Above: Our certificates on completion of the challenge.

 I had planned to do the official Mourne 7 7’s challenge for a few years but work and other commitments had prevented me from making it on previous years. This year however I was determined to do it and get the official certificate. The only problem with this year was that I was getting married and going on honeymoon soon before the date of the challenge. Feasting on food and drink for a couple of weeks would not help my training much. With this in mind I knew that I was never going to break any records. Finishing was my primary aim. We arrived in Donard Park at 7am on the morning of the challenge. Despite the early arrival there was already a large queue of people waiting to register. We took our place in the queue and were registered and ready to start at 7.30. After standing in the queue for 30 minutes it was good to finally get moving. The route up along the Glen River to the saddle was covered quite quickly as expected. I didn’t stop to take photos on the day because I was focused on the task at hand. This day was not a sightseeing trip. One good thing about the route of the sevens is that we were able to leave our packs at the saddle between Donard and Commedagh, before climbing Donard as we would be coming back the same way. I had never before climbed Donard without a pack on my back. It felt strange but definitely helped with the speed of the ascent. Thanks to this it didn’t take long until we were clocking in at the first summit using the electronic tags provided by the organizers. It was still early in the morning. The wind was strong and cold at the summit of Donard and since we had left our packs with our fleeces at the saddle we wasted no time descending.

Commedagh was another quick ascent. We were were still fresh and it always feels easier after Donard, especially with the flat spot halfway up which serves as a nice rest for your legs. Thankfully we didn’t have to go all the way across to the summit cairn but rather just to the stone shelter where we clocked in before climbing over the wall to descend directly down toward Slieve Beg. There is no beaten track down on this side of Commedagh but more of just trying to follow the person in front and hope that they have found a reasonable route. Some of this section is very steep and slippy but thankfully we soon descended out of the cloud and could easily see the direction we needed to travel without the need for any navigation. It was on this decent that I began to question my choice of boots for the day. I have several pairs ranging from lightweight but not waterproof to heavy, watertight boots. The boots I had worn that day were in the middle but I was finding them hard on my toes during descent. At that stage though there was no point thinking about what if. They were the only boots I had with me so I couldn’t change them now.

Slieve Beg and Cove Mountain of course stood in the way before reaching Slieve Lamagan, the next of the seven summits. On the ascent up Slieve Beg we had definitely started to slow down. I was feeling the tiredness beginning in my legs and one of my calf muscles tried to cramp a couple of times. I stretched it and made sure I was drinking plenty of water. It thankfully didn’t bother me for the rest of the day. We finally got Slieve Beg and Cove Mountain out of the way and then finished the last of the ascent onto summit number three, Slieve Lamagan. The summit was a hive of activity with both walkers and runners. It was a far cry from the peaceful campsite I had enjoyed a few weeks earlier in July. We were surprised to find some people stopping to rest and eat at the summit. At this stage it was still in the cloud, still very windy and cold. Our view was that it made more sense to rest and eat in the valleys on such a day, where it would be warmer and more pleasant.
We placed our electronic tags into the timing device on the summit and waited for the now familiar beep and flashing light to alert us that we had successfully clocked in, before beginning our descent toward Binnian. The route between Lamagan and the saddle with Binnian is also one where I have never known a beaten track so it was just a a case of finding the fastest, easiest route down through the large rocks. I did enjoy that section. The weather was beginning to improve. The wind was much lighter now and cloud cover was reducing on all the summits.

Before we started up Binnian we stopped to enjoy some snacks. I had some high energy breakfast bars with me which were fantastic to fight off the hunger for long enough to climb Binnian. It had already been a long time since breakfast. Binnian was another mountain like Donard where we could leave our packs at the bottom as we would be coming back the same way. The route to Binnian summit from the saddle with Lamagan is one of my favourite routes in the Mournes. This day was no different. Without a backpack and after some snacks the route was very enjoyable despite the growing tiredness in our legs. As it was the same route up as down it was also very busy with both runners and walkers The section from the North Tor to the summit provided a bit of a rest for our legs. Once clocked in at the summit we only had one thing on our minds; descending to Ben Crom dam to enjoy some sandwiches. The route down was even busier than the route up. We needed to step off the path quite a few times to allow runners to pass in both directions. Below the saddle, toward the dam we, along with a larger group, lost the path completely but we knew that we just needed to keep heading in the direction of the dam and, thankfully, we met the path again and eventually reached the dam. There was an official cut off time at 14.30 for everyone reaching the dam. Anyone who did not reach the dam by that time would be retired. We arrived at 12.30.

