The Denis Rankin round had been on my radar for little over a year. Having recced all of the course at various times this year and after an injury free season I felt it was a good time to test myself. A quick mention of the challenge in early June to club mate Gavin Hynds along with the irrefutable code word and he was sold! A date of Sat 29th June was set, recces were planned and both our excitement and panic levels grew.
Backpacks were stuffed full, checked and checked again and an early night was called for. With alarm clock set (I’ll come back to that one later), restlessness started to creep in, along with an irrational fear that I was going to lead us up the wrong mountains. After much checking of the route map on my phone, I managed to dose off into the deepest sleep, only to be woken by someone knocking on the front door thirty minutes after the time I was meant to be up. In a haze of sleep I realised it was Gavin and that my alarm had not gone off. I quickly got dressed, was handed a take away sugary tea (thanks Helen!) and we set off. Gavin laughed about it most of the drive to Newcastle, but I was still in shock about the whole matter!
We arrived at an eerily quiet Donard park (for once, not a boy racer to be seen or heard). Trackers were switched on, the obligatory photo taken under the arch and we were off. The early morning was very humid and brought back memories of climbing Ayers rock with my good friend Andy at a similar time in the wee hours nearly 20 years ago. Climbing up through Donard forest, our head torches caught the reflection of two young deer, which passed by us with little concern. We climbed up to the saddle with good pace and summited Donard right on schedule. The morning was very muggy and warm so we both opted to remove a layer of clothing. On the descent from Donard we started our planned hourly ritual of stuffing something into our mouths whether we wanted to or not. We proceeded onto the top of Chimney Rock and then, after losing the path down, had a bit of a dodgy section to navigate before the ground levelled out. As we headed over to the base of Rocky we were able to ditch the head torches as daylight was starting to improve. With Rocky climbed we headed northwards to cross the river and pick up the path to take us to the brandy pad. This path, quite often hard to find on previous recce missions, revealed itself well and flowed nicely up to the Brandy Pad. It felt a great milestone to reach the familiar brandy pad and as we ran along it we were hit with pockets of strangely warm air. From here Beg and Cove were climbed and as we reached the top of Lamagan a flock of horned sheep seemed a bit distracted by our efforts. The descent off Lamagan was also a challenge as the cloud and mist had really come down on us at this point leaving visibility poor. Nevertheless, we reached the col below and started the ascent of Binian. At the top of Binian South Tor we were greeted by a low flying light aircraft. As we made our descent I could hear a few Mourne accents – a group of lads doing the Mourne wall challenge. We were also treated to a great reflection of Slievenaglogh in the Silent Valley reservoir, truly amazing at that time of the day. The steep descent from Binian didn’t seem as bad as we had found on a recce the previous Saturday. We moved onto Wee Binian and as we dropped down to Silent Valley, loud rumblings could be heard in the distance. “Surely not thunder?” I thought to myself. Thunder was not forecast, and trust me I had been studying different weather forecasts obsessively all week! After finishing section 1 in just under 5hrs it was time for a break. I found a bench by the reservoir, sat down, changed my shirt and quickly demolished some yoghurt and oats. Man, did they taste good. But it was a quick stop and onwards we trotted.
We headed for the wall and after cutting across a bog found ourselves ascending Slievenaglogh. As we did so, the heavens started to open but we had no sooner put our raincoats on that it stopped. Down towards Loughshannagh Lake we headed, treading on the nice sandy path. We followed on to climb Doan and Ben Crom. At this summit I looked over and wondered whether it was worth taking a straight line to our next target, Carn, but since I had not recced that route, thought it was wiser to drop down to follow the Ben Crom river until it disappeared and then over a short length of boggy ground. Over to the stile at the Loughshannagh/Carn col and we then started the long pull up to Carn and Slieve Muck. From here it was a short sharp drop to Deers Meadow for our first proper rest and refuel after covering section 2 in around 3.5hours. Here we were met by the legend that is Therese and her daughter Eimear. We were treated to big mugs of tea and coffee, toast and homemade energy balls all from the
comfort of deck chairs.
We changed socks and shoes, restocked our backpacks and our fluid bags were topped up with ice brought by Therese. Feeling restored we headed up Pigeon rock to start section 3 which I had in the past likened to an intense assault course. At Moughanmore we stopped at the top and remembered Denis but just at that moment rumbles of thunder began again. We moved onwards to wee Moughanmore and as we were returning to the wall at the bottom of Eagle, large hail stones started to fall. We got a good soaking but to this we were almost oblivious as we stopped to admire NAC’s Seamus Lynch dropping like a stone from the top of Moughanmore, leading the pack in the Spelga Skyline fell race. As we started the steep ascent of Eagle I felt a strange buzzing in my bag. It was indeed my phone alarm going off at 12.55pm (not 12.55am as I had intended it to!) Onwards we climbed, laughing about it and we had soon bagged Eagle and Shanlieve.
