on October 8, 2012
Happy Torc=========Hmmm. Anyway, after about a mile the river bends obviously away to the left (south), and soon afterwards the path up Torc is signposted on the right. This was built by a specialist party in the last few years, and rather succinctly sums up the problems of managing tourist access to wilderness areas. Torc is probably the most climbed mountain in Kerry (more so than even Carrauntoohil) and is only really easily accessible via the slope you are now eyeing up. Said slope is tough grass, dotted with outcropping rock, but is otherwise 'easy' and as such can be climbed almost anywhere. And 'anywhere' is exactly where it was getting climbed: there is no obvious natural line, so the (mostly) inexperienced pedestrians were wandering (and eroding) at will. So the decision was taken to build a path. To the environmentalist/mountain sportsman in me, the concept is anathema, but having thought about it and (more importantly) sampled it...I have to concede that it has been done with a fair amount of discretion, is well-routed (it's a doddle, with the very occasional very short steep sections seemingly trivial next to the general gentle gradient) and now serves as a fine introduction to the pleasures of the mountains.So, up we go. The path, a mixture of pitched stone (on the steeper bits) and railway sleepers swaddled in wire mesh, meanders back and forth to mitigate the steepness. Until the latter stages of the climb the view is largely limited to the barren wilderness south of the Old Kenmare Road, with the legendary peak of Mangerton glowering over the landscape, a landscape that was extensively inhabited until the clearances of the 18th/19th century. That said, the glimpses of the Upper Lake (another one of the four Lakes of Killarney) to the south-west (and the striking peaks beyond) will hopefully inspire those who find this ascent awakens a primal desire to throw one's self at all the other big pointy things out there. And as one nears the summit, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane peer over the shoulder to the left of Torc's peak, giving the ailing tourist a last psychological push to the top.As you sit on your heathery throne your eye's first port of call will probably be the blue expanses of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane to the north, with Killarney (and some rather indiscreet hotel developments, unfortunately. Nobody has yet come up with emerald-coloured concrete) prominent. Gradually turning left, the lakes are buttressed by the prominent Tomies/Purple Mountain group. To the left again is an end-on view of the east section of Macgillycuddy's Reeks, and the long straggle of the Upper Lake provides the frontispiece to the grim defile of the Black Valley (whose inhabitants all died in the potato famine. The Irish: We Don't Do That Whole Euphemism Thing). Moving on we come to a convoluted area of lesser peaks, smaller loughs and Celtic badlands, before the mountains reassert themselves with the high dome of Mangerton. The panorama concludes with the fertile outline of the Paps (properly, The Paps of Dana: yes, Dana's Boobs), before the land declines into West Cork.All of this assumes that you can actually see the view. After numerous visits where Torc's status in my mind was as 'something to do when I can only spare a couple of hours', Ryanair's switch to their winter Stansted/Kerry timetable forced my hand: it was December and I did only have about three hours of daylight. And a Chevrolet Kalos. I didn't have the weather though, and my plod up through the forest was accompanied by the gradual transformation from 'overcast' to 'murky': by the time I left the Old Kenmare Road said murk was gently weeping on me, and so it continued to the top, only with a gradually increasing windspeed. Fortunately, I have a man on the spot with multiple ascents to his credit, and I've seen his photo archives to fill in the gaps.Descent by the same route is easy and advisable. Inspection of the map would have told you that the way up is roundabout and circuitous, but with good reason: Torc is a rough little peak, and attempts at shortcuts are likely to lead to discomfort or trouble, or both. This applies on a smaller scale too: don't be tempted to cut the corners of the path on the way down. If you crave a bit of variation you could go over the bridge at the top of the wood and take the trail on the other side back down to the road, but you won't see anything comparable to the waterfall if you go that way, and the few hundred yards along the N71 at the end exposes you to a possible encounter with tourist-laden coach-delivered Death. Be careful, people.(6 miles, 1750ft ascent)Careless Torc Costs Lives=====================Unless you're seriously languid, the ascent of Torc won't take you a whole day. So, a somewhat non-exhaustive list of things worth seeing nearby...Killarney - Probably the second most visited town in Ireland by tourists (so there's lots of accommodation, but it's wise to book in advance). Pleasantly bustling, with lots of pubs and shops and pubs. Pubs, too.Gap Of Dunloe - On the other side of Tomies/Purple Mountain from Torc lies this rather dramatic glacial defile. Jaunting cars (horse and carts carrying passengers) run through the gap (normal cars, jaunty or not, are frowned upon), and the splendid watering hole of Kate Kearney's Cottage is situated at its foot.Lady's View - Carry on down the N71, past the scary church, and you'll reach a car park overlooking an excellent vista looking back to the three main Lakes of Killarney. This is so-named on account of Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting proclaiming it the finest view they saw during her time in Ireland. Slightly further up the N71 is the junction of Moll's Gap with its craft shop, a place that feels almost comically remote considering it's on a main road, and a little further on again...the road descends to the sea at Kenmare. Owls. That's all I'm saying.Having got that far, you might as well carry on around the rest of the Ring Of Kerry (arrival at Kenmare suggests you've mastered the art of not being wiped out by oncoming coaches): at the risk of being as repetitive as U2's oeuvre, it really is a bit special.So, Torc: a fine excursion.
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