Hi. I went on my first really big hike at the age of 8 during the snowy Easter of 2013. Back then I didn’t really take much notice but now I feel that day was the first step toward a brilliant relationship with the Northern Irish mountains – The Mournes. Nowadays, my family and I walk every Sunday, for at least 6 hours. Back then it was just a couple of hours, once a month or so and I now sorta feel like a ‘professional hiker’. I should probably tell you a little bit about that snowy hike.
I am the oldest child in my family. I have 2 younger brothers and the littlest one was just 2 and a half when we took to the Trassey Track which was knee-deep in snow. I was all kitted out in a warm jumper, thick gloves and a cosy hat. My mum had probably been preparing for lots of whining and moaning from her young kids due to the cold, but as far as I can remember there was none. Just lots of fun rolling in the snow! Whenever we arrived at the Trassey Track which leads to Hare’s Gap the first thing I noticed as I jumped out of our car was the sheer amount of snow on the mountains. It was pure white. I had never seen anything like it!
At that moment I started to plan the most fun and effective way of rolling down the snowy slopes. As we set off my dad pointed out some animal tracks in the snow and we had lots of fun following them to see if we could find out who they belonged to. As we walked we tried to tiptoe silently but the snow was so thick it crunched under our feet. Then we started going upward. And up. And up. Then our parents told us all to turn around and enjoy the view. I thought it was mesmerising. All the fields were covered in snow and it just looked incredible. Then I fell through the snow and landed on a ‘prickly bush thing’, as they’re called in our family. I didn’t care though. I just got up and started walking onwards. Fast forward about 5 years and I’m still enjoying the mountains most weekends and have done worse than falling through the snow and landing on a bush! I’ve been knee-deep in a bog on a few occasions!
After a few more years we were conquering bigger mountains. We had completed Slieve Donard (the highest mountain in the Mournes) about 5 times by the time I was 10. My youngest brother was only 5 the first time, which is unbelievable. His nickname is ‘mountain goat’!
My favourite mountains are probably Slieve Binnian and Bearnagh as they are really challenging walks. I also really like Doan, which is hidden in the central Mournes and the landscape around it looks so alien-like and eerie! I love both these walks because of the view you get from the top, it is awesome and the memories from past adventures are always fun to chat about.
For the past couple of years we have been doing a New Year’s Day hike. For 2017 we decided to go to Slieve Binnian. Whenever I woke up and looked out the window that morning I was so disappointed. It was raining. Badly. My mum said that wasn’t going to stop us. It never had before. To be honest I wished I could stay in my cosy bed. But we were meeting friends and family at the carpark at the bottom of Binnian so I got up and ready to go. As we set off on our hike it got colder. I checked the weather whenever I got back home after that hike and it was -12 degrees wind chill at the summit – brrrrrr. At the top my friend’s hands were so frozen but she kept on going and luckily we all had extra socks because our feet were numb it was that cold. We were also glad of a flask of hot tea to warm us up. Whenever we go on hikes we like to go up one side of a mountain and down the other to keep it interesting. That was the plan for Binnian was well. We made it to the top but had to take a shorter way down, which was so slippery in places. Plans can change and it’s good to be flexible and sensible when out hiking so not to get into a dangerous situation. It was a little scary going down that way as it was icy in places but we took our time, all stuck together and made it safely. I did find it really fun. And I was the only one that didn’t fall!
This year we decided to go one better and climb Donard on New Year’s Day – in even worse conditions! This time it was just our family and when we set off from the carpark it was cold but bright and clear. By the time we made it to the Mourne Wall it had started to snow. We set off again and conditions steadily worsened. We where about 100m from the summit when it became a full-on blizzard! We made it to about 10m from the top and then we had to turn around. We kept warm by continuing to move and we supported each other all the way with words of encouragement and an arm to hold. We were all really disappointed because this was the first time we had ever failed to get to the summit of a mountain but it was still a great experience. We were well prepared with plenty of layers of clothes, lots of food and we know the route well but it was still a little frightening in places! All part of the learning experience I suppose.
To finish…it has been a pleasure writing this and I have found it a joy to tell you a couple of my memories from walking in the Mourne Mountains. Who knows in a few years you might be reading a book of mine about my love for walking in the Mourne Mountains!