Summit of Mullaghcarn, wreathed in cloud.
This post is a bit different to my usual, as in contrast to the normal landscapes/nature shots, there are a few people shots too. Yes, people! I have no objection to people of course, but I’m interested in portraying the natural world, and once you put a person in a photo, I think they instantly become the focus and main subject. I therefore normally leave them out to avoid distraction. This post however, is about the 542m high Mullaghcarn in the Sperrin Mountains, and I, along with seveal others, was climbing it for a specific reason. Over the course of 2014, hill walker and rock climber Simon Byrne, has had the incredible target of reaching the summit of all 454 mountains in the Mountainviews website’s list of Vandeleur-Lynam and Arderin peaks. Roughly speaking, this means all mountains in Ireland over 500 metres. This involved a huge effort, with long drives, overnight sleeps in his car, and some truly epic walks. And it wasn’t just the length of the walks, impressive as they were. Combining several mountains in each walk meant huge total height gains, extremely difficult, trackless terrain, with bog, deep heather and tussocky, high grass to battle through. It is an almost impossible task, but amazingly, by 27th December, Simon was left with just one mountain to complete, the aforementioned Mullaghcarn in Co. Tyrone. This would surely be the easiest walk in his challenge, as it was just the one mountain, and there is an access road for the telecommunications masts, which can be followed all the way to the summit. It was chosen by Simon specifically for this ease of access, as to mark this great achievement, several people would be accompanying him on his final walk, many of them non-hill walkers. Simon had several friends and family going along, and there were also many well wishers, who were users of the Mountainviews website, and had come along to congratulate him and witness his quest being completed. I had never met Simon, but had read about his exploits on MV and on his own blog, and couldn’t resist coming along. It was extremely fortunate for me that the final summit was practically in my own backyard.
As indicated on the Mountainviews website, everyone met up at 11.00am on 27th Dec, at the bottom of the access road, with the intention of setting off at 11.30. This gave us a bit of time for a chat, and it was great to meet Simon, and to put a face to some of the names I had been familiar with from Mountainviews, including wicklore and Onzy, both of who’s summit comments I had read countless times. I was also pleased to meet Martin Critchley and Sharon Schwartz who produce fantastic videos on their youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRpKunrg0ggwy-B7BoR0hKQ as they were present to record the event. As planned, at 11.30 we all set off up the access road, in snowy conditions and under an overcast sky. The walking was at a gentle pace to cater for all the ability levels present, something I was very glad of, as this was my first hill walk in a couple of months after putting my back out in October. I found that it hadn’t taken long for whatever stamina I’d built up, to disappear. As I paused now and again to take photos, I found it hard going catching up with the group again. Initially, we had coniferous forest on both sides of the road, and this combined with the snow and cloud, made for a gloomy conditions, although I’m always happy to be walking on snowy mountains.
As we gained a bit of height, more blue sky could be seen, and sunlit areas were becoming visible on the countryside below.
Nearby Curraghchosaly Mountain appearing through the now thinning trees.
I’ve never went hill walking in company before, as I like the solitude, and the freedom to take diversions and stop for photos as the mood takes me, without driving other people mad. However, I enjoyed the company on this occasion, having so many interesting people with vast experience in hill walking to talk to. The walk also got better as the trees began to thin out, and views opened up below us. The sun was making fleeting appearances between rushing clouds, making for dramatic light on the landscape, and great contrast between the snow where we were walking, and the green ground lower down.
Low passing cloud partially obscuring Bessy Bell in the distance.
The light was rapidly changing at this point.
Vapour rising from the forest below.
Curraghchosaly again, in increasingly pleasant conditions.
Some of those who came along to accompany Simon, making their way up.
As we began to near the end of the forested area, we could get a glimpse of the main bulk of the mountain ahead, but the weather was very changable, and it was now largely obscured by cloud.
Emerging from the trees.
As we left the trees and began to make our way up the open hillside, the cloud at the summit began to clear a little, and would fleetingly reveal the top, crowned by masts, although it was often still gloomy where we stood.
A glimpse of the summit, now close, with the masts just visible in the cloud.
The whole walk was only 6km from start to finish, and it was a short walk to the summit from here. I dropped behind to get some shots of the group moving up the arctic-like terrain, looking a bit like Tolkien’s Fellowship Of The Ring I thought! Fitting really given Simon’s epic quest.
A very Christmassy looking tree.
We were coming up the northwest side of Mullaghcarn, and as we got near the top, we now had some views to the west.
A look back at the open hillside we had just come up, with the forest behind, and patchy light moving across.
The clouds were rushing across the sky here, borne on a strong wind that was also blowing the powdery snow along, close to the ground. It was beautiful to watch (although difficult to capture in a photograph!).
The mountain gods must have been smiling on Simon’s endeavours, as we probably had the best weather of the day right at the summit, although the wind was very cold, the mountain itself no longer sheltering us.
The whole group arriving at the summit and trig pillar together.
Simon’s moment of triumph, the culmination of a remarkable year during which he has stood on top of every mountain in Ireland! Not many people have managed to do that in a whole lifetime. An amazing achievement, and everyone present gave him a well deserved round of applause, followed by much hand shaking and back slapping. Talking to him afterwards, I could tell he was both elated, and also a little sad that the adventure was coming to an end. I’m fairly sure he’ll have something else in mind for the future though!
Champagne and plastic beakers were produced to mark the occasion, and were passed round to everyone after being opened in celebratory fashion by Simon. Up here, there were no worries about it being suitably chilled.
Amid the celebrations, I took a few minutes to take in the new views to the south and west, in now glorious sunshine.
As I previously mentioned however, it seemed that the gods had been smiling upon us, giving us a brief moment to enjoy the summit and Simon’s achievement, before a wall of cloud moved quickly in over us. It honestly looked like some CGI effect from a film as it raced towards us before enveloping us in freezing cold and gloomy darkness.
Cloud moving in.
Only a minute earlier, there had been a sunlit landscape spread out beyond the little tree and brightness where I stood.
It was so cold, that there seemed to be a communal decision to start back down, only Simon lingering behind for a few minutes at the summit for a moment of solitude and contemplation.
A last look at the summit trig pillar.
In no time we were back at the bottom of the access road and our cars. It had been a privilege to be there to witness Simon achieving something so difficult, and accompany him on the last leg. It must have been a momentous occasion for Simon yet he really took the time to talk to everybody, many of whom, including me, he had never met before. I had also met several other new people and had really enjoyed everyone’s company on the walk. One of the reasons I don’t do much people photography is that I hate organising people into groups and directing them around, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass without asking for a group shot of some of those I had met, including Simon himself, wicklore and Onzy from Mountainviews, and videographers Martin and Sharon. Thankfully everyone happily obliged and I was very pleased to get this momento of the day.
I would strongly recommend checking out Simon’s own blog, where he covers the entire year, giving an account of the highs and lows, and some of the difficulties, trials and encouraging episodes he encountered. You can find his blog at:
You can also see the routes Simon took on MountainViews.ie, where he has uploaded the tracks from GPS, and you can begin to appreciate the effort involved.
Finally, if you keep an eye on Martin and Sharon’s youtube channel at:
and Simon’s brother, Philip’s youtube channel at:
there will probably be video footage from the final climb when all the editing has been done.
Congratulations Simon – I think you’re entitled to put the feet up for Christmas now!