Monday, November 16, 2009

Muckish - On The Pig's back

View from Muckish
Date First Walked: November 13th 2009
Range: Derryveagh Mountains
Mapsheet: 2
Starting and Finishing Point: See map below
Distance: na
Classification: Dillon, Hewitt, Mailyn
Height: 666 metres
County: Donegal
My Dillon Count: 18

While driving towards Dunlewy to climb Errigal a couple of months previous, I was met with the spectactular sight, as I rounded a corner, of Muckish sitting illumniated under a vivid rainbow as the surrounding landscape lay hidden under heavy rain. I hadn't been familiar with this mountain beforehandbut on returning from Donegal, it had become a mountain that I really wanted to climb so when I found myself back in the area unexpectedly for a weekend, I made time to head back to the North-West of the county.

In any other area, this distinctive mountain would be an iconic landmark but given that Errigal is just a few miles away, Muckish somewhat understandably tends to get overlooked for it's famous neighbour. The Irish name of the mountain is 'An Mhucais' which translates as 'pig's back', a name which derives from the distinctive flat-top of the mountain. The flat top is crowned with a huge cairn which is visible for miles around as well as a metal cross which sits on a stone pedestal to the Northern end of the summit plateau. The southern end of the summit plateau gives way to an intimidating looking rocky cliff face.

There are two recognised routes up the mountain, one is via Muckish gap to the South with the second tougher option being via the 'Miner's path'. This follows a precipitous winding path up the northern side of the mountain, part of which was used by workers to reach an old and now defunct quarry where high grade quartz sand was mined on the it's flanks. Given that I was on my own and also the fact that I am a bit of a coward, I opted to take the easier option.

I approached the mountain from Letterkenny taking the turn onto the R255 towards Dunlewy a few miles after Kilmacrenan. This road meets the R251 from which spectactular views open up to the impressive south-east face of Muckish. The cairn atop the mountain can clearly be seen along this stretch of road and as you round several corners, you get the feeling that you are driving right into the mouth of this unusual mountain. Continue along the R251 until you see a sign for Falcarragh (An Fal Carrach). Take this turn which brings you up to Muckish Gap. There is a roadside shrine at the highest point of the gap and there is room to park either at the shrine or on the righthand side of the road just after the shrine.

Parking spot for Muckish View Larger Map

Muckish Mountain
Approaching Muckish

At the foot of Muckish Mountain
At the foot of Muckish

From the parking spot, cross some boggy ground after which a short climb towards the obvious gap leads to a track. Follow this track which climbs very gently around the mountain and after a short walk, first the cross on the Northern edge of the summit will come into sight followed by the cairn to the southern end of the summit. At this point, you need to pick a path up the steep slope of the mountain and as you gain height, a rocky path just below the plateau leading towards the cairn will come into view.

Muckish from the Gap
Aim for the obvious gap at the start of the climb

Climbing Muckish
Climbing the south-eastern slopes of Muckish towards the large summit cairn

The last part of the climb along the rocky and peaty path leads onto the rock-strewn summit plateau of Muckish and it's fair to say that it really is otherworldy up there, somewhat akin to walking on the moon. After passing some smaller cairns, you will reach the massive cairn and from there, a very enjoyable walk takes you over to the trig pillar beyond which lies the large metal cross. The cross was placed on top of the mountain in 2000 replacing a wooden one which was destroyed in a storm. I'm not a fan at all of crosses on mountain summits but perhaps this one is understandable given the summit's spot height!

Muckish Cross
The cross on the Northern edge of the plateau

On the summit of Muckish
Me at the trig pillar - just a tad breezy!

Muckish Trig Pillar and Cross
Muckish summit furniture

From the cairn, there are fantastic views along the route of the famous Glover Highland Walk taking in the Aghlas, Makoght and Errigal. The rocky hump just below the cross on the opposite end of the plateau offers contrasting panoramic views along the northern coast of Donegal taking in Rosguill in the foreground and stretching to Fanad as far as Inishowen dominated by Slieve Snaght and it's surrounding hills. As I stood at the trig point to take a couple of photos, a vivid rainbow briefly formed over Bloody Foreland to the North-West.

View from Muckish Trig Pillar
Rainbow over Bloody Foreland

After several rainy days, I had struck lucky and my walk along the summit was made in splendid November sunshine albeit with a biting gusty wind. The rocky plateau really is a wonderful place and is a real pleasure to walk although I have heard that it can be quite disorientating in mist.

Muckish View
View from the northern edge of the plateau

Muckish Summit Cairn
View along the plateau back towards the summit cairn

I retraced my steps back down the mountain towards my parking spot. For the duration of my walk, I had not seen a single soul with my only brief company being a couple of deer who were making their way along the foot of the mountain.

Muckish quite simply is a wonderful and unusual mountain, easily walked from the Gap and highly recommended. While Errigal understandably hogs the limelight in the North-West of Donegal and is obviously and essential visit, make sure to combine a walk up it's glistening quartize slopes with a walk along the iconic and magnificent pigs back of Muckish.

More Photos

The Wild North-West
The wild north-west - Muckish and surrounding hills

Trig Pillar on Muckish
Trig Pillar marking the summit of Muckish - Horn Head in the background

Rainbow over Bloody Foreland
Rainbow over Bloody Foreland

Walking over Muckish
Walking back towards the cairn

At the summit cairn

Muckish summit plateau
Looking along the summit plateau - descend via the path to the left

Descending Muckish
Descending Muckish

Muckish Path
The eroded track back down Muckish

Rocky Path
Rocky patch leading back down Muckish

Muckish Plateau
The long summit plateau of Muckish

<Descending Muckish
View from the lower slopes of Muckish

1 comment:

  1. How long does it take to climb Muckish mountain from the Muckish Gap. 1 hour?