I had an opportunity to take a few days off work and spend some time in the mountains. It was also the perfect opportunity to test the newly released Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20. The backpack which I wanted for the Mourne Mountain Marathon only 2 months prior, but at that time it wasn’t available in Europe.
I watched the weather for a few weeks leading up to the expedition and it was looking good. Best to be prepared though, so I packed for the worst conditions and wished for the best. I was not let down. I also packed food for 2 nights.
I decided this was a good opportunity to recce some sections of the Denis Rankin Round (DRR); an epic 90Km challenge covering all peaks over 400 metres in the Mourne Mountains. I have my sights set on this challenge for some point in the future. So with a rough route set in my head and a handful of compass bearings, I set off from Donard Park where the round starts and finishes to tackle Slieve Donard via the ‘Black Stairs’. This is my favourite route up Donard – no tourists, and a nice gnarly climb before you reach open mountain were a compass bearing is required when the clag is thick. The cloud was quite low, drifting in and out until I reach 5-600m, then the cloud was more below me that above!
Having reached the summit I didn’t stop long, heading south towards the next peak, Chimney Rock. I quick traipse through the bog and up to the first crag, then it was a nice run although the ridge, following a compass bearing since this lower peak was immersed in cloud. Touched the cairn and headed off on another bearing to hit a trail which ran parallel to the ridge. From here went to the Mourne wall and followed it to the 3rd peak, Rocky. Mountain. Up, down, and back along the wall to the Brandy Pad, which I then followed over to the next trio of peaks: Begg, Cove & Lamagan.
With the short days I had to keep an eye on my time. I didn’t want to have to do anything too daunting in the darkness of night, and with a new moon, daylight was not on my side.
Lamagan the nicest of the trio in my opinion is a nice rock once you get past the initial waterlogged col between it and Cove. Some folk don’t like it much though. My friend and club-mate Johnny has a fond name for Slieve Lamagan. I think it’s ‘Bastard’. Anyway the views on-top of
Bastard Lamagan are beautiful. It’s located right in the middle of the eastern Mournes with a steep drop to Ben Crom reservoir to one side and a panoramic view of all of the other peaks over 700 metres.
My plan was to cover section 1 of the round in 5ish hours, with the likely camping spot somewhere on the descent to Silent Valley. The col between Binnian and Wee Binnian seemed good enough. I needed water for cooking, so I opted to miss the first tor and climb to the summit after passing Binnian lough, replenishing my supplies as I past a feeder stream.
I reached the summit in dusk and then descended to the Wee Binnian col as it turned to dark. This was pretty tricky, but I kept my head-torch in my pack. Perhaps I should have used it, as my only fall of the trip happened on this descent. I went hip deep into a hole – just one leg mind! I’ve never done that before!
Tent pitched, night layers on, and as I’m about to cook dinner it starts to rain. Now fed and watered it was time to check the map and plan tomorrow’s route.
I woke at first light and looked out to see thick clag everywhere. I had two mountains on either side of me, but this clag was so thick there wasn’t a spooky outline to be seen.
Off I set over the summit of Wee Binnian and down along the Mourne wall by Moolieve and in to Silent Valley. I crossed the dam and began the ascent of Slievenalogh. The clag was clear and the morning sun felt great. The plan for today was to follow section 2 of the round to Ben Crom and then reassess.
Descended Slievenalogh and proceeded along the trail to Loughshannagh before climbing Doan. At this point I spotted a wild Mourne Hare not 15 metres away; the first I’ve ever seen. The hare scarpered on as I wheezed my way up Doan. Once there I could see my line over the Ben Crom. Little did I know the faint track would be marked every so often with collections of stones on top of peat hags. (handy to know).
I reached Ben Crom and with the winter sun in full blaze I decided to make lunch. It was probably at this point that I decided the return route would be via Slieve Bearnagh and the Mourne Wall to Commedagh. That would take a further good 2-3 hours. Lunch consumed and selfies taken, it was time to set a course for Slieve Bearnagh – my favourite mountain in the east.
An easy pace through the bog and a steady climb took me up Bearnagh. The sun and mist combining with the rocky landscape for some spectacular views. As the sun faded I was treated to these views all along the Mourne wall as I traversed along to Slieve Commedagh, where I replenished water supplies at the freshest pipe in Ireland, then set a bearing for the summit and subsequent descent to Shan Slieve, Slievenamaddy, and and Donard Forest.
It was a great adventure and one which I will seek to do again early next year once the guts of winter are behind us. I have the critical sections 3 and 4 to recce, so Dears Meadow will be the starting point for that adventure.
Note to self. Pack dry socks for bed time!