Disclaimer: this is going to be a long one

For my vacation I planned hiking Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak at 850 meters. Weather forecast at my hiking day seemed slightly better and less windy. Few showers that were promised did not happen and gladly so, you will understand why later.

First of all, let me tell you that I am by no means an experienced hiker. This was my first solo mountain hike. Nothing in Latvia, which is where I am from, qualifies as a mountain. Our highest “mountain” Gaiziņkalns is only 312 meters high. Only real mountains I’ve hiked before were in Norway, but even then, if my recollection from nine or ten years ago is correct, we were taken halfway up the mountain before we began our hike to the top. Was I well prepared for this hike? Not at all, but off to the mountain I went.

6:00 am I was dropped off in Newcastle and quickly found my way through Donard car park in the forest area where I could hear the Glen river flowing. Follow the river. I was nervous and excited. In the car park I passed a group of serious hikers gearing up and thought to myself well at least I have this pack of wolves as a pointer if I get lost as I already knew they would pass me at some point. I was right. Other than the pack there was not a single soul out there at this hour or so it seemed.

Path along the river was very slippery, vet, and muddy. Rocks, tree roots, and sharp bushes all over. The pack passed me at the second bridge and there was no way I could keep up with them. My pace was going to be slow and careful since I was out there alone. Besides, I wasn’t going to be rude and tag along on someone else’s adventure. I was on my own adventure!

The Donard ice house

In the old days before the invention of refrigerators, ice houses were built to keep food fresh throughout the year. Some of them were caverns dug deeper into the ground where the temperature was lower under the layers of the soil similar as in mines. My grandmother had  such a structure at her old countryside house where she stored harvested vegetables and jars of jam.  

The Donard ice house was built around 1840's and it is an igloo type of building built from rocks found around the mountain. Ice was taken from the Glen river and placed at the bottom of the building. It was then covered with a layer of insulation such as hay, straws, and moss to keep it from melting. Then all sorts of goods were stored above to keep them fresh longer.

After admiring the ice house for a while I remembered about the rock I was supposed to bring up to the summit. I found a white granite rock for white thoughts and placed it in my backpack before continuing up the river valley towards the saddle between Donard on the left and Commedagh on the right. I was enjoying the cheerful bird songs coming from the pine forest on my right and everything was simply wonderful. I forgot about my nervousness from before.

Once I was closer to the saddle the wind appeared getting stronger and path turned a lot more steep and rigid. This is the spot I realized the easy bit is over and I have to be more careful with my steps. Falling on rocks and gravel, taking a tumble down the valley or slipping on mud was not an option! I decided to put my camera away for most of it and focused on making progress with the ascent.

Climb was quite challenging. I kept thinking how the hell I will not roll face first down the valley when I come back. It is hard to tell in the photographs how steep this thing actually is. It began to worry me a bit again. I figured that while climbing upwards is physically harder, especially when your hip is falling apart, going down is actually way more dangerous.

First glimpse of The Mourne Wall

The Mourne Wall was built between 1904 and 1922 to keep farm animals away from The Silent Valley reservoir. The wall is about 35 km long and it is built from rocks all the way crossing fifteen peaks all together. There were no cranes, no helicopters to assist with building the wall back then. All this was done by hard work of people. Can you imagine carrying all those rocks and hanging around the mountain building at no matter what weather? Be it rain, wind or cold.

Black retriever mix greeted me at the saddle between Donard and Commedagh followed by two hikers happily returning from Donard. I enjoyed the view for a short while and tried to catch my breath before beginning even steeper the hike up along the wall. The wall sheltered from the wind quite well.

Hey buddy! Will you race me to the top?

I was hiking towards the summit for about ten minutes and then this happened...

All of a sudden I felt like the hedgehog in the fog . What? How?

To be continued in part II

Sources: The Donard ice; Ice houses; The Mourne Wall

Song of the day: Fleetwood Mac - The Chain