115 Central Promenade,
Newcastle, Co. Down

The Mountains of Mourne:
A Preliminary Guide

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Thirty miles south of Belfast, stands the town of Newcastle and behind it rise the Mountains of Mourne, a mountain range made famous by the song-writer Percy French. It is Northern Ireland's premier mountaineering area, and it's granite crags form one of the best rock climbing venues on the island of Ireland. The latest rock climbing guide lists 800+ routes ranging over the entire spectrum of grades.


It is the close proximity of mountains and sea which makes this area unique. The beach runs for several miles along the County Down coast, with the mountains rising directly from the sea as illustrated in this view.

Mournes from the beach


The Mournes is also an excellent hill-walking area. In clear conditions the view from Slieve Donard, its highest summit includes the Isle of Man, the lake district, and the hills of North Wales as well. It is small when compared with the Scottish Highlands, or even with the Lakes, but contains nontheless an interesting collection of hills. The area is compact and navigation is generally straightforward. The main area, the eastern Mournes is laid out as a trident with two big valleys running roughly N-S and separating the three 'prongs' of the trident. West of this area, another group of high hills centre on the twin peaks of Eagle Mountain and ShanSlieve before falling to lower hills which continue west and south towards Rostrevor.

A number of Outdoor pursuits centres operate in the Area, one of the main ones being the Tollymore Mountain Centre, which is Northern Irelands main Mountaineering instructional centre. More information may be found here

If you are new to this area, you may also wish to look at the companion page covering the Newcastle area which, in addition to providing general information gives you access to information on Hotels, Guest Houses and other accomodation in the area.

Access to the area is easy. Coming from The South of Ireland you should first aim for the town of Newry. From there, take the road through Hilltown to Newcastle. From Belfast take the main A road, which takes you south through Ballynahinch to Newcastle. If you are coming from the UK mainland by car - the Cairnryan and Stranraer ferries are probably your best bet. A major point of interest is the reduced fares which the Ferry Companies sometimes offer outside the main Summer season. These could be used to facilitate a weekend or long weekend trip over to the Mournes. More details of travel options are given here.
If you would like the services of a walks guide, there are several operating locally including Mountain Sojourns

This On-line guide to the Mournes, compiled by Hilltrekker, concentrates on Hillwalking, but includes also a section giving details of a small selection of the 800+ rock climbs listed in the latest guide. The guide assumes normal summer hillwalking conditions. For the winter hillwalker, the Mournes has a lot to offer, when conditions are right, so long as suitable clothing and equipment is carried. Conditions on the higher summits can be artic. The most important factor is to consider the consequences of any kind of mishap high up and carry enough spare clothing to survive until help arrives.

It must be said, that under winter conditions some of the outings described can be quite serious undertakings. Even, for example, the popular ascent of Slieve Donard from Newcastle can be rendered hazardous on account of icy sections of track, both in the Glen river valley and particularly on the steep ascent to the Donard-Commedagh col. In such conditions, at least instep crampons should be considered and, for maintaining balance, either two poles or one pole along with a walking axe.

After a long run of mild winters, the winters of 2009/10 and the present 2010/11 have offered more to the winter enthusiast. However opportunities for winter ice climbing in the Mournes is somewhat limited, partly as a consequence of the comparatively low altitude and proximity to the sea. Nevertheless, severe conditions will produce ice routes in a number of gullies. Iced-up slabs can also provide sport at a number of venues.

Section 1: Routes to the high summits



Section 1 of this guide gives details of walking routes to all the high summits of the Mournes. Section 2 gives information on a short selection of rock climbs with information on the location of the main crags. Section 3 covers the possibilities for winter climbing. We emphasise that all activity in mountains is potentially dangerous. This guide is provided as an information source for visiting walkers and climbers, but inclusion of a route description is not a recommendation. Users of the guide must measure their own capabilities and experience against the demands of mountain adventure. Stay within your own capabilities, make sure you have map and compass, and beware of loose rock. In relative terms the Mournes is a safe area. But serious accidents have occurred here, including fatalities. Contact the police in case of emergency, they will organise rescue. Be comforted by the knowledge that there is a highly efficient volunteer rescue team (The Mourne Mountain Rescue Team) with a core of people on continuous call 24hrs a day 7 days a week. Don't make it necessary to have them called into action. Enjoy the Mournes with care.


view of ben crom and bearnagh

Route 1 : Slieve Donard from Newcastle

This is perhaps the most popular walk in the Mournes, so much so that considerable erosion has become evident in recent years. Renovation work on the path has taken place at a number of points which has improved matters. It is the normal route up Slieve Donard.

Start in the Donard car park in Newcastle. Walk to the back of the car park and pick up an obvious path past the transformer and into the trees. Follow the path up the left bank of the Glen river. After approx. 150 metres a bridge is encountered. Cross the bridge and swing right to ascent the left bank of the river, with cascades and waterfalls on the right. A second bridge is encountered. Cross this and continue again on the left bank past more waterfalls and cascades to the third and final bridge. Do not cross this, but continue up a broad stoney track to a gate giving access to the open mountainside. To the left is Thomas's mountain with the prominent deep cut gully of blackstairs on it's flank. Directly ahead is the sharply defined profile of Eagle rocks on the flank of Slieve Donard.

Go directly ahead with the glen river on the left and forest on the right (bearing 234 degrees). After half a mile the fence bounding the forest on the right swings right then left and finally sharp right. High up on the left the great prow of Eagle rocks is a prominent feature. Continue directly ahead up the Glen river valley on the well defined track. Near the head of the valley turn left to cross the Glen river. The path, which has been substantially re-engineered goes directly up, then curves right to gain the flat saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh. Walk back (southward) to intercept the Mourne wall. Turn left along the wall for the top of Donard.

The final section of the route climbs beside the wall (either side may be followed) directly to the summit of Slieve Donard. This is something of a grind being a continuous slope for 1000 feet, but with increasingly impressive views over the Mourne country to the south and west.

Time 2.5 hours
vertical height gain 2800 feet
distance 2.75 miles
grade : 1
terrain : 2
navigation : 1
seriousness : 2

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Route 2 : Slieve Donard via Thomas's Mountain

Follow route 1 as far as the gate giving access to the open mountainside. Go through the gate and turn left to cross the glen river below the bee-hive shaped stone building known as the ice house. A tributary joins the glen river at this point. Ascent its right bank to the bottom of the deep cut gully down which the tributary tumbles in a series of cascades. Scramble up the right bank of the gully (i.e. left of the gully) staying well back from the gully walls which overhang at this point. This is quite steep but easier ground may be found by keeping further left. Weave up through the short rock bluffs in this area taking care on sometimes wet rock.

After about 150 feet the angle eases and you can return to the edge of the river again. Follow the general line of the river (bearing due south) over sometimes wet terrain. The river rises in the shallow bay south of Thomas's mountain which can be readily attained to the left and which provides an excellent view over Newcastle. Cross the river near its source and move on a bearing of 200 degrees up the slope towards the steep upper slopes of Slieve Donard. Extensive areas of scree are now visible. Gain the crest of the broad and somewhat ill defined ridge and turn onto a bearing of 232 degrees. Make your own route weaving up through the scree on slopes which can be quite steep. A large mound of stones is passed before the summit is attained.

time : 2 - 2.5 hours
grade : 2
ascent : 2800 feet
terrain : 2
distance : 2.25 miles
navigation : 3
seriousness : 2

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Route 3: Slieve Donard from Bloody Bridge

From the car park at the North end of Bloody Bridge cross the road and pass through at the entrance barriers to pick up the path leading up the river valley. The broad well marked track is followed up the left bank of the river for 400 - 500 yards to a point where it is joined by a tributary (the glenfoffanny river) running in from the North-east. [N.B. see warning below] Cross over the glenfoffanny river on the stepping stones and then cross a stile to emerge on the open mountainside. Follow the left bank of the river over rough and sometimes marshy ground. Pass to the right of extensive quarry workings and arrive at the Mourne wall where it traverses the flat area immediately south of Slieve Donard. The view to the south and west is impressive with the whole of the central prong of the Mourne trident in view. The East faces of Cove mountain and of Slieve Beg are well seen directly across the Annalong valley.

To gain the summit of slieve Donard turn north and follow the wall to the summit. Overall this is probably the gentliest ascent route to N. Ireland's highest summit, with no really steep sections and little navigational difficulty.

Time : 2 - 2.5 hours
grade : 1
Ascent : 2,800 feet
terrain : 1
Distance : 3 miles
navigation : 1
seriousness : 1

WARNING: The crossing of the glenfoffanny river is normally perfectly straightforward, and is done by hundreds of walkers day and daily, without a thought. But under certain circumstances it can be potentially dangerous. On rare occasions the upper slopes of Slieve Donard become subject to particularly severe rainstorms which generate large amounts of drainage from the mountain. Within an hour of the onset of these rare conditions, both the main bloody bridge river and the glenfoffanny river swell to become thundering torrents of water. The normal crossing point is where these two rivers converge and, in these conditions, a descending party following the normal route to Bloody bridge will find itself stepping down over sloping rock steps towards stepping stones which will certainly be submerged, with violent raging rivers on both sides. The danger in this is clear. The only correct course is to make a possibly long detour up the side of the glenfoffanny river until a safe crossing point can be found. On occasions in the past, footbridges of various kinds have been placed at this crossing point, but all have eventually been torn away. Not a surprise to anyone who has seen the violence and the volume of water than can arise here. However in normal weather conditions there isn't a problem. So be aware, but don't be deterred.

