Maumtrasna’s Eastern Corries
Maumtrasna’s Eastern Corries
Helen Fairbairn recommends a trip around two glacial corries in a remote corner of south County Mayo. Photos by Gareth McCormack
Walker passing lough Nambrackkeagh at the base of Binnaw.
aumtrasna is the highest point in Mayo’s Partry Mountains - a great, hulking massif that impresses more with its girth than its height. In fact its 682m-high summit is lost amid a plateau that features more than 8 sq km of terrain above the 600m contour. Though remarkable as a landform, it is not generally the plateau itself that appeals to most walkers. The mountain’s most exciting terrain can be found along its numerous spurs, which radiate out from the central massif like spider’s legs reaching around a bulbous abdomen. Between them these spurs enclose at least ten separate corries, the most dramatic of which are explored on this walk. Like most mountains in the region, Maumtrasna owes its current topography to a series of events that began around two million years ago. This is when the European climate began to deteriorate, entering the Pleistocene period, popularly known as the Ice Age. The climate began to alternate between severe cold snaps interspersed with warmer spells. During the cold stages the entire massif was covered by ice, but as each rise in temperature melted the main ice sheet, active glaciers persisted longest on the colder northern and
eastern slopes. This explains why, in common with many other Irish mountains, Maumtrasna’s deepest, most spectacular glacial corries can now be found facing north and east. This route circumnavigates two of Maumtrasna’s most dramatic eastern corries: the deeply-carved basins that now contain Lough Nadirkmore and Dirkbeg Lough. Each corrie is bound by sharp ridges, which provide convenient access routes to and from the high ground. The tips of these ridges are steep however, and while not dangerous, the angle of slope means that the route is restricted to only those walkers who are confident on steep ground. Note also that much of the walk follows the edge of precipitous cliffs, so the route is best avoided in poor visibility. The circuit concentrates on Maumtrasna’s corries and ridges, and does not visit the 682m-high summit of Maumtrasna itself. This ‘summit’ rises only a metre or two above many surrounding hummocks, and is notoriously difficult to find. However determined summit-baggers can make an optional side-trip to find it from the top of the Binnaw ridge. It is located just over a kilometre southwest of Maumtrasna’s 673m-high trig point.
Getting to the Start The route starts and finishes along a narrow lane around 2km east of Lough Nadirkmore (GR: M 022,647). The area is generally accessed via the N84 Castlebar-Galway road. Turn west off this road at Partry, at the northeastern end of Lough Mask. Follow a minor road around the northwestern side of the lough, passing through Toormakeady (Tuar Mhic Éadaigh). Around 5km south of Toormakeady, turn right towards Killateenaun. Roughly 700m past Killateenaun school, turn right again, then keep left at a junction and follow a lane along the Owenbrin River. Keep left again at a final junction and continue until you reach a metal gate across the lane (the purpose of this gate is to stop sheep wandering rather than to bar access). There is adequate space to park around five vehicles without obstructing the road.
The Walk Pass through the gate and walk northwest along the lane for roughly 100m. Here the road crosses a stream. Turn left off the tarmac and begin to follow the northern bank of the stream, crossing open, hummocky ground. Within long you come to a confluence where the stream separates in two, with each branch heading to a
different lough in the corrie above. Continue along the bank of the southern-most watercourse. When the fence falls away on the left, veer south and begin heading directly towards the base of Binnaw. You’ll need to cross a gravel track before beginning the ascent in earnest. The easiest angle is up the ridge’s northeastern tip, though even here the climb is steep and sustained. As you gain height the views improve over Lough Nambrackkeagh and Lough Nadirkmore, encased within the steep cliffs of the corrie to your right. Scattered rocks also become increasingly frequent amid the grass as you near the top of the ridge. Once you’ve gained the shoulder’s highpoint, turn right and begin to trace the lip of the corrie west. A mixture of cropped grass and rocks cover the hummocky ground, while occasional gullies allow thrilling views into the basin far below. A small cairn marks the point where the ridge merges into the main Maumtrasna plateau. Here, for the first time, there are views of the surrounding ranges: the clustered summits of the Maumturk Mountains can be seen to the southwest, while Croagh Patrick and Nephin lie on the northern skyline. If you want to make the 4km detour to Maumtrasna’s trig point, head northwest from
“Numerous spurs radiate out from the central massif like spider’s legs reaching around a bulbous abdomen.”
Cairn at the top of Buckaun, overlooking lough Mask.
Walker looking over lough Nadirkmore from the Binnaw ridge.
Maumtrasna’s Eastern Corries
Walker looking over Dirkbeg lough from the back of the corrie
the cairn, using the rim of the Srahnalong corrie to aid navigation. To continue directly along this circuit, arc northwards at the cairn and trace the back of the Nadirkmore corrie towards Buckaun. The ground here is softer underfoot, with scattered bog pools and marshy patches amongst the peaty terrain. A short climb brings you to the large cairn that marks the ridge of Buckaun. The most arresting view from here is the aerial panorama over Lough Mask to the east. Care is needed in this area however, because just a few metres north of the cairn the precipitous cliffs of the Dirkbeg corrie drop away suddenly. The route around this second corrie largely mimics the first; an anticlockwise trip around the lip of the basin. This section necessitates a deeper descent around the western rim however, and the terrain is craggy rather than peaty underfoot. Make your way down between rocky outcrops to the back of the corrie, then climb onto the Dirkbeg ridge that forms its northern wall.
FACT FILE MaUMtraSNa Distance: 11.5km/7miles Ascent: 600m / 1970ft Time: 5-5 hours Maps: OSi Sheet 38 1:50000
Follow the Dirkbeg ridge eastward to its tip, then descend slightly south of east, heading towards a turf-cutting area at the eastern end of Dirkbeg Lough. The descent is steep throughout – take particular care in wet conditions when the grass may be slippery underfoot. Also note that steep crags bound the northern tip of the ridge, so be sure to avoid veering onto this side of the shoulder.
At the base of the slope, cross flat, peaty ground to reach the area of turbary. Here you’ll find two branches of a gravel track; they join up within long so either one can be followed initially. The gravel merges into tarmac after 1.5km, and a paved lane continues ahead. Follow the lane for a further kilometre to return to the metal gate where you started the circuit.