The route and statistics from the day as recorded by my ViewRanger App

 We clocked in at the dam and immediately began eating our sandwiches that we had been very much looking forward to. Unfortunately it became evident though that there was a serious problem with midges. We quickly came under attack by what I can only describe as the most brutal midge attack I have ever experienced. I was wearing shorts so my legs were getting the most bites. The attack was so severe we were forced to cut our lunch short and start moving again. The next part of the route would be the toughest section of the day; the long boggy section from Ben Crom dam to the foot of Slieve Meelbeg. It began with a steep hike up Ben Crom. My legs were burning from the midge bites and almost immediately I felt totally exhausted. We continued on and eventually we got around the corner of Ben Crom where there was a welcome gentle slope down toward the Ben Crom river. Following the river would take us all the way to the foot of Slieve Meelbeg. The ground was boggy and every step was a huge effort. Mentally I was struggling as I looked ahead at Meelbeg, Meelmore and Bearnagh, wondering how on earth I was ever going to climb those. I was chewing my way through a packet of energy sweets but at this stage they were having no effect at all. Finally we reached the foot of Slieve Meelbeg.

Thankfully we were now back on some solid ground as we began to ascend Slieve Meelbeg. This solid ground underfoot made progress much easier and I began to feel better, knowing that the worst section of the day was now behind us. Upon reaching the summit of Meelbeg I called my wife to provide an update on our progress. After this quick chat and knowing that we were well on our way to completing the challenge, I began to feel really positive.
From the summit of Meelbeg to the summit of Meelmore is a very short hike. Meelmore was going to be an easy one and I knew that.

At the saddle before Meelmore we handed another plastic tag to some officials who also gave us some sweets to help with energy levels. Like Commedagh, Meelmore has a flat area on the way up that provided a welcome rest for our legs. We reached the summit quite quickly and began our descent down toward Slieve Bearnagh. Throughout the day I had some minor aches and pains in my legs that were gradually getting worse. This was not unexpected with such a challenge but at this stage I was just hoping that none of those aches or pains would get to the extent where they could affect my ability to finish the challenge.
Slieve Bearnagh was the last major obstacle between me and a refreshing pint of Guinness in Newcastle. We stopped at the bottom to fuel up on some snacks and prepare ourselves mentally. Surprisingly it turned out not to be as bad as I was expecting. I think I had built it up so much in my head. I always enjoy ascending Bearnagh because it is steep, almost a scramble in places. Even today, with my legs exhausted I still enjoyed it. Once on the summit the challenge was technically complete; we had climbed all 7 of the highest peaks in the Mournes in one day. We just had to make it back to Newcastle to make it official.

From Hare’s Gap back to Newcastle is quite a distance and even on the mostly flat section through the Brandy Pad my feet and my legs were screaming out for a rest. There was no stopping at this stage though. It was (almost) all downhill from here. Back on the saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh I contacted my wife to let her know we were not far from Newcastle. We had a room booked in the Slieve Donard hotel for the night and she was going to walk down to Donard Park to meet me for a drink in the Anchor bar as soon as we completed the challenge.

I was quite elated when we arrived back in Donard Park. We proceeded to the registration area to clock out and receive our certificates. This marked the official end to the challenge. I then hobbled across to the Anchor bar where I devoured three of the most enjoyable pints of Guinness I have ever had. We then went to the hotel where we had dinner and I was in bed fast asleep soon after 9pm.
It was halfway through the following week before my legs had fully recovered.