Great news Folks! They have now built a bridge!. Its got two steel girders, is firmly fastened to the rock, and is well above the level of the water. This one is designed to last!

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Route 4: Slieve Commedagh from Newcastle

Slieve Commedagh is the second highest Mourne summit and is readily climbed by a simple variation of the normal route up Slieve Donard, its neighbour to the east. Follow route 1 to the Donard-Commedagh col and turn right at the Mourne wall. Follow the wall without difficulty to the Water Commissioner's hut. This is not the true summit of the mountain which is several hundred yards across the plateau. Walk North west across the flat summit plateau (bearing 48 degrees) to the summit cairn at 2515 feet. Take care in mist as the summit plateau of Slieve Commedagh is entirely featureless.

time 2.5 hours
grade : 1
ascent 2500 feet
terrain : 2
distance 2.75 miles
navigation : 1

This route can easily be combined with an ascent of Slieve Donard by any of the three routes listed for that summit. This will give a good walk involving about 3,400 feet of climbing and descending.

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Route 5: Slieve Commedagh from Clonacullion

This is a longer route to the summit of Slieve Commedagh than route 4, but is highly recommended on account of the scenery en route. It can be extended to the summit of Slieve Donard by reversing part of route 4 to gain the Donard-Commedagh col, and then following the last section of route 1 to the summit of Slieve Donard . This gives a fine medium length walk along the Northern ridge of the Mournes. The route, as described, ends on the summit of Slieve Commedagh.

From the car park at Clonacullion gate, (312314) take the main trassey track into the mountains. This broad track passes through two gates before emerging into the trassey valley. Follow the track until directly opposite the Spellack buttress on the right. The trassey track is parallel to the trassey river on it's right in this section. Pick up a grass track which comes in from the left to join the main trassey track at right angles. This is opposite and below the centre of the Spellack buttress.

Take this path and follow it for several hundred yards directly up the slope where it swings right towards Slievenaglogh. Follow the path until it begins to turn left again. Leave it at this point and keep going straight ahead to gain a prominent grass ramp (bearing 133 degrees). To the right and behind magnificent views open up of the slabby northern side of Slieve Bearnagh. Follow the grass ramp past the remnants of Quarrying activities towards broken cliffs marking the northern extremity of the Slievenaglogh buttress. Pick your way through the rocks to get above the line of cliffs. Carry on roughly on a bearing 142 degrees until the Mourne wall comes into view. Turn left at the wall.

The route hereafter follows the wall all the way to Slieve Commedagh. If you stay on the northern side you will have good views northwards over the county Down countryside. Staying on the southern side will give you better views into the interior of the Mournes. In either case views to the west over Bearnagh, Meelmore and Meelbeg are immediately impressive, while to the east the line of the route leading along the ridge to Commedagh is now in view. Follow the wall over the top of Slieve Corragh. Beyond Slieve Corragh a short diversion north for about 100 yds will give you good views into the pot of Legawhirry, an impressive corrie nestling between Slieve Corragh and Slieve Commedagh. Skirt the rim of the corrie and follow the line of the wall steeply to the water commissioners hut on the summit plateau.

To descend you can retrace your steps or alternatively drop down to the Brandy Path from the col between Commedagh and Corragh. This can then be followed back through the hare's gap and hence down onto the Trassey track.

time : 2.5 - 3 hrs
grade : 1
ascent : 2300 feet
terrain : 1
distance : 3.25 miles
navigation : 2
seriousness : 1

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Route 6: Descent of Slieve Commedagh via Shan Slieve

This route is described in descent rather than ascent because this is probably the best direction in which to do it. In particular it can be combined with Route 4 to give a simple traverse of Slieve Commedagh. The route can of course also be done in ascent. In descent however one gets a magnificent view over Newcastle and the whole of the bay, with the beach stretching away northwards for miles.

From the summit cairn of Slieve Commedagh follow a bearing of 3 degrees which will lead across the plateau to the edge of Commedagh's northern corrie, which is known as the Pot of Pollgarve. The plateau necks down to a ridge which curves down the rim of the corrie and is pleasantly narrow for several hundred metres. Note that under winter conditions this corrie rim forms cornices and some care is required under white-out conditions. Note also that, where the plateau necks down, the ground is moderately steep for a period and can be icy in winter, when care is required. The ridge levels out, broadens again, and following a bearing of 31 degrees approx. rises slightly over the summit of Shan Slieve. There are good views behind into the Corrie and across the Glen river valley to the prominent prow of Eagle rocks on the north-western side of Slieve Donard.

From the Summit of Shan Slieve descend North East on a general bearing of 56 degrees. The ridge broadens and becomes indistinct with occasional scree patches. An indistinct path can be found. After almost a mile the angle eases to a temporary flattening. Here turn due east and weave down over broken ground with short rock bluffs. Extensive forestry plantations are evident. Descend a narrowing stretch of open ground to locate a stile at 363296. In good visibility there is no problem, but in thick mist the compass will be needed as the hill-sides here are relatively featureless.

Once over the stile (it can be slippery when wet) follow a rocky track down through the forest to find a horizontal forestry road at 365298. Go directly across this and keep descending on a path which makes several big bends before joining a second and lower horizontal track. Turn right and after several hundred metres arrive at a bridge over the Glen River. Turn left and follow the riverside track down into Newcastle.

Time : 1.25/1.5 hrs (in descent)
Grade : 2
Descent : 2500 ft.
Terrain : 2
Distance : 3.5 miles
Navigation : 3
Seriousness : 2

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Route 7: Slieve Bearnagh via the Meelmore-Bearnagh Col

Follow the Trassey Track (Route 5) from Clonacullion right up to the head of the Trassey valley, to a point where it splits, with one branch leading up towards the Hare's gap, another leading up towards some quarry workings on the shoulder of Slieve Bearnagh, and a third swinging hard right underneath debris from the quarry and leading up into the valley between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Bearnagh.

Follow this latter path, first rightwards across the hillside, then left up rocky ground towards the broken slabs which run along the northern side of Slieve Bearnagh. Carry on along the path to the Mourne wall at the Meelmore-Bearnagh col. To the left as the wall is approached, the rock slabs steepen and sweep up for 350 feet forming the main Bearnagh slabs, a major area of lower grade rock climbing.

Climb over the wall and turn left. Pick up a track which avoids the eroded rocks and weaves up the steep hillside, moving first to the right and then trending left higher up. There are loose sections here so take care. Once Above the rocky section one can move over leftwards towards the Mourne wall. The route ahead is steep and follows the line of the wall mostly on grass, but with occasional boulders and slabs. Emerge at the summit which is crowned by a series of tors. The highest tor can only be attained by a short rock scramble. Just to the right of the highest tor a series of ledges and slabs lead to a good vantage point just below the highest point. Take care of the drop to the south and east if you go to this point.
time : 2 hrs
grade : 2
ascent : 2000 feet
terrain : 2
Distance : 3 miles from Clonachullion gate
navigation : 1
seriousness : 2

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Route 8: Slieve Bearnagh via the Hare's Gap

This is probably the most popular route to the summit of Slieve Bearnagh. It follows the Trassey track (Routes 5 & 7) up to the point where it divides just below the quarry on the northern flanks of Slieve Bearnagh. Here go straight ahead up the boulder strewn slopes to the prominent Hare's gap. A variety of discontinuous paths will be found in this section. Pass Through a gate to the opposite side of the Mourne wall. Turn right towards the rock step. Find the recently engineered staircase path which takes one up left of the main difficulties to the flat shoulder above. Move rightwards to the wall and cross a flat shoulder before the angle steepens again. Climb up the steep slope, which regretably is showing much erosion. Arrive at the first of the summit rock tors. This can be by-passed by moving left and following a track past the tor to rejoin the wall above. Continue to the high point ahead. This is not the highest point of the mountain which lies on the next tor to the south and west. Some rock scrambling is needed to attain the true summit, but a series of ledges and slabs leads righwards to a high vantage point. Take care if you go to this point.

time : 2.25 hrs
ascent : 2000 ft
distance : 3.5 miles
terrain : 2
Navigation : 1
Seriousness : 1 (3 if one climbs to the actual summit)

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Route 9: Slieve Meelmore via the Meelmore-Bearnagh Col

Start at Clonachullion gate.Gain the Meelmore-Bearnagh col by following the route already described for the ascent of Slieve Bearnagh.(route 7) At this point turn right towards Slieve Meelmore. Two walls run up the upper part of the mountain. Follow the wall on the right on either side. The route is straightforward all the way to the water commissioners hut. Staying close to the wall gives a few simple rocky sections which can be pleasant

