We enjoyed our visit to the Dartry Mountains (back in October) so much that we couldn’t resist a return trip once we had a free weekend. Although the forecast was mixed, we were optimistic for a good day out, once again relying on Alan Tee’s book “Scrambles In Ulster & Connacht” for last minute planning. As there was a possibility of being caught out in heavy snow, we packed a rope and a small rack, betagthough in retrospect (now that we know the place) this would not be needed whatever the weather. In the end it didn’t snow until the drive back home, but we did find use for the rope – exploring a short gully.
Eagle’s Rock is the largest free standing limestone tower in Ireland and is 330m high. It was pushed away from the side of Trievebaun Mountain during an ice age, when the freeze-thaw effect of snow and the powerful force of glaciers created a huge rift between it and the mountain cliffs. It is an impressive-looking natural structure and immediately draws the eye as somewhere worth exploring. Getting to the top requires a rock climb (on very chossy rock), but passing through the gap is a great day out and includes some easy grade I scrambling.
The scrambling is over boulder fields, rather than clean rock, but it is in such a magnificent location that the quality of the route doesn’t matter. On our visit we found a hidden world of gullies, caves and dramatic cliffs and little sign of visitors before us. The place was eerily quiet and, apart from the echo of our voices travelling through the silence, the only sounds were the occasional raven and a distant donkey braying. It felt calm and apart from the world outside, as if we had passed through a prehistoric gateway and traveled back in time.
We have big plans for mountain routes later in the season, so we decided to use our gear and practice some scrambling skills. We found a narrow gully to the right of the valley entrance and roped up. It turned out to be more desperate and have steeper climbing than on first appearance, so we ended up pitching it. I was glad of what little protection I could place as we were mostly on slippery green holds (grass) and loose rocks. It was a bit like swimming upwards through mud, but it gave us the practice we needed. I would recommend avoiding this as the col can be easily reached, via a different route, on foot and without the need of a rope.
After spending over an hour exploring this wild place, it felt strange to see signs of human habitation (roads and fields) as we emerged at the other side. From here we were able to traverse the mountainside and get back to the car park via the plateau. Although small, there is something impressive about the landscape of the Dartry Mountains that makes them well worth visiting. The narrow canyons and gorges formed by collapsing mountainsides are unique, and exploring them is a very different experience to that of trying to reach the top of a mountain or cliff. We are always amazed by the hidden places that can be found in Ireland.
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