A day on Connaght’s highest

The eastern spur leading up to the summit of Mweelrea. The weather is holding for now.

I have had Mweelrea Mountain on my tick list for any years but it wasn’t until 2016 that I had the opportunity to climb this rather remote mountain. The summit is the highest in the province of Connaght and is the county top of County Mayo. Together with Ben Bury and Ben Lugmore, the three mountains form a mountain block which drop almost to sea level on all sides often in steep craggy slopes which give the appearance that the peaks are much higher than they really are. The area, being on the Atlantic western seaboard, is prone to sudden changes in the weather so I would need to take this into account.
The approach from the east is via rough country from the lonely road alongside Doo Lough and takes you deep into the corries that line the northern flank of Ben Bury and Ben Lugmore and the ascent is made via a hidden path between two cliff bands. I opt to ascend from the west, which in some way would be a less attractive route which would involve ascending a rough grassy slope which gradually became steeper with no path to follow as such.

The cliffs on the southern spur from Mweelrea summit leading down towards the sea inlet of Killary Harbour.

I’m staying in Westport and for once it is dawning a cloudless morning so it is time to go and bag Connacht’s highest mountain Mweelrea. I am away from Westport quite smart for the drive west via Louisburgh to park up in the hamlet of Dadreen. I have decided to climb Mweelrea from the west as I know this would be the easiest way.

The impressive ridge leading from Ben Bury towards Ben Lugmore. I’m just hoping that the cloud stays clear of the summit.

As I set out, cloud is already building to the east and so this isn’t going to be a completely sunny day but for now it is fine. A track initially leads east to reach open moorland before a long trek across pathless moorland with a few boggy patches. The gradient gradually steepens but other than a long haul it was fairly straightforward. I am aiming for the col between Ben Bury and Mweelrea and an hour and ten minutes of uphill toil I reach it. Ben Gorm to the southeast is already in cloud and so time is of an essence to reach the summit of Mweelrea whilst the weather stays fine. Turning right it is only a short walk to the summit, and first of all I make for the eastern spur from the summit to admire the view of Mweelrea’s cliffs which fall away steeply from the southern spur. A short and fine ridge walk takes me to the 814 metre summit. I still have a view and the sun is staying out for now. Today however, views aren’t great and it is very hazy, with the hills to the east engulfed in cloud. Just off the summit I pause for my morning break out of the cold breeze before returning to the col.

On Ben Lugmore eastern summit. The ridge over Ben Lugmore with Ben Bury beyond (right) and Mweelrea (left).

The path leading down from the col between Mweelrea and Ben Bury. I will explore those deserted sandy beaches after my walk.

While I am up at this height, I want to bag Ben Bury and Ben Lugmore and now set off up the stony slope to bag the rounded summit of Ben Bury 795 metres. Cliffs fall away steeply on the northern side to boggy moorland. The rounded summit has a number of cairns and I stop now to don my waterproof coat for warmth as I am heading into a cold easterly wind. Cloud is beginning to brush Ben Lugmore ahead of me and so the sunny start to the day has all but gone. The ridge ahead looks interesting with precipitous cliffs on the northern side. I can see a path running up from Doo Lough far below me and I believe this is the most popular route to bag these summits. This path runs along a broad shelf between two cliff bands and is hence called the ‘hidden Path’. From the col and a large cairn it is only a short ascent to Ben Lugmore west top at 790 metres. The route ahead now looks interesting but is almost into the cloud base. To reach the shapely Ben Lugmore I have two satellite summits to cross both on a narrow ridge which involves a little ‘hands on’ work. A small col then a steep ascent takes me to the airy summit of Ben Lugmore 803 metres. Thankfully I am still just below the cloud base and so get limited hazy views. I now want on to bag Ben Lugmore eastern top 790 metres which involves a grassy slope to ascend to a more level summit.
After a brief pause at this far eastern summit it is time to backtrack along the ridge and to find a sheltered spot on the summit of Ben Lugmore to stop for lunch. During lunch I spot another walker on Mweelrea who I shall meet later.

Back along the airy ridge I decide to omit going back over Ben Bury and take a faint path along the upper southern flank of the mountain. The walker that I had seen earlier I now met up with. Ironically he was born in Timperley in Cheshire but had lived in Ireland since his childhood. He is a member of the local mountain rescue team and knows the local hills well. We chat for some twenty minutes shaking hands as we depart.

A ten minute walk takes me down to the col between Ben Bury and Mweelrea from where I make the descent back towards the car but now I find a path to follow which I had not discovered on my ascent. I have around a mile and a half of moorland to cross and take a parallel course to my upward route and find it much easier and drier. There is a faint part in parts and I am down at the car by mid afternoon having completed an exhilarating and rewarding walk but perhaps not the far reaching views I was hoping for.