On the afternoon of my father's sixtieth birthday, I had told him that we should spend more time together. Time that is, doing something more than bringing round his grandson, having tea and cakes, and watching television. Quality time, to use a phrase heard more often but little realised. We had not spent a day together, going somewhere, having fun, since I had sought my independence as a teenager, so I asked him to join me on one of my mountain trips. Carrauntoohil in Ireland, I suggested, would be an excellent choice. He was not sure, could he at this age stand up to such a physical challenge?
It was not until over a year later that the vision of father and son striding out into the wilderness became a reality. Of course I use the word wilderness lightly, since there is so little true wilderness left in the British Isles. Our pre-expedition trip was a day's mad dash to Snowdonia at the end of May. We left early in the morning encouraged by an excellent weather forecast, and drove four hours to North Wales. At a steady pace in weather that never quite matched expectations, we ascended the 905 m peak of Aran Fawddwy and returned to the valley in approximately six hours. My father was feeling fine and pushed me on the Irish question. When were we going?
The answer to this was not easy to find, and after a false start, we settled on June 21st, the summer solstice. Thus, after a demanding drive the previous day, we stood below the western end of the Macgillycuddy's Reeks (named after a former local landlord). At 10:20 it was a little later in the morning than planned, but we had few worries since the longest day of the year was before us. Our chosen route, that of the Coomloughra Horseshoe, taken from a guide book to Walks in Ireland, had us starting on the shore of Lough Acoose at 150 m. From here we had to clamber over rough, often pathless moorland to the western ridge of Caher. The first
Ascending Caher with Lough Coomloughra down to the left.
hours were the most disheartening. Rain came and went at such speed that we were caught again and again taking waterproofs off or putting them on. The summit of the first peak in the horseshoe (Ireland's third highest) was often out of sight behind the next rise. For a short while we found interest by following the course of a tumbling mountain stream, stepping between boulders in the broad gully and listening to the gurgling of the water. Above the gully we stepped into a gently sloping basin, paused for breath, and enjoyed the view down not only to Lough Acoose but beyond to Dingle Bay and the mountains of western Kerry.
A summit of sorts was in view now, though a look at the map indicated that this could be a bluff. I did not dare tell my father that the destination he had in his sights was not the enrire story, and so we continued on, gently and easily, bearing left, climbing out of the basin for our first views of Lough Coomloughra and of Carrauntoohil itself. We were mighty impressed, not least by the Beenkeragh ridge that linked Irelands highest with it's north westerly neighbour, Beenkeragh, the last peak of the day on my mental list.
"I hope you don't expect me to climb that!" My father exclaimed. And indeed from where we stood there was no discernable route up the steep pyramid like summit.
"Let's not think to much about that.
Let's just think of this hill in front of us. We have all day." I replied, the latter sentence had become a mantra to be repeated whenever time passed without distance.
Eventually we did make it to the top, or rather a top of Caher, there are two. There was a cairn and a small stone, roofed shelter with the capacity for two or three, but only after they had squeezed through the low doorway. Again we sat and enjoyed the view but with the knowledge that one short descent was required before finally topping out.
But from there on it all seemed easier. The couple whom we watched clamber up Caher behind us overtook and turned out to be two athletic women just a little younger than my father's age. Perhaps it was this that triggered his determination thereafter.
Stone shelter on Caher's first summit.
From Caher we descended a narrow ridge to below the slopes of Carrauntoohil and walked steadily up to