The mountains of southwest Ireland hold many treats for the hiker looking for a great day out, and none more so than Purple Mountain, (An Sliabh Corca), a superb peak on the boundary of the Killarney National Park, in County Kerry.
The mountain has twin summits, joined by an impressively narrow and rocky ridge, studded with cairns and with precipitous drops either side.
High on its flanks lie steep scree slopes of broken rock, red sandstones shattered by millennia of frosty winters, which give the mountain its name.
The misty summit of Purple Mountain, take care when the cloud is low!
Purple Mountain has two satellite peaks, Tomies to the north and Shehy to the east, both are only a little lower in height, and attached to the parent mountain by broad cols.
Though not a giant, (it stands at 830 metres or 2723 ft), Purple Mountain offers stunning all round views.
To the north is the large and impressive Lough Leane with its scattered small islands, like so many green jewels set in the silver and blue waters.
To the south the mountain descends rapidly to the Black Valley, which lies almost at sea level and is surrounded by a phalanx of it’s own steep sided mountains.
To the west lies the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow glacial valley, with inaccessible ramparts of rock and cascading streams.
A narrow road runs into the 5 kilometre long Gap, which is a popular destination for tourists, who often take in the sights in horse drawn carriages known locally as ‘jaunting cars’.
Beyond the Gap rise the narrow ridges and stunning peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, here are the highest mountains in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, Cather and Beenkeragh, and the views across to this wonderful multi-peaked range are magnificent.
A traverse of this fine mountain is best undertaken from north to south, this gives the easier and more gradual ascent, whilst giving the best views of the valleys and mountains to the south in descent.
Looking south from Purple Mountain towards the Black Valley, with the Gap of Dunloe below us.
Once on the ridge head uphill on a muddy footpath that becomes a narrow sheep path. Continue ahead onto a rounded hill immediately north of Tomies mountain, from here the path can be followed up onto Tomies, the summit of which has a large cairn and a circular rock built shelter to protect hikers from the elements. Head due south across a broad col and on to Purple Mountain itself.
(Be aware that in low cloud the way ahead is rocky and by no means clear and you will need a map and compass and the ability to use them).
Descending towards Lough Glas
The lofty summit ridge of Purple is a great place to have lunch on a fine day, take shelter next to one of its three large cairns.
Take time to enjoy the superb views as you descend Purple Mountain, following a narrow path that leads down to the secretive and tranquil setting of Lough Glas. Stop here to reflect on its natural beauty before continuing down the rocky and rugged path to reach the Head of the Gap.
This is the highest point reached on the Gap of Dunloe road and here you should head north down the road and back towards the start point.
As you walk, take time to look at the impressive rock walls and the tumbling water, and to enjoy the series of small loughs that occupy the valley. Soon it will widen out to rough pasture and a few scattered dwellings before you find yourself back at the busy cafes and car park.
Gap of Dunloe.
The hike will take approximately 6 hours; has 890 metres of ascent and covers a distance of approximately 16 kilometres.
As with any hiking, check the weather forecast before you go, and consider an alternative day if the weather is very windy and the clouds are low.
Suggested map: OSI Adventure Series – Macgillycuddy’s Reeks 1:25000