Slieve Meelmore Summit Camp

An NI-Wild peak bivvy was called for. We hadn’t been on a group wild camp since our Xmas dinner in Donard Wood and our last proper summit overnighter on Chimney Rock seemed like a lifetime ago. We decided to tackle Meelmore as it’s handy for secure parking and was one we hadn’t overnighted on yet. As a plus its summit has the Mourne Wall converging on two sides at a shelter tower affording some wind protection.

Fourteen planned to participate which would make it our biggest camp yet that wasn’t in a handy, low lying forest but as with most things you plan in Northern Ireland as the weekend approached it became clear that the fickle finger of camping fate pointed to it likely being an attritional outing with rain and heavy winds forecast. Luckily we’re all plenty equipped and experienced so foul weather is less of a hindrance and more of an opportunity to properly test some gear. You never know what conditions you might meet in the Mournes and fair weather can turn nasty quickly so having experimented in controlled circumstances is always a sensible idea!

Meelmore, Meelbeg saddle from Fofanny

We had a few last minute cancellations and people were coming from a variety of start points at a variety of times so just Jonny (Suspectmonkey), Matt and Myself met for the customary pre-hill cheeseburger at McDs on the Saintfield Road arriving at Meelmore Lodge at around 3pm with plenty of time to summit before darkness fell.

As we approached, our mountain loomed large in the on off drizzle and after a (very) brief consideration of the mighty Spellack buttress we decided to stick to the easy route taking the Trassey Track to the bottom of Hares Gap to ascend by Bearnagh. The going was suprisingly easy with Bearnagh providing some friendly shelter but as we poked our heads out and onto the saddle the wind significantly increased and as we made the final slog to the top the blustery conditions made it tough going and I started to regret exchanging healthy hill exercise for turkey and beer over Christmas!

Hares Gap from Meelmore Lodge in the drizzle

Pleased to be at the top we huddled in the oddly snow filled summit tower to make some final plans and get in touch with the others we were expecting to meet. Dowser, Landyliam, Lenny and MikeD were all coming up from Fofanny Dam direction and from broken radio conversations we knew they had already set out. However, at this point we were suprised to find that Meelmores lucious green, grassy summit is actually very thin with solid granite beneath meaning there was no chance of pitching tents reliant on pegs for stability. Between the walls at the tower it would have been more than sheltered enough to spend the night but outside of the protection they afforded the winds were fierce on the barren summit and no-one was confident that tents would have stayed up.

Wet’n’Windy – Just how we like it!

After some plotting we decided the simplest solution was to drop to the Meelmore / Meelbeg saddle knowing that most of the as yet unaccounted for hikers would be coming up that way and there would be plenty of flat space to pitch. We messaged everyone to be sure they knew the change of plans and set off into the wind again. With the Mourne Wall as our trusty guide in almost zero visibility we descended picking up the ascending group about half way to the col and were soon glad to see the style and our spot for the night. Not long after Tim and a friend also appeared having elected to come up by Spellack, no mean feat in trying conditions, but alas the reward for a hard fought hike was a broken tent pole and a cold walk back to the car – the first time we’ve seen the hardy Hike Lite Pro from Argos unable to stick the pace!

Bearnagh in the morning mist

Matt was in a Laser comp and Jonny had a new Vaude Taurus, the rest of us were tarping or just sleeping out in bivvys. The howling gale made tarps exceptionally hard to pitch in any manner that would cope with the wind and eventually Mikes DD succumbed to the elements and ripped, my army issue shelter is incredibly sturdily constructed and although heavier, copes with the strongest of winds easily thanks to some cunning fabric taping.

Snoozing by the wall

Considerable personal research has shown that in decent waterproof gear, if you have a snifter of whiskey, some burning peat and Pink Floyd playing in the background you can be happy and comfy just about anywhere so we didn’t particularly care about the non-stop rain and wind and the extra effort to carry firelogs up and over a mountain seemed more than worth it. At around 11pm Craig (Twentyclicks) appeared out of the clouds having shown some serious determination by coming from Newcastle over Commedagh and Chuck who had headed to the Meelmore Stonemasons Hut decided to push on up the last few hundred meters to join us at the saddle instead. We also found out that Gareth (MG1) and Micheal (666_pack) who had mountain biked from Newcastle had been unable to persuade their machines up the mountain in the wind and were forced back to Meelmore Lodge.

Heading for the Miners Track

When we retired at around midnight those electing to just bivvy out in the open by the wall had a lovely comfy night and were still snoozing when the rest of us got up at around 8am. Both tents had stood the test well as had my tarp but each of us once through the night had to get up and replant a peg – it’s never fun hopping around in your underwear in the rain at 4am!

Meelmore Stonemasons Hut

Mike and Craig blew off early with work commitments to meet and Me, Jonny and Matt had a leisurely hike down at 9am for a celebratory sausage sandwich leaving Chuck and Dowser to enjoy what was now lovely conditions for a wander to the Meelmore and Meelbeg summits.

Fording a swollen river

When it comes to camping somewhere like the mournes you can’t alway choose your weather – it’s much better to be prepared and equipped for all eventualities, that way it never matters what Mother Nature throws at you! Personally I like my wild camps to be wild – wind and rain doesn’t bother me, the more the merrier I say. I love to sit in my shorts and watch the sun rise as much as the next man but battling to the top of a mountain carrying a firelog to sleep in a fabric bag in driving rain with your hardy chums is easily as much fun and definitely more rewarding!

Routes from both days

Although if there was one thing I could change about the weekend it would have been to take a decent camera, there’s nothing worse than having an epic weekend with only dodgy photos to remember it by!

This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

2 Responses to Slieve Meelmore Summit Camp

  1. Pingback: Night on the bare mountain « twentyclicks

  2. Pingback: Choosing a Wildcamping Tent | NI-Wild Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *