Go West Thran Dog: Climbing Slieve Carr, Ireland's most remote mountain
Out in the west, deep in the Mayo interior, lies Slieve Carr, a summit defended by its notoriety as Ireland’s most remote mountain. Armed only with their determination and a slight deficiency in the leg department, Peter Walker and his bonkers amputee collie cross Indy set forth to climb it.
Thran – a West Belfast expression meaning ‘stubborn’.
When I was in my late 20s things were pretty good for me. I had a well-paid job, no mortgage, no responsibilities, vast amounts of spare time and a metabolism that seemed to make me an eternal stranger to the concept of body fat regardless of how much I ate and how comically unhealthy it was. I also had a fully expensed company car and an MD who seemed to positively encourage my use of it for 'non-business' purposes. And so it was that most weekends would see me out of bed at Stupid o'Clock, driving for upwards of four hours to get to mountains, spending all day climbing said mountains and then rocking back up at home at around Stupid o'Clock the following day.
But now I'm in my mid 40s. I have a decently paid job, but I have a huge mortgage. I have very limited spare time. I have to take care lest everything I eat clings tenaciously to my waist. And most of all, I have responsibilities. No kids, but I do have a fiancée. I have seven cats. I have seven chickens. I have a hamster. And I have two dogs; Uisce, a sleekly beautiful and eccentric Rottweiler. And Indy...
Indy is a rescue dog who was found tied up in a bog in Roscommon before we took him on from that county's SPCA. He was badly lame, and it transpired that he had a hip joint that had been ruined by someone kicking him or stamping on him. He had to have his leg amputated. So, if ever a dog had a right to be angry and anti-social it's him...and yet he loves everyone and everything. Despite his limb deficiency he is remarkably agile and he often comes out hillwalking with me. And veritable legions of Summiteers have fallen helpless victim to his trick of being totally limber right up until the point where they notice 'BUT HE'S ONLY GOT THREE LEGS!', whereupon he will start limping and shoot them a look that says his leg would grow back if only they'd give him a biscuit.
Generally it's only the possibility of upsetting farmers or the likelihood of scrambling that makes me go out solo, so it was inevitable that my plan (a kind of throwback to the itineraries I would pursue back in my youth) for a 'day trip' from Lisburn out to Mayo to climb the legendarily remote Slieve Carr would involve bringing him along. And so it was that I took a day off work and drove for four hours before parking up at the Brogan Carroll bothy on the Bangor Trail just after 10am one changeable August morning. A lead was attached, a rucksack (containing more food and drink for him than me) was shouldered and off we sallied into the wilderness.
His leg would grow back if only they'd give him a biscuit.
The Bangor Trail is fascinating on both a micro and macro scale. It passes through a tremendous variety of scenery both near and far, but if you limit your gaze to your feet and the area just in front of them you'll find yourself wondering exactly how a route can contain so much moisture while still obviously being a path. It meanders northwards, mostly up but occasionally down, alongside rivers and forests, and after just over an hour's walking it deposits you on the wide col between the summits of Glennamong and Nephin Beg next to a Mountain Meitheal shelter. We were now in the wilds if not necessarily on the mountains, but that was swiftly remedied by leaving the track to zig-zag up Nephin Beg in the watery sunshine of the late morning. The breeze picked up as we crossed the low hump named Nephin Beg South Top by MV, and another steady pull brought us to the elegant cairn on Nephin Beg itself. From here we looked north across a deep gap to where the sculpted bulk of Slieve Carr reared up, suddenly visible and tangible, but still substantially distant. Everything feels distant on top of Nephin Beg if I'm being honest.
The steepness of the drop from Nephin Beg is matched by the severity of the pull up Corslieve on the far side of the Scardaun Lough, and I judged that easier going might be had following the edge of the slope falling away to Owenduff to the west. The sun was still out, a serious dent had been made in the last tough climb of the day, all was right with the world. It was time for Indy to throw a spanner in the works. A sudden tightening of the lead spun me around and there he lay, staring at me.
'Come on Indy' I exhorted, and tugged him a bit. The hound was not for moving.
This just wasn't like him. His stamina tends towards 'infinite', and I recalled the end of a 23 mile sponsored walk where he'd seemed way more capable of a second lap than I was. And yet here he was. I sat down next to him and he slid his head down the length of his front legs to maximise the impact of the gaze he was continuing to fix upon me. He's hungry, I thought. I gave him some water. I gave him a banana. I gave him five minutes. And then I got up and continued the ascent, an action he was content to follow for about ten steps before lying down with the same steely resolve as before.
I knelt down this time, stroked and fussed him, and decided on a longer break. I got out my phone and texted my fiancee to say he seemed off-form and I was seriously considering going back. After a couple of minutes came a reply:
'Give him a banana and keep going!'
I told her that I'd already given him a couple and that he was just lying down every ten paces. I could feel my motivation draining away with every look I exchanged with him. After a few minutes I felt some sort of commitment had to be made; he was my pup and relying on me to look after him. I decided to head down.
He seemed a bit happier once we were descending, and once we'd made it down to the more level ground on the col next to the Lough I rang the missus to let her know what we were doing, how we were going back and it'd probably be about three hours before we got back to the car.
Even I, a man who has put a seatbelt on a chicken, could tell this was getting slightly weird.
'Send me a picture of him'.
I sent her a picture, and after a couple of minutes she rang me back.
'He's being thran...put me on speakerphone'. Even I, a man who has put a seatbelt on a chicken, could tell this was getting slightly weird.