Ascent : 1,900ft
Grade : 1
Terrain : 2
Distance : 3 miles
Time : 2 hrs
Navigation : 1
Seriousness : 2

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Route 10: Sleeve Meelmore via the Spellack Buttress

Start from the Clonacullion gate and follow the trassey track to a point below the Spellack buttress. Here a track breaks off to the right and crosses the trassey river at an obvious crossing point. From this point the Spellack buttress presents a roughly triangular aspect,sheer rock in the centre giving way to broken rock and grass, becoming progressively easier towards the extremities of the triangle. Follow the path across the river, where it swings round to the south to run along below the southern slopes of the buttress. The path eventually crosses the river running down from between Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore. At about 200yds before this river turn right and scramble up the steep slopes, mostly grass, going almost due west until you gain the crest of the slope.Then turn right again to move almost due north up an easy slope which will eventually lead to the top of the Spellack buttress. Stay well clear of the cliffs in windy weather. From the top of the spellack buttress turn south west bearing 216 degrees (approx) and head directly up the ridge to the summit

Ascent : 1900ft
Grade : 2
Terrain : 2
Time : 2 hrs
Distance : 2.5 miles
Navigation : 2
Seriousness : 2

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Route 11: Slieve Meelbeg from the road

There are two routes to the summit of this 2300ft mountain, from the minor road which passes Clonacullion. When approaching from Newcastle pass the Clonacullion gate, and after about a mile and a half, find on the left, just beyond a farm-house a recently renovated parking place, at the bottom of the U-valley between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Meelbeg. From here there are two straightforward routes to the summit of Slieve Meelbeg.

a) Cross the stile some 50 yards from the road and follow the track up-valley. It is stony at first but after some distance becomes grassey. Head straight up the valley towards the col, keeping a stone wall and a river on your left until the wall bends sharply leftwards. Now climb Steeply up to the col between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Meelbeg. Here you will encounter the Main Mourne wall with a convenient stile. Turn right and climb steeply to the summit following either side of the wall.

b) The second alternative is the North West ridge. This is gained after going up the valley for about 300yds, then turning right and making for the lowest part of the ridge. Once up on the ridge turn left unto a bearing of 136 degrees and follow the ridge to the summit. The lower section of the ridge is wet in places.

The two routes can easily be combined to form a simple traverse in either direction.

Time : 1.5 - 2 Hrs
Ascent : 1800ft
Distance : 1.5 miles
Terrain : 1
Navigation : 1
Seriousness : 1

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Route 12: Slieve Muck From the North and West

This somewhat neglected mountain rises south-east of the Spelga Reservoir. Its flat summit can be attained by several routes accessible from the road running north south through the mountains, over the Spelga pass. The shortest route starts at the southern end of the reservoir where a track breaks off the main road and runs down to the edge of the water (spot height 1225 ft).Leave your car at this point and climb the stile over the wall on the other side of the road. A stone wall can be seen running almost due east up the steep side of the mountain. Follow the line of the wall directly to the summit plateau. It joins the main Mourne wall at a point 50 yards north of the triangulation point marking the summit of the mountain.

The summit can also be approached from the north starting at the highest point of the road (spot height 1,336 ft) Climb over the fence and walk up the gentle slope (bearing 142 degrees) to the summit of Ott Mountain(1724 ft) At the curved summit turn slightly northwards (bearing 130 degrees) and drop down to the col between Ott mountain and Cairn mountain. This area is distinguished by the presence of wind eroded peat stacks. Pass these and climb steadily to join the mourne wall at the col just north of Cairn mountain. Turn south along the wall and follow the gentle slope to the summit. The main wall bends westwards at this point and drops to the col between Cairn Mountain and Slieve Muck. Once at the col two short rock outcrops become evident to the east of the wall. Scramble up the lowest of these and follow the wall on the long gentle slope (bearing 195 degrees) to the summit plateau.

Note that the terrain on the earlier part of this route is somewhat featureless and good navigation is needed in misty conditions. The two routes can be combined to give a traverse of the mountain in either direction, which is not unduly long. Note however that the car born hillwalker will need to return along the road to the starting point.

Ascent : 900/1000 ft
Navigation : 2 (Northern route)
Terrain : 2
Distance : 0.75 mile Western route
Distance : 2 miles Northern route
Time : 0.75 hr / 1.5 hrs
Grade : 1

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Route 13: Slieve Binnian From Carricklittle

The most direct route to the summit of Slieve Binnian is from the Carricklittle car park. This is about 3/4 mile beyond the entrance to Rourkes Park at GR. 345219 on the C313 road. The route is something of a slog, though the views to the north are impressive.

From the car park go up the Carricklittle track which runs almost due north before curving west to join the Mourne Wall at a gate and stile. Cross the stile and continue with the Mourne wall on the left and a fence on the right. The track curves right to follow the south western edge of the forest. Leave it and instead go directly up along the side of the wall. It runs straight for half a mile up a steady slope (bearing 297 degrees approx). Higher up the profile of Douglas crag becomes apparent on the right.

The angle of the slope steepens and the wall veers left, then left again, rising steeply to end finally against the summit tor of Slieve Binnian. The Summit cannot easily be gained from this point. Instead move right along the bottom of the Tor and scramble up steep grass and heather slopes to a gap. Turn left and climb a rock step. Cross the rock slabs above with care towards the final step up to the summit, which is adorned with an old metal fence post. Care is needed on this final section particularly in strong winds, or when the rock is wet. In Winter conditions with snow and ice, the slabs above the rock step can be glazed with ice and the final part of this route may be hazardous.

Distance : 2 miles
Time : 2 hrs
Ascent : 2000 ft
Navigation : 1
Terrain : 1 as far as the summit tor then 3
Grade : 2
Seriousness : 2

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Route 14: Slieve Binnian via Blue Lough and the N.W.Ridge

This is a longer route to the summit of Slieve Binnian than the previous direct route from Carricklittle. It can readily be combined with the previous route to give a very good traverse of the mountain.

The main car park at Carricklittle is at GR.345219 and from it a track runs north then turns North west to intersect a stone wall at a gate and stile. Cross the stile to emerge on the open mountainside. The track continues along a narrow section of ground with the Mourne wall on the left and a fence on the right. Trend rightwards and follow the well defined path along the edge of the fence. The forest on the other side of the fence is Annalong wood. After about a mile the forest ends and the path crosses a prominent stream coming down off Slieve Binnian. High up on the left, the Douglas crag is a prominent feature, while ahead and to the right extensive views open up, of Slieve Lamaghan, Slieve Cove and the whole of the Annalong valley.

Continue straight ahead on the track,(bearing 342 degrees approx) ignoring a branch track leading off to the right and aiming for the low rock bluffs of Percy Bysshe which are visible directly ahead. Cross another prominent stream, and shortly afterwards veer left unto an adjoining path. Continue with Percy Bysshe on the right. The path curves past Percy Bysshe, and after several hundred yards the Blue Lough comes into view. This is a pleasant point to pause with interesting views.The rocky south side of Slieve Lamaghan looms to the north and to the south Blue Lough buttress is a prominent feature on the flanks of Binnian.

The area immediately south of blue lough is wet and boggy. Pick your way across it and follow the prominent path north west to gain the col between Lamaghan and Binnian. This is another spectacular view point with good views across the Ben Crom reservoir to Slieve Bearnagh and Ben Crom. Turn sharp left (bearing about 222 degrees) and make for the North ridge of Binnian. Pick up a broken and increasingly eroded path which winds its way through rock bluffs and boulder clusters to gain the crest of the ridge. The ridge rises steadily ahead, almost due south to Binnian's North tor. Pass to the right of North Tor going more or less south west. The crest of the ridge curves southward, rising steadily with a number of rock tors. A little scrambling can be had on these if desired, but they are all easily bypassed. Pass through a gap in a stone wall and ascent steadily to the final tor just before Summit tor. Descend into a gap where the direct route from Carricklittle is joined. Scramble up the short step ahead, cross the slabs and gain the summit.

A point to note is that after heavy rain the two streams mentioned can be relatively difficult to cross without incurring wet feet!
Distance : 4 miles
Ascent : 2100 ft
Time : 3 hours
Navigation : 2/3
Terrain : 2
grade : 2
Seriousness : 2

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Route 15: Two Route to Slieve Lamaghan

Slieve Lamaghan lies close to the centre of the Mournes and is most easily approached from Carricklittle. There are two routes to the summit which can easily be combined for a simple traverse. Both are described, as the approach is the same for both.

a) From Carricklittle go up to the Blue Lough by the route already described for the ascent of Slieve Binnian. Carry on up to the col between Slieve Lamaghan and Slieve Binnian. At the col turn right and ascend across the heather towards the South East shoulder of Slieve Lamaghan. Climb straight up the shoulder (bearing approx 56 degrees) on heather with occasional rock slabs and scree. There is a fairly well defined path which is nowadays largely continuous. Views to the west over the Ben Crom reservoir, to Doan, Lough Shannah and Slieve Muck are impressive. South and East, the views of Binnian with its flanking crags, slabs and summit tors become progressively more dramatic. Emerge at the summit cairn.