At the top of Shanlieve I looked ahead and unlike previous recces had clear visibility over to the top of Finlieve. Gavin led the way here along the path before starting the obstacle course of giant peat hags. From Finlieve we dropped down the long steep grassy bank to cross the river. To our delight the river was a shadow of its former self some 2 weeks before, when it took us 30 mins and much bravery to cross. We followed a quad bike track for a short stretch before heading up the steep bank between the masts ahead. At Slievemeen we stopped briefly to admire the view and onwards we headed to Slieve Martin.
From here it was a nice grassy downhill stretch to the bottom of the dreaded hill that is Crenville. I didn’t find its terrain too bad and used its long wiry grass as a handrail to keep myself upright. I did think to myself that a wee flock of sheep would do a great job on this mountain for us runners. From the top of Crenville we dropped down to the forest and through a short stretch of trees picked up a path that we were able to jog along to the base of Slievemeel. Another climb through rough ground commenced and we remarked how much the grass had grown since our last jaunt over it a fortnight before. From the summit we headed for a corner of forest in the region of Kilbroney red bog. After some bog hopping we picked up a trail which took us past the pond over the Yellow Water River through some trees to the base of Tievedockaragh. Up we climbed, knowing that we would be soon out of the jungle and into more familiar territory. From the summit we ran down beside the wall, bounced over it and found a nice flat trail to take us to Pierce’s Castle. At this stage the rough ground and downhills were taking its toll on Gavin’s knee. He quizzed me as to what mountains were left until he could get his hands on his pre-ordered ice pop. On to Rocky we headed. Realising the next food stop was getting closer. I went ahead of Gavin at this stage, stopping at the Rocky water river to refill my water bottle. I then commenced the long, leg sapping climb up Cock Mountain just as the sun really started to burn. Not sure how many chocolate bars were consumed in the process but I do remember taking my first gel of the day here so it must have been bad. At the summit I did think to myself there is probably an easier way up here than the way I just took straight up the middle of it. From here I could see the cars at Spelga car park and having just drank the contents of my water bottle on the steep climb my thirst really started to grow. Downwards I stumbled from Cock to climb Slievenamiskan and from here made my way down to Spelga Park. At Spelga I was met by my daughter Orla shouting at me to run! If only she knew where I’d been I thought to myself. As I reached the picnic benches I could see that Helen had pulled a blinder with a great spread prepared and all my gear ready for the next leg. Kerry handed me an ice pop which went down a treat. I rested and refuelled on coke, pizza, coffee and watermelon (not in that order) but it has to be said mainly coke!
Gavin then soon arrived and after a quick turnaround we set off together on the final leg.
With bellies full, we marched on up to Spaltha first then back over to Slievenamuck. At this point Gavin was struggling with his knee and we agreed for me to go on ahead to make the 24hr completion time. We reassured each other of the peaks that remained to be visited. I set Gavin’s compass bearing to reach Commedagh summit from the wall/ tower. Gavin’s parting words to me were “knock yourself out mate.” People that know my mountain running history will know that was not the soundest advice to give me!
Up the Ott track I jogged and then up the short sharp climb to Ott Mountain. On the descent I took a high line to the wall. From this point on, I was back in my weekend playground. Fuelled by the caffeine hit from the coke I seemed to pick off Loughshannagh, the Meels & Bernagh much more easily than I thought I would. At Hare’s gap I gleamed knowing it was just one final long climb all the way to Commedagh and then a freewheel downhill from there. As I approached the tower at Commedagh, thick cloud came in and settled on top and I had a Joe Simpson ‘touching the void’ moment; feeling guilty for leaving Gavin on his own and worrying how he would get off the top safely. Downwards I started to jog off the last mountain and into the forest. As I emerged from the trees at Donard Park, I was met by Helen, Orla & Finn who raced me to the finish under the arch at Donard Park entrance. With the obligatory photo taken, I got a congratulatory call from Eddie from Primal Tracking who gave me great relief that Gavin was making good progress and was not far behind.
I had a quick freshen up and some food whilst monitoring Gavin’s progress on the tracker link. As he got closer I walked back into Donard Park to the first bridge to meet him. In between bats flying about overhead, I spotted a head torch coming out of the trees. After a manly hand shake we emerged together out of the forest to music blasting from O’Hares pub, to finish under the arch. Two happy boys, the circuit completed, a first for EDAC! A great day out in the magical kingdom of Mourne. This round would not have been possible without the help and support of Helen, Therese, Kerry & the lads from Primal Tracking, Eddie & Rowan. Thanks so much guys!
This round, dedicated to the memory of Denis Rankin, was also completed by me in memory of ‘The Best Man’ Andy Brown MRCVS, 10/01/78 – 11/06/19