It has become our family tradition over the past 5 years or so to kickstart the new year with a hike in the Mourne Mountains. After all the laying around in onesies over the Christmas period and stuffing our faces with copious amounts of chocolate and cheese, a decent, blow-away-the-cobwebs walk is just what we need by the time January 1st comes around! Each year, we pick a different mountain to climb and sometimes the weather is on our side…at other times, not so much! (Check out this post on our hike up Slieve Donard in blizzard conditions in 2018).
This year we settled on Slieve Bearnagh for our New Year’s Day hike. Slieve Bearnagh is the 4th highest peak in the Mourne range, but arguably, one of the most challenging. I remember clearly the first time we climbed it with our children, it was to celebrate our youngest son’s 5th birthday – we even carried up a cake and candles in a rucksack to hold a little ‘summit party’, by which stage I was wondering how on earth we were going to navigate back down the steep slopes! This time, we took a slightly different route, turning off the Trassey Track before the rocky ascent to Hare’s Gap and continuing along the trail to where it meets the Mourne Wall, then began our climb from that side, following the track around the mountain as we travelled upwards. It made for a slightly gentler climb, but we were walking into the wind for the most part of it so that kept things interesting – we burrowed down into our snoods and helped each other along…a great team-building exercise!
While the temperature wasn’t as bitterly cold as we had anticipated and prepared for with our many layers and waterproofs, it was fairly windy and the cloud hung low for most of the day. The views weren’t clear or far-stretching, but there was a mysterious beauty nonetheless, and we didn’t encounter any other hikers all day, so that always lends to a sense of being truly immersed in the wild. My 3 boys love role-play while hiking, often taking on the personas of their heroes, Steve Backshall and David Attenborough and so forth!
Once we reached the summit we celebrated with hot chocolate and mince pies leftover from Christmas (why did I buy so many?!), captured a few snapshots and watched as the clouds rapidly moved in closer and lower. By the time we were ready to head back down, we could see only a few metres ahead of us, adding to the adventure of course. We did travel a little slower because of lack of visibility, but also because the wet terrain made it extremely slippery and extra caution was needed.
Thankfully, we made it back to the track intact as daylight began to fade. We huddled together for the long walk back down the Trassey Track, chit-chatting and enjoying the time together. By the time we had reached Meelmore Lodge we had been walking for just over 5 and a half hours so it’s safe to say we were all thoroughly exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower and food! Nothing quite matches that feeling of exhilaration that comes from climbing a mountain with the people you love and share life with though – it at times requires some physical and mental exertion sure, but the sense of accomplishing something together is so rewarding along with knowing that it has strengthened our bonds and that we have started a whole new year, and decade, the best way we know how – in our favourite hills!
A FEW TIPS FOR COLD WEATHER HIKES:
- LAYERS! It’s easy to take layers off to cool down, but nothing is more miserable than hiking if you’re shivering. Snoods, hats and gloves are essential…even if they insist they won’t need them pack them anyway and then you get to be the hero that saves them from freezing to death.
- HOT DRINKS: tea, coffee, hot chocolate…you will be immensely grateful for a cup of something warm to wrap your hands around and to warm your belly.
- SPARE SOCKS: the reality is, kids jump in puddles, so always have a few spare pairs of socks in the rucksack and a full change of clothes to change into left in the car is useful.
- SNACKS: I always make sure I have pockets filled with jelly sweets and nuts…that way if the energy or enthusiasm levels wane, I have instant energy boosts at hand without having to dig in a rucksack.
- It’s always worth telling a close friend or family member of your planned route and expected return time, that way that can check in with you that you’ve returned safe n’ sound.
THANKS FOR READING AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU – I HOPE IT’S ONE FILLED WITH JOY AND ADVENTURING!