Thursday, March 11, 2010

Back in the Motherland; Slieve Commedagh Wild Camp

This is my first post for over a month now, with my trip to Germany and some personal upheaval upon my return, I have not had time to sit and bash out the words on the keyboard. Last weekend I was in Belfast for a party and as I usually do, I threw the gear into the car with the intention of skipping through my favorite mountain range, the Mournes.

So, on Monday afternoon, I was Newcastle bound, the excellent Meelmore Lodge was my destination at the foot of Slieve Meelmore. I was only parking here as I had my sights on a wildcamp up high. I arrived at around 4:15pm and was in no rush, I mooched about and had some dinner in the car and took some photos of a particularly friendly and inquisitive Robin who perched itself on my wing mirror.

After that, I was having a final rucksack check when I came to my green drybag which contains my Jetboil and cooking paraphernalia. When I opened it up and took the Jetboil out I knew what the problem was right away..... no gas. Disaster. No gas meant no hot meal or drink, no hot meal or drink meant a cold night in temperatures that were already going to be below freezing on the summits overnight.

By now it was 4:50pm, Hilltrekker in Newcastle was my only hope, I raced down but only to find Hilltrekker with their shutters down. This wasn't the first time I have required a last minute piece of kit only to find that shop closed. Anyhow, I headed back up the road to one of the caravan parks who didn't have any either but gave me the name of another store in Newcastle; 'Four Seasons', a real 'jack of all trades' store, and I remembered upon entering that I had bought some pots in here years before. To cut a long story short, they were open, and they had the gas, although only in a size that wouldn't fit inside the Jetboil. Beggars can't be choosers however and I was thankful for getting any at all.

I arrived back at Meelmore at 5:30pm, the light was beginning to fade fast and I was disappointed that I would be missing out on the sunset but at the same time excited that most of my trek would be in the dark, something I haven't enjoyed for a couple of years now. 

I enjoy isolation in the wilds, I would stop often in the cold still air and listen to the silence, the absolute silence. I seemingly had the Mountains all to myself. I hiked up the Hares' Gap and from the top, I realised there wasn't a sinner to be found, I checked for lights from head torches on distant peaks but none were spotted. There's something special about walking alone in the mountains when the daylight has gone and is replaced with a beautiful starry sky.

Some people I know won't walk alone when darkness falls in the hills let alone camp as they feel spooked out by eerie noises or the feeling that someone is walking behind them when there's nobody to be found for miles. That's fair enough although for me it isn't an issue. In fact, knowing that I'm the only person for miles is something of a privilege for me. Think about it; there's this awesome night in the hills with a darker sky and more stars than you'll ever see in the Mournes and as far as I was aware, I was the only one witnessing it. That's whats I call a privilege.

I reached the foot of Slieve Commedagh where the slope steepens considerably and in view of the deeper snow which had formed an icy surface, I elected to bring out the head torch for the ascent. There has been a real thaw in the last week in the Mournes and there was no trace of any powder snow left, the slopes were frozen solid almost and I carefully picked a zigzaging route through the ice fields. In what seemed like no time however, I was at the shelter stone unpacking my stove and gas, I had one thing on my mind; dinner.

Fresh pasta with a spicy sauce and a chopped up spicy pepperami was on the menu. This was real 'haute cuisine' for me, my usual effort is a couple of Wayfayrers boil in the bag meals but since this was a one off camp with no great distances covered I opted for some comfort food.

Since there wasn't even a breath of a wind, I was able to eat out in the open, on the Mourne wall. With my down jacket on, I didn't feel the cold whatsoever and my meal followed by a almost a litre of hot chocolate went down a storm as I stargazed for what seemed the longest time.

After around 9:30pm I went in search of a place to camp, there was a large section of summit bereft of snow or ice that was just perfect. The Akto was erected in no time and the truly excellent pegs sunk into the frozen ground without any bother. Soon I was wrapped up in the sleeping bag and after my meal and a bit of a warm up consisting of some running on the spot and star jumps, I was cosy too in the frigid air.

I was awake early and I popped my head out the tent door to see a slither of moon in the early morning sky. I was anxious not to miss the sunrise as I knew it would be a belter so I donned my warm wear and frozen boots in double quick time. The sun hadn't outed itself just yet so I brewed up in preparation and to get some warmth into my innards. Slieve Donards' north face was still mostly snow covered and provided a wonderful view with the emerging sunrise providing a terrific backdrop.

I perched myself on the Slieve Commedagh summit cairn, about 50 yards from where I was camped and waited.

I'll let the pictures tell the tale, It was simply majestic.

I walked back down later that morning a happy man. I passed a few people including the owner of Jacksons Sports in Belfast who had taken the day off work and was taking the same route I had the night before.

I chatted to everyone I met and took my time, I was tempted to stay up another night but I had other plans. The drive back to Tipperary wouldn't be so bad now.


  1. Simply gorgeous photos! Thank you for pounding out this post- fists or Jetboil-driven fury- it's all good. :)

    It's all about Getting Out. And you did- oh, yes, you did.

  2. Thanks as ever Titanium, I've been out again since so watch this space, im just grouping the photos together from that trip now

  3. Wonderful photos Stuart. Getting me inspired to do some wild camping in Scotland when I'm up there early May.

  4. Do it Paul, May is usually the best month of the year for wild camping and in recent years, for the weather too.

  5. Absolutley stunning photographs. Well worth the wait. What camera are you using? Paul - bring crampons, ice-axe and a shovel for early May in Scotland!

  6. such a wonderful tale from beginning to end. The little bird and self portrait is sweet. The night walk was fun to imagine. Since I live with bears and wolves, mountain lions etc. I will indeed take night walks but not as comfy as you share in this post. Your moon set/sunrise photos are gorgeous. I love your 'star jumps' must be the same as our jumping jacks, fun. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks afootinthehills, the camera is nothing special, i was borrowing a Nikon Coolpix. Ive my beady eye on a Panasonic Lumix though, it could have taken some stunning night time photos during that walk, thank god for memory eh?

  8. Tammie, im alarmed to hear you live with bears, wolves and mountain lions, your house must be a real mess... Only kiddiing, I take it you are somewhere in alaska or somewhere similar?? Thanks for the comments, and yes i do believe star jumps are the same as jumping jacks!

  9. Breathtaking images, I love. Thanks for sharing.
    Nice post. I can relate to the shop you mention. I get the impression it is only open every third Tuesday between 11:30 and 11:50 and only if that Tuesday is also a full moon.
    Have to do another wild camp myself soon. Probably rain though.

  10. Great stuff Stuart, me and the mate are heading down at the end of the month as soon as my shift switches around. I'll keep re-reading your report for inspiration.

    Some great shots, the night ones are particularly good but the view down the Ben Crom reservoir is a great shot too.

    Nice One :-)

  11. thisteacherslife, if only Jacksons Sports could open up a second store in Newcastle, all our last minute panic buys would be assured although he would have to start opening on Sundays. Do the wild camp, check for weather forecasts, they are usually on the mark. Thanks for your comments

  12. Mac E, happy days on the upcoming trip, try and coincide with the full moon if possible, with a bit of luck, the skies will be clear, always makes for an awesome camp, i look forward to hearing about it. I love that Ben Crom shot too, its one of my favourite views in the whole of the Mournes, i always take few snaps of the reservoirs when i'm around there

  13. Stunning and wonderful. A joy to read and see the photos.

  14. Thanks Martin, glad you enjoyed it


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