You gotta know when to hold…. a Meelbeg bivvy

Spurred on by Dowser’s great trip report on his recent summit bivvy on Errigal, I thought I’d pen a few words and share a few pictures of a bivvy I had in the Mournes on the very same night.

My destination of choice was a summit bivvy on Slieve Meelbeg. Now Meelbeg and me have a bit of history. A couple of years ago I set out with fellow forummer Fred for a summit camp on Meelbeg only to be thwarted by snow and the terribly thin soil on the summit, that prevented the pitching of my tent. This time I went armed with a bivvy bag and determination that this would be the night.

The weather forecast was for a mostly dry night which influenced me to take the micro-tarp, enabling me to have at least my top half covered should the rain arrive. The other thing that was forecast was extremely high winds coming from the west. A look at the map showed that there was potential for the Mourne wall to give me shelter right at the top where a small section of the wall ran pretty much north to south.
Leaving a breezy Meelmore Lodge I set off along the Mourne Way, contouring the large bulk of Slieve Meelmore until I met the Happy Valley between Meelmore and Meelbeg.
Since I have been up and down the Happy Valley on a number of occasions I opted instead to ascend Meelbeg via its long spine which rises to the summit from the direction of Fofanny Dam.
I enjoyed the climb with a beautiful setting sun (rare for me it seems) on my back. The warm light bathed the whole of the valley and mountainsides surrounding it with a rich golden glow. This really is a great route for an evening climb into the Mournes, ensuring that you can savour every moment as the sun slowly descends to greet the horizon.

Rainbow over Spellack

Rainbow over Spellack

Happy Valley

Happy Valley

Looking back over the Mourne Way

Looking back over the Mourne Way

Looking ahead to the climb up Meelbeg

Looking ahead to the climb up Meelbeg

As I got higher so did the wind speed.  I stopped to look towards the sunset and I noticed a few tents pitched at the southern end of the reservoir at Fofanny.  I’ll admit to thinking it looked like a good place to be.

As I approached the summit of Meelbeg the wind was very strong.  It was hitting me from the side and with a full pack on it made the walking quite tough, struggling at times to maintain my balance.  I dropped off the crest of the spur a little to cut the wind down to something more manageable.  Once on the top I quickly sought refuge behind the wall on the inner side of the mountain.  With the daylight fading fast the scene was changing to look a little more moody.


At least this time there was no snow on the ground which would make it easier to find a suitable place to spend the night.  I paced up-and-down the wall for several minutes, trying the ‘lie down test’ but just could not find anywhere long enough that there wouldn’t be part of my body lying on a rock.  Even if I could tolerate a bumpy uneven bed there was no way my tarp was going up.  That meant it likely that I might get a bit wet during the night.

The other thing was that the wind was hitting the other side of the wall so hard that it was screaming like a banshee through every crack it could find.  It basically wasn’t a nice place to be.

It was getting to decision time.  Would I last night up there?  Of course I would, but at what cost? It was going to be an exercise in enduring suffering.  I probably wouldn’t sleep well, instead I’d just crawl into the bivvy bag and spend the night peeking out and wondering if it was bright enough to bail out back to the car.

Well, Meelbeg had beaten me again.  I started off down to the Meelbeg/Meelmore col.  Immediately as the col came in to view it looked calm and inviting.  I remembered the last time I camped there and recalled how easily the tent pegs had gone into the ground.  My heart was warmed.  I’d made the correct decision.  Soon I’d have my bed made up, with a roof over it, and a warm meal on the stove.

It was late and I was hungry but I didn’t want to make the wrong decision about where to set up camp.  The inner side of the wall would have offered a better view in the morning but seemed to be more windy.  Fearful that the strong winds the summit was experiencing may find their way down the mountainside at some stage I decided to set up on the other side.  The wall runs through the col from south-west to north-east, strangely the wind was now coming from the north-east.  This was really the opposite direction from where it originated, it must have been rebounding off Meelmore in some way.  My new dilemma was whether to place my tarp to protect me from the wind that was rebounding or to protect myself from the direction that the strong wind was originating.

Having felt how strong it was at the top I was concerned that if the wind changed direction and started to come down off Meelbeg then it would drive the rain into me under the tarp.  So that was it decided I set it up facing the wind, it wasn’t terribly strong anyway, not yet.

I got some dinner on and watched a big red moon rise up between Bearnagh and Lamagan, it was pretty spectacular the way it rose up framed between the mountains.  I hadn’t done bad at all, catching a beautiful sunset on one side and a fantastic moonrise (is that a word?) on the other.  The wind was picking up and my little gorilla pod tripod couldn’t remain steady enough to take a decent picture of the moon.


The gusting wind got stronger and I had to put rocks on my bivvy bag and sleeping mat to stop them blowing away.  The wind continued to pick up and as I sat and enjoyed a brew over by the style a big gust got in under my tarp and lifted it up off the ground.  I’d got it wrong, I had to move it all around in the opposite direction.

It was really getting late but another 20 minutes later I was enjoying some custard and a muffin before turning in for the night.  I slept well and woke up to a dry morning and had a spot of breakfast, chatting to a large group of friends who were passing through as they set off to climb a few of the sevens.



The wind had one last laugh on me.  As I was starting to pack up, it took my foam sit mat away and I had to watch as it cart-wheeled its way up Meelbeg.  Watching like a hawk until it came to rest, I then sprinted as fast as I could before it got a chance to take flight again.

Looking down on camp from the place where I retrieved my sit mat.


That was that, time for home. I made my way down the miners track on the Meelmore side of the Happy Valley. It was a wee bit of an experience, more than I planned it to be! It was nice to take some different paths up and down.

It’s funny now to think that at the same time that I was going through this Dowser was either crawling on his hands and knees across the summit of Errigal or lying on a bed of rocks, huddled in a crater trying to escape the wind.

Someday Meelbeg, someday. 😛

Original link here

With thanks to WhoRya

This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

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