Time : 2.5 hrs (from the road)
Ascent : 1800 ft
Distance : 3 miles
Navigation : 1
Terrain : 1 - 2
Grade : 1

b) The second route approaches the mountain from the North. Follow the route to Cove shoulder and the col between Lamaghan and Cove, which is described under the ascent of Cove from Carricklittle (route 16). Once on the col turn south onto a bearing of 196 degrees and ascend the broad ridge ahead which rises steeply to the summit plateau. Continue southwards rising gradually to the summit cairn which is at the south end of the plateau.

Time : 3 hrs
Distance : 4 miles

Other characteristics as above

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Route 16: Cove Mountain from Carricklittle

Cove Mountain is one of the least accessible of Mourne Summits. Lying in the centre of the Mourne Trident, its summit entails a 4 mile walk from any of the standard approaches. Newcastle, Clonacullian, Bloody Bridge or Carricklittle. The Carricklittle approach which is described here, is long, but there are good paths for much of the way.

From the car park at Carricklittle, (GR. 345219) go up the Carricklittle track. Cross the stile and continue on the main track along the edge of the forest. Where the forest ends, the track crosses a stream coming down from Slieve Binnian. Continue on the track, passing over another stream coming down from the blue lough. Just before Percy Bysshe, turn right unto a bearing of 67 degrees approx, passing round the bottom of Percy Bysshe, before swinging left again towards the south east shoulder of Slieve Lamaghan. Follow the path as it climbs slowly along the bottom of Slieve Lamaghan. The extensive area of slabs high up on Slieve Lamaghan is a prominent feature. These slabs provide some pleasant an long lower grade rock climbs

The path approaches the prominent cliffs of Lower cove before swinging right along the bottom. Do not follow it all the way however. Instead look for an adjoining and somewhat ill defined path which comes in from the left at a sharp angle. Take this path and follow its several zig-zags as it rises to gain Cove shoulder at the point where the lower cove cliffs abutt against the east face of Slieve Lamaghan. Once Cove shoulder is gained the whole of the south face of Cove mountain comes into view, with its bands of cliffs running right across the face.

Follow the path north and then north-west round the slopes of Slieve Lamaghan, to the high col between Slieve Lamaghan and Cove. Now turn north again and get above the line of the Upper Cove cliffs before trending right (eastwards). Keep going upwards on the upper section of Cove which rises at a gentle angle to the summit cairn at 2142 feet. In thick mist is is not always obvious.

On a clear day this is one of the best vantage points in the Mournes. To the north the precipitous flanks of Slieve Beg are spectacular with the Castles of Commedagh and Slieve Donard further to the North and east. Westwards the view of the Slieve Bearnagh group is impressive across the deep recess of the Silent valley.

To descend from the mountain it is easiest to retrace your steps down to the Col before Slieve Lamaghan. From here you can descend onto Cove shoulder and hence back down onto the ascent path. An alternative descent is to go northwest from the summit cairn for 200 yards. Then veer North and descend steep heather and grass to the col between Cove and Slieve Beg. Here turn sharp right and follow the stream out of the high basin between Cove and Slieve Beg. Lower down the stream becomes a gorge with cascades, waterfalls and some interesting plant species taking advantage of the shelter it provides. Once down into the main Annalong valley strike southwards and gain a broad and somewhat muddy path leading down the valley. Pass below the lower cove cliffs and climb slightly to gain a prominent track leading down across the broad expanse of moorland to rejoin the ascent path near the edge of the forest.

An important point is not to attempt to descend from Cove by the east face. This face is extremely steep with overhanging crags.

Distance : 4 miles
Ascent : 1600 ft
Terrain : 2
Navigation : 2
Seriousness : 2
Grade : 2

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Route 17: Slieve Beg from Newcastle

Slieve Beg, along with its near neighbour, Cove Mountain, is one of the most inaccessible of Mourne summits. Much lower in altitude than the other summits surrounding it, it is distinguished by having on its eastern face, one of the steepist crags in the Mountains of Mourne. The main east face is 350 ft high and holds a number of excellent rock climbs. It is split by a huge gully - the Devil's Coach Road.

The route from Newcastle is probably the most direct route to the mountain. The first part follows the normal route to Slieve Donard from Newcastle, as far as the Mourne wall at the col between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh. Climb over the Mourne wall at this point and continue southward, curving slightly to the right until you encounter a prominent path. This is the 'Brandy Pad' - a well known track running east - west across the Mournes. Turn right and follow the track along the bottom of the Castles of Commedagh. The view to the left down the Annalong valley is very attractive. After passing underneath the Castles of Commedagh, the path rises to a saddle marked by a large cairn of stones which roughly marks the highest point in this region. At this point turn south. Cross the heather slopes sweeping upwards to Slieve Beg. Trend left to follow the cliff edge (but not too close!). The highest point comes just before the Devil's Coach Road. The rock scenery hereabouts is on a grand scale so do be careful.

Ascent : 1800 ft
Distance : 3.5 miles
Time : 1.5 / 2 hrs
Navigation : 1 - 2
Seriousness : 1
Terrain : 2
Grade : 1

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Route 18: Ben Crom from Clonacullion

Ben Crom is the low summit rising precipitously west of the Ben Crom Dam in the Silent Valley. As Mourne Summits go it is a minor peak, just over 1700 ft high. It gives magnificant views into the silent valley and the cliffs overlooking the Dam and reservoir hold a wide selection of rock climbs.

The walk out to Ben Crom stays at a low altitude all the way and is therefore worth while if the higher peaks are shrouded in mist and low cloud. Three routes are described from Clonacullion gate. Two pass through the hare's gap and approach Ben Crom from the east side of Slieve Bearnagh. The third climbs to the Bearnagh-Meelmore col and approaches the mountain from there.

a) The first route climbs to the Hare's gap, by following the route already described for the ascent of Slieve Bearnagh via the Hare's gap. Pass through the gate at the Hare's gap and turn right past the sheep pens. A good path starts here and drops slowly down into the silent valley to the east of Slieve Bearnagh. This is part of the second route. For now ignore this and staying at about the same altitude as the Hare's gap, traverse round the east side of Slieve Bearnagh. After a short period an indistinct path will be found. This provides easier walking than the bare mountainside. Follow this where possible for five to six hundred yards until a shallow V-shaped depression is encountered, in the east face of Slieve Bearnagh. This is a broad open river gully, the main drainage line on this side of the mountain. Cross it and carry on moving south. Directly ahead lies the long South East ridge of Slieve Bearnagh. Turn slightly rightwards and gain the crest of this ridge. As you climb the dramatic outline of Ben Crom comes into view, more or less directly ahead. Go over the top of the south-east ridge of Slieve Bearnagh and drop into the large area of peat bog beyond. There are short broken cliffs in this area. Carry on southwards loosing altitude gradually until you come to the river draining this area of bog. This river plunges into the silent valley in a series of spectacular cascades. Cross the river and rise leftwards towards the pronounced edge just beyond. Climb steadily up this slope to the summit. In mist or adverse conditions stay well back from the edge - the drop is considerable
Distance : 3.5 miles
Time : 2 Hrs
Terrain : 1 - 2
Navigation : 2
Seriousness : 2

b) The second route also approaches Ben Crom via the Hares Gap, but this time, after passing through the gap the route drops down to the head of the Ben Crom reservoir. There is a well defined path all the way down. Once the water is reached cross two rivers to the east side and follow a track southwards along the waters edge. Further on there are magnificent views of the east face of Ben Crom seemed with gullies and buttresses. Finally arrive at the Ben Crom Dam, with the steep flanks of Slieve Binnian on your left and Ben Crom rising dramatically on the other side of the dam.

Cross the Dam and immediately turn left to traverse almost horizontally along the bottom of the steep broken rocks in this area. Trend generally rightwards up the slope when you are past the worst of the rock scree and work up westwards on steep terrain with heather and some boulders. Gain the crest of the ridge which runs South-south-west from Ben Crom. The terrain eases and you turn right and head up the slope. As you move up a band of rocks appears directly ahead. As you approach it trend left moving up and round onto the west side of the mountain. The band of cliffs gives way to broken rock scree. Pass under the worst of this and then trend right again picking the easiest line up. The Summit is not far to the North.

Distance : 4 miles
Time : 2.5 hrs
Terrain : 3
Navigation : 2

c) The final route approaches Ben Crom from the north side of Slieve Bearnagh. This route follows the track which branches right off the trassey track, and leads up the Meelmore Bearnagh Col. Cross the wall at the Col. Ben Crom is now visible to the far left. Immediately ahead is a large area of bog.

