The way the weather was this weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking the southwest of Ireland was situated somewhere closer to Spain. Devastatingly, the dry, hot conditions have left a wildfire burning in Killarney National Park for the past three days and nights, but overall the warm weather has done wonders for everyone’s mental health and outdoor to-do lists. Now that the 5km travel restriction has finally been lifted and we’re free to roam around our county, a good-weather weekend was just what was needed to really take advantage of it.
While many folks in the area headed to the costa del Kerry to enjoy the sun in Ballybunion or Banna beach, Steve and I took to the mountains yet again for my third trip up Carrauntoohil.
Our original plan for the day was a looped hike near Sneem that I’d read about online, but when we saw the clear, cloudless skies, we couldn’t resist Ireland’s tallest mountain. Even on good days, the mountains are often covered in fog and mist, so you have to jump on your opportunities for views across the county when you get them.
If you’re looking for a hike around the Killarney area that offers a combination of great views and easy trails, you couldn’t get much better bang for your buck than Strickeen. The mountain’s name is anglicised from Stricín, or “little peak” (-een or -ín is a diminutive suffix as Gaeilge) but while the peak is indeed little (only ~380 elevation gain for a summit height of 440 meters), this 6.5km hike finishes with lovely views of the surrounds, the lakes of Killarney, and the rest of the MacGillycuddy Reeks, such as Carrauntoohil.
As you travel around Thailand on your scooter, one thing that is for certain is that you will see elephants along the roadside. On the edge of town, halfway up a mountain, just outside a temple, elephants, sometimes even baby elephants. But after your brain’s initial excitement (ELEPHANTS!!) the logical side of your mind will catch up to your childlike wonder and you’ll notice a sign advertising elephant rides, how thin and malnourished the animals look, chains or ropes around their ankles, scars indicating phajaan, or breaking the spirit. It’s hard to see and worse to notice the throngs of tourists eager to sit atop these majestic creatures without a care for their well-being. Equally as bad are the number of elephant parks that advertise themselves as “sanctuaries” to capitalise on another type of tourist’s desire for a more ethical experience, when their parks’ methods are no different than the abusive ones in the roadside attractions.
Still, I was hopeful that I could have a genuinely ethical trip to a real elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and so we went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. As we went on the weekend of my birthday, Steve treated me to the overnight trip, two days and one night staying at the park, visiting the elephants, walking some of the hundreds of rescue dogs they also care for, and learning about Thailand’s animal tourism industry.
A few weeks ago I found myself standing on the highest point in Ireland after hiking to the summit of Carrauntoohil for the first time. Then, two weeks ago, I made the ascent again. When Steve and I did the hike the first time, heading up the Devil’s Ladder and down the ZigZag route, we had gotten talking to a gentleman near the summit who, it sounded, had done just about every trail on the mountain. He recommended that next time we give the mountain a go, we head via Beenkeragh and Caher, the second and third highest mountains in Ireland, for a more difficult but equally rewarding hike. When we had a string of sunny, summery days, we did just that.
Most of the trails I hike on are fairly clearly marked, whether it’s the luxe wooden boardwalks of New Zealand’s Great Walks or the rough gravel of a well-trodden route up Carrauntoohil. But sometimes I think it’s fun to leave the comfort of a clear path and get your feet dirty, and luckily I have friends who feel the same way. When I originally moved to Ireland for grad school, Medb was one of my very first friends, and now after international moves and much travel on both of our parts, we are finally living in the same country again. She and her partner Callum are currently on a trip from Dublin to gorgeous West Cork, so yesterday Steve and I headed out to meet them. Medb suggested the Barley Lake walk, but there was conflicting info about it online so none of us really knew what to expect.
Earlier this week I wrote about three routes I’ve recently hiked in and around Killarney, but there’s a fourth I trekked this week, taking advantage of a weekend of gorgeous weather. Carrauntoohil is the highest mountain in Ireland, and although it’s not particularly impressive compared to the highest mountains in most countries (only 1038m/3047f, not even as tall as the last “top of a country” I’ve visited), it was still a fantastic adventure.