Walk for the Weekend: Mount Brandon from the east
Brandon is known as a mercurial mountain, and it hasn’t taken a shine to us. We are enveloped in a swirling mist as we eat lunch
Brandon is a mountain that reveal its secrets slowly
My offering this week comes from the atmospheric Rose Hotel in Tralee. I am down here to take part on the 23rd annual Kerry Charity Challenge which raises funds for special needs people. Today I was designated to lead a group up Mount Brandon and so 10am found us pulling into the pretty little carpark beyond Cloghane, Co Kerry. Soon afterwards we were ascending the breath-robbing slopes above Faha.
As is my wont, I settled in comfortably at the front while leaving the other leaders to do the hard work behind me. The landscape is charming if unspectacular, but Brandon is a mountain that reveal its secrets slowly.
The star of our group is undoubtedly great-grandmother Chrissie O’Meara (83). Having already claimed the mountain by the easier western route side to celebrate her 80th birthday, she is now climbing it from the more challenging east side to raise funds to support cancer patients.
In its own good time Brandon allows us a first glimpse of superb Coumaknock, with its morosely bare rock and string of paternoster lakes gouged out by ice and water. Traversing above this world of wonder, the track clings to steep ground below the camel-back Faha Ridge, before intercepting the valley floor near its great northern headwall.
There appears no way up the steep face but, fortunately, the headwall has one weakness in its defences: a track that doglegs steeply upwards. This is the Beecher’s Brook of the route, and although not truly challenging it requires easy rock scrambling, which Chrissie accomplishes with graceful aplomb.
Difficulties behind, we step onto the Brandon Ridge and swing left on a well-trodden path that reaches down like a spindly arm from the summit. There is a great cheer when Chrissie and her friend, Josie Maher, are first to reach the summit cross. Its marks one of Ireland’s most revered mountaintops, which has long been a place of pilgrimage. The skeletal ruin is referred to as St Brendan’s oratory where he is reputed to have prayed before setting out on a voyage that many believe reached America.
One fly remains immersed in our ointment, however. Brandon is well known as a mercurial mountain, and today it hasn’t taken a shine to us. We are enveloped by the clammy embrace of a swirling mist as we eat lunch.
Then suddenly the mountain relents; the clouds roll back to reveal one of the best 360-degree panoramas in Ireland. The magical vista stretches from Mcgillycuddy’s Reeks to the Skellig Rocks, then west to the staggeringly photogenic Blasket Islands, before finally alighting on the shimmering outline of the Aran Islands.
On an intoxicated scenic high, we retrace our steps. The downward path seems intimidating but it isn’t really, and soon we are back on the floor of Coumaknock in glorious sunshine.
Feeling the day’s work is done, I relax and immediately miss the direction. Suddenly we are flapping around 100m below the path and a 10-minute scramble upwards is required to regain the route.
Nobody complains – Brandon has been too good an experience to let an inattentive leader get in the way of an almost perfect mountain day.
Suitability: Route is not overly demanding and should present few problems for even moderately experienced hillwalkers.
Start: From Tralee take the Dingle Peninsula road and follow the signs for Connor Pass. Further on a sign points right for Mount Brandon and Cloghane. Beyond the village Mount Brandon is signposted left.
Time: four to five hours
Map: OS1, sheet 70