Another weekend, another hike: Mount Brandon

The Dingle peninsula is one of the biggest attractions in Ireland, and before you even arrive you’ll understand why as you drive the winding roads from Tralee or Killarney you are treated to incredible views of County Kerry in every direction. When you arrive to the small but lively town of Dingle, there is an immediate vibe of the friendliness and fun for which Ireland is known. Dingle is also known as the foodie capital of Ireland, so there are no shortage of delicious spots for seafood and more (for a casual meal, I highly recommend fish and chips at Harrington’s followed by ice cream at Murphy’s and a pint at Foxy John’s). However, when Steve and I took a drive out to the Dingle peninsula on Saturday we bypassed the town; our sights were set on a higher point: Mount Brandon.

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A small ramble up Strickeen

If you’re looking for a hike around the Killarney area that offers a combination of great views and easy trails, you couldn’t get much better bang for your buck than Strickeen. The mountain’s name is anglicised from Stricín, or “little peak” (-een or -ín is a diminutive suffix as Gaeilge) but while the peak is indeed little (only ~380 elevation gain for a summit height of 440 meters), this 6.5km hike finishes with lovely views of the surrounds, the lakes of Killarney, and the rest of the MacGillycuddy Reeks, such as Carrauntoohil.

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Off the beaten path around Barley Lake

Most of the trails I hike on are fairly clearly marked, whether it’s the luxe wooden boardwalks of New Zealand’s Great Walks or the rough gravel of a well-trodden route up Carrauntoohil. But sometimes I think it’s fun to leave the comfort of a clear path and get your feet dirty, and luckily I have friends who feel the same way. When I originally moved to Ireland for grad school, Medb was one of my very first friends, and now after international moves and much travel on both of our parts, we are finally living in the same country again. She and her partner Callum are currently on a trip from Dublin to gorgeous West Cork, so yesterday Steve and I headed out to meet them. Medb suggested the Barley Lake walk, but there was conflicting info about it online so none of us really knew what to expect.

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On Top of Ireland

Earlier this week I wrote about three routes I’ve recently hiked in and around Killarney, but there’s a fourth I trekked this week, taking advantage of a weekend of gorgeous weather. Carrauntoohil is the highest mountain in Ireland, and although it’s not particularly impressive compared to the highest mountains in most countries (only 1038m/3047f, not even as tall as the last “top of a country” I’ve visited), it was still a fantastic adventure.

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Three Hikes Around Killarney

Moving to another country is never easy, and even more so during a pandemic. I’m still trying to get my residency card, set up a bank account, etc. etc. And job-hunting during a pandemic, in a small town known mostly for tourism? Nightmare. At least while I’m in the midst of getting all the logistics sorted out and sending an endless stream of CVs, I’m lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places ever. There’s a reason that Co. Kerry is known as The Kingdom. And the magnificent weather over the last week has offered ample opportunity to explore it with beautiful local hikes. I’m writing about them here in order of easiest to most difficult:

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On Top of Down Under

The Seven Summits comprise the highest peak on each of the continents—Mount Everest, obviously, Denali in Alaska, Mount Kilimanjaro, and so on. For many, ascending each of these seven mountains is a lifelong dream. However, not all seven peaks are created equal. Obviously, Everest is the hardest not only for its technical difficulty but also for the tens of thousands of dollars cost of its permit, while Kilimanjaro is a multi-day but non-technical hike that can be accomplished by hikers without mountaineering experience.

Looking at Kosci from the start of the Main Range Track

Then there’s Mount Kosciuszko. At 2,228 metres, it is only a quarter of the height of Everest, and can be summited in a single day—or less, if you take the route that includes a chairlift ride most of the way to the top. Some rankings of the Seven Summits don’t even include Kosci, replacing it with Puncak Jaya in Indonesia by considering Australasia the continent rather than Australia. But since I don’t have any desire to ascend all seven summits (I’d like to do Kilimanjaro in a few years, but I don’t see myself ever tackling the others), I’m happy to consider Kosci among the peaks.

Steve and me at the start of the hike

Last week, Steve and I rented a car and drove seven hours from Melbourne to Mount Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales to hike to the highest point in Australia. We stayed overnight in Jindabyne, about half an hour away, and got up bright and early on Friday morning to head up the mountain. In order to make it more of a hike, we forewent the Threadbo trail with its chairlift and headed around the other side to Charlotte Pass for a 22km loop trail that connected the Summit Road and the Main Range Track.

The first thing that surprised me was how beautiful it was. I was expecting a dry, sparse range based on the endless stretches of red dirt and leafless trees we had passed on the Hume Highway on the way up, but the views were actually mountainous and lovely. The track was also wonderfully peaceful. On our way up, we only encountered one other group—a pack of older folks kitted out with tramping poles and wide-brimmed hats, who kept up a solid pace even on the steeper sections. There was no one blasting shitty EDM off their cell phones for all to hear, thank christ.

On the way to the summit

The top was a bit busier because the three trails—Summit, Main Range, and Chairlift—converged (I’d guess most folks came up on the chairlift based on the lack of daypacks or hiking boots) but it was still very quiet compared to some of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and elsewhere. A surveying trig and elevation sign mark the summit, where we took a break for lunch before following the mild downward grade of the Summit Road back to our car.

At the top!

The hike took us just over six hours in total, lunch included, and was only strenuous in its length, but it was still a fun way to spend a few days (on the trip, we also drove up to Canberra to visit the NASA Deep Space Communications Centre and the National Gallery and Museum), and it’s fun to be able to say we’ve climbed one of the Seven Summits, no matter how small.

Surveying trig marker at the summit