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.