From the Col trend right and pick up a path which contours the base of Slieve Meelmore to just below the Meelmore-Meelbeg col. Stay on the track and go round the base of Slieve Meelbeg. A long low ridge runs down North West from Ben Crom and finally merges with the bogland. Stay on the track until you are in line with this feature. Then swing left across the bog picking the easiest route. Get unto the crest of the low ridge as soon as possible and carry on until it rises out of the bog and the going get easier. The ridge becomes an edge near the summit, with broken cliffs on the right.
It should be noted that it is possible to pick up this route by crossing the Meelmore-Meelbeg col, after coming up the valley between Meelmore and Meelbeg.

Distance : 3 miles
Time : 1.75 Hrs
Terrain : 1 - 2
Navigation : 3

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Route 19: The Eagle Mountain Horse Shoe

The Eastern Mournes contains two summits over 2000 ft high and a number of others of lesser stature. In general it is less popular than the western area and it is still possible to roam here at the weekend without seeing another party. The route described covers the ascent of Eagle mountain, followed by a horse shoe traverse over Slievemoughanmore, Pigeon rock mountain and finally Slievemageogh. It is a trivial matter to include ShanSlieve in this outing, as it can be reached easily from Eagle Mountain.

The route is approached from the main road through the village of Attical. Proceeding southwards through Attical cross a bridge and about 200 yards further on pick up a surfaced, but rough track off to the right towards the Eagle mountain / ShanSlieve group which is clearly visable to the north. Follow the track to its end at a bridge and fording point over the Red Moss river.

Cross the footbridge and turn left to traverse up behind the farmhouse. Cross a stile and emerge onto the open hillside. Turn North west and ascend the broad ridge ahead. It is rocky and wet in places but rises without difficulty. After something less than a mile trend right to go almost directly north, then left again, now above the line of the cliffs. These cliffs are the highest and most extensive in the mournes reaching a height of nearly 600 ft as they swing round towards great gully. Continue upwards with the Aughnaleck river on your left and the cliffs on your right. A path may be found in places. Curve round the top of the cliffs as they attain their maximum height, with spectacular scenery to the right. The cliffs give way to slabby slopes, and here trend slightly left wards directly up the slope to the summit cairn of Eagle mountain. The views are spectacular particularly over to the eastern mournes.

Beyond the summit cairn lies a prominent stone wall which makes a right angle bend just here. This can be a sheltered spot to stop for lunch. To visit ShanSlieve you should turn South west along the wall and follow it down into a hollow and then up to ShanSlieve summit which is only about 35 ft lower than Eagle. Return to Eagle mountain to resume the horse shoe walk.
Now go Northwards along the line of the wall. The ground drops gently at first before the wall makes a sharp bend to the right. Now descend steeply with short rock steps (avoidable) to the Windy gap. Cross the stile directly ahead followed by a wet patch and then start up the slopes of Slievemoughanmore.

Follow the wall up and over SlieveMoughanmore and down to the pass before the grassy slopes leading up to Pigeon rock Mountain. Go on ahead on gently rising ground until a point is reached where the ground flattens and the wall turns sharp left to follow a northwards line. Leave the wall at this point and go South across flat ground rising gently to the top of Pigeon Rock mountain, where there are several small ponds and a few cairns. Now go almost due south on ground which is quite featureless and falls only slightly for a third of a mile. There are good views westwards to Eagle Mountain, and Eastwards to Slieve Muck. Eventually you drop down through an area with some tracks, stone walls and evidence of quarrying activity. Pass through this and trend slightly left to stay to the crest of the ridge as it continues southwards and narrows towards the top of Slievemageogh. Pause here to look back round a great circuit. Then drop off to the west. The final obstacle is just ahead, for you must ford the Pigeon rock river. Usually this is not a big problem, but when it is in spate be prepared for the possibility of wet feet !

Cross the wall beyond and follow a stone track south. The farm house marking your start is now in view. Go behind the farm house over broken ground to find the stile which marks your starting point

Time : 6 hrs
Distance : 6/7 miles

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Route 20: Lough Shannagh and Doan

Doan is a modest summit nestling in the center of the mountains to the west of the silent valley. Lough Shannagh lies to the west at the foot of the mountain.The shortest approach to the Lough Shannagh/Doan area is from the west. From the main road in the vicinity of Spelga Reservoir, various routes can be taken crossing the eastern prong of the Mourne Trident. The Route described comes in from the south, on a pleasant but longer route.

To find the start of the route drive southwards on the main Hilltown/Kilkeel road through the Mournes. About a mile south of Slieve Muck, the road passes over a bridge at a sharp bend. Just beyond this a stone track leads off to the left, trending north-eastwards. Park at the bottom of this track and follow it for half a mile, at first north east, then almost due North. Pass through a gate and continue across open rough country with Slievenaglogh to the east.

The track intercepts the Mourne wall obliquely at a gate. Go through the gate and continue, crossing the miners hole river and climbing slowly unto a shoulder. There are very good views of the eastern side of Slieve Muck. The track peters out, to the south east of Lough Shannagh among gravel and peat hags. You can walk round either side of the lough, but the most convenient course is along the eastern edge. The Shanagh river flows out of the north eastern corner over a weir. A concrete hut just south of this point is a useful shelter but is sometimes littered with empty cans and other debris.

Doan lies directly to the east. Its southern side is rocky with several recognised routes. It can be climbed from this side but some scrambling will be needed. To gain the summit more easily, move north eastwards and climb heather slopes to gain the ridge linking Doan with Slieve Lough Shannagh. Turn to the right and approach the summit of Doan from the North west. A track can be picked up leading up through the summit rocks to the top.
Distance : 3.5 miles
Ascent : 1300 ft
Time : 2 hrs
Navigation : 1
Terrain : 1
Seriousness : 1

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Section Two: Selected Rock climbs

By no stretch of the imagination can this section be considered as anything other than a short selection of the easier-graded climbs available in the Mournes. Experienced climbers are unlikely to need these descriptions to point them to possible climbs and are likely to prefer more modern and harder routes. Nevertheless everybody is a beginner at some stage and the routes described here should be of some interest to a range of people, from youthful beginners finding their first feet on rock, through to long retired mountaineers determined to rekindle their contact with the activity before atrophy finally engulfs them. Visitors from other parts will hopefully find something to inspire their interest in these granite crags which combine generally good friction,(at least when dry) with a not uncommon paucity of positive handholds. However be aware that the crags have NOT been dry at all over several recent summers and the accumulation of a thin veneer of moss on some crags has not been helpful.

Be fully aware that Rock climbing is potentially a highly dangerous activity and no one without a thorough knowledge of all the techniques of roped climbing should attempt any of these climbs


Climbing on Wee Binnian

Wee Binnian, as its name suggests, is a small peak nestling on the south eastern side of Slieve Binnian, an well seen west of the C313 which runs roughly north-south towards the silent valley entrance. These climbs are located at the top of this minor peak which is crowned by a mass of rock slabs slpit by a south facing gully. The grid reference is 317226. Access is best from the C313. Follow a track from this road starting at 319209 approximately until it ends at a gate. Pass through the gate and follow a sometimes muddy path northwards which leads up Wee Binnian.

Many of the climbs start in the prominent 300 foot gully which is itself a good scramble (but take care of loose rock)

Climbing on the Binnian tors

The long summit ridge of Slieve Binnian provides a series of tors offering mostly single pitch rock climbs of all grades of difficulty. Although it is quite a heave to carry a full set of climbing gear so high the effort can be worth while for the variety of routes particularly in the lower grades. On a sunny summer day one can amble along the ridge, finding routes of interest on most tors and enjoying the views eastwards over the Irish sea southwards to the Wicklow hills, and north and west over the rest of the Mournes.
We move along the ridge starting at North Tor passing through Summit tor and finishing at South Tor which looks down on Wee Binian.

Climbing on Slieve Beg

The east face of Slieve Beg has one of the steepest mourne crags, with relatively clean and secure rock. It gives steep climbing at a variety of grades on routes that can be in excess of 300ft long. The face is split by the devil's coach road, a steep scree filled gully in the centre of the face. Some of the climbing is on its enclosing walls, where a number of one and two pitch climbs may be found. Further round on the main face a variety of climbs may be found, mostly multi-pitch routes up to about 350 ft long. The climbing here is in a grand situation with views down the Annalong valley. The routes described below give a taste of what the crag has to offer.

Climbing on the Lamaghan Slabs

The Lamaghan slabs are a band of granite slabs on the Southeast shoulder of Slieve Lamaghan.They give a number of mainly low grade slab angled climbs, some of which are among the longest in the mournes. Being Southest facing they get the morning sun, and can provide a pleasant climbing venue for a sunny day. Two of the main routes are described, of which the first 'FM' is the best known.

Climbing on Pigeon Mountain

The steep crags on the east flank of pigeon mountain are easily approached from the road south of the Spelga reservoir. Over recent years a car park has been made here at approx. GR 270234. The walk up to the crags is a matter of a few minutes. You approach up grass slopes leading naturally into a gully, with the steep left hand buttress on the south. As you go up the wall on your right becomes prominent. It holds a number of steep but not too difficult single pitch climbs. Harder routes are also available. Two routes are described in this area, and one on the main buttress.

