Walking the Coomloughra Horseshoe

Some people have a gentle introduction to hill walking while others jump right in at the deep end. In his latest article for Walking and Hiking Ireland, John Quinn describes how his first experience of hill walking led to him becoming addicted to the hobby despite barely being able to walk for a week after the challenge. For John, his first walk was along the famous and revered Coomloughra Horshoe, undoubtedly Irelands most spectactular horseshoe walk.

The circuit around Coomloughra is undoubtedly Irelands most spectacular horseshoe walk. Located in the heart of the Macgillycuddy Reeks range in Co. Kerry this breathtaking walk encompasses Irelands three highest peaks Beenkeeragh (1010m), Carrauntoohil (1039m) and Caher (1001m). This route provides the highest altitude walking in the country, with around 5km in excess of 800m. The narrow ridge running between Beenkeeragh and Carrauntoohil offers magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and gives the hill walker a far greater feeling of reaching the summit of the world than any other approach to Carrauntoohil. Spectacular as the Benkeeragh ridge is crossing it is definitely not to be recommended without the assistance of experienced hill walkers and is probably not for those of a nervous disposition or who have a bad head for heights.

I have done the Coomloughra horseshoe walk a few times with the Clare Outdoor Club (a great outdoor club which is based in Ennis) and on all occasions was blessed with glorious winter sunshine. This climb was actually the first I had ever done (February 2004) and despite hardly being able to walk for a week after it the challenge and magnificent scenery had such an effect on me that I became addicted to hill walking.

The walk begins at Lough Acosse (which is the starting and finishing point) and the climb begins in earnest about 20 minutes later once you have crossed a nearby stream leaving Lough Eighter . At this stage most hill walking groups break in two with and option being available for a somewhat easier ascent via Caher. On the Coomloughra route the first ascent Skregmore (848m) is quite sharp and steep and certainly is good preparation for later in the climb. From this point there is a further rise and fall before the ascent of Beenkeeragh (1010m). The views from the summit are quite fabulous with hills and valleys all around. Next we set off on what I consider to be the highlight of the day- the trek across the Beenkeeragh ridge. The ridge is very narrow in places, involves some scrambling and offers magnificent views of lakes on either side. On one occasion (Feb. 2005) while crossing the ridge I stopped to take a couple of photos and as I did two airplanes passed overhead leaving a spectacular mirror image of their fuel lines in the crystal clear lakes below. The ridge was quite an ordeal on this day being covered with snow and ice. The secret however to getting across safely is basically taking your time and watching where you put your feet- one misplaced foot step could prove fatal. In all the ridge takes about 30 minutes to cross.

The remainder of the ascent to Carrauntoohil is steep and somewhat rugged but relatively straightforward. Snow and ice can however add a reasonable level of difficulty in winter. The summit is marked by an iron cross which was placed there in 1977. A generator was brought to the summit and for a while the cross was light up by a series of bulbs at night which must have been quite a sight. Unfortunately this wasn’t to last; the generator and all the bulbs soon disappeared taken by unscrupulous hill walkers. On a clear day it’s a wonderful spot and the views are awesome. The next stage of the climb involves a brief descent before climbing Caher (Ireland’s 3rd highest mountain 1001m) . This part of the climb is somewhat steep but straightforward. Again the views from these peaks are unforgettable and there are a number of excellent opportunities to look back at and photograph the Beenkeragh Ridge. From Caher the descent is relatively straightforward back to Lough Acosse.

bio Contributor Profile: John QuinnI am a part time landscape photographer from and living in county Clare. At an early age I developed a passion for photography and for the beauty of nature and the Irish countryside.  I travel a lot throughout Ireland photographing and researching the history of  Ireland’s countless beautiful ruined churches, castles and monuments. I also spend a lot of time hill walking and taking landscape photos.  My favorite place in Ireland is the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range in county Kerry. With their rugged beauty, splendid views and peacefulness I can often empathize with Norman Maclean’s great line from A River Runs Through It “When I am alone in the half light of the canyon all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul, and memories and the sounds of the Big Black Foot River

My websites are http://www.beautifulirishphotos.com and http://www.clarephotos.com