On my recent trip to the south of Ireland to attend a travel blogger conference, I decided to stay behind for a few days and climb Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland. This hiking guide contains everything you need to know about climbing this mountain yourself – which route to chose, how hard it is, what to bring and what to wear. Are you ready?
Carrauntoohil is the highest mountain in Ireland and when I recently spent a few days in the south of Ireland to attend a travel blogger conference, I decided to extend my trip for a few days and climb it.
I’m not usually one to climb a mountain because it’s the highest, or most difficult, or most famous. I’m very happy to just climb whatever hill is in front of my nose, but when I looked for things to do in and around Killarney, Carrauntoohil caught my eye immediately. In fact it is only one of many outdoor activities in Killarney and to see and do it all you could easily spend a week here.
The area was crawling with bloggers from the around the world, everybody keen to explore what Ireland had to offer. Most joined organised day trips or longer FAM trips around Ireland the day after the conference, so I wanted to find an outdoor activity where I would find some solitude.
Driving the Ring of Kerry was out of question, because I knew a couple of busses were heading that way, and so was making the trek to the Cliffs of Moher – just too much driving. Climbing Carrauntoohil seemed like the perfect solution. Difficult enough so it wouldn’t attract hundreds of bloggers; easy enough to do on my own with my level of experience. A special hiking experience for my first solo trip to Ireland.
This guide will give you a rundown of everything you need to know for hiking in these parts of Ireland. What to wear, how to prepare, what else to bring and which route to chose.
Let’s get started!
Where is Carrauntoohil in Ireland and how do I get there?
Carrauntoohol is located in the south of Ireland, in Kerry County, and is part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range. The largest town close-by is probably Killarney, which is a great hub with plenty of accommodation, restaurants, supermarkets and outdoor shops.
From Killarney it takes just under 30 minutes to drive to one of the possible starting points for the hike, Cronin’s Yard.
If you travel by car, it is very easy to get to to Cronin’s Yard, from the main road (Ring of Kerry) just follow the signs towards Carrauntoohil, pass the turnoff towards the Gap of Dunloe and drive all the way to the end of the single track road until you reach Cronin’s Yard. There is a private car park there where you can leave your car for €2 (pay at the tea room).
It’s a bit harder by public transport. However, you can take the bus or train to Killarney and then organise a taxi from town or join a guided hike that includes transportation.
If you’ve got more time in Ireland, check out this 2-week Ireland itinerary including Carrauntoohil!
Hire a car
I hired a small car via a prize comparison website called Auto Europe, to make sure I’d get the best deal! Aa small car was ideal to navigate the narrow roads in Ireland!
Find your Auto Europe hire car here!
Stay at Black Sheep Hostel
I stayed at a local hostel in Killarney called Black Sheep Hostel. It was just a short drive from the start of the hike, the staff was super helpful and even lent me a gas canister for the hike!
Which is the best route to climb Carrauntoohil?
There are several routes for hiking the highest mountain in Ireland. Climbing Carrauntoohil is probably most straightforward via the ominously named Devil’s Ladder. I chose this route to walk both, up and down, mostly because other routes would have required better navigating skills and more knowledge of the area.
The trail is clearly marked and can be split in roughly three sections. First, you walk from Cronin’s Yard to the bottom of Devil’s Staircase. You can follow the signs for Cronin’s Yard Loop, but Carrauntoohil is also signposted (it’s the black route). Second comes a straight-forward but strenuous scramble up the Devil’s Ladder. There is no clear trail, but the gully is so narrow, that there is really only one way to go – up. Once you have reached the top of the gully, the third section of the trail leads you up towards the summit. Here the trail is fairly easy to follow and cairns (piles of rocks) mark it all the way to the top, so you can follow them if visibility is bad. At the summit there is a large cross and a roofless wind shelter.
How hard is it to climb Carrauntoohil?
Carrauntoohil is just under 1,040 metres tall – about 3,406 ft. At first glance that does not sound that bad, particularly when you’re used to higher mountain ranges, such as the Alps, the Rockies or even the Scottish highlands. However, don’t underestimate the extreme weather so close to the Atlantic coast and fairly far up north.
You pretty much leave the tree line behind you within the first hour of walking. From there you are dealing with rough terrain, little shelter and unpredictable mountain weather. The hike via Devil’s Ladder takes around 5-6 hours to and from Cronin’s Yard, and the earlier you can start, the better.