Nig Nog: grade VS; length 25 metres

This climb is something of a minor classic. It starts about one third way up the gully spliting Wee Binnian, on the great slab on the left hand side. Start just at the top of a prominent step in the gully. Surmount the blank three foot high wall using a tiny poch for your right toe and stand up on the slab (very awkward). Ascend delicately following a line of tiny pochs trending slightly right to the top. There is NO PROTECTION and a fall will take you down onto the rocks in the gully!. Not recommended when the rock is wet!

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Diamond: grade: Very Difficult; length: 25 metres

The climb starts less than half way up the gully on Wee Binnian, on the right looking upwards. A small grass and gravel platform occurs at the top of a step in the gully bed. On the left, the slabs sweep up steeply, with Nig Nog the most evident line of weakness on the almost blank slabs. The right hand wall at this point has a shallow recess which is the start of the climb.

Climb directly up the recess for 6 feet. Step right, surmounting the right edge of the cleft to gain a narrow ledge. Move left again and upwards to surmount the diamond shaped rock above. This is the crux and success depends on friction in shallow cracks with poor handholds until the top of the diamond can be reached. Thereafter follow the cracks above without difficulty to the top. Spike belay.
Exit the slab by following the obvious dyke upwards and leftwards.

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Christmas: grade: very difficult; length: 30 metres

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The Devil's rib grade: Very difficult length: 50 metres

The main cliffs of Slieve Beg, going left from the Devil's Coach road, swing round in an arc, first south and then south-west towards the col between Slieve Cove and Slieve Beg. Just before the cliffs end in a series of rock bluffs, a gully splits the cliff, rising steeply for 200 feet. The steep arete on the right of this gully is the Devil's rib. It is shorter than the major climbs on Slieve Beg, and easier. However it is quite exposed with fine situations and views, high above the Annalong valley, and conveys something of the flavour of climbing on this steep crag .

Begin by climbing up the floor of the gully until it is possible to traverse out right on a good ledge to blocks at the edge of the arete. Climb directly up the blocks and belay at the top.
The second pitch goes up the arete above in a single run out. From the belay move right, then straight up, then left and up. Weave up the arete, sometimes on the left of the crest (i.e. on the gully wall) and sometimes out on the right. Turn an overhanging block at two thirds height, by moving left and finish just left of an overhanging nose. Straightforward climbing with good protection, but increasingly airy as one ascends.

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Poetic Justice Grade: Very Severe length: 110 metres

This climb, which is something of a classic VS, runs up the prominent arete, on the left hand side of the Devil's Coach road. From the bottom of the coach road move left over the scree tongue and past the base of a rock promontory which comes down the left side of the coach road. Carry on past a shallow gully to the base of the main buttress rising to the arete above. The climb begins at a crack below a shallow diedre.

Step up the crack and move up the diedre on small but good holds, until it bulges after 20 ft. Step left and swing up onto a narrow ledge. Step up and climb the crack above to finish up steep grass to a small ledge and spike belay.

The second pitch goes straight up from the belay, easy at first. Trend right at the difficulties and move up to the edge of the slab. The drop off to the right is impressive. Step left again and upwards to finish on grass. Belay on a flake with the Devil's coach road on the right. Escape into the coach road is possible from this point.

From the ledge move up on grass and rock, then trend left to the base of a block. Mantleshelf unto the block, or more easily move up left on a narrow ledge and step upwards. Move into the corner on the left. Above right is a protruding block, split by an inclined crack. Surmount the block,either by a direct pull up, using the good holds provided by the inclined crack, or by using a long step right. Stand up on the block. Mantleshelf left unto the next higher ledge. The difficulties ease. Traverse left on a good ledge,then up another short step and left again. Above on the right is a steep white wall. Climb this for 20 feet to a ledge with broken rocks. Look through the slit behind the pillar into the Devil's Coach road.
The final pitch climbs straight up the diedre above. Step up and into the crack. Climb on up (out of balance) until it is possible to escape right onto the upper wall. On up the wall to finish on grass at the top.

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FM Grade: V. Diff 180 metres

FM is one of the longest lines in the Mournes, giving nearly 550 ft of climbing. It is popular and quite classic even in these days of E-numbers. The climb goes up the highest part of the slabs starting from a small bay, recogniseable from the many footmarks and evidence of previous use. Scramble up through tiresome heather and bracken to gain the start.

The first section up to the 'mauvais pas' can be taken in either 2 or 3 pitches. With a 150 ft rope it will go in 2. From the bottom of the climb go easily up slabs with small pochs and grooves for 90 ft until it is possible to move right to a large stance and belay. From the belay, move left again and straddle up parallel grooves to gain a long layback crack, formed where one layer of slabs overlaps another. Move up easily, using a layback technique with some positive holds until it is possible to move left through a weakness in the overlapping slab. Belay.

From the belay move left again to pick up a similar layback crack and follow this up to more broken ground with grooves and cracks. Move up a groove to a slab, step right onto the crest, climb up and move back left. Belay on a jammed stone below the vertical step ahead which is the 'mauvais pas'.
From the belay move right across slabs and into a corner, formed by a vertical wall ahead, and the inclined slab on the left. The problem is to gain the slab and stand up on it. Use a thin flake on the wall ahead as a handhold, place the right foot high in the groove, swing up and unto the slab. Stand up and stretch for a jug. Climb on up over the steep section to easier ground. Carry on for 30 ft to belay. The next pitch moves up easier slabs to the wall ahead. Several variations are possible on mainly easy ground. Belay below the headwall.

The final thirty feet wall has several exits. Most direct is the diedre in the centre of the wall. Climb the diedre direct for 12 feet, using the crack in the back and small holds on the right, to gain a ledge. Traverse rightwards along a ledge (exposed) to make a high step and finish by moving left up cracks and short steps.
V. Diff : 550 ft - Highly recommended.

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Cherchez La Grade: severe 130 metres

This route goes up the Lamaghan slabs about 100 metres to the right of FM. It starts at a small gravel bay. Above and left of the bay is an obvious triangular block. Stand up on the block and then step right into an open diedre. Move up the diedre with a good handhold high up and a foothold in a crack on the left wall. Gain the small ledge and stand up. Step onto the slab above and up (delicate) using small handholds on the right. Ahead is a short overhanging wall. Move up onto this and reach for good jugs formed by a detached flake. Surmount the flake using high handholds and move up for thirty feet to belay.

From the belay move upwards, with slabs grooves and heather ledges, until the angle steepens. Move left unto the prominent rock ramp and go straight up. Trend left to the edge of the ramp and climb through an airy corner. The ramp narrows to an arete and finishes on a heather ledge.

Above is the final and most difficult pitch. Climb up into the overhanging chimney. Move up on a series of ledges. Make a high step left, move up and step left, move up and step left again. Stand up on a sloping slab (good handhold just above). Swing up left unto the exposed upper slab, using a slanting crack as a handhold. Climb the slab, using the crack and trend left onto the arete. Straddle the arete using a crack over the top on the left hand side, or move directly up grooves to finish.
severe : 400 ft

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Class Distinction Grade: severe 30 metres

This climb is on the right hand wall as you look up the gully, and is roughly in the centre of the wall. It starts directly below the open V shaped diedre. Move up left from a grass ledge to the bottom of a steep inclined slab. Move up right across the slab on small holds and friction. Climb on up for 15 feet and come up underneath an overhang. Surmounting the overhang to gain the diedre is the crux of the climb. Bridge across using tiny holds for the left boot and small square cut holds for the right. Gain the diedre and climb it by straddling between the crack in the back and a vertical crack in the right. surmount the top overhang and belay on the metal spike above
severe : 90 ft

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Faery Flight Grade severe 30 metres

This climb starts three metres right of "Class Distinction". Traverse right along a grass ledge to a series of small ledges which mark the start of the climb. Move up easily to the base of a slab slanting right. Climb the slab with the aid of the projecting flakes above, to a good ledge below the upper wall. The next section is the crux. on the right of the ledge is a steep slab, split by a narrow crack. Layback up until it is possible to reach a high handhold, and pull up. A delicate balance move leads to a narrow upper ledge. Traverse right into the corner, where the route joines the upper section of pi-rsquared. Climb the wall on the right and finish over blocks to belay.
severe : 90 ft

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Virgo Grade : Very Severe 120 metres

This route goes steeply up the great left hand buttress on Pigeon mountain. It was opened in the mid 1960's and quickly became recognised as a route of some quality and not a little mystic. With the modern thrust towards extreme rock climbing this has long since vanished, yet Virgo remains one of the great classic rock climbs of the Mountains of Mourne.

The climb starts below a large triangular block on the clean east face of the buttress. Gain a sloping grass ledge by a short scramble.
The first pitch is short and goes straight up the obvious crack and groove in the vertical wall, to gain the bottom if the triangular shield. Thrutch up the sharp edge of the shield and go through the gap to gain a broad grass ledge beyond. Belay on a jammed block.

