At last, we were on our way back to the Mournes and I couldn’t wait to climb my second peak, Cock Mountain, which was a heady 505m high! Unlike the last time, I was suited and booted in appropriate mountaineering regalia. I was windproof and waterproof from head to toe. Well, more or less, I was missing proper walking trousers but on the plus side, I was wearing a pair of very funky and fashionable leggings. A case of style over substance that I was sure would impress the fashion police.
I was also sporting a brand new backpack! Which is basically a handbag for the hills, and I got just as excited going rucksack shopping as I did when I went in search of the latest arm candy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as au fait with the designers in this field. As I had discovered before when going in search of mountaineering clothes, fashion designers that I was familiar with hadn’t branched out into the great outdoors. As far as I could see, this also applied to the accessory market. There were no Louis Vuitton, Chanel or Gucci logos adorning the assortment of backpacks on display in Cotswold.
That’s right, I was back in my new favourite shop for all things mountain related! I gazed up and down the different backpacks hanging on the wall, there were so many to choose from. How was I going to narrow it down, I wondered? A fellow mountaineer who was also pondering this selfsame dilemma, walked up and down the vast array of rucksacks before grabbing one from the wall. I watched as he took the contents of his own bag out and stuffed them into the new one. Oh no, he was going to steal it! I looked around for security and instead came face to face with another friendly shop assistant, who had appeared to help me. I didn’t want to say anything, in case the thief heard me so, instead I nodded in his direction to alert the girl. She looked round and back again, oblivious to the crime being committed right in front of her face. I continued to violently nod. The man had now zipped up the backpack and was strapping it to his back. She looked round again. Nothing! Instead, she asked me what I was looking for while the rucksack robber was walking off!!
‘I really think you need to see to that man first,’ I had to point out the shoplifter who was marching across the floor with a piece of their merchandise on his back.
‘Yes, of course,’ she smiled and danced over to the man.
Oh no! what have I done?! He could be armed and dangerous, like the criminals I’d seen in police dramas on TV. She could be in mortal danger!
I watched as he took off the backpack and set it back down on the floor. He was starting to remove everything. Phew! I felt very proud that I had played a major part in preventing a crime.
The girl was back at my side, ‘and what can I get for you?’
Other than a medal, ‘a rucksack for my next mountaineering adventure.’
‘Are you camping out?’ she was moving towards the gargantuan sized sacks that would fit not only a tent and sleeping bag but also a small child!
‘God no!’ I was definitely slower than the average mountaineer, but I was confident I could still make it up and down in a few hours.
‘A day sack then?’ and she thankfully moved in the direction of the smaller bags.
‘Thanks, I’ll take it,’ the man shouted over.
‘Great, glad you found what you were looking for,’ she said before turning her attention back to me, ‘it’s always a good idea to put your stuff into a bag and make sure it’s the right size,’ she explained.
So, he wasn’t a shoplifter after all. I felt really bad for falsely accusing the poor man.
‘Do you know what size you need?’
‘Umm,’ no! I quickly glanced at the bags and pointed to the smallest one, in a light grey colour that I thought would match my boots.
‘My husband uses that when he’s running in the hills,’ she told me, ‘I think you might need something bigger for a day’s walking. What about this one?’ and she handed me a Hike Lite by Osprey. ‘You’ll be able to fit in your waterproof trousers, a fleece, extra hat, socks, gloves, map, compass, first aid kit and torch. You know, all the essentials you need for a day in the hills.’
No, I bloody well didn’t know! My essentials were a hairbrush, compact and lipstick!! No one told me I needed all this other paraphernalia. Never mind a rucksack, I would need a suitcase and a big one at that!
‘And let’s not forget your gaiters,’ she added something I’d never heard of to the long list.
The only gators I knew of, were 12ft long and lived in the Everglades. I had no desire to carry one of them up a mountain and they definitely wouldn’t fit in this bag.
‘You can pop your water bottle or flask in here. I take both with me,’ she told me.
I didn’t have either!
‘So, what do you think?’ she asked.
I think that I’ll never get to Cock Mountain because I don’t have any of those things, I wanted to cry! Instead, I told her I’d take it home and try it.
‘Lionel,’ I burst into tears as soon as I walked through the door, ‘the girl in the shop told me that I need alligators and a hip flask and waders, like fishermen wear and a whole pile of other stuff that I don’t have that I have to shove in here,’ I wailed, holding up my new Hike Lite.
‘That’s nice,’ Lionel ignored my histrionics and admired my new rucksack. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you have everything you need’ and he kept his word. After a flurry of online purchases that arrived before the big day, I was packed and ready for my foray up the mountain.
A group of walkers were gathering in Hen Mountain car park as I proudly strapped on my lovely new rucksack.
‘Can you show me Cock Mountain?’ I was surveying the undulating mountainous masses, trying to decide which one it was.
He pointed to the peak behind Hen Mountain.
‘That’s where we’re headed,’ he told me and then it disappeared.
We had consulted the map and decided to walk around Cock Mountain and come back over it in the direction of Hen Mountain.
It actually felt very mild for the time of year and we had to stop to shed a layer. It was so peaceful and quiet. There was no sign of the gang of walkers and the only other people on the track behind us were two people on horseback, led by a man who was taking them on a trek. They stopped for a chat on the way past as we left the path to begin our ascent.
The map had showed a short path, that Lionel thought he’d found.
