Path Repair in the MacGillycuddy Reeks Meeting 14.03.2016
MacGillicuddy Reeks – The challenge of how to address the worsening path erosion in the MacGillycuddy Reeks was the main focus for a meeting hosted by Mountaineering Ireland in conjunction with the MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Forum in Killarney on Monday the 14th of March 2016. The meeting was attended by more than 30 people included representatives from at least 13 different clubs, Cappananalea OETC and a small number of commercial activity providers.
On the evening Trisha Deane, Rural Recreation Officer with South Kerry Development Partnership provided an update on the work of the MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Forum and Dougie Baird, CEO of the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust outlined the repair work recommended for the four priority routes identified in the 2015 Reeks Path Audit. The meeting was facilitated by Helen Lawless from Mountaineering Ireland.
Trisha Deane, South Kerry Development Partnership in her presentation about the work of the MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Forum Trisha Deane asked all groups, including clubs, to complete the Event Form on www.macgillycuddyreekskerry.com prior to any events in the Reeks that are likely to involve 10 people or more. This helps to build a picture of what’s going on and could prevent clashes with farming activities or between large events taking place on the same day. Trisha also encouraged those present to contribute towards the cost of path repair in the Reeks by becoming Friends of the Reeks and by donating to the honesty boxes in the Lisleibane and Breanleee / Hydro Road carparks.
Trisha told the meeting about the Reeks Forum’s current project to deliver intensive training for local landowners/residents in upland path repair skills. This was funded as a Rural Economic Development Zone (REDZ) pilot project. The tender to deliver the training was won by the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust and a team of eight workers is being trained in the techniques of hand-built path work and the use of machines for this work where terrain is suitable.
Trisha showed photographs of the work carried out by the team, much of which was done during the extremely wet and windy weather conditions in December and January. The high standard of this first phase of work has generated very positive feedback from the mountaineering community and has also attracted site visits by groups from across the country. In the first three months the focus of the project was on developing the skills of hand-built path repair. The path between the second footbridge on the route in from Cronin’s Yard and the junction with the track in from Lisleibane was done entirely by hand, resulting in a few bent crow-bars and a broken thumb (Trisha’s!). Training in the use of machines to assist with path repair work took place during March and a machine-built path can be seen between the two footbridges on the way into the Hag’s Glen from Cronin’s Yard. Trisha stressed that the path repair work being carried out, and the work proposed for the future, is about preventing further erosion and deterioration to the habitats in the MacGillycuddy Reeks. ‘It is vitally important that people understand this work is not about making it easier or safer to climb the Reeks’ she said, and that all walkers and climbers take appropriate measures to look after themselves on the mountains.
Dougie Baird, Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust Dougie Baird has well over 20 years’ experience in path repair and recreation management, covering every aspect from working on the ground, to devising path repair solutions, developing training schemes for path workers and supervising major path repair programmes. This was Dougie’s second presentation to a gathering of walkers and climbers in Killarney. In May 2015 Dougie presented the findings of the MacGillycuddy Reeks Upland Path Audit carried out early last year. On foot of that report, the Reeks Forum secured funding to produce detailed recommendations for repair of the four priority routes identified in the path audit – the Devil’s Ladder, O’Shea’s Gully, Caher and the path up the Hag’s Glen to the Ladder. As part of this work an archaeological survey has been carried out and an environmental assessment is nearing completion. At the recent meeting Dougie outlined his recommendations for the priority routes, including describing the three main path repair solutions. Hand-built path – Techniques include stone-pitching, stone lined cross-drains and water-bars, stone steps with stretches of gravel or aggregate path in between. Stone-pitching would typically be used for short sections, or where the path is contained by topography or vegetation. The proposal for the Devil’s Ladder is for a hand-built path, with robust stone pitching due to the terrain and steepness in the gully. This work would be done progressively, stabilising the Ladder from the bottom up, using material found on the mountain and honing the skills for dealing with the challenging top section.
Machine-built path – This is where a machine is used to dig out drains and move material to make a ‘high and dry’ path. Use of a machine allows more work to be done in the same amount of time, the objective is to achieve a path that fits into the landscape and has the same quality of finish as on a hand-built path. Dougie proposed this repair technique for much of the Hag’s Glen path (between the stepping stones and the bottom of the Devil’s Ladder), with stone pitching and revetment for steeper sections, and light-touch works on the final rugged approach to the Ladder. A machine-built path was also proposed for much of the route on Caher (up to about 650m). The width of the finished path would be 850mm-1050mm in a wavered line to ensure it looks as natural as possible.
Light-touch work – This solution is more about landscaping than construction, and is largely pre-emptive, achieving habitat protection by subtly defining a line to contain the spread of erosion. This is the solution proposed for the O’Shea’s Gully route (from where the route leaves the main path in the Hag’s Glen up to the top of the gully). This might include small sections of hand-built path at damaged points, with little or no work on the stretches in between.
Speaking after the presentations Trisha Deane emphasised that there is a huge amount of preparatory work required before Dougie’s recommendations could be implemented. The agreement of all the landowners is required, funding has to be secured and planning permission will be needed for the work proposed. While good progress is being made it will take many years to deliver the work proposed for the four priority routes. Dougie also spoke about the need to build capacity in Ireland to tackle path erosion, mentioning a number of other mountains that are vulnerable. Upland path repair is arduous work, much of it carried out in wet and cold conditions. The active involvement of landowners on the ground in this work is not something that has been achieved elsewhere in Britain or Ireland and adds considerably to the value of the MacGillycuddy Reeks work, as well as serving as a model for other areas.
While the scale of work required in Ireland could not be delivered through volunteer groups, Dougie mentioned the valuable role that volunteers can play, particularly in monitoring paths. He also noted the benefits that come from having recreational users involved in path repair projects. He concluded by positioning path repair in the wider context of recreation management and the overall sustainable management of mountain areas.
Mountaineering Ireland encourages members to look at the work that has been done in the Hag’s Glen and above the Hydro road / Breanlee car-park. If you come across the team working on the paths, stop and chat with them about their work; give them your feedback. Use this article to initiate discussion with others about the need to invest in repairing the erosion that is becoming increasingly evident on Ireland’s mountains. Some people will assume that upland path repair is about making it easier to climb the mountains. While that may at times be a consequence of such work, it isn’t the motivation; our safety remains our responsibility. This is about protecting the precious natural resource that is Ireland’s mountains.
The direction for upland path repair work in Ireland was set a couple of years ago with the agreement of the Helping the Hills Guiding Principles (www.helpingthehills.ie), Mountaineering Ireland is pleased to see this being followed on the ground.