The second pitch is arguably the hardest of the route with a delicate left traverse half way up. From the top of the triangular block climb straight up on a series of steps to the bottom of the overhanging block. Climb the overhanging block, using the crack on the right (strenuous). Pull up and step left unto a sharply inclined platform. The rock above is overhanging. Reach left for a thin flake and make a step up left (out of balance) until a finger tip hold in a vertical crack can be reached. Climb on up leftwards to the bottom of a ten foot block. Mantleshelf up left, then mantleshelf again to gain the broad ledge above. Belay.

From the ledge climb up to a higher ledge, then up right (delicate) to gain a narrow ledge running back across the buttress.Traverse along this ledge (just in balance), until just before it peters out. Climb up an awkward corner below a crack with a jammed wedge and traverse right again round the block, then up again to a higher ledge. The net section is delicate; a twenty foot horizontal traverse round the corner and across the top of the overhanging lunar wall. (a fall from here would leave you hanging free). Use press holds to stay in balance on the traverse. Climb straight up the vertical corner for 30 feet and mantleshelf through grass and vegetation to the broad vegetated ledge. Belay here and pause to admire the scenery.

From the ledge climb straight up the vertical diedre for sixty feet, harder towards the top. The diedre comes up underneath an overhang on the right. Escape left, out underneath the overhang and over a bulging block (very awkward if you happen to be short). Traverse left to a six foot wall and make a difficult mantlefhelf unto an inclined platform. Up left to finish
VS (4a,4b,4b,4b)

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Section Three: Selected Winter Fun Routes

No one could describe the Mountains of Mourne as a mecca for winter Mountaineering. Closeness to the sea and the generally softer Irish climate, when compared with venues on the UK mainland, mean that winter conditions occur less frequently and for generally shorter periods than is the case in Scotland, North Wales or even the English Lake district. So if you live in Glencoe or Snowdonia, don't come here for winter climbing.

However all is not lost. Most winters snow and ice will be found for part of the winter, especially around mid February. But if you want to try any of the more technical winter climbs it is very much a matter of being there on the day. There are however, a number of areas in the Mournes where an appreciable build up of snow commonly occurs with, over time, enough consolidation to create scope for long easy snow climbs. Routes in this category cannot be regarded as winter climbs, in the accepted meaning of the term, but they can still be a lot of fun. With axe and crampons you can enjoy the ambience of winter while climbing at little more that grade 1. This section points you to areas where this kind of fun route may be found.

It is important to recognise that the mountains in winter are a significantly more dangerous environment than is the case in summer. Paths that are normally quite benign in summer may be covered in ice and the danger of suffering an accident is correspondingly amplified. In winter even a minor accident is a serious matter. During the short hours of daylight temperatures may perhaps hover a few degrees above zero, but as soon as nightfall occurs, they will plummet. At the same time, arranging any kind of rescue is correspondingly more difficult. The danger of hypothermia while waiting on assistance, is a real possibility. Spare clothing which is both warm and light weight is essential. At the same time, rucksacs will inevitably be heavier and this is itself a complicating factor. In deciding what to carry, finding the right balance requires some thought. You must also exercise judgement about snow conditions. Well consolidated snow is assumed in these descriptions and if this is not the case, it may be better to come back another day. One some of these routes there may be loose ground underneath the snow. This may not matter on well frozen snow, but otherwise could pose some danger. A basic understanding of the key skills of winter hillwalking and mountaineering is essential and is assumed herein. Navigation in the Mournes is generally quite straightforward, but in a winter white out you can still go wrong. Anyone can take a tumble in the winter hills so some experience of ice axe braking is necessary. Some understanding of winter survival skills is also needed. In this context the Mourne wall is a valuable aid in winter. It is an aid to navigation and a potential lifesaver if caught out in adverse circumstances. Dig down into the snow close the the wall and you can quickly create a trench with snow on one side and the wall on the other. Dig outward into the snow and quickly create a simple snow hole to provide basic shelter in an emergency. While the routes in this section are technically easy, You need to be competent with the use of crampons and axes. Most descriptions eschew use of rope and belaying, both because the ground covered is easy but also because snow depth may be insufficent for reliable snow belays and arranging rock belays may not be possible. Any form of winter mountaineering needs to be taken seriously. If in doubt either about any of these factors, or your own preparedness, visit the coffee shop instead.


Winter fun routes on Slieve Donard

Slieve Donard along with Slieve Commedagh on the other side of the Glen river valley, are the two highest hills in the Mournes and not surprising see significant snow over the winter period. The north-western side of Slieve Donard holds the steep crag of eagle rocks overlooking the glen river valley. Just North of Eagle Rocks is a large open bowl with, high up, a band of broken rock curving round towards the Northern flanks of the mountain. This open bowl accumulates snow in most winters. It gives a variety of easy possibilities, rarely more than grade 1. Roping up and belaying are unneccesary but competance and care are still needed. To get there follow walking route 1 up the glen river valley, until near the end of the forest on your right. Eagle rocks and the North West of Slieve Donard are just across the river.

In the centre of this area is a band of slabs, relatively low angled overall, but with short walls and steeper sections. It is normally wet and uninviting in summer, but frequently ices-up in winter. Axe, hammer and crampons are all you need to enjoy a variety of easy ice lines, generally about 250 feet long.

Above the slabs, several possibilities exist. With sufficient snow and a bit of consolidation you can find several hundred feet of snow climbing, sweeping up to the broken rock band around the top. Best conditions are sometimes found by verring left. In the winter of 2010/11 excellent frozen neve in this region gave some 300 feet of front pointing. Take care with the broken rock band around the top. Loose rock can be encountered here. If you come up underneath the rock band, moving across left can allow you to escape onto the upper Northern flanks of the mountain without difficulty.

If you move right at the top of the icy slabs, towards the northern side of Eagle rocks, several low angle gully lines may be found. One slants up from right to left with bounding rock walls in the upper section. Another starts higher and slants up more steeply from left to right, emerging on the ridge that stretches down to Eagle rocks. Some loose rock may be encountered in these gullies. Strong winds are not uncommon here in winter as you pull out onto the upper ridge, and the drop behind you is appreciable.

To the south of Eagle Rocks, the Glen river valley sweeps up towards the Donard Commedagh Col. In this area, the western flanks of Donard are quite steep and there are a few shallow gullies which can hold some snow. The area is influenced by winds blowing through the col, and tends to get more sun than the north western area just described. Directly below the Donard-Commedagh col is a steep gully, filled in summer with boulders and quite broken rocks. Facing more or less directly North, it can accumulate quite a lot of snow and can give an interesting and easy route. Be aware however that the underlying gully bed is very rough in places, and well consolidated snow is needed. The slabs to the left of this gully (looking up) are invariably wet in summer and can ice up in winter to give moderately angled water ice. Given a good build-up of ice you can practice front pointing up these slabs, with a fairly easy escape left at the top. In thaw conditions, the ice can detach so caution is needed in these circumstances.


Winter fun routes on Slieve Commedagh

On the whole Slieve Commedagh offers more scope for easy winter routes, than Slieve Donard. It holds the two most spectacular corries in the Mournes, namely the Pot of Pollgarve north east of the summit, and the Pot of Legawherry on the west. Additionally, the area to the right of the Donard-Commedagh col has several quite long watercourses which often freeze in winter to give pleasant ice routes, easy for the most part, but with short steep sections. The gullies are quite open and, if need be, circumventing the more difficult steps is not difficult. On the south side of the mountain, the Castles of Commedagh is a large area of crags with pinnacles and rock towers. This area is split by a number of gullies which are loose and potentially dangerous in summer (accidents have occurred here). Being south-facing, on an average winter snow in this area can be short-lived. However given a good fall and a period of cold weather, consolidation can quickly occur and the area can provide some good sport.

Climbing in the Pot of Pollgarve

The Pot of Pollgarve is the most prominent feature of the mountain, in the view from Newcastle. It is gained from Newcastle by following walking route 1 up the glen river valley until some way beyond the forest on the right, with Eagle rocks on Slieve Donard to your left. Here turn right and negotiate some awkward ground as you move up to the corrie floor. The North Eastern face of Slieve Commedagh forms the southern wall of the Pot rising for a thousand feet from the corrie floor. The angle of this face is probably no more than 40 degrees on average but steeper towards the back of the corrie. From the corrie floor, what looks like a rock tower can be seen above at the back corner. This is actually a projecting rock that slightly overhangs and is flanked by steeper ground on either side. Moving right from here the ridge above necks down to a level section leading north to Shan Slieve and forming the back wall of the corrie. In winter the region behind the projecting rock can ice up and become difficult to negotiate without crampons. Small cornices generally form all round the upper rim of the Pot.

