I was so happy to get back to the Mournes after a long lockdown. There had been no peaks due to the pandemic but now, thanks to a hugely successful vaccine rollout, restrictions had eased and mountaineering was back on the menu!
In order to pick my next peak, I decided to consult the oracle that is YouTube. I wanted to see where I was going and see just how difficult the climb would be. I wanted to see the terrain, how many risky river crossings I would have to make in order to get to it, how many rocks were on it and how steep the incline was. I wanted to see with my own two eyes just what I would be facing on my next mountaineering adventure.
So, with the map of the Mournes spread out in front of me, I went in search of my next challenge and by challenge, I meant the easiest mountain I could find to climb. After my last death-defying, descent from Slieve Meelmore, I felt I was in need of something a little less daunting and dangerous.
I first looked for the nearest mountain to a car park. Less walking would be a good thing. I saw that Slieve Loughshannagh was right beside a car park and the little wiggly lines were quite far apart, which meant that it would be a more gradual climb. Perfect! I would start there. I typed in Slieve Loughshannagh and up popped videos posted by other Mourne mountaineers.
This was a great idea! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I decided to watch ‘Walks with Harvey’, a gorgeous little dog who loved to climb mountains. He set off with Bob, his owner, who gave great commentary en route. They were also joined by Holly, a beautiful German Shepherd and I watched as they all walked along a path. An actual path! So far, Lionel had taken me off-piste and path, on both Hen and Cock Mountain and we also spent precious little time on one on Slieve Meelmore too!
‘Lionel,’ I hollered from the kitchen, where I was conducting my invaluable research.
Apparently, thinking that I had met with some untimely accident or that the kitchen was on fire, he came charging in to my Mournes Adventure Strategic Headquarters, or M.A.S.H for short.
‘Sit down,’ I barked orders, like Sherman T. Potter from the hit series with the same name.
‘Look,’ I directed his attention to Harvey, who was now blissfully bounding up the grassy slopes of Slieve Loughshannagh.
‘What am I watching?’
‘You are watching Harvey, Bob and Holly take a walk,’ and I put great emphasis on walk ‘up Slieve Loughshannagh, that apparently by Mournes standards is basically rock free and compared to where you last took me, it literally looks like a walk in the park,’ albeit a 617m uphill walk.
‘Okay, we can do that,’ he said, checking out the map, ‘and we could do Doan too.’
‘Now, hold your horses! One peak will be quite sufficient!’ I don’t know where Lionel thought I was going to get the energy, or stamina to do two huge mountains.
‘Slieve Loughshannagh it is,’ I folded up the map and went to pack my rucksack in preparation.
The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was perfect conditions for me to conquer my next peak. We set off from Ott car park, which Lionel found first time. It was an auspicious start! We walked up a stony path, that gave way to a boggy bit, as predicted by the Mourne’s guide and ‘Walks with Harvey’. A short climb then took us to the Mourne wall, where I met my nemisis, the stile! Fearful I was going to fall, I clung onto the sides for dear life. I’ve never been good with ladders, or bogs, or heights but other than that, I was born to mountaineer!
Buoyed up by blue skies and the fact that I had successfully clambered over the great big wooden contraption, I was confident I could do two peaks! So, channelling my inner Edmund Hillary we set off in the direction of Doan.
Lough Shannagh sparkled in the sunlight.
We followed a clear rocky path that led to the summit of Doan. Unfortunately for me, it also led to a mass of much steeper rocks that stood between me and the peak. If I was to reach the summit, I would have to scramble up the steep incline to the top. This was not fazing any of my fellow mountaineers who gambolled up like mountain goats.
A fear of losing my footing froze me to a spot eleven twelfths of the way up Doan. As I waited for Lionel to scale the summit a gorgeous German Pointer bounded onto the boulder above me. I watched as she bounced fearlessly over every precarious rock in sight. Clearly my canine counterparts didn’t suffer from vertigo. Her owners, who were sure-footed, experienced Mournes walkers told me there were fantastic 360 degree views of the entire mountain range from the summit but today, I would have to settle for the spectacular views, slightly lower down.
I looked back towards Slieve Loughshannagh and Slieve Meebeg. Paths were etched into the parched, dry landscape. Sadly, a few days later, a huge gorse fire was started on Slieve Donard. More than a hundred firefighters battled for three days to put it out. It was tragic loss of fauna and flora, in an area of outstanding natural beauty and it will take years to repair the damage done by the devastating blaze that tore across the mountain.
Annoyed that I hadn’t reached the peak of Doan made me more determined to make it to the top of Slieve Loughshannagh. As other hikers made their way back over the Mourne wall, I braced myself for the burn and breathlessness of yet another ascent, although it was a joy to see a basically rock-free, grassy path to the top. I did have to stop a few times on the way up (about 10!) but I managed to huff and puff my way to the peak! Yay!
And I was rewarded with a stunning view.
A cairn marked the 617m peak and I noticed a small, smooth stone sat near the top. I read the inscription and stood in silence for a moment, moved by the memory of a young man I had never met.
It was so peaceful, so beautiful and we spent time taking in the spectacular views out over the surrounding Mourne mountains before beginning our descent.
On the way back down I was super excited to spot a real life Leprechaun hole in the Mourne wall.
I had learnt this from my YouTube research, Stephen J Reid had said so in his vlog, although I did wonder why these renowned cobblers had diversified into the construction industry. From the scattering of stones in the doorway it was clear they were in the middle of some building work.
Soon we were back at the dreaded stile and I stood aside to let a steady stream of climbers cross before I shambolically stumbled over it.
‘Why couldn’t they put in escalators?’ I engineered a much more suitable alternative as I clambered over.
‘They were going to but the sheep, like the rest of us, preferred a stile.’ I was pretty sure that Lionel was being sarcastic. I hadn’t seen any sheep crossing it but that didn’t mean they didn’t. Maybe if I left a note for the Leprechauns the next time, they could build one for me. Yes, that was a good plan.
‘Congratulations on another peak,’ Lionel toasted, when we arrived home and popped the Prosecco.
‘Thank you,’ I clinked glasses and celebrated not breaking my neck as I crossed the stile and of course, reaching the peak of Slieve Loughshannagh and nearly making it to the top of Doan!
Peaks: 1 11/12
Prosecco: the whole bottle of bubbly!
Sheep crossing stiles: 0