Saturday, 30 January 2010

Overnighter in the Mourne's with NI Wild

A plan to walk the Lecale Way with the folks from the NI-Wild forums was on the cards for 24/25th January, but was binned for various reasons, and instead an overnighter in the Mournes was planned. Trying to get as many people out for the night, the option was to walk from Meelmore Lodge to Donard Park or from Carrick Little car park to Donard Park, camp in Donard Park, and then return to Meelmore Lodge where the auto mobiles had been parked, via Slieve Commedagh or The Brandy Pad.

Starting at Carrick Little Car Park, the conditions were nearly the best I’ve seen in the Mournes, and it was January! Blue skies with a small amount of cloud coverage around the peaks, with any luck it stay this way and there would actually be a view when we arrived at the first peak of the day! The plan had been to start at around 09:30 however me, Jen and her dog, Archie, were running a tad late and arrived at 10:20. Having forgotten to exchange phone numbers before leaving it was going to be a bit of a lottery as to when we would run into the NI-Wild guys, if at all.

Following a farmers gravel track, we passed numerous vacant, ran down cottages, some of which were so small it is hard to think more than one person inhabited them. Leaving the track we climbed over a stone stile, Archie vaulted it, and followed a well defined path, with the Mourne Wall on our left. It was about now I began to worry that the guys were waiting at Meelmore for us to arrive, however this seemed rather unlikely, and instead I began to wonder if they were in front of us and if we would catch them or not.

Eventually my assumptions were laid to rest as I heard a “Yo!” turned round and saw the five peeps that we were supposed to meet up with. Andy, Chris, Michael, Simon and Shirley had started later than planned due to various little hiccups, but had finally all met up and we could continue upward as a group.

As we rose the remnants of the recent snow was holding on for dear life, seeking refuge from the warmth of the sun behind the Mourne Wall. Simon demonstrated how not to walk on top of this by repeatedly slipping and sliding on it.

Although it was clear that some cloud coverage was coming in, it looked like we were going to have a clear view when we reached the top of Slieve Binnian. Having even one decent view between all the clouds is what makes a day out on the hills.

A break at the top of Binnian, a quick chat, some photo’s and then we moved along the ridge, passing the massive granite tor’s and then descending through the clouds to the saddle between Slieve Binnian and Slieve Lamagan, with views of Silent Valley to the left and Blue Lough on the right appearing and disappearing as the clouds sped past.

From the top of Lamagan till we started to descend Beg we were encased in thick cloud, leaving the camera to feel neglected packed away in the OMM chest pouch. Descending to the Brandy pad and following it to the Commedagh Donard saddle we passed more snow havens; six or seven inches of snow sitting either side of the streams that were draining into the valley below.

The Benbo Trekker tripod finally got used at the saddle, with a group photo being taken before we descended by the Glen River. Two kilo’s of tripod carried for one photo? I think I’ll consider the probability of its use a bit more before I carry it with me next time!

Dropping down the Glen River path I could feel the one thousand metres of ascent in my legs, and the soon to be one thousand metres of descent, but we were on the home stretch so it wasn’t too bad, however the tired legs and the ankle breaking path which descends to Donard Park meant a decent amount of concentration was needed.

Eventually arriving in Donard Park we met up with Jonno and Jon, and while everyone set about sorting themselves for the night, Jen and Jon’s girlfriend, Kat, departed to return to “civilisation.”

After sorting out the tent and my feet the rest of the evening was spent chewing the fat over dinner, a bottle of red and one of the fiercest camp fires I’ve seen built.

A mention must be made of Andy and Chris’ dinner of fillet steak, mange tout and baby sweet corn topped with pepper sauce and cooked on a single trangia, followed by steamed pudding and custard, all accompanied by a nice red, it made the rest of our dinners look rather drab to say the least.

Cappuccino and chocolate croissants aren’t a bad way to start any Sunday of the year, however when you're camping its even better and can't be beaten for convenience and taste.

