Ridge, a short but narrow and exposed traverse that connects the two highest peaks. Though not technically difficult, this ridge can prove a challenge for those not used to the exposure.
I had planned to do the traverse in a clockwise direction, and started at the car park below the ‘hydro road’, from here there is a steady climb to reach Lough Eighter.
Looking up to my left, I started the pull up to the first top, the minor one of Cnoc Iochtair at 747m. From here it was onto Skregmore, the faint path a mix of soft, springy grass and scattered blocky boulder fields.  This presaged the steep, rocky, and
The Beenkeragh Ridge
sometimes scrambling ascent of Beenkeragh, Ireland’s second highest mountain at 1010m.
A short but steep descent over similar bouldery ground and I am at the start of the Beenkeragh Ridge. The ridge is several hundred metres long, an undulating narrow traverse punctuated by blocky rock obstacles, and with considerable exposure on either side.
In wet and windy weather this is a route to treat with care and respect, but today was dry and very warm, with little wind, and the traverse was a real delight.
Beenkeragh Ridge can be a bit exposed
At the end of the ridge I joined a well worn path that comes up from the Hags Glen to the north, a route known as O’Shea’s, as it climbs through a gully of the same name. From here I followed the rocky and scree strewn trail up to the top of Ireland, Carrauntoohil, an imposing mountain with steep crags on its’ northern and eastern faces.
The summit is marked by a large cross, maybe 4 metres high, that in good weather can be seen from the valleys below.
There were perhaps a half a dozen people at the summit, the first folk I had seen all morning. All the more remarkable as it was such a benign and beautiful day.
Carrauntoohil summit cross
Caher
From the summit the route descends and flattens out to a pleasant path that follows the edge of the crags that mark the head of the valley. It soon begins to rise again on the approach to Caher, the third of the three peaks over 1000m. The relatively gentle eastern slopes are in stark contrast to the almost sheer drop of 400m on the northern side, this valley having been carved out of the mountain by ice, some 10,000 years ago.

From here the views are stunning, both toward the mountains, to Carrauntoohil and the eastern Reeks, but also to the northwest where the horizon is drawn by the hazy line of the mountains of the Dingle peninsular.
Between me and the mountains of Dingle the blue sea shimmers and glistens in the bright sunlight, with the golden yellow sand-bars exposed by the retreating tide.

The final act of this grand performance is the minor top of Caher West, which marks the end of the horseshoe.
All that remains is the relatively easy descent down a broad grassy ridge back to Lough Eighter, and the return journey on the hydro road track.
Beenkeragh and Carrauntoohil from Caher
Looking towards the Dingle peninsular
The Coomloughra Horseshoe
So, is this the best ridge walk in Ireland?
I will leave you come and decide for yourselves, but it’s certainly up there with the best of them, and if you are ever down in that part of Ireland I would recommend you give it a go.

 

Many of us now use walking poles when out in the hills, and with good reason.

They help up maintain balance, reduce the impact force on our knees and other leg joints, (particularly in descent and when carrying a heavy pack), and are useful as a support when negotiating a river crossing.
Using poles will even give you more of a full body workout, by exercising the upper body as well as the legs.

 

 

Unfortunately, some of the people I see using walking poles gain little of these benefits because they are either using them incorrectly or the poles are poorly adjusted. Poles are often placed too far out in front or too far to the side of the body, and they are often set at the wrong length for the height of the user.

When is the right time to use walking poles? Some folks will use their poles continuously throughout the day, but there are occasions when poles can be more of a hindrance and a help, when moving through thick vegetation, or scrambling up rocky terrain, for example.

By making slight adjustments to the way they use their walking poles, many more people would get the full benefit of their use when out hiking.

Here are my top tips for getting the most out of using your walking poles:

  • Adjust the length so that your elbow is at a right angle and your forearm is horizontal.
  • Put your hand up through the wrist loop before you grip the pole, this will put less strain on your wrist.
  • Always use two poles, one on it’s own can cause imbalance and muscle strain. (However, one pole is often better when negotiating a river crossing, acting as a third leg, and helping you make a stable ‘tripod’ stance.)
  • Correct height adjustment of poles is important
  • Place pole and opposite foot together on the ground, i.e. left foot and right hand pole.
  • Try to angle the pole so the top is slightly ahead of the bottom, this will give you a good forward thrust action, rather like a ski pole.
  • Put your poles away when on terrain where secure placement is difficult, e.g. deep heather or rocky ground.
  • Shorten the poles on long and steep ascents, (or grip the pole lower down the shaft); lengthen the poles for long and steep descents.
    Ensuring the correct pole grip to avoid wrist fatigue.
  • In ascent use the poles to the side or slightly behind you, this will give added propulsion up the slope. On a steep descent, place the poles ahead of you, for support and braking.
  •  Unused or misused poles can become a trip hazard for you and those around you, and should be put away when you are using your hands on a steep or difficult section of the route.
  • Rubber tips on walking poles often come off, and consequently litter the hills, leave them at home.
  • A ‘snow basket’ on the bottom of your pole will stop your pole sinking into soft snow or boggy ground, (but can become a trip hazard in heavy vegetation.)
  • Be prepared to put away your poles to read your map, or to navigate with your compass.
  • Clip lock poles are easier to adjust than the twist tightening types, and are less prone to freezing in cold weather.
  • In winter conditions, walking poles are not a substitute for an ice axe, if you find yourself on frozen ground then get out your axe.

