Climbing Ireland's Highest Mountain

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The hardest part about climbing Ireland's highest mountain is working out how to spell it, as a wide number of variations exist. The second hardest part is finding the starting point. The best advice is to buy the 1:25,000 map of Macgillicudy's Reeks (the range of mountains) and use that to locate Cronin's Farmyard, a welcoming haven of parking space, loos and the knowledge that that's where other people are heading out from.

This mountain stands 1,040 metres high and is not for the faint-hearted: most people who get into trouble do so when a mist descends, so sticking to the main paths and carrying that all important map is well advised. There are other routes available up the mountain, but most involve crampons and rope — not your average hill walker's equipment.

The path starts off amiably enough — a stony walkway along a riverbed, with beautiful views of the horseshoe shaped mountain range ahead and foxgloves and ferns lining the banks of the bubbling stream. A pair of tranquil mountain lakes appear on either side of the path — on the day we climbed, these were dead calm mirrors of the craggy peaks behind them, but I reckon in more inclement weather they would be less welcoming. The path between these lakes is known as the Hag's Glen and the pathway becomes noticeably more steep and rocky. There are also large swathes of bog on either side of the path (how does bog exist on a mountainside?).

Next stage is the Devil's Ladder: this is a near-vertical section of rocky outcrop, which requires careful foot and handholds and a strong nerve. But the climb is rewarded by the view at the top, from a saddle between the intended peak and its neighbour, revealing a stunning view to the south side of the Iveragh peninsula.

The final climb isn't particularly difficult, but after the effort exerted on the ladder, it becomes a real slog just to put one foot in front of the other. My feet were beginning to register blisters and I was having to stop every 15 minutes or so to let my heartbeat return to a less frantic pace. When at last we sighted the black cross on the peak, a great joy leaped in my breast, and I found that extra spurt of energy I required.

On the summit, the 360-degree view is nothing short of amazing and the thrill of knowing that you are standing on Ireland's highest point is awe-inspiring. We were climbing on one of the rare sunny days in Kerry, and there were plenty of like-minded companions — I overheard one woman on her mobile phone remarking that the top was 'like O'Connell Street!'

Photos taken, sandwiches eaten, it was time to descend. The Devils Ladder is even more treacherous on the way down: I dropped my water bottle at one point, and watched it crash and spill over the jagged boulders. At another stage, I had to take my backpack off and drop it before me while I made a backward jump off a small ledge.

We made the classic error of losing each other on the descent, and spent a few anxious moments finding where we all were again. Daughter insisted in swimming in that still, cool lake (actually, we'd all underestimated the strength of the sun on the peak, and were all more than a little sunburned) before we completed the classic 'tired but happy' trudge back to the car.

Definitely a proud family achievement!

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