Bullseye Bivvy Round 2 – Slieve Donard Saddle

It was February 2012 that Dowser came up with a new idea for selecting camping spots. We were finding that we relentlessly went to the same places repeatedly and knew we were missing out on the opportunity to explore and find new areas. The flash of inspiration was beautifully old school simple – a dart and a map spawned The Bullseye Bivvy named after the game show that ran for 13 years in the 1980s. Round one was well off the beaten track on Cock Mountain and it was a great night that delivered, as promised, somewhere we had never been before in an area that we didn’t often visit.

IMG_1222Round two was very much delayed and it was December 2013 before the magical dart of destiny was thrown once again, this time landing on the steep northwest slopes of Slieve Donard. Not the easiest spot to reach in the middle of winter with full overnight gear but such is the fickle finger of bivvying fate!

The beauty of The Bullseye Bivvy is that only the finishing point is important meaning people are free to choose their own routes and times and for BB2, nine planned to make the trip hiking from various locations throughout the Mournes. Dowser came up Spences River walking the Mourne Wall over Rocky Mountain to the Bog of Donard and followed the Brandy Pad to the bivvy spot. Rumblebum and Whorya who were setting out later from Donard Park initially intended to ascend the Black Steps and come down to the spot from Donard summit but were unable to safely cross the Glen River and elected to come up the direct route instead. Landyliam who couldn’t make it until late evening also hiked the Glen River route from Newcastle arriving at 11:15pm. Myself, Matt, Stepstew, Clairebear and Stephen set off from Meelmore Lodge clambering up the boulder field at Hares Gap and traversing the Brandy Pad. By the time we reached the Commedagh / Donard Saddle we had already needed to stop to don head torches in the pitch dark and we  were all wet and chilly and pleased to see a head torch bobbing its way down the Donard slopes.

The torch turned out to be IMG_1228Dowser, who arriving first, had scouted the intended spot and judged it to be too wet and steep to camp on and he was concerned that his scotch might roll down the hill in the middle of the night and be lost forever. He had already contacted another NI-Wild member at home to post our change of plans on the forum and hopefully alert the others joining us of a slight site move, although we were still close enough that all late arrivals would easily have see our lights in the dark. We quickly decided that the only place we could overnight with any chance of comfort would be at the saddle where we had all congregated. After much indecisive tramping around we picked a spot close to the wall on the Brandy Pad side which seemed at least slightly drier underfoot. The whole area was awash with running water from the previous days of rain and this was the only place we could find where we wouldn’t end up sleeping in standing water. Bivvy bags are waterproof to a point but lying in an actual puddle is likely to overpower even the best of technical fabrics.

IMG_1231After much tinkering we got tarps erected and fired up the stoves for a warm drink and some food. Most people were on MREs or dried food with only Dowser electing to actually cook – haggis, Polish meatballs and potato wedges topped off  with blue cheese sauce – never have I been so glad to not be sharing a sleeping space with someone 🙂

As we cooked, boiled and chatted, the rain gradually eased off leaving us in the damp mist of the low cloud which lifted slowly through the evening and with a few firelogs burning, we were eventually treated to a bright, full moon and a decent view of the stars. After a brief dance with the idea of a quick summit of snow covered Donard, we decided that comfy sleeping bags seemed a warmer idea and retired at around 2am on a now clear, cool night.

IMG_1242The morning was fine and bright without a cloud in the sky and once we were up we could see a lovely hike home was on the cards. We shook the ice from our tarps, packed up our stuff, tidied the site and everyone left in the various directions from which they had arrived.

After a brief consideration of the high route over Commedagh, Corragh and Slievenaglogh (too steep!) we elected to return as we came, along the Brandy Pad. The morning was beautiful and we had an extended break to lazily munch biscuits and drink coffee by one of the numerous rivers around the Commedagh Back Castles while watching the wispy clouds drift over the snow capped peak of Slieve Bearnagh.

IMG_1309Two hours of walking in cool, hazy sunshine had us back at Meelmore Lodge for a well deserved lunch at the cafe and shortly after we left the mountains for the comfort of the sofa.

It was another great weekend of hiking, bivvying and enjoying mountain time with our NI-Wild chums and we were able to experience the 4 seasons in one day that the Mourne Mountains often bring, starting in cold torrential rain and finishing in beautiful clear bright sunshine. It was also a chance to test wet weather gear (new trousers needed), the Jetboil for ultralight cooking (works well but unexciting menu) and tarp setups (much practice needed and knowing more that one knot would be useful).

Bring on the next one Magical Dart of Destiny, we’re ready to rumble!

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Dowser’s Pictures

This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

2 Responses to Bullseye Bivvy Round 2 – Slieve Donard Saddle

  1. whoRya says:

    Nice wee read there, it feels like a long time ago! Some cracker photos as well. The warm colours of the sun on the Sunday really made the mountains feel special. More often than not you’re somewhere else looking up at the sky and thinking “what a day that would be in the mountains”, sometimes you’re fortunate enough to be there and savour it.

  2. Pingback: Slieve Lamagan Summit Camp | NI-Wild Northern Ireland Outdoors Blog

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