Emerging from the forest, it clearly wasn't going to be as good, weather wise, as yesterday, however the forecast had been for no rain and that would be good enough for me.

Returning up the Glen River path took as much concentration as it had coming down, trying to keep my bonfired and thus dry innov8s out of the puddles while keeping my ankle’s intact. The cool air and strong valley winds made for short breaks to stop cooling down too much.

When we reached the saddle again, we split down into two groups with half of us going across the peaks, while the rest of the group took the Brandy Pad (renamed “granny pad” while climbing up Commedagh) and meeting up at Hare’s Gap.

Just before we parted ways I happened to bump into Aidy who had been my mountain leader while in Peru in summer 2008. He had been out for a quick summit of Donard and was on his way back down when I caught him, small world!

The further we climbed the more frost was on the ground, until eventually we saw tiny icicles which had formed on the grass and then on the dry stone wall. I hadn’t seen anything like it, very cool! When we reached the shelter at the top it was time to throw the buffalo on and get a couple of shots off before starting again.

As we rose and descended across the smaller peaks on Commedagh’s shoulder it was Gareth’s turn to demonstrate how not to cross snow which had melted and refrozen.

Finally we descending to Hare’s Gap, met up with the rest of the group and continued down the boulder field to the Trassey Track. I enjoyed a bit of boulder hopping as we descended until I nearly overshot one, and then decided on a more sensible descent instead.

A packet of Tayto and a bottle of pop from Meelmore Lodge and then it was homeward bound thanks to a lift from Simon (cheers mate!) The sausage and egg soda's getting served up when we left looked pretty tempting, but you can't beat getting home for a nice hot shower!

It was a great couple days in the hills, and I think I can safely say everyone enjoyed themselves. It was great to catch up with some of the guys again and see some new faces, talk about plans for the future and have a night under canvas. I even came away with some usable images once a bit of processing took place.

I still owe myself a couple days of walking over the Mourne's with no one except myself and the camera. I'll just have to see what the weather throws up.

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hopes for the future

Things have been pretty crazy since the turn of the New Year, but I finally have time to actually type up some things ............ which is nice.

Reading other blogs some sort of assessment of the year gone seems appropriate and setting some targets for the new one that is here also seems like a pretty good shout.

The year gone...
Well the highlight has to be walking the Ulster Way, 600 miles over 35 days, with more than half of them walked solo. Having company was a great change to being on my own, but the time spent alone was also time to be savoured. Anybody that hasn't had the chance to spend a continuous amount of time on their own, walking or otherwise, doesn't seem to get how being on your own for so long isn't boring or could even be enjoyable, but it was certainly both. Solo walking makes for a very simple existence; with no need to please anyone else or make compromises on route choice or where and how long to stop or even how far to walk, and as such is very satisfying. I don't think I found myself on the walk but it certainly gave me thinking space and helped put some things into perspective.

My first Mountain Marathon and hitting the 4 highest peaks in Ireland also make it quite high in the highlights of the year. I think the 4 peaks was a bit of a one off but I wouldn't say no to another mountain marathon; its like orienteering on steroids with a camp in the middle, and that's a good thing! Pushing yourself as hard as you can makes for a sense of achievement that's hard to beat, even when you are filthy, sore and tired as a result. It's funny how there's nearly always more gas in the tank if you want something enough, mind over matter and all.

I had a couple of nice overnighters in the Mournes, one of which was spent with the guys from NI Wild which was a nice change of pace from the usual solo ventures. Its good to finally see a NI specific forum out there and that it is actually steadily growing!

The year to come...
Setting out a list of things I want to achieve could be dangerous, I might actually stick to them and achieve something! Clearly more outdoor adventures than last year would be nice, however finding a clean month to spend in a tent might pose problems. I think I'll have to settle with more frequent and shorter duration.

Its easy to get blinkered and return to the same spots again and again, and a bit more exploration of the Mournes will be scheduled in, however I'm hoping to get to a couple other Mountain ranges this year. A couple days around Carrantoohil, Mweelrea and Lughnaquillia will hopefully make it into the calender at some stage, and maybe somewhere on the mainland.

I'll probably regret writing this later, but a marathon of some description will be ran this year, if nothing else writing this will force me into training and stop avoiding it. I think the Belfast Marathon at the start of May followed by the Mourne Way Marathon in the middle of June will be the choices, hopefully my legs will carry me the 26 miles of both.

A return to Mourne Mountain Marathon is a no brainer really, and an entry to one or two on the mainland might also have to be made if my knees can take the punishment, too many choices for punishment!

Taking some inspiration from Ray Jardine's 24 hour trips and Kate's seemingly endless number of overnight bivouacs, I think a couple of simple overnighters might be necesary. A couple of nights shacked up overlooking Belfast from Redburn Forest or Cave Hill sounds like a good plan, as does a few along the Coastline, there is no reason not to.

Hopefully in between trying to be a marathon runner and a mounatain marathon runner I'll have time to run a few more orienteering courses than last year, maybe some of the NI mountain running races and get to a couple of the NI Wild meets.

I made passing comments about getting to walk Lands End to John O'Groats this year, however I'm pretty certain I won't have the 2 months (at the very least) to walk it. 3 months seems like the norm and I don't know if I would want to do it any less, looking back at the Ulster Way a journey of this length is definitely something to savour and not rush. If I was to have the time to go walking for a month, I thing the South West Coastal Path has quite a good chance of seeing me on it.

Realistically if I achieve half of the above I'll be happy, but the main effort will lie with entering running and hopefully finishing the marathons. The SWCP is a long shot but something I would love to have the time to do.

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Monday, 18 January 2010

I know it's a bit late, but..... Happy New Year

A very belated Happy New Year to everyone that stops by here from time to time!
Its great to know someone out there is reading this drivel, and hopefully something you've seen has been useful or entertaining to some degree.

Ulsterwalker is in its eighth month and hopefully I and the blog will still be here next year, I might even get the seasonal greetings out on time!

All the best to all those that are stopping by or passing through.
Go in peace and may peace be upon you.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Abandoned Antarctica: Base W

Some very interesting photo's from Rachel and Kevin Fox's trip to the Antarctic. They had the oportunity to investigate one of the abandoned bases which has been left untouched for over 50 years. To see the rest of the series click here

Taken from the site:
Base W's location was its downfall. The year that the base was built turned out to be a particularly mild year in Antarctica, and the bay was very clear of ice. This however turned out to be atypical for this area. Three years later in 1959 the relief ship John Briscoe arrived at the end of the Summer with the base's supplies for the coming overwintering, and they found the bay completely impassable, filled with icebergs that not only made it impossible to unload, but also presented an urgent danger to the ship even staying in the area. The John Briscoe had to get out of there.

The ship sent word that there was no way to deliver the critical overwintering supplies, and the staff of Base W were given just one hour to pack up, make their way to the Briscoe and abandon the base.

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A day in the park

Well exams are done, and with any luck I won't be doing any more in the near future!

Enjoying my newly found freedom from the daily grind of studying, I had a pretty laxed morning before spending the rest of the day in my local park, Crawfordsburn Country Park. It’s a brilliant wee park, with streams running throughout, a nice waterfall and some of the best beaches in Northern Ireland. It’s also perfect for amateur photographers that are trying out long exposures with the tripod they got for Christmas but haven't had a chance to play with, i.e. me.

Going out after lunch, I ended up witling the rest of the day away; with the return walk talking place in the dark. Getting to grips with the Benbo trekker tripod, which I was warned can be like wrestling with an octopus, and then playing with the aperture and shutter settings was entertaining enough for me to lose 4 hours behind the tripod.

Below are some of the afternoons produce, plenty others on the hard drive, but they might need a bit of editing which I can’t be bothered with at the moment. Hopefully make it as far as the beach next time!

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