Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Climbing Torc Mountain. Take the path to the top!

Climbing Torc Mountain
Take the path to the top!
On the summit. What else would you be doing on a Saturday morning?
You walk through the final gap on the ridge at the top of Torc Mountain and the most gorgeous view is suddenly revealed. You have no inkling of this, there is no gradual opening up. This is sudden and magnificent, the lakes of Killarney and the town in a beautiful blue and green and white setting. A view worth walking for, worth climbing for.
And let me make it plain. This is not real mountain climbing. For sure, the mountain is real, all 535 metres of it. But there is a pathway to the top, partly of well laid flat stones and partly of mesh-covered railway sleepers laid two by two. 

And let me also say that it is not that easy. It is 535 metres of climbing uphill, path or no path. And you also have to walk more than a mile from the start to reach the path. And a mile back when you’ve come down, but that is easy to complete in the warm glow of satisfaction.

Start of the track
Flat stones and (luxury!) sleepers
It is so worth it. I was up there a few years back and knew what to expect. But still the sudden sight of the beauty below took my breath away. Well, whatever breath I had left!

So where do you start? On the Muckross Road out of Killarney, keep an eye out for the sign on your left, just beyond the main entrance to Muckross Park (and house). The sign says: Old Kenmare Road.

Take that and drive up through the wooded slopes. You might well get lucky as we were on the two occasions that we did it to see a deer or two. Last Saturday, we saw a magnificent stag as he crossed the road.
The lakes and Killarney below

After a few minutes, you arrive at the car park. This car park is above Torc Waterfall. Leave the car here but don't leave your sturdy walking shoes and rain gear behind. Water and a little food won’t go astray either. Walking sticks will also help.

Leave the car park and go through the barrier on the old Kenmare Road. There is one steep section on the rough road, a hint of things to come. Before that though, you cross a small bridge. Here, follow the yellow sign to the left. 

About twenty minutes in (some of you will be quicker), we saw the small blue sign (on our right) and the first of the flat stones of the path to the top. You don't see the path stretching out, just a small section at a time. It is not a scar on the mountain or anything like that.

A group on the way up
Sometimes, the going is easy. The path has been laid out in a zig zag fashion to take the sting out of the slope. The stones are well laid and you usually find a solid spot for your foot. But be careful. The sleepers are the bonus, the going here is easy as they almost give you a bounce. Luxury on the mountain!

As you rise, you see that road to Kenmare sneaking away through the valley, runners and walkers making their way. You get a great view of the valley behind and soon you see some lakes to your left. Later, higher up, you see Lake Guitane to your right. But still no sign of the big view at the other side.

I think the climb, from the start of the path, took us over an hour, the descent less than an hour. We were among the first of the day’s climbers and there was little or no “traffic” on the way up. 

View to the left during ascent
It was different on the way down as we met quite a few but there is a lot of courtesy here and people step aside to let others progress, often with a smile and chat. Be careful though where you step off - you don't want to get stuck in a patch of wet muddy ground.

The lakes to the left and right were more and more revealed as we rose. Are we there yet? The answer in the mountains is often no. Sometimes you see just one ridge and you think that’s it. But that is seldom the case. There is another ridge beyond that and then another. So relax, take a break, take in the scenery and soon you’ll be there.

There’ll be words of encouragement from those coming down too. And it won't be long now. There is a short stiff bit just before the breakthrough and what a breakthrough, what a stunning view!

Clean and green in the valley floor
And no matter how long you stay at the top, you’ll won’t get that initial thrill again. Don't get me wrong. Stay at the top and soak it all in for as long as you wish. It is a rare delight and a privilege to be there.

I must admit, we didn't stay too long there this time. The biting wind was strong and uncomfortable and the ground was rather muddy. Overall, the day was dry. The forecast, on which we relied, was spot-on. So reluctantly, we turned our back on Killarney and headed back down. 

By the way, be just as careful on the way down. Watch where you put those feet and be sure and encourage those on the way up. But don't give them false encouragement. If the summit is thirty minutes away, don't tell them its fifteen!


Beginning the descent