I had one last opportunity pre-Christmas and pre-Covid lockdown to climb Slieve Meelmore because if at first you don’t succeed, you have got to put your walking boots on and try again! Conditions were perfect in the Mournes; there was no rain, no wind, visibility was good and I was confident that, this time, I would conquer another mountain on my ‘Peaks, Polaroids and Prosecco’ challenge.
Sandwiches had been packed and porridge consumed. It had lined the stomachs of Scots for centuries and if it managed to keep them warm in the Highlands, then I was sure it would do the same for me when I climbed the heady heights of my next Mourne Mountain. Plus, they only wore kilts and I was layered to within an inch of my life, with wind and waterproof clothes to keep me toasty warm.
We parked at Meelmore Lodge, which has a coffee shop and toilet facilities. Neither of which they have on any of the mountains. Personally, I think there’s an opening for both.
Lionel and I set off up a path that led us to a stile. It was my first ladder like structure of the day and by the time I set foot on the other side of the wall, I’d lost circulation in my hands. Not a good start!
Already somewhat grumpy because of the side effect of eating a big bowl of oats two days in a row. I turned into a real moaning Minnie when my fingers went numb.
‘I think we should turn back,’ Lionel said.
I didn’t want frostbite or my aforementioned digits to fall off, but I also didn’t want to fail, again! This mountain had defeated me once before, I was determined it wasn’t going to do it a second time, so I ploughed on.
Our route was taking us along the wall at the base of Slieve Meelmore. We were going to ascend from the far side and come back down to the Trassey Track. We squelched through soggy ground and I took my life in my hands, stumbling across rocky river crossings.
‘You should’ve built me a raft,’ I said as Lionel stretched out his hand to help me over.
‘More water comes out of the tap at home,’ he told me, ‘it’s barely a trickle.’
Hmpff! that, was a matter of opinion!
I got a little worried when he stopped to consult his map. Surely to goodness he hadn’t lost another mountain?! He had managed to do that on a previous expedition. As it turned out, he’d just lost the path up it.
Once found, I hauled myself up the grassy incline, stopping every little while to take in oxygen and ask, ‘are we there yet?’
I was struggling and wondered if I’d make it to the saddle, which apparently was the little bit in between Meelmore and Meelbeg. More rocks began to appear the higher up we went. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I was thankful when we finally made it to the Mourne Wall. The view from the other side was glorious. Slieve Bearnagh towered up beside the peak of Slieve Meelmore, light shimmered on Ben Crom Reservoir and Lionel pointed out Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard in the distance. I stood admiring the beautiful landscape that made every step of the climb worthwhile.
But we weren’t at the summit yet and as I clambered over more rocks, I was paid a visit by my old friend vertigo. I stopped stepping up and when I went to start again, I couldn’t. I turned around and looked down, which was a bad idea! Fear froze me to the spot. All I could think of was that if I stumbled and fell, I would hit my head and die! Lionel came back to help me and not for the first time, I put my trust in him to pull me up and out of harm’s way.
Thankfully, rocks gave way to grass and a more gradual incline as we approached the summit, following the wall along to the stone tower that marked the peak.
I’d made it! I’d conquered Meelmore (680m) and another peak in the Mourne’s. Prosecco was back on the menu! Sadly, Polaroids weren’t. When I pressed the button, there was a sound, but nothing came out. I’d managed to finally make it to the top and now I wouldn’t have my Polaroid as proof. I was gutted!!
Before we began our descent, we stood for a while, taking in the spectacular views of majestic mountains and incredible vistas out over Newcastle.
Out came the map again and Lionel decided that the best way down was over a landslide of very large rocks! I was convinced that we were never going to make it and that’s when I lost circulation in both my hands. I couldn’t feel my fingers, or move them and complete panic set in.
Horrific images of black dead fingers that would fall off with frostbite flooded my mind as I sure-footedly skipped over stones that had previously scared me. My whole focus was on my fingers, or soon to be lack of them. I wasn’t worried about my footing. The air temperature came up a little south of the wall and thankfully, so did the circulation in my hands.
We kept going down over the familiar stony path that took us back to the Trassey Track and as we walked back to the car, I reflected on my latest mountaineering expedition. Cold, cross and with no circulation, I’d still managed to conquer Meelmore. Yay! I was ready to go home, pop the Prosecco and plan our next peak.
Peaks: A big 680m mountain!
Polaroids: None because as I later found out, the cartridge was empty. Oops!