The north eastern face of Slieve Commedagh, rising out of the Pot of Pollgarve, often accumulates appreciable snow cover. Given a bit of consolidation, long easy snow climbs can be enjoyed here. Axe, hammer and crampons will be needed, but the competent will not need a rope. In good conditions you can climb anywhere, but a good line to follow starts towards the back corner of the Pot. Some short rock walls may be found here, often heavily iced but easily avoidable. Go more or less straight up, aiming to pass some way to the left of the projecting rock. Expect to find a small cornice at the top. Remember that the angle of the snow below a cornice can be greater than 50 degrees. Care is needed as you chop your way through the cornice, a fall from here would result in a long tumble. The ground above the cornice may well be blown clear of snow, but good placements can be had in the frozen turf. The summit plateau of Slieve Commedagh is often a windy place, so don't be surprised to be hit in the face by a blast of spindrift as you emerge on to the summit plateau. The route is technically easy, but nevertheless conveys the ethos of a big winter snow climb, with magnificant scenery, both in the Pot of Pollgarve itself and across the glen river valley to the north western aspect of Slieve Donard. On a cold clear winter's day, a dawn start out of Donard Car park will see you get high on the route as the winter sun appears to the east over the shoulder of Slieve Donard.

Moving right past the upper projecting rock, takes you to the back wall of the Pot. This is steep with rock, interspersed with heather and grass. Given a good snow build up it is possible to find quite steep ascent lines in this region. These perhaps should not be classified as fun routes. Further right a prominent gully system can give a pleasant and straightforward snow climb so long as snow cover is adequate. In summer this area contain much scree and some unstable ground, so care is needed. Overall the north eastern face of Commedagh is more fun.

Climbing in the Pot of Legawherry

The Pot of Legawherry to the west of Slieve Commedagh's summit is a near symmetrical bowl. It rises steeply on three sides, and has a flat grassy bottom. Its back wall is seemed with gullies, several of which give winter climbs at around grade 2 with short ice pitches that make it safer to rope up and belay. (Two of these are described later) On the right side of the corrie is a rocky ridge, and to the left of this the ground is less steep. In summer at least it can be ascended without much difficulty. Moving left along the back wall, there are a number of relatively easy but quite deep gullies flanked by rock pinacles and walls. With a good snow build up these give interesting snow climbs, ending close to the Mourne wall. Further left the corrie sweeps round onto the west side of Slieve Commedagh. This area is riven by shallow gullies that often fill up with snow and often have short ice steps. They are not too steep, but invariably steepen towards the top, passing through an indistinct rock band that rims the corrie in this area. Several of these gullies, especially those close to the back wall can be worth while if the snow is well consolidated. Trending right at the top leads towards the Mourne wall where it rises steeply to the summit of Slieve Commedagh.

Arguably the biggest drawback with the Pot of Legawherry is its remoteness. All approaches are quite long and entail traversing some difficult ground. Carrying winter gear, you can expect to need about two hours to get up to the corrie floor. It is possible to get into the pot of Legawherry from Newcastle, but this is not straightforward. The author's preference is to start at the car park at Clonachullion. From here there are several possibilities. Perhaps the shortest overall, is simply to follow the trassey track up to the Hare's gap. Pass through the gap and follow the brandy pad eastwards. To the north, the ridge runs over Slievenaglogh, Slieve Corragh and on to Slieve Commedagh, passing along the top of the pot of Legawherry. A relatively low point in this ridge occurs between Slievenaglogh and Slieve Corragh. Leave the brandy pad where it crosses a prominent stream and trends south eastwards and climb north-east to gain the ridge above at its lowest point. Now you must climb over the wall, which is quite high in this area. There is no stile to help you, but there are projecting rocks in places so take care. Once over the wall continue in a north-easterly direction down hill on steepening ground. There are some crags split by rock gullies in this region, but you can generally avoid these on the left. Descend several hundred feet to get clear of the difficult ground and then traverse eastwards to encounter a prominent stream coming down from the pot of Legawherry. Now turn southwards and climb up to the flat floor of the pot.

An alternative route from Clonacullion car park takes you through Tollymore forest park and approaches the pot of Legawherry from the north. From the car park take the track going north east. When this splits in two, avoid the branch going right and instead follow the level track eastwards over several stiles towards Tollymore. Climb over a stile at the boundary wall and continue past a waterfall on the right. Stay on the south side of the Shimna river and continue to Parnell's bridge. Do not cross the bridge but continue eastwards to a fork where you trend right. The track rises slightly and curves southwards before arriving at a junction of paths near a prominent river, the Spinkwee river. Look for a track going south to a gate in the boundary wall. Pass through the gate and follow a rough track southwards until it bends left and passes a boarded up cottage. Beyond the cottage turn right uphill to a stile. Pass through a wet and awkward section with broken rock underfoot and lots of whin bushes and other prickly vegetation. Go generally east of south until the going eases and you encounter a tributary of the Spinkwee river. Notice a prominent stone wall to the left. Cross over to this when you can and follow it southwards on generally easier ground, until it bends abruptly to the east. Continue more or less due south until you can easily cross the main Spinkwee river. Continue up into the pot of Legawherry which is more or less directly ahead.


Winter fun routes on Slieve Bearnagh

The North western face of Slieve Bearnagh sweeps up for about 1000 feet at an average angle of 40 to 45 degrees. It is characterised by extensive areas of slab angled rock, steepest at the southern end of the face where it forms one of the Mournes most popular rock climbing areas, known simply as the Bearnagh slabs. The face is best studied from part way up the Mourne wall rising from the col at the bottom of the Bearnagh slabs to the top of Slieve Meelmore. The rock slabs can ice up at several points to yield worthwhile water ice routes. In particular some summer rock climbs on the main Bearnagh slabs can become climbable as winter routes mainly at around grade 3/4. These are technical climbs on which most parties will want to be roped up. To the left of the Bearnagh slabs is a prominent easy angled ramp that often holds an appreciable amount of snow. This is normally little more than a steep walk although crampons and an axe will be appreciated when the snow is frozen hard. Above the ramp the mountain rises steeply and it is often possible to pick an entertaining route up through broken rock interspersed with steep snow to finish at the rock tor where the Mourne wall bends sharply to the north.

However, near the centre of the face, a long shallow gully rises steeply from just above the path to near the summit of the mountain. This normally holds snow well, and when consolidated, it gives a very good easy snow climb, on a par with the routes described above on Slieve Donard or Slieve Commedagh. Walk up the path below the North Western Face of Slieve Bearnagh, until you see the start of the gully above the path. Take to the line of the gully proper as soon as possible. (The snow may not be well consolidated at the bottom). Climb steadily upwards on steepening ground, trending right towards the top to come up to the wall, just north of the summit.


The view from part way up the gully on Slieve Bearnagh's North West Face, Looking across the face, with the shoulder of Slieve MeelMore visible across the valley and Slieve Meelbeg Beyond.

Slieve Bearnagh's North Western face



Avalanches in the Mournes - Surely it must be a Joke !!

It has to be said that Avalanches in the Mournes are very rare. Indeed anyone who suggests that they might sometimes occur, is likely to be laughed at ! Certainly the relatively light snowfalls that the Mournes experience most winters rarely produce enough snow to make avalanches a likely occurrence. But this is not the whole story. Some years do see substantial snowfalls, and considerable accumulations can arise. In past years, the author has encountered substantial avalanche debris in two very different areas, namely the bottom of the North Eastern Gully of Cove Mountain and the east flank of Slieve Commedagh.
The North Eastern Gully of Cove runs up the steep east face of the mountain for some 800+ feet. It is narrow and enclosed in the middle section before opening out into a huge circular fan at the top, which lies just east of the summit of the mountain. In summer the gully is damp with a considerable amount of loose rock, making it a somewhat dangerous scramble. In winter it does not normally accumulate much snow, and that fact coupled with its relative remoteness probably means that few parties have explored it under winter conditions. But it has avalanched in the past in years of heavy snowfall and it is worthwhile understanding why. The key is the large open fan at the top, just east of the summit area, and the fact that the predominant wind direction is from the west. During a heavy snowstorm, driven on by the west wind, snow will naturally drop into the upper fan section of the gully. In the right conditions a substantial depth of poorly consolidated snow is likely to accumulate here, resulting in an avalanche risk. Certainly the author has in the past seen significant avalanche debris at the bottom of this gully.
The eastern flank of Slieve Commedagh is a very different region, but shares some similarities with the gully on Cove. It is the area east of Commedagh's large summit plateau and is characterised by a shallow concave grassy depression lying at a modest angle. Most walkers don't normally traverse through this area which, in summer, is entirely unremarkable. In winter, Commedagh's summit plateau is often striped clear of snow, by the actions of the wind. While some snow usually accumulates against the Mourne wall, the west wind will tend to blow snow into this area on the eastern side of the mountain to create an accumulation of unconsolidated snow. In this region the auther has on one occasion encountered a slip several hundred feet wide which had stopped just above the rim of the glen river valley, leaving a mass of crumpled snow.

That said, no one should forego the pleasure and beauty to be had in the winter mountains. The avalanche risk is very small, but don't be wholly complacent.

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