I am conscious of the fact that some of you may look at this Track before embarking on an actual walk in the area. Therefore, I want to draw certain matters to your attention to ease your burden, if I can, and to preserve you from harm. I drove over 220 miles to Ballaghbeama Gap located on a narrow road, and being the high point between Mullaghanattin and Knockaunanattin, arriving circa midnight. I chose this spot, with safe parking for one car, because it represented about 250 metres of elevation, thus allowing me to leave my car and roll downhill on my bicycle to Cloon Lake to the start of my walk. My car was my home for the few hours before the “off”.
There was still light in the June sky coming up to midnight, and it was back after a fashion soon after 3am. During the short period of dark, the mountains hung oppressively on both sides, but the stars twinkled, and there was an air of magic about. A couple of cars passed but no more than that. The bike descent to the lake was easy and quite refreshing. The hardest job was finding a hiding place for the bike to be retrieved later. After that I was on my way.
MISTAKE ONE. I had never intended to ascend Knocknacusha (547m). About two thirds of the way along the track on the western shore of Lough Cloon there was a fork. I took the high road to the right thinking that I would gain height and contour around to the shoulder of Coomura Mountain (666m). But Knocknacusha seemed very near and very manageable so I thought that I would “get it out of the way” (from a summiteering point of view) although I seemed to fighting through thick gorse to get to it. Knocknacusha is a very fine mountain, with great views in all directions, but it was by no means an easy target. I had to use my hands a good few times on the ascent. The descent route was even more challenging. There were numerous rock gullies laid like steps of stairs perpendicular to my path of descent. This involved an amount of scrambling into and out of these stone ravines, and I dare say that some beginners might not enjoy the danger and the physical effort. To make matters worse this obstacle course of parallel rock ravines continued a good way up Coomura Mountain, so by the time I reached its summit I felt that I had already expended more physical capital than was wise on a long route on a hot summer’s day. My advice: think carefully about Knocknacusha if you intend to do the entire route set out in this track. I might be better to save it for another day.
MISTAKE TWO: there is something very manageable about the plateau joining Coomura, Knockmoyle (684m),Knocknagantree (676m) and Coomnacronia (636m) but , inevitably you will have to retrace some of your steps. Plan for this, and leave your rucksack at the correct point to minimise the weight to be carried. It took me a while to cop on to this simple point!
I did not make a visit to the Lough Reagh Aiguilles because of the burden of the route, but I did see the extraordinary spectacle from a number of vantage points. A shorter route might involve Knocknacrusha, Coomura, Knockmoyle ,Knocknagantree and Coomnacronia , taking in the Aiguilles as well. I found the ascent of Coomnacronia very interesting because of the huge slabs and boulders strewn about akimbo. As with nearly all the mountains on the route the views were spectacular.
Wending my way from Coomnacronia , An Corran, Caora Bhan towards and over the “Beanns” involved a sense of sustained exposure to fine views, but the ease of navigation was down to the clear skies. In poor visibility this would be slow torture. Let’s be honest. I studied this route last Christmas knowing that I would have to steal just one glorious day to do it justice, and one glorious day is what was required. It would be madness to attempt this route with short light or poor visibility. Why would you forego some ultra views just to bag a few more peaks? Show this route the respect it deserves.
Now a word of warning! This is a long route. It is for a fine day, but that will sap your energy too. So by the time you get to Beann you will be tired and the sight of a near vertical grass ramp will mentally tax you. There is only one way to tackle Beann (unless you are super fit) and that is in little bites with plenty of rest. The reward, from the top of Beann (a grassy ridge narrow but safe- so safe there is a fence running along it!), is the unleashing of a panorama of stunning vistas. Now, as you ascend Beann you see Beann South Top to your right. If I had had the energy I would have climbed it, but the battery was nearly flat, I was running out of water: I knew that I didn’t have it in me. It’s there for another day. Beann NE Top is delightful, and not overly taxing, but the mighty drop to the col and the horrendous face of Mullaghanattin made me wonder if there was any way of dropping down and escaping. I continued to Mullaghanattin. It is everything they say it is, but another tough pull up at the end of a long day.
SERIOUS WARNING. I essentially dropped off Mullaghanattin to a point just west of the Gap by moving over and back between sheer drops. DON’T DO IT. Just continue along the slope to the easy eastern side of the Gap and walk back. It was dangerous. It took a huge amount out of me, mentally and physically, at a time when, through lack of sleep, and the efforts of the day, I was close to exhaustion.
In summary? A truly magnificent route to be reserved for guaranteed weather in high summer. A route to be savoured, to be lingered over. Make sure you have all the time in the world, and then take your time.