New Ways to Climb Old Mountains.
I should probably start by saying this was not my first attempt at the Denis Rankin Round. Several weeks before my round had been cut short at the first hurdle by what I can only describe as apocalyptic winds. So much so that I questioned if the Mourne wall would still be standing in the morning.
Fast-forward to the 23rd of March and things were much different. Still the same revving of engines and screeching of tyres at Donard car park but this time my car wasn’t shaking with the gusty wind. I started at 2300 hours. The plan was to start at midnight. However, the wind was forecast to pick up around 2/3 am so I brought it forward an hour to get a head start on the weather, which couldn’t have been better at that time. It was a beautiful crisp, clear night with a full moon but for a small shaving from the bottom right corner. Going up Donard was very peaceful. The only problem being that my young son had been playing the England Euro ’96 song all week and it was well and truly stuck in my head.
The first summits came easily. These were mountains that I had been over many times. Going up Binion was a bit more eventful. I think it was just a lack of concentration but I wasn’t really climbing anymore and the path had disappeared. There was nothing else for it but to make a 90degree turn and start scrambling up boulders. Eventually, I reached the trail again and I was back on track. Heading up to the South tor I saw the biggest, brightest shooting star. I made a quick wish that the now heavy, icy wind would ease and returned to my earworm of ‘Football’s coming home…’
Leaving the summit there was another problem. It seemed to be just slabs and drop offs. I recall my wife Sarah’s words as I was leaving home ‘Don’t do anything stupid!’ So I retraced my steps to find a lower line. After the short accent to Wee Binnion it was down to Silent Valley via Moolieve. Silent Valley was magical, sheltered from the wind and lit up by the moon. After a few minor navigational errors to the foot of Slievenaglogh it was plain sailing to the summit of Doan, only pausing to look at a memorial picture of a lady. Perhaps Doan had been her favourite mountain too. On the runnable approach to the summit of Ben Crom Mountain I could see a figure ahead in the distance. Their hands were shielding their eyes from the sun or perhaps they were taking a photo of me! As I got closer, I thought that it must be binoculars and they knew it was me because they quickly retreated to their tent. As I jogged past I made as much noise as I could hoping for a ‘good morning’ from the tent but nothing. How rude I thought.
I can best describe the line I took up the steep slope of Cairn Mountain as that of a spaniel desperately searching for a lost toy… embarrassing! I had images in my mind of seasoned mountain runners Dale Mathers and Gerry Kingston shaking their heads at me in disgust.
I met my first support at Dears Meadow, Lee O’Boyle. He had been waiting for about two hours and had all my stuff lain out with military precision in the boot of his car, which I kept thinking was rolling back. A sure sign that I was dehydrated. I stocked up and we were on our way. He would run with me through sections three and four. I could tell he was surprised and worried at my poor condition. He had run Larne Half Marathon and got a great PB the day before so I was hoping that he would be tired and his legs would be heavy. He wasn’t and his legs weren’t either. He glided up the hill like a hare, was taking summits he had never been on and was like a kid in a candy store. Which actually made it exciting for me too. When we got to the pond after Slievemeel we met with Aaron Shimmons. This could not have happened at a better time. I had just climbed out of waist-deep bog and the heavy ground of Rosstrevor had taken its toll. The mood seemed to lift instantly, the conversation was buzzing and the pace had lifted. We were moving well. Aaron left us at Rocky to meet us again at Splega.
We took both summits of Cock as we had done on Moughanmore not necessary but we did. At Spelga we met Neil Campbell who had my bag drop. The type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back and literally did at the finish. Aaron was there as promised with Alan Ladd who would run with me to finish. A quick stock up and we were off. Alan was taking the same approach as Lee, running just ahead. Only slowing if I dropped off too far or for directions. This worked brilliantly. It felt just like a race trying to catch or keep in touch with the person in front.
When I got the first real look at Bernagh I turned my gaze instantly, looked back and away again quickly. I’d been thinking about it for months. This was the mountain that would end me. I would get a shock sooner than I though with Meelbegh! By far on the whole round this was the toughest climb. Strangely, the switch backs on Bernagh had made it easier than anticipated.
After Hare’s Gap the darkness and thick fog came down. When we got to Commedagh the still heavy wind was the least of our worries. We went over the stile and ran straight for the summit cairns. Unbelievably making it without a compass bearing. At this point complacency caught up with us. We headed straight for the exit off Commedagh without consulting the compass. We seemed to be descending too quickly. After a quick change of direction back up the hill and some more faffing about we had to accept the fact that we had lost any point of reference. It was at this point that Alan asked was it too late to go back and head down the Glen river? Much longer but we had time to spare and it was the smart thing to do. A quick look at the compass to get us back to the wall and we were off hammering down the trail to Donnard car park. We couldn’t understand how it was taking so long but a retrospective look at the splits showed that we weren’t hammering along at all in fact we were running ridiculously slowly. When we got to the finish Lee, Neil and Aaron were all waiting and after a hug of the arch it was over. 22hours and 7 minutes. I was very pleased to be the 39th person to complete the 39 summits.
In terms of running, this challenge is by far the best I have ever done. I would like to thank the committee and Denis’s club BARF for giving me the opportunity to not only challenge myself but to be able to honour the man in such a wonderful way. In finishing, I wish good luck and every success to friends and fellow mountain runners who decide to take on the challenge.