The first time I did the Mountain Marathon was in 2011 and I swore I’d never do it again. We did the C class and I was talked into it by a friend from the Mountaineering Club at Queen’s, wasn’t fit, carried far too much and wore boots. The weather was rubbish. Time heals all wounds it seems and by 2017 I was up for another go, this time in The B class with the same man, wearing trainers and carrying a more sensible load. The weather was even worse but clearly there’s something wrong with me as I haven’t missed one since and have even had a couple of goes at the elite class.
However, 2020 involved more hours of suffering in the Mournes than usual, so a slight break in 2021 was in order. I hadn’t tried the Score class before so this provided an excellent excuse ease off. Paul Nixon (of this parish) was also keen to have a go but not the 2 days, and I committed myself to helping collect controls on Sunday to make sure I couldn’t be guilted into the 2 day.
Our curtailed ambition was vindicated when 2 weeks out Paul began to taper a little early due to an outbreak of “thon virus” in his house. Thankfully all recovered well and there were no casualties from cabin fever.
There was a good turnout from BARF on both the organising side (as always) and taking part with BARF teams in the Score, Elite and C classes. My wife Lisa was also taking part in the score with our friend Vicky– sensibly we thought better of the idea of being in the same team. Unusually for this part of the world, the weather forecast turned out to be overly pessimistic and low cloud and grey dim soon gave way to a pale skin frying solar blast, which was bad news for the follicly challenged Paul and I who hadn’t packed sun cream. Our small bags also drew a lot of comments from competitors who thought we had somehow managed to pack 2 days’ worth of kit into 8 litre sacks. That’d be some job (and a cold night).
The format of the score was new to us –we had 6 hours to visit as many as possible of the 30 controls cached around the Western Mournes in any order, starting on Attical’s Sandy Brae. Controls are assigned points based on their difficulty to reach and finishing after 6 hours is penalised. The Western Mournes is famous for its rough ground, bog and soul-destroying tussocks but by normal standards the ground was dry and our circuitous route meant that most of the worst ground was well-trampled by other teams by the time we got there.
About half of the controls were in an area between Slievemartin and Attical, while the rest were in the area between Pierce’s Castle and Hen Mountain. We elected to try and collect all the controls in the Southern area (except two low-scoring ones near Slievemartin) before heading north and seeing how much time we had left. The rough ground of Slievemeel sapped the spirit but as we headed north the path improved and we crossed Batt’s wall on the stroke of 4 hours. With a bit of a push it looked like it might be possible to reach all of the remaining controls in time so we went for it and with 40 minutes left we found ourselves in the reed trenches near Spelga reservoir, with only Cock mountain between us and the finish. Flagging legs and rough heather meant we were slightly late and had to dodge one control on Hen. We crossed the line 8 minutes late but having reached 26 of 30 controls, thinking we might have done reasonably well and quietly smug that we could now get changed, drink coffee and sleep indoors – although a bit of FOMO did creep in with the good weather!
There was a bit of craic in the campsite with the other teams and then we got the bus back to the start in Attical. Looking up the results on the website it transpired that we had somehow won- there’s a first (and last) time for everything!
Thanks to all on the organising team for the selfless work and for another excellent event. Thanks especially for arranging the good weather for the 2nd year in a row (although the top of my head didn’t appreciate the sun). Cheers to Paul for his forbearance.
Think it’ll have to be back to the 2 day next year – or do we come back and try and defend the Score title?