Saturday, 20 February 2010

Mournes Once Again

I was back in the Mournes again yesterday, 3rd time ever, 2nd this month, I think I'm addicted. I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go this time and had a few potential routes made out using Quo mapping software, now updated with grid lines which means that maps printed off can be used with a compass and a new 1/25,000 scale OS Ni map of the area.

I had some new gear to try out, a Montane Dynamo soft shell jacket that I was given by 'Parky Again' from the Outdoors Magic forum and a pair of Mountain Equipment G2 Lite soft shell gloves that I'd bought in the hope that they'd provide the same degree of dexterity as fleece gloves but with a bit of added water resistance.

I had been using an ME Ultrafleece jacket with a Montane Jetstream windshirt when required but didn't take a windshirt this time. Again I wore a Trekmates Bamboo baselayer set and a North Cape Rhovyl zip neck top and ME Ibex trousers. Footwear consisted of AKU Croda boots, Trekmates Stretch Gore-Tex gaiters and Horizon Merino socks. I also took a Montane Flux as extra insulation and wet gear was a Marmot Essence jacket and Trespass Pack-Away Trestex over trousers. The ME G2 lite gloves and a North Cape fleece beanie dealt with the extremities

I used a 25L Alpkit Gourdon, one of the early type with side mesh pockets and a shock cord on the back. I like the Gourdon, it's got a roll top and is just big enough for day trips although I'm going to make a pocket to fit the waist belt to keep trail food and bits and pieces.

The rest of my gear was made up of my Beer can/Cone cooking system, Aquagear filter bottle and as it had been snowing the night before I took my Micro spike trekking crampons for a 1st try out.

I wanted to set off a bit earlier than the last time and arranged to pick Marcus up at 8.30. There was a little snow when we set off but the roads were clear and by the time we reached Belfast there was no snow at all. As we neared Newcastle we saw that there was some snow on the Mournes but the cloud base was low obscuring even the lowest tops. We were parked up at Meelmore lodge and ready to set off by 10.30.

The proposed route was to take us directly up Spellack before heading roughly west to Slieve Meelmore. I've heard about the seven sevens, which are supposed to be the 7 summits over 700m, now whether the newer maps have been updated or whether there's another explanation I don't know but I can only find 6 mountains over 700m, Slieve Meelmore is just a bit lower so I'm guessing that it may have previously been thought to be over 700m. From Slieve Meelmore we intended to make for Slieve Meelbeg then turn south to Ben Crom and from there turn north east to reach the final summit of the day, Slieve Bearnagh with it's twin tops. A final descent to the Hares gap and from there the Trassey track would take us back to Meelmore Lodge, in fact from the summit of Slieve Bearnagh the route would be the same as our route from the previous visit.

The climb directly up Spellack was pretty tough coming as soon as it did after leaving the car, by the time we reached the small cairn visibility was down to 50m or thereabouts and the hoped for view across the Mournes didn't happen.

I decided to try the Micro Spike crampons and found them very easy to fit and very comfortable to wear. I didn't really notice much difference in grip at that stage. The Shelter on the Summit of Meelmore soon appeared through the mist and we stopped for a breather and I gave Marcus the Micro Spikes to try.

After having used them on the way up I really noticed not having them on the descent to the saddle between Meelmore and Meelbeg. Still shrouded in mist Slieve Meelbeg came and went and it was only when we had descended to the saddle between Meelbeg and Slieve Loughshannagh that visibility began to improve.

With the next waypoint selected on the Garmin Geko we set off for Ben Crom which rises gently before falling away steeply to the south down to the Ben Crom reservoir. We had only gone a short distance before the mist began to clear and the mountains that had been hidden made fleeting appearances. The cloud gradually cleared and we were treated to fantastic views of Doan, a nicely shaped hill, much nicer than our destination Ben Crom, and across the valley holding the Ben Crom reservoir to Slieve Binnian and Slieve Lamagan.

We changed direction again and made for Ben Crom across terrain that is more like the Antrim hills with mossy ground and peat banks but we soon found a trail winding through the peat banks and as the ground started to rise it was soon harder underfoot. The sun was shining by now and most of mountains were clearly visible with only the higher tops still capped with cloud.

The views from Ben Crom were fantastic, across the reservoir far below was the Annalong valley running north/south and flanked by Binnian and Lamagan, Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard, the big 2 could be seen to the east/south east and behind us to the north were Meelmore, Meelbeg and the final top of our planned route, Slieve Bearnagh.

Leaving Ben Crom for Slieve Bearnagh meant tramping through more peat banks but once we started to gain height onto the lower ridge of Bearnagh the going improved. I was starting to get hungry and we decided to try to find a sheltered spot but ended up on an exposed stony area which although it made a nice spot to set up the stoves didn't offer much in the way of shelter.

