Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Wildcamp in the Antrim Hills

I managed to get another over-night wild camp last weekend but if the truth be told I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for the unexpected arrival of the MSR Reactor courtesy of Hendrik. It was a bit rushed even with a weeks notice as we’d been painting at home at the beginning of the week, I was working the end of week shift and I’d already planned something else for Saturday which was my 1st day off. In the end I juggled things around and planned with Marcus to set off on Saturday afternoon around 3.00pm. We arranged for Marcus’s sister to drop us off at Glenariff forest park with the intention of hiking up onto the plateau above Glenariff and setting up camp. We then intended to return to Glenariff on Sunday before continuing on over Trostan and Slieveanorra . From Slieveanorra it would be forest trails decending to the reservoir at Altnahinch where we were to be picked up.

I planned out a route using Quo mapping software and uploaded it to my Garmin Geko late on Friday night and gathered the rest of the kit together. I used the ULA Conduit which I’ve been happy with so far, again I took the Phreeranger with inner tent due to the threat of midges and my sleeping system consisted of the PHD Ultra Minim, full length CCF mat and the PHD Ultra Down vest as insurance. We’d had almost constant rain all week but with the forecast for Saturday/Sunday looking promising I once again took my Trespass Pack-Away Overtrousers and Marmot Essence Jacket. The plateau is really wet and boggy, the last time we’d been there was in December when it wasn’t too bad as the wetter areas were frozen, as then I decided on trail shoes, lightweight Karrimor Pro Run and Trekmates
Amphibian Gore-Tex socks. I had intended wearing a pair of ME Ibex softshell trousers but when Saturday dawned to bright sunshine and blue skies I opted for a pair of Columbia Omni trousers which are light and dry rapidly In the rush I couldn’t find my short sleeve Helly Hansen t -shirt so had to go with a long sleeve Sub Zero F1.

Day 1

The plan was to make a 10.5km hike to Knockore (WPT16) leaving from the roadside at the forest park (WPT001) and skirting the various loughs before crossing the stream near Lough fine (WPT011) where we intended to fill our water containers. The route was chosen to avoid the worst of the wet areas but to be honest the whole area is pretty wet.

We didn’t leave until 3.30pm and it was almost 4.00pm before we set off. It was very warm but we didn’t rush and I didn’t start the GPS until we left the park boundry at (WPT007)
We stopped briefly on the shoulder of Crockravar but didn’t stop for long due to midges, which unfortunately was an indication of things to come. As ever we didn’t follow the route exactly as we altered course here and there to avoid the really wet parts. We made steady progress in spite of the mixed terrain of heather and long grass and soon arrived at the stream (WPT011). We had stopped here in December to fill up on water prior to setting up camp on the side of a small rise about 200m NNE.

Surprisingly midges weren’t a problem and we sat around for about 10 minutes before setting off again, crossing a stile and continuing past our previous campsite and following the higher ground past Loughnacally towards Craigatinnel (WPT014) with it’s large cairn known as Turnlys seat. The top of Craigatinnel is reasonably flat with large flat rocky areas so as it was already after 6.00pm and I was getting hungry we decided to set up camp. The view was spectacular with the Irish sea just a few miles to the East and Scotland and the Galloway Hills in the distance . To the North West lay the Mull of Kintyre and to the North Islay and Jura with the Paps of Jura just visible through the haze. Our destination for the following day could be seen with Trostan on the other side of Glenariff and the summit of Slieveanora with it’s radio masts visible beyond, both to the North West , looking westwards the Glenariff mountain plateau stretched out , featureless save for a few of the loughs that remained unhidden and a few of the more prominent high points.

What should have been a perfect spot to sit around cooking a leisurely meal before watching the sun slip behind the hills was almost instantly turned into a trial by swarms of mountain midges. I seemed to be the choice target as although I’d applied some ‘Jungle Formula Family’ insect repellent which kept them from biting the sleeves and back of my t-shirt were covered in them. Marcus wasn’t receiving the same attention which was fortunate as he usually comes up in spots if bitten. Of course midges are annoying even if they aren’t biting so we both ended up wearing headnets and I even started wearing my waterproof jacket to keep them from getting through my t-shirt.

The actual purpose of the trip was of course to test the MSR Reactor and I’d brought along a part used 100g cartridge but Marcus who had intended using his meths stove realised that he’d forgotten to bring fuel. We weren’t too concerned as I was confidant having been testing the Reactor at home that we would have plenty of fuel. The MSR rapidly provided us with enough water and although eating was a fairly rushed affair it was welcome.

We found that walking around reduced the midge problem and as the temperature fell and a slight breeze got up the midges disappeared. I started to feel cold and pulled on the PHD Ultra Down vest and we sat around and were treated to a constantly changing display of colours as the sun finally slipped behind Trostan. A blanket of cloud draped itself over the hills on the coast and from our camp it looked lie a covering of snow. We eventually turned in at about 10.30pm and as I’d been on the go since 7.30am I soon fell asleep. I’d taken the PHD Ultra Minim but fell asleep still wearing the down vest and baselayer top. I wakened around 12.00am ate a chocolate bar and drifted back to sleep.

