A Baker’s Dozen in the Bluestack Mountains: 1
The heat from a glassy sun engulfed us as we left the taxi from Glenties that dropped us by a track at the side of the Barnsmore Gap Road, starting point for a 2-day 34 km traverse of the Bluestacks. Our kit (sleeping bags, mats, pillows, bivvy sacks, stove, gas, pans, food for 2 days, sundries and water) packed into Osprey Alpine packs, felt heavy as we slogged across blanket bog to Brown’s Hill. It became apparent that progress would be slow in the sapping humidity of the hottest day of the year. There was barely a breeze and the stifling air, heavy with the smell of freshly cut peat, was thick with swarming midges not deterred by deet.
Atop the hard won Brown’s Hill, the sinuous granite spine of the Bluestacks receded in the shimmering haze, each summit marked by a pimple-like cairn. These mountains feel truly remote, no well-worn tracks traverse their peaks; we saw barely a boot print. It is impossible to move quickly over the terrain of exposed slabs of granite, wiry heather, tussocks, through eroded peat hags and across sly patches of bog. The humidity was relentless and atop Croghnageer our water bladders were empty. Fortunately, numerous loughs enabled us to treat water with a UV pen to replenish supplies along the route.
On past tiny pools scattering the sun’s light like disco balls, through thick patches of dazzling white bog cotton barely moving in the almost still air, and down steep slopes over granite outcrops relentlessly reflecting the heat, dripping with perspiration we arrived at Illanicrooney Lough where we stopped for lunch. Off came the boots and socks. Refreshing my feet, which had started to resemble two steamed puddings, in the water was delectable. There was no sound save the hiss of our gas stove and the occasional whoosh of feathers as swifts flew low over the lough catching insects on the wing. We might have been all alone in the world.
Struggling in the humidity, we gained Croaghanirwore, followed by a steep descent and a lung bursting climb up to Croaghbarnes. Lough Belshade looking as if it had swallowed the entire sky, it was such a deep shade of blue, provided a brief distraction from the midges, by now pestilential. Reaching the summit of Croaghbane to be greeted by a cooling breeze which banished these vile insects was heaven! Finding a flat grassy area just below the summit cairn with a lough 100m away, we set up camp.
A Golden plover eyed us from nearby, its plaintive cries sailing through the warm evening air. We watched the sun, which had tormented us relentlessly all day, sink low in the western sky, its fierce heat now dimmed to a pleasant warmth, its glassy glare now a golden glow. There followed a fabulous light display as it became a throbbing vermillion orb which exploded over the Atlantic enflaming the entire sky. With the setting sun, the breeze receded and an army of midges quietly rose from the bog, so we retired to our bivvy sacks for the night.