I had picked my next peak, Slieve Bearnagh. Standing at 739m, it was the third highest mountain in the Mournes. I’d only climbed Hen Mountain and Cock Mountain before but even though they were two of the smallest peaks, added together they were about the same size as Bearnagh, so basically, this would be no problem for an extremely talented mountaineering novice!
I was excited and couldn’t wait for the challenge. Lionel consulted the weather forecast but it was all doom and gloom and gale force winds.
‘Check again,’ I said, five minutes later, hoping that it would change. Weather can do that.
‘It’s still saying 60mph winds on the ridges and summits.’
‘So what day are we going?’ a little bit of wind wasn’t going to deter me.
I was ready to go. I wanted to go. We were going!
I must point out that patience is a virtue I don’t possess.
‘Are you sure you shouldn’t wait?’ Lionel cautioned me.
‘Yes, 100% positive,’ I was uber confident that the windy conditions would not prevent me from continuing on with my ‘Peaks, Polaroids and Prosecco’ challenge and I went to put a bottle of bubbly in fridge.
Tuesday morning was dry, the sun was breaking through the clouds and, in my eyes, perfect mountaineering conditions. We arrived at just after 9 o’clock and there were only a few spaces left in the car park. I was eager to get climbing but first I had to put on my new gaiters.
I had discovered that gaiters didn’t in fact live in the Everglades but on your feet. You wore them over your boots to keep them nice and dry. I zipped them up before stepping out of the car and into howling winds. It will blow over, I told myself as I strapped on my backpack, now filled with all the essentials for a hike.
Despite the hurricane winds we set off for Bearnagh. The path from the car park took us up the Trassey Track. Maybe once upon a time it had been a track but that was before the rock fall that had clearly occurred. I waded through puddles and tramped over stones of all shapes and sizes.
It was tiring and time consuming, as I had to stay focused on where I put my feet. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a young girl bounding over the grass with her two dogs.
‘We should’ve gone that way,’ I said to Lionel, adding, ‘I don’t like stones!’
‘Well, there are a lot of them in the Mournes,’ he pointed out.
I took a moment to scan the surrounding mountains and saw that he was right. Every slope was scattered with them and the path ahead was rocky. There was no escaping granite on this climb. Damnit!
‘Where’s Bearnagh?’ I took a moment to get my bearings.
‘To the right of Hare’s Gap,’ Lionel told me, pointing to a pass that rose up in the distance.
‘Why’s it called that?’ I was curious.
‘Some say it was named after a farmer called O’Hare who used to graze his sheep there.’
I looked around at the rocky terrain and thought he could’ve picked a better place. There wasn’t much grass that I could see.
‘But it could’ve been named after one of the smugglers who carried contraband goods through it on the back of small ponies.’
I much preferred that option and imagined a swarthy, swashbuckling lawless O’Hare taking on the mountain, as he transported his illegal, ill-gotten gains back across the treacherous terrain. Lost in the fiction and fantasy of yonder year, I forgot how laboursome my present-day walk was and before I knew it, we had come to a fork in the path.
Ahead of us, was Hare’s Gap. To the right was Bearnagh, its summit hidden under a great big cloud. And to the right of Bearnagh was Slieve Meelmore. Lionel had taken out his map and was deciding on a route.
‘I think we should do Meelmore,’ he shouted over the wind that was getting worse. ‘Save Bearnagh for a better day.’
I reluctantly agreed.
Lionel took out our poles and bracing ourselves against the blustering wind we began our ascent over more rocks. I was worried that the water flowing over them would make them slippery, but it was the soft earth in between that proved perilous. More than once my foot sunk deep down, and I lost my balance. It was a slow climb, made ten times worse by the strengthening wind that threatened to take my feet from under me.
I wished now that I’d listened to the weather forecast and stayed at home!
A group of walkers were slowly descending, each one sporting the Mournes favourite accessory, a dog. Their leader, with his large Alsatian, stopped to warn us of the dangers ahead.
‘Be careful, there are gale force gusts on the other side of the wall.’
I wasn’t sure if he had noticed but they were on this side of the wall too!
They walked on and I began to question if it was wise to carry on. Although, stopping to discuss this was a bad idea. The wind hurtled down the mountain and caught me, causing me to wobble.
‘Use your poles,’ Lionel shouted.
I dug them into the ground and clung on for dear life as the wind battered me again. I really wanted to conquer Meelmore but I didn’t think I’d make it. I deliberated and dithered, looking up at the peak, that seemed so near and yet so far away. The winds would be stronger still on the ridge and summit. As much as I wanted to go on, if I couldn’t cope with the gusts here, then there was no way I’d manage on the other side of the Mourne wall.
I reluctantly decided it was best to go back and with great regret, we began our descent. The wind was now pummelling us from behind and I was worried about my balance and my footing as I picked my way slowly over the stones. More sure-footed walkers with small dogs passed us on our way down. It galled me to think that they would succeed, where I had failed but as Lionel pointed out, confidence would come with experience. And this climb had taught me that I was still lacking experience.
We veered off and onto another path that led us to a quarry. I looked up at the peak that had eluded me today as I ate my sandwich and in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, swore, ‘I’ll be back!’
According to the app, we had walked 5 miles and reached an elevation of 524m. It was another 180m to the top of Slieve Meelmore and another 215m to the top of Slieve Bearnagh. I was determined that next time I would conquer at least one of them! So, stay tuned and fingers crossed, I will make it to the top! I’ve ordered a flag!
And one very unhappy mountaineer!!!