I decide to pull on my Montane Flux and with an eye on the dark clouds moving in also pulled on my Marmot Essence. We had only just got the stoves set up when we were hit with a snow/hail shower which lasted almost until we were ready to set off again and by the time I had packed up and removed the Flux jacket my hands were numb, the soft shell gloves having failed on both counts, warm and water resistance.

We started up the progressively steeper slope to the top of Slieve Bearnagh and my hands started to feel painful as they heated up but after about 10 minutes, by which time we'd reached the final summit rocks they were fine.

There was a stiff breeze blowing up from the west side of the summit ridge and quite a bit of spindrift blowing around but without any warning the cloud lifted again, the sun broke through and we were treated to spectacular views in every direction with fantastic cloud formations and the snow covered Mournes virtually clear.

The views were an extra bonus and much more than we could have hoped for when we started out and especially welcome on the final hill of the day. We were sheltered from the breeze as soon as we set off down the ridge towards the secondary North Tor of Slieve Bearnagh and the camera was in constant use.

We soon reached the final descent to the Hares gap but although it had been icy I hadn't worn the Micro spikes as Marcus didn't have any and I didn't want to lead him into icy areas where he'd have no grip. We decided to wear one crampon each after Marcus slipped on a snow covered rock and while one crampon isn't as good a 2 it made a significant difference and we were very soon at the hares Gap with only the final walk out on the Trassey Track to reach the car.

Of the gear that was being used for the 1st time the micro spikes earned their keep but unfortunately for Marcus the seller I bought mine off hasn't any listed at present. The only problem I had was that they tended to ball up were the snow was wet.

The Montane soft shell jacket worked really well, much better than I expected, it doesn't insulate as well as my Ultrafleec jacket but I didn't need a windshirt, even if I had the Marmot Essence would have worked as it was completely dry inside when we reached the car so it must be breathable enough which is strange as my Montane Jetstream while not strictly speaking waterproof is less breathable.

As before the bamboo baselayer and North Cape Rhovyl zip neck worked fantastically, so well in fact that I'm going to order another bamboo top and North Cape zip neck.

The cooking system is better than last time as I'm now using a taller cone windshield, the 3mm closed cell cozies work as well if not better than alu bubble wrap while being lighter and the beer can pot and mug are super light.

The only gear that failed to live up to expectations were the ME G2 lite gloves, unfortunately they aren't significantly (if at all) more water resistant than my fleece gloves but don't provide as much insulation, I'd still need shell gloves if it's wet which makes them pointless in my view.

I don't know when I'll get out again but I'd like to have a wild camp in the Mournes soon, in the meantime I'm in the process of making some anti-balling plates for the crampons and I may need to make a waist belt pocket for the Alpkit Gourdon unless I get a new rucksack before then. A new rucksack is on the cards, I have one in mind which should have enough capacity for year round overnight camps or longer duration summer trips but be about half the weight of the Haglofs LIM 45, about the same weight as the Alpkit Gourdon as it happens. The LIM 45 will still be my general heavier/bulkier load carrier and if I really need to load up I'll use the Gregory Z55


  1. Fantastic photos and good snow cover still. They look very good hills to visit.

  2. Thanks Martin, the weather made the photos possible.

    I think the snow was fresh from earlier in the week as there was nothing much last time we were down apart from a bit lying behind the Mourne wall.

    They are good wee hills, a bit squashed into a small area but no complaints as they're only 2 hours away :-)

  3. Looked like an excellent walk Richard.
    The tors remind me of the summit plataeu of Ben Avon in the Cairngorms. I'll have to get over there sometime.
    Mike fae Dundee.

  4. Thats pretty much what it reminds me of Mike, you'd think I'd be saying the Cairngorms remind me of the Mournes not the other way around but I've been in the Cairngorms more often, strange.

    If you're thinking of coming over for a few days sometime let me know.

  5. Brilliant photos, it looks amazing. I'm jealous :(

  6. Excellent photos, it looks amazing. I'm jealous :(

  7. Nice report. Beautiful hills. Accomplished photos. Thanks for sharing.

  8. The best walks are usually those which start off with bad weather and zero views in the morning but then turn into spectacular crystal clear afternoons, i love it when that happens and thats why i never worry when i arrive at the hills in such conditions. Are you based in Antrim?

  9. Hi Stuart, definitely agree with you there, we were lucky as we had plenty of variety :-)

    I'm based in North Antrim.

  10. Looks like cracking conditions and a great day out, this has got me in the mood for a trip next week...

  11. They are definately great looking hills, lucky to have them almost on your doorstep.