April 30th sees the 36th annual Maumturks Challenge, one of the toughest organised walking events in Ireland.
The Maumturks are one of the major ranges in Connemara, forming a long multi-topped ridge just east of the more famous Twelve Bens, and similarly rough and uncompromising. There are several summits over 600m and one at 700m+. The organised route runs from Maam Cross to the village of Leenaun on Killary Harbour, Ireland's only 'fjord', taking in every major summit in the range and requiring over 2300m ascent in its 25km course.
The event is organised by members of the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway Mountaineering Club. It is run as a timed challenge with a series of checkpoints throughout the day.
'Around two days out of three you will experience mist on some or all of this group, and navigation is notoriously tricky without a GPS because of twists and turns and confusing ground' explains Simon Stewart of the Walker's Association of Ireland. 'The organised walk usually starts before dawn which makes the first section difficult. If going the usual northwesterly direction the first three quarters of the route are nearly bare hard quartzite with much less bog than is common on other Irish ranges. It's great to walk on but can get slippery.'
There are several particularly tricky sections:
'The turn left from the ridge after Corcog to gain the next ridge is a classic navigational test given the usual conditions (mist / dark), and the descents to the two main lakes you encounter (Patrickswell and Maam Ochoige) are both extremely steep, and have to be hit accurately to avoid cliffs' says Stewart. 'The highest point Binn Idir An Da Log is only just over 700m; leading up to it is an astonishing ridge strewn with chips of white quartzite that looks like it should be in a graveyard, skirting a huge corrie.'
'The 350m rise to the final summit is a total killer, known by walkers as the "Col of Despondency" since it is very long and generally comes late in the day.'
All participants are required to be properly equipped for a tough days hiking, and each member of a group should have their own map and compass and be proficient in navigation. GPS is not considered a substitute. Parking will be available at the starting point and a bus is provided to return participants to their cars at the end of the walk.
Registration takes place at the base of Corcog (L 966 498) between 5am-7am. The cost of registering on the day will be 25 Euro, but the club is offering an advance registration fee of 20 Euro. A registration form can be downloaded here.
For comprehensive route details see Simon Stewart's online guide here.
The Walker's Association of Ireland is an umbrella body for hillwalkers in Ireland, providing a number of services on a voluntary basis. These include the popular Winter Talks series and various courses such as Modern Navigation and Mountain Photography. The organisation's website also offers information on Ireland's Challenge Walks.