'Indy! Hello Indy! Where's my handsome boy?'
Indy flicked his head around and pricked up his ears as much as their natural floppiness and gravity would allow. He obviously recognised the voice, and was now deeply puzzled as to where the hell it was coming from. A quick sniff of the iPhone seemed to satisfy him, and he listened intently.
'You're SUCH a good boy Indy! Now, your dad has driven for four hours and is spending a lot of money on diesel, so get your three-legged bum back up that hill for your mum! Love you!'
Speaker phone disengaged, it was time for the other walker to get his pep talk. 'You're being played like a cheap fiddle. Is his nose dry? Are his gums pale or bright red? Is he pacing in circles? Is he vomiting? Is he not making eye contact? No? None of those things? Quite. There's nothing wrong with the little sod. You've driven a long way, and you're climbing that bloody hill.'
You don't argue with a teacher when she's deployed 'Teacher Voice'.
And so back up the hill we turned, having just lost about 200m of altitude for no good reason...I knew I would have to rekindle my motivation somehow. And unusually for me, I used the catalytic properties of anger as Indy laid himself down again once the slope steepened.
"INDY! COME ON!!!' I bellowed, and yanked him to his feet.
(Anyone who'd ventured on this day to this fiercely lonely spot expecting peace and solitude would by now have enjoyed the sights and sounds of a three-legged dog receiving both a mobile phone call and the hairdryer treatment. You can't really make this stuff up, can you?)
Indy, bless him, used to his dad being the soft touch in his life, looked genuinely thunderstruck. Up he trotted to my side, sticking to it like Velcro as we zig-zagged upwards. I decided to take in the recently-appointed top of Tawnyanruddia before rather than after Slieve Carr, so we contoured westwards across the broken mountainside. Not a murmur of canine complaint was heard; Indy, it seemed, was fully back on board.
Recently Brendan O’Reilly (MountainViews’ design guru and the first person known to have climbed all the Arderin summits in Ireland) has identified a spot on this slope as the remotest point in Ireland from a public road: https://mountainviews.ie/motleyviews/general/comment/7840/?th_pic_big=big.
The peat-hags of the Corslieve-Tawnyanruddia col were soon left behind, and a gentle slope led up to the canon-esque rocks crowning the summit. There's no escaping how monumental the westward view from here is; the Owenduff bog seems to stretch into infinity but then the sea appears at the perfect moment, and then you have the fairytale shapes of Achill Island on the horizon...this is a very special place.
Indy looked miserable but at least he kept going.
Back to the col and up the slope onto the upper reaches of Slieve Carr as the weather impended. It wasn't long before 'breezy' became 'windy' and 'a bit overcast' became 'that fine rain that soaks you through' with a bit of added 'especially with the wind I just mentioned' thrown in. Indy looked miserable but at least he kept going. I threw on my waterproofs with as much haste as I could muster but my trousers had started clinging before I could get my legs fully covered...the rest of the day was going to be a bit on the trying side. In the mist, wind and rain I was too lazy to get out the map and compass, so the odd glance at the GPS served to see us up the extensively girthed but steep sided ridge leading north. Grass and stone eventually gave way to luxuriant moss for the last few hundred metres to the top. The rain lashed and wind whistled (it didn't howl...you have to be proportionate about these things), and having helped Indy up the huge cairn to the trig point (and hugged him...I suspect Slieve Carr hasn't seen many three-legged canine ascents so congratulations seemed in order) there seemed little point in hanging about.
The weather had fallen back from 'manky' to 'showery' by the time we picked our way down Corslieve again. I decided to regain the Bangor Trail by dropping down by the stream issuing from the Lough, and with the sodden euphoria of the summit now ebbed away I failed to consider that crossing it high up might be a plan. Arrival at the Trail itself was accompanied by the realisation that the old game face was going to be needed to gain its continuation on the far side, and a relatively (for a middle-aged man) athletic leap (and a canine swim) ensued. Hereabouts the Trail is a thing that barely even exists, with only the vaguest of underfoot hints leading you squelchily onward towards where you hope the next marker post will appear. It's a truly shocking quagmire but you wouldn't want it any other way. Boots and paws stumbled and squirted for a good hour before the Trail grew more conspicuous and climbed back up to the point where we'd left it a long time (and one doggy meltdown) ago.
Another hour saw us back at Brogan Carroll just before 7:30pm, and as I sat at the picnic benches trying to peel off my overtrousers Indy sat next to me and devoured a late dinner of chicken. And then into the boot of the car he sprang, fresh as a daisy...oaths should have been muttered, but he's just the most loveable dog in the world and he makes it impossible to stay cross with him. It was gone 12:30am when Indy rolled into his crate and I rolled into my bed just as exhaustion finally won out over adrenaline. I'm not 28 any more but just occasionally I can be 28 again for the day.
This article was originally published in the MountainViews newsletter. Http://www.mountainviews.ie. Many thanks to them for allowing us to reproduce it here.
Peter began hillwalking on his 10th birthday with a failed family outing up Helvellyn, something he'd selected for his birthday treat because he liked the name. Over 30 years later his Munro Compleation ambitions were thwarted by a romantic entanglement that dragged him to Ireland where he has spent the last few years waving and drowning in its deeply underrated mountains. Like so many cliched outdoors folk he works in IT in his real life, and lives near Lisburn with his fiancee, two dogs, seven cats, two guinea pigs, five chickens and a snake. No kidding.View Articles by Peter Walker