The promise of a well attended summit camp with the NI-Wild bunch sounded like a great excuse to get into the mountains. The location was to be the top of Slieve Meelmore in the Mournes.
Did I mention that the weather was atrocious? I set off up through Donard Wood using both my headtorch and the front light borrowed from my bike to avoid the wet rocks and roots. On reaching the top a phone call came through to tell me the camp had moved down to the Meelbeg saddle due to the weather, and my lift for the next morning was leaving due to a broken tent. No worries: I could run back early and hitch a lift in time for work!
Taking bearings, I cut through the forest and started up towards Shan Slieve, soon leaving the lights of Newcastle behind and disappearing into the maelstrom of wind, cloud and rain. Minding the drops, and fighting each step, the summit cairn of Commedagh suddenly appeared. Following the wall down to Hare’s Gap was still painfully slow due to the conditions: a section I would run most days. The path skirting Bernagh was tricky to find (and stay on): petering out at stream crossings, we met and parted a number of times before hitting the next wall. Nearly there. I followed the path a short distance then speared off into the murk to aim for the saddle. I was over-shooting by about 50m, but caught sight of bobbing headtorches that guided me home before I hit the obvious crest.
I fired on my spare layers and wolfed a smoked sausage while a kindly hot chocolate was brewed for me. Somehow, an iPod was surviving the storm, and the music insisted quietly that we were having a good time over the roar of the wind. Amazing craic! Around midnight we retired to bivis and tents – a Laser Competition bending impressively and unperturbed. I found a nice double hollow in the slope and performed an operation involving two pieces of foam mat, a large slippery plastic bag, my sleeping bag and dirty shoes and gaiters: there was an essential combination of these elements for a good night sleep that the wind and rain was intent on disrupting. Ensconced eventually, my last task was to locate my earplugs. Perfect.
A soaking man in soaking clothes in a plastic bag in a storm would kill a down sleeping bag, but the Lamina 20 remained warm. The wind barely abated, although at least the rain stopped before dawn and the cloud lifted enough for me to watch the light creep into the battered landscape. A promised lift meant a lie on and an easy squelch back to the car park: many thanks to Mike who even waited for me to have a quick shower and left me all the way to work. Legend.
A great test of gear and nerve, stories abound of the valiant journeys, equipment let downs, future plans and revisions. As I plodded pathless by Bernagh I recall thinking, “I’m not lost. I know where I am and I will get to where I’m going. The path I think I need is close: it comes and goes, but I’m still moving in the right direction”. That’s life right there, isn’t it? There are times for darkness, obscurity and battering, but all the shining summer camps will be the more glorious because of it.