Arguably one of the most picturesque routes up Mweelrea (Connaught’s highest peak at 814m) this hike takes in the vast Doo Lough lake, scales the infamous “Ramp” section & summits Ben Bury before finishing up at the final peak – Mweelrea itself. For me this was my final mountain summit of Ireland’s provincial highest peaks so was something I’d been aiming to tick off for some time. I hike solo quite a bit, but this wasn’t one I’d feel comfortable attempting alone, so I enlisted my boyfriend’s help (who’d done the route before) & we got planning so that we knew what to expect.
We set out mid-morning at the height of this Summer’s July heatwave (clear skies, but oh was it toasty!) having set off from Clifden that morning. We parked along the roadside at Doo Lough – there was space for a fair few cars but if you have a big crowd it may be best to leave some cars in Leenaun & car pool from there. As it was a Tuesday, we were actually the first car there although the spot does tend to attract quite a few tourists getting snaps of the lake, so it may get a little busy.
There were some sheep grazing at the shores of Doolough to send us on our way which made for an early photo stop. These definitely weren’t the last photogenic sheep we came across as there were many dotted along the cliff edges of the mountain, reaching dizzying heights.
What to expect from the route:
The first part of our hike followed an extremely faint trail (which does apparently get very boggy in rainy weather!) before we reached the infamous Ramp section. The Ramp is a steep path rising diagonally to the top of the corrie with a steep drop to one side. In my opinion this was the most difficult aspect of the hike, but also the most picturesque. The views from the ramp back onto Doo Lough & across the cliffs would be up there with anything National Geographic could ever present. The top of the ramp came as an extremely welcome lunch stop with scenery to rival anywhere else in Ireland (the baked snacks definitely helped the experience too)!
After our fill of food, we made our way to the top of Ben Bury (only approx. 300m) where we could clearly see the top of our end destination Mweelrea. With the end goal in sight, we got a new sense of energy to up the pace across the saddle and then back up to the little pile of rocks that marked the tip-top of Connaught. The views from the top were absolutely unreal… Silver Strand beach & the ocean on one side, Leenaun & Killary on another… it really was out of this world! It took approx. 3.5 hours to the top (with LOTS of breaks!) and circa 2 hours back down. With great pictures, tired feet & amazing memories we made our way back to the car ready for a hearty feed at the Leenaun Hotel followed by an evening dip at Glassilaun Beach (which I would highly recommend – an opportunity to see Mweelrea from another angle!).
Worried about avoiding the crowds? Fear not..
We only actually met 3 other hikers the entire day, making it one of the least frequented hikes I’ve been on in Ireland. Whilst less people meant great peace & quiet on the trail, it also means that there’s nobody to ask for directions (or spare snacks should you run out) so do bear this in mind when setting out. Mweelrea is not for the faint hearted and should be only attempted with the correct gear & navigational skillset… there are however plenty of guides who run trips up the mountain which may be a great option for those who would feel more comfortable with having an expert to help them along. It’s also extremely difficult to navigate in unfavourable weather conditions & rain can come in very quickly so do bear this in mind when setting out. The route via Silver Strand is said to be a slightly safer option as it is much quicker but won’t give you the same level of views this route can offer!
I found the hike quite challenging physically (especially the ramp section) but the heat definitely played a significant role in that too. I would say that you’d need to be relatively fit to attempt Mweelrea using this route, but if you take your time & take plenty of breaks it’s definitely doable. There is a section at the top of the ramp that is quite steep with a shear drop – it is extremely short and there’s rocks to grab onto, but it is something to note if you are terribly afraid of heights.
Number 1 top tip:
Bring insect repellant if it’s in any way muggy or hot… the beginning of the hike around the lake is an absolute magnet for midges & flies!