Day 2. Part 1

I wakened suddenly and instantly felt the heat of the sun, a quick check of my watch, it was 7.30am. I lay for a minute or two slowly coming back to life before the call of nature had me dressed and putting dry feet into wet shoes. It was pleasant just walking around, there was a slight breeze and the midges weren’t around and I took a few photos before Marcus’s head appeared from the porch of the Hike Lite.

With 27km ahead of us and not wanting to tempt either fate or midges we quickly set up our kitchen on a flat rock and fired up the MSR. In no time at all breakfast was being eaten and in good time as the breeze had disappeared to be replaced by the midges, no doubt hoping to have breakfast at my expense. Once again insect repellent was applied and headnets worn as the midges were really swarming as we packed our rucksacks. They were so bad that we didn’t remove our fleece tops until we were under way and then it was a case of getting the job done as quickly as possible.

Our intended route should have taken us back to the forest park by the shortest, straightest route but a desire to stay as high as possible and a need to replenish our water supplies meant that we deviated from the intended route. We kept going at a fairly steady and soon reached Lough Natullig where we were able to fill up with water which was filtered using an Aquagear filter bottle. Surprisingly the midges weren’t a problem so we were able to take our time before setting off again. We continued towards Crockravar but on a more northerly route than the previous day, the terrain was mixture of stony areas, peat bogs, heather and marsh, typical Antrim hills variety

It wasn’t long before we were back at the forest park where we hoped to have a rest and a snack at the coffee shop and it wasn’t until were almost at the visitor center that we met the 1st people we’d seen since leaving the park the previous day.

We spent more time than we’d intended at the picnic area but the weather was great and I treated myself to a carton of Orange juice, crisps and an ice cream with a chocolate bar stashed for later. We emptied out our water bottles and replaced the peat coloured water with cold clear water and set off on tarmac to start the next leg.

Day 2 Part 2

We soon left the park again and continued on a forest trail for a bit before crossing another road and entering the forest that covers the lower slopes of Trostan. The pace had been steady so when we reached the Essathohan waterfall we decided to stop for a few minutes before setting off up the south side of Trostan. I hadn’t been here since January when I came up with my XC Skis and I noticed that a few trees had fallen since then.

Once out of the forest we headed straight for the eastern side of Trostan but hadn’t gone far when something caught my eye. Unbelievably it was the remains of an old car. There wasn’t much left and clearly it had been there for a long time but although I’d passed it before, probably as close as 100m I’d never noticed it. The engine appeared to be missing, not that the presence of an engine would make getting a car into that position any easier as there’s nothing but soft peaty ground all around. It must have been a pretty large car as it had disc brakes at the front which would be unusual for a car of that age, it looked like at late 1960’s early 1970’s model. There was nothing to indicate what it was but I took a photograph of the front wing which might aid identification later. What really surprised me was the condition of the chrome on parts of the trim and the rear lights, it was as good as new so I guess they must have known something about chrome plating back then that has since been forgotten.

We continued up winding our way through the peat hags and although we had seen a car parked at the roadside we still hadn’t seen anyone on the hill. Before long we turned westwards and soon the summit cairn came into view where we met a couple with a young child. We stopped to chat but soon instead of midges we were faced with flying ants. I took responsibility for attracting them and moved off to set up the stove for what was to be our last stop of the day. As time was running out we’d decided not to take in Slieveanorra but simply to take the shorter route continuing along the forest track through Slieveanorra forest back to out pick-up point.

After a cup of soup and a coffee we packed up and started down the way marked trail towards the road. This was without a doubt the most unpleasant part as it was really muddy due to it being part of both the Ulster Way and the Moyle way. It was just a case of getting on with it as was just past 3.00pm and Marcus had already phoned to arrange the pick-up for 4.00pm. Once we reached the road we followed it for about 500m before entering Slieveanorra forest and the final few kilometres of forest trail to the reservoir at Altnahinch.

While it made a change to walk on dry firm trails the flying ants were a problem from time to time if only as they prevented us from stopping. We soon rounded the final corner and saw the gate a few hundred meters away, it was almost 4.00pm but we climbed the gate and set off down the final stretch of road and had only just reached the car park when Rosemary arrived, timed to perfection. A final photo was taken, packs placed in the car and we were on our way home.

It was a good outing even though we had to shorten it, the MSR Reactor proved to be extremely efficient if heavy. The midge problem was dealt with although I’d like a head net that worked better with a bush hat so that’s on the list of gear to get. I was glad I’d taken the inner tent even if it did mean carrying the extra 200g or so over the bivvy bag. The trail shoes were fine once again but unfortunately I think one of my Gore-Tex socks is leaking, wet feet wasn’t the problem as such although it rules out using my shoes in winter. The problem was that my wet sock must have creased up in the hollow between my big toe and the ball of my foot and was just starting to cause a blister. It didn’t matter as it only became noticeable on the last few hundred meters but if it had occurred sooner it might have been a problem. It’s something to consider now as we intend to have a weekend trip to the Cairngorms the last weekend in September/start October.


