Well it’s been Easter break here and we’ve enjoyed some unseasonably good weather here in Ireland for Spring. This basically translates as that the sun made an appearance and it was mostly dry. Clearly the end of the world is nigh. I was mostly studying for it though I did go up to Galway for a night on the piss (an experience I highly recommend, what an amazing city!). But with the expedition looming, we figured a few of us might pal up together and do something long and painful on the mountaineering front to see how all our training was progressing.
Naturally I’d have happily gone to Kerry or Cork but instead we decided to venture northwards, to a place yours truly has never been to, the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. This of course necessitated a bit of a road trip which is a bit of a novelty in Ireland I guess seeing as you can get from one end of the country to the other in about six hours. Us being in the south-west, it’d be a bit of a wee trek.
Mind you, the scenery did get better.
And since we were meeting another mate in Monaghan, we had to drive through the Midlands. *Shudder*. I should explain, Ireland is a bit like a saucer, all the elevated land and mountains are on the edges, the interior is mostly flat, arable land. There really isn’t anything there….a good indication of this would that be every city in Ireland, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Belfast, Derry, they’re all on the coast. Even Limerick is on an estuary. The middle is just flat which drives me a bit mental since I’m used to plenty of hills and the coast. I nightly thank the gods I was raised in Kerry! Mind you it was interesting driving through the heartland of Ireland through towns yyou’d never go to, featuring names like Nenagh, Birr, Tullamore, Blue Ball, Ardee, Mullingar, Trim, Navan. I think that’s my fix for a few years! It was a relief to see hills once we made it to Monaghan!
Right enough of Ferg’s rants on the world, here’s what we had planned to do.
The blue line indicates the Mourne Wall route, built in the 1800s to mark out the water catchment area for the reservoir. It’s a drystone wall and follows the exterior of the range. Which is about 22 miles or 35km in metric. Sounds alright doesn’t it? To be honest….the real issue is this.
There’s about 2,677m of ascent. Whether going up or down…..it’s steep.
So having picked up Jerome in Monaghan, the six of us ventured along the Armagh border, striving to aim north for Newry and then Warrenpoint. We stopped off in a delightful Sainsbury’s to buy supplies. Mine consisted of some beans, sasuages, mars bars and chorizo, truly the fuel of champions!
We drove along the Mournes, getting our first look at the peaks. We’d decided to ditch the vehicles north of Annalong, march in 4-5k and then camp for the night. It was already getting dark so we were getting a bit edgy. Naturally we stopped off in a chipper in Kilkeel to cram our faces one last time with slop and grease, it tasted good.
The hike in was alright, albeit with heavy bags. It was along the cheerfully named Bloody Bridge River but about halfway up we had to bring out the headtorches. The night was fairly crisp and the stars were all out, it was a sight I haven’t seen in a long time. Being the hard man I was, I decided to bivvi out with Tomás and Davis rather than get a tent like the other three. Having only some vestigial supermarket sleeping bag with me, I bundled up in layers and curled up, hoping for the best.
Always fun setting up at night.
I slept. But in dribs and drabs. I’d probably picked the worst spot in the entire bog but between the wind, bright moon and sounds of birdcalls, I was grateful for anything. A bit stiff and sore, I moved slower than a zombie when the first rays of sun hit us. It was a bit surreal to wake up with frost and ice on my sleeping bag and groundmat. Everyone seemed to feel the same but we felt cheery knowing we had less than 400m to climb to our first (and highest!) peak of the day, Slieve Donard just to our north.
Me resembling the Michelin Man at the far left. It was bright but the sun didn’t have any heat in it for at least an hour.
Leaving at 0822, we fair motored up Donard. Everyone was in good spirits, reasonably refreshed and psyched to tackle the Wall. But fecking hell, it was bloody steep! I remember faintly thinking “they won’t all be like this will they?” but wasn’t too bothered about it at the time.
The view from Donard. North and West.
It was a remarkably steep descent once we’d stopped our mandatory sightseeing on Donard. We sort of glumly stared across at Slieve Commedagh while we trudged downwards but spirits were still high. The sun was picking up too so we pressed on, summit-ting without incident. True to the peak-bagger spirit, we ditched our packs and jogged northwards to stand astride Shan Slieve, bonus peak!
The author, Jerome and Tomás posing for our debut album cover, Finger Banger. Shit Indie bands ftw!
