After an extended period of absence from the mountains, I was determined that come hail, rain or shine, I would make this week’s planned trek of Doan, Ben Crom, Slieves Meelmore, Meelbeg and Loughshannagh.
During the days running up to Saturday, the group received regular weather updates and so my motivation was to be truly tested with the forecast “quote Graham” ‘likely to be very wet and blustery…with some thunder forecast around teatime’. By Friday though, conditions swayed to a more favourable outlook of a dry albeit blustery day.
Being a novice of the Mournes, I had planned an earlier arrival than our usual 10.15 meeting time to allow for a brief ‘map session’ just to get my bearings and feel prepared for what was to be our toughest trek to date.
Somehow I thought if I could conquer it mentally, the battle was basically won. Thanks to a wrong turn on the way down however, instead of arriving half an hour early, I bounced into Ott Carpark 15 minutes late. The ever faithful crew had patiently waited and true to form, everyone was in high spirits anticipating what the day had laid in store for each of us.
We took off over the stile along a wet and stony pathway, one that I have become familiar with in recent months. Each member of the group casually caught up with those they hadn’t seen for some time, whilst welcoming a couple of new and friendly faces.
The skies were mostly cloud covered with a hint of blue etching through every now and again, reassuring us that the elements were on our side. As we proceeded past Loughshannagh and a more distant Silent Valley we began our trail towards Doan. The ground was wet and boggy, handsomely christening the new boots and I was instantly reminded of the benefits of investing in quality gear.
Word of advice; put the gaiters on before you leave the carpark.
After a brief stop at the top of a blustery Doan with somewhat foggy views of Silent Valley we allowed everyone to regroup before heading further eastwards to our next stop, Ben Crom.
We trudged through more bog land crossing various streams with caution or kindly aided by a strong and sturdy hand. On arrival at the summit of Ben Crom, winds had fairly picked up however a nearby sheltered spot meant it was time for a pit stop and a refuel.
At this point one regular member discovered he had sadly forgotten to pack his pot noodle. Everyone promptly raided their rucksacks offering shares of their rations but despite our efforts, nothing could satisfy the longing in his heart for a beef and tomato pot noodle!
After asking for a progress report on how well advanced we were on our trail I was somewhat surprised to discover we were not even a third of the way through our planned trek. The deadly 3 were still to be conquered and I’m not sure I was mentally prepared.
It was time for an extra layer, and with gloves on, everyone took to their feet and almost in rank and file style, made way for our toughest ascent of the day, Slieve Meelmore.
The wall would be our friend now until the end, unbeknownst to me aiding me through the highs and lows that were to follow. The 350m climb to Meelmore was not to be laughed at but the usual chitter chatter, jeers and jibes continued as we ascended, keeping spirits high.
I read an article recently which said ‘If the mountains could talk what tale would they tell?’ I thought to myself, if the mountains could talk, they could tell tales on us on any given Trek NI day. One thing I love about Trek NI is that you never know what the day will bring. A moment of friendly jest can quickly turn deep and meaningful; leaving you with food for thought or the feeling you have somehow put a small piece of your world to right.
You see, I believe what makes a great trek is not in the trek per se, but in the rare exchanges that only come from being part of a group such as this. Whether it be a shared anecdote, a moment of laughter or piece of friendly advice; whether it be one of Darren’s rare tales of folklore or a discussion as to who could eat 30 sausages in one go, what makes a trek is not just the path you take, but who you take it with. Today was no exception.
After a quick regrouping at the top of Meelmore, sweetie distribution and clan photo, we were promptly off down the Mourne Wall again before facing our penultimate peak, Slieve Meelbeg.
The group began to disperse as fatigue set in and the climb became more challenging. Our legs cried for mercy and they were entirely justified. Each one had to take it at his or her pace. The jokes were no more; it was mind over matter now.
Although the ascents of Slieves Meelbeg and Loughshannagh were gentle in comparison to the steeper Meelmore, an overall climb of 900m was a feat few of us had faced in recent times and we were feeling it. Arriving at the summit of Slieve Loughshannagh I could see the river path to Ott Carpark in sight.
The final descent was slow and steady and the sense of great achievement was ever increasing. Along with a couple of fellow trekkers we waved goodbye from a distance to our comrades who were still making their way downhill. We found our feet on solid ground again, the mission had been accomplished and we were homeward bound.
Looking back on Slieve Loughshannagh from the river path leading down to our starting point, elated and exhausted at the same time, I heard the mountains speak the words I so desperately wished to hear ‘Well done’!