Shane’s Record-Breaking Winter Round Report

I get great enjoyment in the planning of challenges like the Rankin round. With living within an hour of the Mourne’s getting out for recce’s was not going to be a problem and as an orienteer spending time looking over the Harvey’s map is a pleasant pastime. My first recce’s were way back in July 2018 when I split the round in two ~40km loops at Loughshannagh. Completing the South West half one day and the North Eastern half three days later (with the exception of Meelbeg and Meelmore). I summed up then that both these sections were very different in nature, the SW less hilly but rougher, but with some fast trail running. While the NE was hillier but well trod with some more technical steep descents.

I did most my planning of route choice from the armchair and then would go check it out, on my first time out I spent 30 minutes circling through Crenville before finding the optimum route that minimised the time in the tussocks. After each of these two, initial long recce’s I was fairly spent and saw the magnitude of what the challenge would be when they were put back to back. After those two recce’s life and my running took me elsewhere and it wasn’t until the past couple of months that I got back to thinking about and running parts of the route again. By the time it got to doing the round I knew the route well enough to keep the map and compass in the running vest for the most part.

I decided on a 4am start with the idea that I would be back to the handrail of the Mourne Wall by sunset. After a pretty rushed start I set off just about on time. On setting off, I was unsure whether I would go up Donard via the Blackstairs or by the Glen River. By the time I got to the Ice house (after negotiating some newly windblown trees) it was an obvious decision. It was the night before a new moon and so it was pitch dark, so the safer navigation up the Glen River was the obvious choice. I made good progress up the Glen River and was pleased that there was no ice on the steps. I was given a taster for the weather to come as I had to push hard through the tunnel of wind that blew down the valley.

Before setting out I knew the weather was going to play a big part in my round attempt, with forecasts of 70-95km/h winds forecast on the highest peaks, a wind chill of up to minus 12degrees and it had rained pretty heavily the previous couple of weeks (in fact it has been recorded as the wettest February on record!). This however wasn’t off putting as I had been out a couple weeks prior in similar wind speeds and it was again forecast westerly wind and so for the most part with the nature of the route it would be a cross wind and not head on. I wore full leggings, two pairs of gloves, hat, fleece buff, a merino thermal another long sleeve top and a lightweight but good quality waterproof jacket so the cold would not be a big factor. For safety, during the night section at the start, I also carried a pair of waterproof leggings and spare thermal, but really I knew the most important thing was to keep moving for warmth.

After a quick descent from Donard, I took out the map and compass and took a quick bearing from the stile to ensure I kept following the small trod toward Chimney, the trod Craig had showed me a few weeks earlier. On the way to Chimney, I saw a badger on the move. It was the only sign of other life I would see until Silent Valley. I kept the compass and map out for a rough bearing to hit a few hundred metres along the Mourne wall to the right of Rocky. Hitting the wall I knew the toughest part of the night navigation was complete without time loss. I enjoy pushing along the Brandy pad and made good progress and had sunrise just near the top of Binnian. The wind was a fierce powerful cross wind on the top of Binnian and I ran with a lean to to right to ensure I wasn’t blown off course.

The descent off Binnian was very slippery in places (as were all the descents on the day) and I did have one bad fall here, but after a quick check of my fingers on the move I realised nothing was broken but it was a wake up call to stay vigilant! Progress was fastest over section 1, perhaps too fast? and I arrived into the first checkpoint at the Silent Valley dam after 3hour33mins running. Karalee and Lynne had brought up supplies from the locked entrance gate and were very efficient here helping me restock my drink and food.

It was at this first stop that I realised that my eyes had been dried by the strong wind and even after wetting them with water my vision was still blurred and it remained this way for the rest of the day, despite trying optrex at a later stop and wearing clear safety glasses to keep the wind off them. My vision was like I was running through a thick mist, only being able to see outlines of the landscape but not being able to make out detail. Despite this, because I was so familiar with the route it didn’t slow me appreciably, maybe I could have descended faster if I could have picked out the detail underfoot better, but really I continued to push and make good progress.

The second leg passed without much incident but it was coming over the wet heavy ground from Ben Crom toward Carn that I started to feel tired for the first time but got recharged at Deer’s Meadow where again Karalee and Lynne did a great job of getting me in and out as quick as possible. Leg 2 took 2hr48.

I was at my weakest on Leg 3 in the whole day and on the steep ascents of Moughanmore and Eagle I had to sit down several times and close my eyes to rest them also from the battering they had been getting. On Finlieve, I was treated to the worst conditions of the day with a horizontal hail shower which gave stinging hits to my body, I was reduced to a hard walk here as I battled the strong winds, gladly it passed over quickly and it along with one snow shower was the only precipitation all day, save some drizzle. The river enroute to Slievemeen was overflowing and fast but I got across it fine and then soon enough I was down at the Slieve Martin Col where I squinted from a few feet to make out Craig, Karalee, Neil and Steven. Leg 3 took 3hr19.

It was great to have Neil up to help out at the remaining stops with Karalee to get me through, fed and restocked. Steven joined me here to run the last two legs with me and Craig came with us as far as Slievemeel. It was a real bonus to have Steven for the last two legs and he helped keep my tempo high and was able to act as my eyes to help pick out features I knew I needed to head for. Section 4 seemed the easiest of the day after a decent rest at Slieve Martin and plenty of food. Also, this time of year the vegetation is much lower than when tackling the route in the height of summer. Cock was the only struggle on this leg and even then, progress was good. Leg 4 took 3hr10.

After a quickish stop at Spelga we set off on a straight line route for Spaltha, at the top of Butter we were met by Brian who directed us to change my planned route down to Ott car park and instead head for the high point on the road between Butter and Ott (where apparently Karalee and Neil were parked – Steven looked on and verified this was the case), this proved a good time saver and we were down to the car quickly where I picked up poles for the final few steep ascents, the best of which are Meelbeg, Bearnagh and Commedagh.

The poles were a big help as my climbing legs were pretty shot by this stage, Steven offered good encouragement and it didn’t seem like too long before we were summiting Commedagh. Another very welcome boost was being greeted by the headlights of Craig, Karalee and Neil just after the summit. They had made their way up in the gale to get us down on a quick line back to Donard Arch. Craig set what seemed at this point of the round like a blistering pace and I upped my tempo and just hung on to the red light in front. On the descent I went over my ankles several times but they are pretty flexible at the best of times, so it mattered not. It was a great feeling as I reached the open grass of Donard park and the others held back to let me push on first to touch the Arch. Brian and his son were back out to see us in. Leg 5 took 3hr46.

I really enjoyed the day, pushing myself over the hills and through the elements and I am very thankful to the great support on the day, each of their contributions helped me to get around a lot faster than I would have without them and with less fun. Total time was 16hr36min36s.