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Croagh Patrick ‘worst damaged mountain path’ in UK and Ireland

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Reek ‘worst damaged mountain path’ in UK/Ireland


Expert surprised that more injuries have not occured on mountain

Edwin McGreal


So treacherous has the path to the summit of Croagh Patrick become that a leading expert on mountain erosion has described Ireland’s Holy Mountain as ‘the worst damaged mountain path in the UK and Ireland’.
Those in attendance at a seminar, ‘Looking ahead – the protection of Croagh Patrick’, in Murrisk last Thursday were told of this stark assessment as efforts were made to set in train a group to take control of the situation.
Following a full day of discussions involving many stakeholders in the mountain, a steering committee is to be established in the coming weeks to examine what needs to be done in the short and long term to safeguard both the mountain and those climbing it.
Bob Aitken, a Scottish expert with over 40 years experience of addressing erosion in mountains, made the observation about the path last month at a seminar hosted by Mountaineering Ireland. He said many paths in the UK had once been in similarly bad condition but had all undergone remedial works. Croagh Patrick has received none due to ongoing issues of ownership and responsibility.
That was one issue which was discussed widely on Thursday and another issue which was repeatedly aired was the dangers the mountain presents to inexperienced and ill-equipped climbers.
An extensive report on the condition of the mountain was the central reference point at the seminar. The report’s author is Elfyn Jones from the British Mountaineering Council. He said that, with the possible exception of Snowdon in Wales, ‘there cannot be many other sites where a relatively wild and natural mountain is climbed by so many inexperienced and ill-prepared walkers’.
He said the total number of accidents on the mountain is ‘surprisingly low’ given how many climbers, many of them religious pilgrims, set off with little knowledge or experience.
“A major issue is that many people underestimate the effort and scale of the undertaking – many being unfit or not used to mountain walking at all,” said Mr Jones in his report.
Many of those in attendance also echoed his point about the lack of proper information about climbing the mountain.
“There is a prominent lack of a single up-to-date portal for information for those wanting to attempt to climb the mountain - the on-site information signs are dated and refer to the mountain’s religious and cultural interpretation rather than modern, practical mountain safety information,” said Mr Jones.
Mr Jones outlined in his report the damage caused to the path on the Reek and detailed the ‘large scale intervention’ which will be required to address the problem, estimated at costing over €1 million. In excess of 100,000 people climb Croagh Patrick on an annual basis. Over 30,000 of these are on Reek Sunday in July.

‘We need  the Reek’ - Fáilte Ireland


Issue of ownership and responsibility still unsolved

Tourism and ownership

Edwin McGreal

Croagh Patrick is one of the jewels in the crown for Fáilte Ireland, last Thursday’s seminar on the future of the Reek in The Tavern in Murrisk heard.
Brian Quinn of Fáilte Ireland West told the seminar the mountain is hugely responsible for bringing tourists to Mayo.
“From a point of view of visitors we need the Reek. We need the mountain, it is why people come to Mayo. We will not be found wanting in contributing towards the solution,” he said.
He said Fáilte Ireland’s new project ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ is a 2,500km long touring route from north Donegal to Kinsale. It’s the longest touring route in the world, Mr Quinn added, stating it passes through Murrisk and Croagh Patrick is a ‘key point’ along the route for Fáilte Ireland.
Johnny Groden of the Murrisk Development Association credited both Mayo County Council and Fáilte Ireland for their input, saying it was ‘the first time all the different agencies, stakeholders and landowners have come together’.
There were representatives from Mayo County Council, Fáilte Ireland, Mountaineering Ireland, Mayo Mountain Rescue, Leave No Trace, National Parks and Wildlife, Gaelforce, Sea2Summit and landowners, among others, present at the seminar.
Mayo County Council will convene a steering committee in the coming weeks and are keen that a clerical representative be part of this committee. All those present on Thursday will be informed as to the next steps with a smaller committee selected from their number and anyone else interested can still come on board.
The issue of ownership and responsibility on the mountain continues to evolve. Brian Quinn told the meeting that it should be noted that the reason why there has not been intervention before now is that Mayo County Council were reluctant to carry out repairs as they could, under the current law, leave themselves open to a lawsuit.
However Helen Lawless of Mountaineering Ireland said the issue of insurance is ‘an unnecessary worry’ and spoke of ongoing policy changes at government level. While nothing is in place at the minute, the hope is that policy will be enacted meaning that anyone entering privately owned land, such as Croagh Patrick, will be taking responsibility for themselves and landowners and the council will be indemnified.
Facilitator Dr Richard Thorn said he was ‘surprised’ there were no clear figures about the economic benefit locally of Croagh Patrick while there remains a lack of clarity about how many people actually climb the Reek on an annual basis.
Neil Sheridan of Mayo County Council told The Mayo News that this is one of their first priorities and they will put in special mats on the way up which count how many people set off to climb the mountain.