If you want to learn more about Mountaintrails guided hikes please go to our website.

The west coast of Ireland boasts a treasure trove of natural wonders and astonishing landscapes, and in County Clare there are two of the best, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. We based ourselves for three days of exploration in the seaside village of Ballyvaughan, which boasts a small harbour, several hotels and a number of excellent restaurants.
We began our trip with a day hiking in the Burren, an example of a karst limestone landscape, and an area of national ecological importance.
The karst landscape of the Burren
Here, limestone rock is exposed at the surface, where the erosive action of water has carved it into ‘pavements’. The rocky surface is criss-crossed by vertical fissures, called grikes, leaving separate blocks of rock, called clints.
The limestones, from a geological period called the Lower Carboniferous were formed around 350 million years ago when this area was a warm shallow sea, and contain fossils of corals, sea urchins and ammonites.
The hills of the Burren only attain the modest height of 344 metres at Slieve Elva, but nonetheless the rough and rocky nature of the terrain and the wide vistas make for great hiking. The area is crossed by several ‘green roads’, ancient trackways across the landscape that linked inland communities with the coast and beyond. Two of the best form the hiking routes of Poulacapple and the Black Head Loop, and both are well worth walking if you are visiting the Burren.
Spring gentian, a Burren speciality
Our plan for day one was to hike a part of the Burren Way that includes the Poulacapple green road, here we knew we would find  abundant spring flora, including early purple orchids, mountain avens and the lovely piercing blue of the spring gentian.
Mountain avens and the spring gentian are classified as arctic-alpine plants, and are remnants of the flora that existed here 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. They co-exist alongside more temperate plants and even plants of Mediterranean origin, such as the maidenhair fern.
Mountain avens
This unique mix is still a mystery to botanists, but means that the Burren hosts over 70% of all the plant species found in Ireland, making it an important area for study and conservation.
For us, it means we can enjoy the abundant floral riches of this astonishing part of the world.
We were there in the spring, but later in the season the 22 species of orchid that are found in the Burren can be seen in bloom, and the pattern and variety of plants varies all summer and into the autumn.
On our second day we visited the Atlantic coast, and aimed to walk from Doolin village along the cliff path to the remarkable Cliffs of Moher. The day was murky and cool, with low cloud, however the views along the cliff path were still magnificent.
These ancient sandstone cliffs are home to over 30,000 sea birds, and we saw guillemots, black-backed gulls, ravens and kittiwakes, swooping  down to the sea and then back to their precarious nesting perches on the sheer cliff faces.
Atlantic coast of Ireland
As the sea pounded the base of the cliffs and crashed onto the rocks we saw the unmistakable bobbing heads of a pair of what were probably atlantic grey seals, diving in the turbulent water for fish and crustaceans.
Sea pinks, or thrift, dotted every cliff with their pink flowers, and the white blooms of the sea campion were much in evidence too.
The Cliffs of Moher stretch for 8 kilometres, (5 miles), along the atlantic coast of County Clare, and reach 214 metres at their highest point. Here there is now a very popular interpretive visitor centre, well worth a look around, and the destination for our lunch stop.
From here we retraced our route, now looking north we could see the outline of Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, and later on the small knoll of Crab island that protects Doolin Quay.  Stopping periodically to admire the seabirds and to feed some local donkeys, we soon returned to Doolin and a local pub for a welcome cup of tea.
Poulnabrone dolmen
Day three, our final day of the trip, saw us head inland to visit the remarkable megalithic dolmen at Poulnabrone, (which translates as the hole of the sorrows).
This tomb was excavated in 1986 and the remains of 16 adults and children were unearthed, along with a stone axe and other artifacts associated with ritual burial. The dolmen dates to around 3600BC and would originally be covered with a large cairn of stone and earth.
The Burren is rich in archaeology, with as many as 75 neolithic wedge tombs discovered, along with hundreds of other cairns, stone forts and small depressions where water was heated using hot stones, possibly for cooking meat, called Fulacht Fia.
From here we made the short drive to the Burren National Park with it’s many turloughs, (seasonal lakes), and astonishing limestone terraces.
The park is relatively small, but it holds some of the best landscape and scenery in the area. On this warm and sunny day we hiked up to the top of Mullaghmore at around 180 metres, where we ate a late lunch by the summit cairn before moving on to Slieve Roe and Knockanes.
Slieve Roe – sinuous limestone terraces

These hills are by no means large, but they make up for this with their stunning rock architecture, rugged paths and almost alpine like meadows.

Here you can see some of the fossils that are found in the limestone, corals are most common, and easily seen.
We returned via one of the larger turloughs to cool our feet in the clear water, before walking back to our vehicle for the drive back to Dublin.
Mountaintrails runs two three day trips each year to this wonderful part of Ireland, we stay in a local hotel and eat in local restaurants, enjoying the seafood for which the west coast is well known. Our itineraries have to remain flexible to take account of the weather, but are sure to include hill and coastal hikes, looking at the wonderful flora, geology and archaeology that the Burren and Cliffs of Moher have to offer.
 If you would like to join us next time check the dates on our website: www.mountaintrails.ie, or send us an email with your enquiry: info@mountaintrails.ie .