Friday, 24 July 2015

Mount Brandon to the Connor Pass

Yesterday I set off from home looking to have a good big mountain day. I had intended to head to the Reeks but I opted instead to travel the extra few miles and climb Mount Brandon. This is one of my favourite mountain areas of any I have been to and as I drove west from Tralee I once again felt the excitement and thrill that I get whenever I visit. As you reach Cloghane the view of the mountains as they encircle Brandon Bay is truly wonderful. It helped as well that the weather was good and it promised to get better throughout the day so as I left the car at 10.30 I was feeling good and set fair. Cloghane itself is a sleepy pretty little village nestling between the shore and the mountains and it seems to run to a different clock to the rest of the world. I have always said that it I could ever afford a holiday home it is here that I would like to have one.
Beautiful Cloghane

Beautiful right from the start

Brandon Peak from low on the Faha Ridge

Stunning views towards the main ridge

The view from Benagh.

Leaving the village you follow the Dingle Way up through some sheep filled fields before leaving it and walking up a country lane to the start of the Faha Ridge. I followed the broad ridge to the wonderful summit of Benagh 822 meters which is a great place to rest and soak in the stunning views all about. Ahead lies the narrow section of the ridge that joins the main Brandon ridge. The north face of Brandon itself is one of the most rugged and wild in Ireland and the paternoster lakes that run to the east is the finest example I have seen anywhere. To the northeast ocean vistas draw the eye and the curious shape of An Sas (the trap) comes into view. I set off across the ridge and some care was needed as the rocks were damp and greasy and at times the drops considerable. Once past the narrowest part there is a wonderful (fairly difficult) spine of rock to the crest above that offers top class scrambling but alas today it too was greasy and uninviting so I stuck to the grassy ground on the right hand side until I arrived at the top of the main ridge. I have been here many times before but it is always a huge thrill to suddenly see the gobsmackingly beautiful view down towards Smerwick bay and the Blasket Islands. I can honestly say that I have never seen any view more beautiful in all my travels. It quite simply takes the breath away and once again I wished I could adequately capture the scene on my camera.
Looking back across the Faha Ridge

The exciting bit of the ridge

Amazing views once you crest the main ridge

Towards the Three Sisters and The Blasket Islands

I went to the nearby summit of Mount Brandon (952 meters) where I enjoyed a spot of lunch before setting off in the direction of Brandon Peak and from there Gearhane. The day was getting better and better with sunshine and light winds ensuring that nothing spoiled the wonderful views. I was feeling pretty strong as well which is always a good thing. Once beyond Gearhane the ridge becomes broad and boggy but this only makes the going underfoot a bit easier and those views are still there. It is still a fair long way to the Connor Pass and before you get there you drop to just under 400 meters when you pass the "Pilgrims Route" at the pass below Ballysittera which stands over 230 meters above you.By now I had covered about 13 kilometers and climbed over 1200 meters so I wasn't looking forward to the slog ahead but needs must and in fairness it soon passed. I still had a good ways to go so I didn't delay too long on the broad flat summit and I soon had passed Beennabrack 609 meters and continued onto An Bhinn Dubh where I stopped for a rest and a bite to eat. Next up was the Connor Pass which (this being the tourist high season) was very busy. I was delighted to discover that an ice cream van was there and I enjoyed a delicious cone as I walked up to the next summit Slievanea 629 meters above Pedlars Lake. The walk above the twin coums and the easy pull to my final top Slievanea NE top at 671 meters which is a wonderful place to soak up the views. By now I had been on the go for six and a half hours but all the climbing was over (1800 meters or so).  I had traveled over 20 kilometers but I still had about seven kilometers left to get back to my car so I didn't delay too long. The descent is easy and on good ground but there are still four kilometers on the road. I arrived back at the car after a total of 7 hours 45 minutes a bit tired but so so happy I had visited one of my favourite places anywhere. I look forward to going back soon.

The ridge towards Brandon Peak

Down towards Cloghane
View from Brandon Peak
Looking back towards Brandon.

Oh yes, that is an ice cream van at the Connor Pass

Heading to Slievanea

The Brandon massif from Slievanea

New view on the descent


Friday, 3 July 2015

Curve Gully Ridge Mountaineering On Carrauntoohil

Mary and Denis
Always a nice view...looking down from below the Heavenly Gates
Better weather when we were back down.
Last Saturday I went back with Denis O'Brien to meet his friend Mary to have a go at Curve Gully Ridge on Carrauntoohil. It is in my opinion the finest route to the summit of the mountain and offers a varied and interesting climb of up to HS. I had taken Denis up the route recently but it would be Marys first time so I was looking forward to introducing her to this fine mountaineering route. Alas as we gathered in Cronins Yard before our outing it was pretty obvious that the good weather window we had hoped for was no where to be seen and rain and a stiff breeze meant that it was an easy decision to save the ridge for another day. After a short discussion we decided to reconvene on Sunday morning and give it another try. As we were already at the base of the mountain we decided to make a quick dash to the summit of Carrauntoohil. And a dash it was. I haven't been as quick from the top of the Devils Ladder to the summit in a long time. I pushed as hard as I was able but try as I might Denis remained wedged right behind me. The weather was pretty miserable on top with a strong wind and mist so we turned around straight away and made our way down via the Heavenly Gates. There was a lot of people on the mountain today and a large chunk of them was made up of people on a charity event from the UK. Despite the weather they were in great spirits and when we got back to Cronins Yard we received a rousing welcome to a cacophony of cow bells and cheers. We agreed to give it another try the following morning when better weather was promised.

Sunday morning was much more promising and Frank was to join us as well. We were a little late starting out as alarm clock malfunctions etc meant that it was almost 11am and we leaving Cronins Yard. Still the sun was shining and nobody was in a mad rush to be anywhere else so we were set fair for the day. There was some cloud on the summit but we were confident that we would get the climb done today. We made our way up the long slog to the base of the route and it was about 13.30 when we were ready to go. I had been wondering exactly how we would go about the climb as I had never led more than one person on a rope before but I decided to use the 50 meter rope and I tied into the center of it and Denis tied into one strand and Mary tied into the other one about 15ft before Frank. It was a bit awkward to begin with but we soon got thing going and things went smoothly on the climb. The one worrying thing was the weather. Summer had momentarily forgot about Carrauntoohil and it was decidedly on the chilly side and things weren't helped by the at times very strong wind that threatened to blow me off my balance on the first pitch.

Scrambling up the lower section of Curve Gully

Looking up the lower section of the route,,bottom left to top center

Yours truly showing his best side

Well deserved summit photo...summery looking or what
Still once I was on the route my concentration was fully engaged and the time just flew by. Its amazing just how short a doubled 50 meter rope is on a mountain route but this route offers plenty of belay places (even though not all of them are very comfortable for four people) and with one or two exceptions the short rope wasn't a problem. I led every pitch and Denis belayed each time with Frank being the anchor man behind Mary. As we got higher the wind increased in strength if anything and its fair to say that the last couple of belays were less than comfortable but it was proper mountaineering and had the feel of a high mountain route. We arrived at the summit a full three hours after we set off, tired but safe and exhilarated after completing what is for me the finest route on the mountain. Back down via the heavenly gates and once lower down we were again amazed at the contrast in the temperatures and weather. From a stern reminder of winter/spring we were now in a balmy summer evening. I think it felt all the better for having had our technical skills and endurance tested. Not a route to be taken too lightly.