Hiking Scrambling Sligo

Scrambling through narrow canyons; Kings Mountain, Ireland

When seen from the road, Kings Mountain (462m) in Sligo looks like a fairly unassuming hill and it probably doesn’t catch the eye of many passers by. There is, though, a hidden secret within: a huge cave-like canyon running through the mountain. This canyon, called Annach Re Mhor, is an enormous fissure ripped into the limestone rock, literally splitting the hillside in two. There is no other place quite like it in Ireland and exploring it requires an exciting mix of scrambling and abseiling through narrow natural passageways.

We set out a couple of weeks after taking a scrambling course in Kerry (with Steve Hodge Mountaineering, organised by Mountaineering Ireland). We picked Kings Mountain as a suitable venue to refresh some of the rope skills we had learned, including taking coils, handlebaring and belaying off of an Italian hitch; techniques designed for making travel over difficult ground safe but efficient. Although classed as a grade II scramble, this route isn’t very technically demanding (apart from an unavoidable abseil) but it was a great place to practice and the canyon made for a fantastic adventure it its own right.

For such an enormous feature, the entrance wasn’t immediately obvious and we had to search the hillside to find it. Although the opening was fairly well concealed, once we started descending the cliffs rose quickly and it wasn’t long until we were boxed into a narrow gully. We soon reached what seemed to be an impasse and we had to look around to find where we should go next. The only option was a smallish opening in the rock, after which the ground dropped vertically down, about 15m, into a larger canyon below. There were sheep hiding here and we had to be careful not to scare them towards the edge. This required a mixture of shooing and calming noises, betagthough the sheep probably had no idea what we were playing at. 

Next to the drop there were two rusty pitons and an equally rusted spike with a hook on the end that had been hammered into the rock for use as an abseil point. They looked fairly old but, after inspecting, they seemed sound enough that we were happy to use them. Once the abseil is done, there is no turning back, so we reassured ourselves about the plans before throwing the rope down. Standing on the edge felt exposed so I anchored myself to the rock to set up my belay and prusik loop before gently lowering myself down. To get to the bottom we had to swing down a series of ledges covered with loose stones, so I was glad of a helmet. 

We were now in a straight passage; so narrow that moss only grew on one of the side walls. The cliffs on either side were 100m high and there was a quiet, earthy ruhigness that gave it a unique, if intimidating, atmosphere. As we walked along we saw cracks and holes that dropped down into deeper fissures and caves, but we stuck to the main route, eventually following a small path back to the hillside. I couldn’t help but wonder how deep the maze of passageways goes and I am sure they must have been explored by cavers in the past.

After Annach Re Mhor, we walked under the main cliffs of Kings Mountain towards a second scramble that started below a large, and phallic-shaped, spire at the base of Pinnacle Gully. We followed the gully up for a short while and then turned left into a cave-like entrance leading to more tunnels. These were smaller and narrower than before, but the route ahead was also shorter. Some scrambling was involved to get out, climbing up a series of large ledges towards a gap in the rock that, surprisingly, came out almost at the top of the hill.

This trip was one of the most interesting and memorable adventures we have had in Ireland. We didn’t see a single person all day and it felt like we were alone, discovering a hidden world within the hills. Abseiling into the unknown was particularly exciting and a very different experience to most of our adventures, where we are typically climbing upwards. This was also our first trip to Sligo and, as we walked back to the car, we admired how attractive the place was and we were pleased to have had such a successful visit.  

NOTE: This is a grade II scramble. We followed the description in Scrambles in Ulster and  Connacht by Alan Tees.

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  1. Brilliant place to be, have done the journey several times in the past. The hardware was placed by Raymond Finlay, from Gortatole OEC in Fermanagh. The pictures are amazing but ruhig do not do it justice as this is one of the most memorable places in a mountain


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