‘This isn’t a path, it’s a river,’ I pointed out as I stepped over rocks and through water.
‘It’s a path,’ he was adamant.
‘Well, it’s not a very good one,’ I muttered under my breath, as I followed in his wake, water washing over my boots.
Then it disappeared completely, and we had to negotiate very boggy, soft ground peppered with tall clumps of grasses that even the sheep didn’t want to graze on. Mr Horseman had told us that the sheep had caught diseases from the ticks and so they took them away. Of course, at the mention of ticks, I had a full-scale panic attack.
‘You should’ve told me there were ticks here,’ I accused Lionel of withholding important health and safety information.
‘It’s the countryside, there are ticks everywhere.’
‘But what if I get a tick,’ I moaned, ‘I could get Lyme Disease!’ I remembered one of the Desperate Housewives had got it from one of the burrowing, blood sucking little creatures.
I felt my skin start to crawl.
Lionel ploughed on, picking his way over the flattened mounds of tall grass. It was tough going and I felt duty bound to tell him so.
‘We shouldn’t have come this way. There’s no path,’ I complained and then the cloud that had shrouded the peaks, descended down the mountain. I had yet another panic attack. I couldn’t see where we were going. This was too dangerous. We’d be lost on the mountain, although I wasn’t sure which one. Lionel was veering to the right and I was convinced Cock Mountain was to the left.
The cloud was like pea soup and I prayed that it would lift, so we could see our way. Someone up above was listening and suddenly the sun broke through. We were at the base of Pigeon Rock and with Lionel’s navigational skills, we would have been climbing it instead. Back on track, we began our ascent of the right mountain. We still had no path and slowly made our way up the grassy, rocky slope towards the summit. Cloud came down again but finally cleared as we approached the rocky tor that marked the peak. It gave us the most breath-taking views and we scrambled for our phones to take a picture.
I quickly set my rucksack down and sat on one of the rocks to get my Polaroid out. I hadn’t realised that the ground was covered in sheep poo and the rock was soaking wet! I ended up with a wet bum and a smelly rucksack. However, nothing spoilt the spectacular view from the top. We stood in the sun and took in the stunning scenery from the summit. It was beautiful!
All too soon, the cloud swirled round us again but not before we had spotted the path that would lead us back down the mountain.
I was so thankful to see it. I didn’t like going off-piste. At least, not when I couldn’t see where I was going. The descent was steep, and we had to take our time and use our poles. Even so, it didn’t prevent my first fall. One minute I was standing and the next, my feet went from under me. The mucky ground was so slippery and it showed me, just how easily it could happen. Thankfully, I didn’t fall on a rock and I had a soft landing. Picking myself up, I made sure I used my poles and took care with every step.
We knew that we could come over Hen Mountain on the way down. We couldn’t see it, but we knew it was there, so when the ground started to ascend again, we started to climb. It should’ve been a straightforward ascent to the summit. We fully expected to find the path that we had previously come down, but nothing is straightforward in low lying cloud. I understood now how people got disorientated and lost in these conditions.
‘I can see why a map and compass are essential kit,’ I said to Lionel, who had found a narrow, ledge-like path that he was convinced circled below the summit of Hen Mountain.
I didn’t want to be under it! I wanted to be on it! And ASAP.
‘I have those,’ he assured me.
‘Well, why don’t you consult them and find the path we came down before,’ that was wide and walkable. This teeny tiny one was freaking me out.
‘I have the compass but the map’s in the car,’ he confessed.
‘A fat lot of good it’s going to do us there,’ I was not happy.
Lionel had to step up onto a rock and that was when I froze. Vertigo descended like the cloud and swirled around me, shrouding me in fear. I was certain that if I stepped up onto that stone, I would plummet down the steep slope. I was terrified!
‘I can’t do it!’ I cried.
‘Yes, you can,’ and he reached out his hand.
I looked back. I could turn around, which was a perilous procedure in itself or, I could face my fear and trust my partner. I took a deep breath and reached for his hand. He pulled me safely up onto the ledge.
Thankfully a little further along and we saw the tor rise up in front of us.
‘We made it,’ I cried out.
A sheep that had been grazing on the eerily quiet summit raised his head and looked at me.
‘And I’m alive,’ I told him, delighted that I hadn’t fallen to my death from the treacherous track that Lionel had led me up.
Note to self, I was in charge of all essential life-saving equipment on future expeditions.
The sheep looked as surprised as I felt.
This time we decided to descend on the path that most walkers come up the mountain. It was the most direct route back to the car. Heavy footfall over the years had gouged out indentations. Initially we walked the well-trodden path, following in the footsteps of the many others who had come and gone before us. However, this came with its own dangers, as both I and Lionel were soon to discover. Muck is more slippery than stone in the Mournes. For the second time, I took a tumble and Lionel had a stumble. Injury averted we walked down the rest of the mountain and made it back to the car in one piece.
I couldn’t wait to get back home and pop the Prosecco, to celebrate inadvertently climbing not just one but two peaks!
I rummaged around in the backseat.
‘What are you looking for?’ Lionel asked as he started the car.
‘The map,’ I told him.
‘To pick our next peak?’ he looked happy and I didn’t have the heart to tell him, that it was to make sure he didn’t get lost again on the way home.
‘Aha,’ I said as I perused the peaks and made sure that he stayed on the right road.
After all, I had Prosecco to drink!
Peaks: Two today!
Prosecco: Too many bubbles to mention!