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Carrot Ridge and the Maumturks – Connemara revisited

a large mountain in the background

With good weather forecast for the west of Ireland over the August Bank Holiday weekend, I decided, along with two friends, Piotr and Natasza, to head for the mountains of Connemara.
These quartzite hills, (hills or mountains?, this became a discussion point over the weekend,) have intrigued me since I first visited them back in January, and I was keen to explore them further.

Approaching the summit of Leenaun Hill.

We arrived around Saturday lunchtime, and parked up in the small lough side village of Leenaun, snuggled at the eastern end of Killary Harbour, a long narrow fjord, (the only true fjord in Ireland).
We had decided to warm up on a horseshoe walk that has the grassy Leenaun Hill at it’s head. The hill over looks the village from the south, and at 618 metres is no lightweight.

It was breezy, with grey, high, fast moving cloud that dumped the occasional shower, but the horseshoe was free from hill fog and we enjoyed an invigorating hike, getting the wearying travel stiffness out of our limbs. The views down Killary Harbour and over to the Twelve Bens to the south and Mweelrea to the north were excellent, and we were in good spirits as we headed for our weekend base, camping at the Connemara Hostel.

Sunday dawned clear, sunny and with very little wind, the forecast was for the weather to hold for the next two days.

Killary Harbour from the shore below the Connemara Hostel

We had discussed the possibility of doing Carrot Ridge before we came away, and the weather gave us every opportunity, so having sorted our climbing gear, we headed for Gleninagh.
Parking can be difficult here, but after some crafty negotiation with a local resident by Natasza, we managed to park at the last house on the private road leading into the valley.
We were ready to go.





Carrot Ridge

The approach to the ridge is across the boggy basin floor of the Gleninagh valley, after the recent hot spell the bog was spongy but essentially dry, neither the river crossing nor the surrounding bog presented us with any problems. This is followed by a steep pull up a rocky, peaty slope to the start of the ridge proper at the base of a pinkish quartzite slab.
These quartzites are very fine grained, pale and smooth; no doubt they would present a tricky challenge when wet, but thankfully we had warm and dry rock to work with today.
Carrot Ridge is the prominent line, in centre of shot, running
 slightly right to left.
Reputedly the longest rock climb in Ireland, at 370 metres, Carrot ridge is graded as a diff climb, but as we were climbing in boots, I think it was a grade harder. There is also a couple of sections of scrambling. Though not particularly difficult, the first few pitches are notable for the lack of positive holds, and combined with the evident exposure, we decided to stay roped up for the most part.
Piotr and Natasza led alternate pitches, and it was soon evident that we were doing longer, and fewer, pitches than suggested in the topo. However, we were finding good belay stances and placing enough protection to keep us reassured, so were not too concerned.
Piotr leading on the first pitch
Where we could, we took coils and moved together, this was limited to the scrambling sections of the route,  which amounted to about 190 metres.
As the day wore on the sun came round and bathed the ridge, we were climbing in glorious sunshine, warm and content……
Natasza negotiating a narrow ledge.
Moving together high up on the ridge
The main face of the crag, with Benbaun in the distance.
Carrot Ridge in profile, the paler band running left to right.

Reaching the top of the climb hot and thirsty, we took a break, before heading over Bencollaghduff and down to the col at Maumina. It was good to stretch the legs, with the rocky west ridge of Bencollaghduff offering a few challenges of its’ own.

Heading for Bencollaghduff, Bencorr in the background.

The views all around were stunning, the rocky mountains of the Twelve Bens surrounded us, and more distant, the shimmering sea acting as a blue frame for this lovely picture. Further off we could see the cliffs of Moher, and all the while the warm sun filled the blue sky.

We got back to the car at 8.00pm, and agreed that fish and chips, washed down by a few pints, would be a great end to a great day, and so we headed to Letterfrack to quench our thirst.


Monday, and we opted for a day hiking in the Maumturks, the weather was fine, though it was cooler and breezier than the previous day.
We intended to hike part of the ridge and finish on Letterbreckaun, the second highest mountain in this small range at 667 metres.
We started our walk on the narrow road that doubles as the Western Way, at a pull in opposite the small Lehanagh Lough, and made our way into a grassy, damp valley, called Illion West. Red ochre coloured cattle grazed here on the lush vegetation.
We headed up to the col at Maumhoge, the stiffness in our legs a legacy of yesterdays exertions, before heading northwest up to the summit of Knocknahillion.
Letterbreckaun, (667m), from Knocknahillion
As yesterday, the views were magnificent and long, and we enjoyed a superb hike along the broad but narrowing ridge towards Letterbreckaun. This undulating rocky ridge was dotted with small pools and minor unnamed loughs, sparkling in the sunlight, and providing an harmonious blue to the pale grey of the quartzite rock.
We stayed a while on the summit, reluctant to leave, but eventually had to make our way down via the sloping picturesque valley of Benadolug and back to rejoin the Western Way, and the walk back to the car.
As we packed up ready to head back to Dublin, the clouds rolled in and rain showers blew through the hills, we had made it just ahead of the weather.
We were tired but very content as we headed home after a wonderful three days in these stunningly rugged and craggy mountains.
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