  1. Sounds like a nice weekender with some rather good photography as usual Mac. Didn't realise that midges were such a problem in Ireland - thought it was pretty much restricted to Scotland - not sure why I thought that, but it's very much spoken of in relation to Scotland. The headnets seem interesting - how much do they weigh? Great hat by the way? What is it? presumably you've seen my new Tilley TH5 hemp fellow - really liked that when it rained in the Carneddau.

    I wish you'd stop supporting the Reactor - it's getting far too tempting for me now! Thing is, yes, it's heavy, but it's going to get you some hot water boiled quickly and in almost all conditions. That's good to know if you're freezing your arse off 1000m up and the snow is coming down outside. Also, you could easily, and safely, do in the porch of even the Fly Creek whereas with other stoves and other cooksystems, you might not. That said, I've been considering the Caldera Cone and that could be used in the porch of my Fly Creek, now I think about it. Another argument in favour of it. That damned caddy is heavy though.

    Anyway, good see you out again and looking forward to the Cairngorms in October - what are you taking?

  2. I enjoyed reading your walk. Apart from the midge. Little B's.
    I think the stove is a bit heavy and bulky for me but it's nice to try stuff out for free.
    Try before you buy and all that.

  3. Thanks Maz, yeah the Irish midges are just as bad, but remember I live closer to Scotland than Belfast and Belfast is only 45 or so miles away =:-
    The hat is a Technicals from Blacks, not as nice as a Tilley though. The headnet is by Highlander, bought in Glen Nevis campsite IIRC. It's 33g in the pouch, 29g on it's own.

    The Reactor, LOL, it is good what can I say but I'm still resisting as I've used the meths burner camping in December and I don't get long enough trips to really benefit from the effiency but........ damn it is good.

    Still not 100% on gear for the Gorms but definates are, ULA Conduit, PHD Ultra Minim, Phreeranger with inner, Meths set-up, Aquaguard In-Line filter. Probables are 8mm Full CCF mat, PHD Ultra Vest, Marmot Essence and Trespass overtrousers and the Karrimnor Pro Run trainers. The alternatives to those would be full 3mm CCF&3/4 self Inflate, ME Xero Duvet jacket, Montane Venture, Trespass Full zip overtrouses and AKU Croda boots.

    Alan the midges are pretty annoying. The Reacator is heavy (relatively speaking) but if you want a performance gas option it's the best choice IMO. If they made one sized for 100g cartridges and lost a bit of weight it would be difficult to beat. It was nice to be able to try without actually buying it but the downside is having to send it back :-)

  4. I use the in-line filter and love it. Nice piece of kit that. Interesting to see you use a CCF mat - the Z-Lite does not fit the back-system for the Gorilla so I may need to get the butcher's knife out again for the edges but I am intrigued by how comfortable it feels on a very hard, wooden floor! Next hike...

  5. I've been using a CCF mat again since last year, not all the time of course. Sometimes I used a full Multimat Adventure Light SF in colder weather but as I now need a back pad for the Conduit I use the 3mm CCF mat folded up with a piece of 8mm glued on the bottom which combined with the 3/4 self inflate gives me plenty of insulation.

    I find the CCF mat comfortable enough on grass and even the last camp at the Causeway coast it was a thin layer of grass on stones but after moving one pointy stone it was fine. That said I kind of sleep on my side or stomach which probably helps. For packing rather than folding it I roll it into a wide cylinder, place it in the Conduit and pack everything else down the inside.

  6. Amazingly fast and efficient stove you tested. Nice photos and shame the midges were out. Have a good trip in the Cairngorms.

  7. Hi Martin, yeah good stove if you prefer gas and make longer trips. The last time I used gas was January when I wanted to melt snow rather than carry water, prior to that it was way back in December 08 but the Reactor almost persuaded me.

    I'm really looking forward to the Cairngorms even though it's only a weekend as I didn't think I'd make it over at all this year due to other commitments. Fingers crossed that it's a good one.

  8. I've managed to completely avoid midgies this year, not quite sure how I managed it. Have a great time in the 'gorms :)

  9. Great photos, Richard - though now I feel a bit responsible for you going backpacking with all those midges :D

  10. Fraser - just the way it goes sometimes but regardless it was enjoyable.

    Hendrik - it was worth every bite ;-)

  11. I'm one of the couple with the child from the top of Trostan and i concur the flying ants were lethal. Not sure it was your fault just wrong place at the wrong time eh. Anyway enjoyed reading bits if your blog, keep it up. Perhaps our paths will cross again on the trail

  12. Hi, thanks for checking out the blog and for your comment.

    The track back down Trostan was a bit muddy wasn't it :-)

    Hopefully we'll meet again sometime.

    Best, Richard