Cone section remains the most dangerous part of the Reek


The last section of the climb of Croagh Patrick remains the most treacherous

Problems

Edwin McGreal

The final part of the climb of Croagh Patrick, the iconic cone section climb, has grown more dangerous in recent years due to continuous erosion.
That was the finding of an expert report on the condition of the path from Murrisk village to the top of Croagh Patrick.
Elfyn Jones of the British Mountaineering Council carried out a survey of the mountain when he visited there at the behest of Mountaineering Ireland in June 2012.
“There does appear to be an accident ‘hot spot’ for incidents some half way up on the so called ‘bad bend’ on the final summit cone, where the path is at its steepest and arguably most unstable underfoot,” he said.
He said the total number of accidents is ‘surprisingly low’ given the number of inexperienced and ill-equipped walkers who climb the mountain. However, nonetheless Mayo Mountain Rescue have to deal with on average 35 incidents a year and, on Reek Sunday, in tandem with other rescue teams, they deal with up to 50 incidents on the one day alone, the report stated.
Helen Lawless, a Hillwalking, Access and Conservation Officer with Mountaineering Ireland, addressed the ‘Looking Ahead – The Protection of Croagh Patrick’ seminar in The Tavern in Murrisk on Thursday last, detailing Elfyn Jones’ report.
She said the path on the cone section is actually ‘migrating to the right’ over time and is ‘steep, loose and actively eroding’.
In terms of improvement works, she suggested a retaining wall, the installation of drains and some stone pitching – stone steps – which would help to create a more stable footing.
“It is challenging work,” said Ms Lawless. “It is remote and exposed and technically challenging with the steepness. The geology here lends itself to scree. To impose stability here is a real challenge and more difficult than any other erosion concern on the mountain,” added Ms Lawless.
Elfyn Jones’ report details the need to narrow the path at various points on the long climb from the base to the turn for the cone at the col part of the mountain. As the path is too steep for gravel, stone pitching is what would be required he said. He said a helicopter would have to fly in 300 separate 500kg bags of stone for this purpose.
He said damage to turf on the path is a problem, especially as part of the habitat is important for red grouse, a species which is ‘struggling’. Cross drains and retaining walls are also suggested. Mr Jones said stone pitching all the way would involve ‘astronomical costs’.
He added that while some people may be uncomfortable with the changes to a natural path, it was too late for anything else.
“Path works are likely to be quite engineered and will be initially highly intrusive and difficult for many people to come to terms with. However, the erosion created by walkers on this mountain is of such a scale and is so severe that only a large scale intervention could have any impact on it,” he said.
Elfyn Jones’ report estimated the cost of such works as being in excess of €1.5 million. Helen Lawless said it was hard to be certain about the costs but put it at being in excess of €1 million.
Both Elfyn Jones, in his report, and Helen Lawless, in her presentation, stressed the importance of the need for highly skilled personnel to be employed on the mountain on a continuous basis for the maintenance and management of the improvement works.