A Misty Hike Up Ireland's Mount Brandon
In the summer of 2010 my family and I traveled to Ireland to spend some quality time together away from our hectic lives. On a meandering tour of the western coast I insisted on one departure from our strict itinerary. My sister and I were in a pub just outside Ireland’s westernmost point, the storm-swept Dingle Peninsula, working through thick pints of Guinness when we learned that we were walking distance from Ireland’s westernmost peak (the tallest outside of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a range way to the north). Mount Brandon, named for Saint Brendan (Bréanainn) the Navigator, is a local treasure few tourists might know to visit.
So after buying wool hats and scarves, my sister and I set out across a farmer’s pasture on the one path that led up the mountain. It was worn deep into the earth by centuries of foot traffic. Sour sheep eyed us from the hills above and below.
As we climbed on, the air thinned and the wind stiffened. Rocks turned into boulders and boulders into cliffs. Around a bend we plunged into an icy mist. Here was the Ireland of legends! Fierce greens met deep blacks as mountain grass ran into high altitude lakes. I could hear mournful pipes in my head. Still a few inimical sheep clung to the slopes.
Soon we hit a wall of vertical terrain.
“I guess we made it.” My sister said with satisfaction.
“No, I don’t think so… We were promised a view.” I said, remembering the stories from the pub that had brought us here. I expected crumbling ruins and sweeping vistas.
“Well I can’t go up this. Let’s go back.”
“Why don’t you hang out and I’ll just run up to take a peek?”
Leaving my sister behind with our empty pack, I climbed the face with difficulty, finding faint hints of a trail between stacked and leaning boulders. At times I clung to roots and squeezed between rocks to keep moving upward.
At the top I met more clouds, the sharp sting of ocean rain, and occasional glimpses of West Ireland’s rolling hills. I turned at a noise to discover a group of rowdy old men, clad lightly in pork-pie hats and nylon windbreakers. They must have come up the vertical trail behind me, somehow.
“Boy!” the first one shouted, “How could you leave your sister to the elements?” Smiling, he turned to my sister, who was at the rear of their group. “You might want to leave this one here, lass,” He said.
As the mists cleared I came to see that all of Ireland had turned out for this hike. Children as young as five filed past with their parents in tow and geriatrics brought out sandwiches and remarked on the fine weather. How had they all made it here?
As we broke bread in the thin shelter of Saint Brandon’s lookout, an ancient open pavilion where, it’s said, he first glimpsed the far off Americas, I came to appreciate that in Ireland enjoying nature is a family affair. On our long hike down my body was humbled, but my spirit, it soared.
-- Aaron Reuben