|Date: 13th June 2009
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
Billy Cross, a colleague of PJ's, wanted a wee dander round the Mournes and a few of us agreed to tag along and act as chaperones. Sure it would fit in with the alpine training. As it turned out on the day yer man never showed and that just left the team of George, PJ, Sandra, Mike and myself to leg the hills. We had a second team electing to do just Donard consisting of Sean, Helen, John and Furps (Paul to his Mum). Milo was on baby-sitting duties at the Meelmore campsite.
We were a bit unsure of weather, especially since Fri night had the oddest cloud formation boiling and swirling around the peaks but it had fairly burned away by the time we set off up the flank of Meelmore at 8:40am. George set a fast pace and we gained 140m in under 10 minutes before there was a call to drop it a gear or 2, puleeze! Once the steep flank was out of the way though it continued easier to the top and a brief rest was all that was needed before we set off for Meelbeg. At 708m "beg" is actually higher than "more" at 704m. It was while working this out that it dawned on me why the route is called the "7 7s" - 7 mountains over 700m. Duh!
From Meelbeg there's a bit of navigation required and George climbed the wall for a better view while the rest of us sniggered below and adopted a "We're not worthy" pose. We eventually worked out you skirt left of Doan, progress roughly SSE through Silent Valley and then contour the right side of Ben Crom round to the dam at the end of the reservoir. The rain had held off so Silent Valley wasn't the bog trot it could have been and it was actually great fun leaping around the turfy mounds.
We contoured a little high but it gave us some stunning views to the reservoir as we descended. On the dam we stopped for a bite to eat, Mike pulling out a "power of the pig" sandwich that must have contained half a pound of bacon, never mind the salami and other sundries. Looking over the dam's edge we mused about a possible secretive Xmas 2009 abseil here, in a Milk Tray or Mission Impossible "face-first" stylee. There aren't too many anchor points though the the dam buttress itself is a natural choice. Either that or dangle a fat boy over the opposite side for ballast. Any volunteers Keith?
From the dam there's a steep walk left up to the col between Biannian and Lamagan. We dropped the packs and prepped for the scoot up Biannian's 747m. The weather couldn't make up it's mind: it was roasting when the sun peeked out, it was chilly when it hid and quite breezy on the exposed sections so the top layers were on and off constantly.
Biannian is a great mountain to climb, full of diverse rock formations, and the ignorant will think that the first tor is the peak but you must traverse the ridge to gain the higher peak on the south side. George and I bouldered a bit at the north end waiting on the other 3 and then took off at a run to the south, some bobble-hatted lump muttering "Fell runners, pah!" as we shot past. Mike was quick to catch us up and we 3 waited at the peak in swirling cloud. The girls appeared shortly through a door-wide gap in the rocks, looking for all the world like Stars In Their Eyes contestants. "Tonight Matthew we're gonna be..."
Back down on the col we picked up the packs and powered up on grub for the assault on the 704m rounded lump of Lamagan. A packing error meant I was wearing crappy white sports socks and the oul feet were taking more abuse than necessary. Sandra was starting to get it a little tight and indeed had been feeling the strain almost from the first peak, blaming months of study and no play. But we soldiered on to our 4th peak and I found that the legs were still more than up to the job, the day on the Glover having done some good. The laughing conversation from earlier in the day had just about ended though.
From Lamagan's peak you head NW aiming for the saddle between Commedagh and Donard. The only issue is the two 600m peaks in between, Cove and Slieve Beg. The latter we forgot even existed until we'd dropped off Cove and realised there was a "slight rise" before we could gain the Brandy Pad!
Team 2 meanwhile had started up Donard the hard way, from the carpark in town, up through the wood and the steep, steep trudge to the saddle. They'd set off as we topped Meelmore, so it was a matter of pride to try and meet them on the top, having done 5 peaks in between. We took another brief reston the saddle, out of the wind behind the wall and then started off. I'd wondered whether this would finally be the peak that would burn me out but I found a nice (slow) rhythm and plodded upward, stopping only when I heard Sean and Furps shout from above. Bah! They'd gained the top and were on their way down, looking utterly exhausted though. A quare difference between starting at sea level and climbing Donard's 850m, than Errigal's 795m where you start a few 100m up already. Helen and John were behind them and I had to proffer some of my wine gums to boost their flagging (and blistering) spirits.
Despite the aching legs we 5 were at the peak in what seemed like no time at all and we were slightly amazed at how straight forward Donard had been. It really helped that the lower section has now been totally paved so that it was just a matter of ploughing up the steps, rather than negotiating the slippy, eroding mess it used to be. Even the hordes of day-trippers had the nous to get out of the way of the ascenders so that the rhythm was hardly broken. Stopping and trying to get started again was the hardest part.
Descending to the saddle to start Commedagh PJ joked that we should run down Donard and see how far the momentum would take us up Commedagh. The answer was not far! Descents were really taking it out the knees now and the push up Donard had taken something out of me. Rising over the first hump it was dismaying to see the second hump rise way above me but the beautiful views down into Newcastle raised the spirits somewhat. To summit properly we dropped the packs at the wall and sauntered over the short few metres to the cairn, Sandra posing for a very (f) arty shot for the camera. I complained about my throbbing knees, and George mentioned "walker's bulge" which got the double-entendre-tuned ears a-tingling.
We trundled over the remainder of Commedagh, dropping down to the Brandy Pad and over to the final super-vertical peak of Slieve Bearnagh. I'd have paid good money for a chairlift by this point but we were all buoyed by the fact it was the last one. Sandra declared that it was OK if we all powered on home as she'd get there eventually and I kindly offered her my bivvy bag just in case she ended up be-nighted. All I got was a middle finger in return. How rude!
Now Bearnagh is a preciptitous bugger all right but, like Donard, I found that getting a rhythm going was the best bet. Just keep moving and don't look up! As Fiennesy would say "Just pretend you're never going to get there, you'll be trudging for eternity". Well eternity was about 20 mins until the changing shadows told me I was near the top. I looked up and spotted George cheating off to the left, contouring round the 1st tor and decided to follow him. Mike did it proper though, went to the 1st top and still made the 2nd top before me.
Like Binnian the rock formations up there are incredible and it was great fun to scramble up to the very top, almost losing the hat in stiff wind. The girls weren't far behind and we took plenty of photos and handed out congrats all round, before making the loose descent to the Trassey track. George powered on home ahead of us, obviously he'd been lying when he'd declared earlier that he wasn't fit. Mike wasn't far behind him but PJ, Sandra and I decided on a more leisurely return to camp, getting in at 7pm. So just over 10 hours from start to finish.
Round the campfire that night things were very subdued - both Teams 1 & 2 were bone tired - and we were all in bed by 12:30am, a shockingly early time for the normally boisterous rabble rousers. Even the relatively short walk in to Pigeon on Sunday morning was met with groans so we wimped out and limped home.
15 Jun 2009
Whao! What a club!