Even though the trail is pretty straightforward, it is a tough way to the summit. The scramble up Devil’s Ladder can be intimidating if you have never done anything like it, and quick changes in weather can make it hard to impossible to see far ahead.
I recommend to regularly stop and evaluate your situation – do you feel comfortable walking up? More importantly, do you feel comfortable climbing back down? You don’t want to be stuck like a cat in a tree, who doesn’t know how to get back down! Looking ahead is just as important as looking backwards.
The day after my hike, I heard about two girls from another dorm in my hostel, who went up Carrauntoohil a few days earlier and actually had to be rescued by the local mountain rescue team. Apparently the fog got thicker so suddenly, that they didn’t dare to continue their down-climb. Visibility was too bad for an airborne rescue mission, so a team actually had to climb up towards them and help them find their way back down.
I did not prepare in any particular way for the hike, but a general level of fitness is needed to make it to the summit. When scrambling you definitely use different muscles than normally when hiking, and I was pretty sore for a few days. I wish I had stretched a little more after my hike.
Is solo hiking in Ireland safe?
In addition to above mentioned safety concerns, there a number of things to consider when you plan to go solo hiking in Ireland.
Safety Tip for Solo Hikers:
Leave your contact info, route plan and estimated arrival time with your hostel receptionist or a friend. Let someone else know where you are and when you intend to return. I actually had mobile reception throughout the hike and kept updating my partner of my progress.
Be honest to yourself about your abilities. Can you handle a map and a compass? Are you confident to scramble up and down a narrow gully? Have you done anything similar before?
Have the right equipment with you. More on what to bring below, but in order to stay safe, make sure you wear appropriate clothing and footwear, carry a first-aid kit and potentially a stove to heat up water if you get cold, bring a map (I used this one*) and compass and know how to use it, charge your phone and bring enough water to stay hydrated.
If you’re not sure you can or should hike in Ireland on your own, you can join a guided hiking tour or hire a private hiking guide. My hostel recommended John O’Sullivan in Killarney, who unfortunately was not free to take me up, but gave me loads of advice on the route. As your accommodation for his contact info, he’s a well known hiking guide in the area. Ask your accommodation for his phone number.
What should I pack for Carrauntoohil?
As I just mentioned in the section about climbing safety, it is important to bring the right equipment for a strenuous hike like this.
CLOTHES: What should you wear when hiking in Ireland? Pack layers. I only wore a pair of quick-dry trekking trousers and a t-shirt until I reached the top of Devil’s Ladder, but quickly pulled out my rain coat as I continued to the summit. I wrapped my buff around my head and wore gloves as the wind on the mountain was icy. On the summit I added another layer – a warm fleece cardigan. There can be a 10C difference from the bottom of the mountain to its summit, so make sure you bring plenty of clothes to keep you warm!
“A cold body gets tired more easily, and with exhaustion comes a heightened risk for accidents.”
FOOTWEAR: Don’t try to do this hike in your trainers! For anything that involves scrambling you want to wear proper hiking boots, that give your perfect grip on slippery or loose rocky surfaces. You must be able to rely on your footwear to keep you safe and your feet dry. I wore my new pair of Hanwag Tatra II* which will hit the stores in March 2018.
EQUIPMENT: When I packed my carry on for a week in Ireland I filled it with 40% conference clothes and 60% hiking equipment… My essentials are a good hiking backpack* (Osprey, 33L), a big water bottle (1L), warm clothes as described above, an all-in-one gas stove to prepare some tea to keep warm and of course a small first aid kit.
SNACKS: Apart from tea, which I had at the summit, I brought vegetable sticks, nuts, avocados and sweeties. I also brought a sandwich, but ended up not touching it because I filled up with high energy snacks. I always carry a bit too much food, just in case I run out of energy faster than I think.
Climbing Carrauntoohil was the absolute highlight of my brief solo trip to Ireland and I will never forget how amazing it felt when I reached the summit. I might have not seen a thing at the top and had sore legs for days to come, but the feeling of climbing Ireland’s highest mountain was definitely worth it!
I know I’ll be back – if only to try my luck again for the views; and maybe to drive around the Ring of Kerry!
Have you ever climbed a mountain by yourself or even been up Carrauntoohil? I’d love to hear your story!
Why not pin this to your adventure board?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
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