The routine started becoming fairly constant from then on in. Steep ascents, followed by steep descents. It was a bit demoralizing when we appeared to be gaining very little ground, just constantly losing or gaining height. The Wall was unforgiving, it just kept going on and on up slopes, irregardless of the aspect, topping out on every summit. And we traipsed along with it.
The landscape does sort of make up for it though.
Slieve Bernagh was our first real heavy hitter. Only about 5km as the crow flies from Slieve Donard, it was unmerciful as we slogged up it. Needless to say, we plonked down for lunch there!
Even high performance athletes need a break at times.
The descent was unmerciful and here we reached a conflict of interests. Not one but two walls stretched before us! Being pragmatic and observing the saddle to the left, I decided to take the inner wall while my poor blighted companions took the outer one. This would be the subject of much strenuous debate and discussion later on as it’s maintained I didn’t follow the wall.
Whatever. I got a nice five minute break, ditched the rucksack and strolled up to meet them at the peak, fresh as a daisy. My pride will weather the storm!
We had an amusing little interlude passing seven stalwart scouts who were trudging up a slope that we descended. Compasses and sleeping bags swinging off their rucksacks, they looked about as bad as we felt. Although mildly curious whether they’d make it out alive, we decided to let nature take its course.
It was amazing how many people we actually met along the route, people in the North seem much more proactive about going out on the hills and enjoying themselves for free. Back home I consider it a bit of a novelty to meet more than the odd solitary hillwalker or rambler.
Heavy load. But not as heavy as the heart that looked up at each slope!
We slept in a bog below Eagle Mountain or something to that effect. We were still high above the reservoir and a little park. I was bopping around like the Energiser Bunny thanks to some boiled sweets that had let me motor up the last slope. With no shelter and the ground being damp all over, we abandoned the hard man routine and decided to camp with our compatriots this time. Layered up, the six of us enjoyed the sunset and chattered like monkeys while munching on our dinner. Once the sun went, any warmth was gone too, not a cloud was in the sky.
The little stone bivvi we found on the first day!
Bed was nice, even though I’d committed the mortal sin of drinking too much water so I kept nipping out to the jacks every couple of hours it seemed. It was nice to be warm though. And waking up stiff and sore, my morale went through the roof after a pot of beans and chorizo (minus the ones I spilt on the grass. Grrr). We left later but without much incident descended into the park. Finding some public toilets open was a heavensent gift, we took it joyously. Ten minutes later and quite a bit lighter, we resumed our trek uphill for the last big summit of the day. Slieve Binnian was eyeing us malevolently but really all you could do was try to ignore its baleful stare and trudge on. Summit one was crossed off fast. Binnian Beag was a bit more troublesome (why oh why do we have to gain height only to lose it?!) and then the big monster itself was up. Though it just seemed to stretch up a good thousand feet or more (vertical from my angle!), give or take half an hour, we had it down!
And glad we were, the omnipresent Irish cloud began to make its appearance and all too soon we had the view snatched from us. Still at least we couldn’t get lost. Just follow the wall! Some more bloody forest, descents and ascents, we walked the last klick or so on fairly level ground back to our original camp below Slieve Donard.
Nice and knackered. Ain’t gonna walk no more!
The walk out on that road was just torture, my semi-rigid boots made my feet feel like they were getting pulverised. Worse were the amount of daywalkers (amateur ramblers, not vampires or redheads!) out to stretch their legs or on their weekend outing with the kids. Yours truly had an interesting moment when he broke his canteen and started spluttering and swearing with half a creche outing in earshot. That and we looked mildly eccentric in all our kit while they went by in trackies and runners. Still, it was great to watch people be genuinely disturbed by our cries of ecstasy at taking our boots off back at the carpark (blister free I might add!). That or the elderly who admired our pluck and incomprehensible southern accents. Also did I mention how much dirty greasy, curry laden chicken and chips taste?
I’d do it again, but not for a long while. And probably to save myself further agony, I’d try for it in one day. I’d bring a headtorch and delight in not having to hump a tent, lots of extra layers, food etc over the hills and far away. But that said, for the expedition to Kilimanjaro and Elbrus, it’s good. I don’t feel ready yet but I do feel encouraged. And do check out the Mourne Mountains, they’re gorgeous!
P.S. Orlagh and Ginge, thank you so much for the photos. At least we’ve something to document a savage couple of days. And its probably also the only reason people read this blog, for the pretty pictures 😉
They’re a good group, can’t wait for Africa and Russia this summer!