One Team, One Dream – Mourne Seven Summits

One Team, One Dream - Mourne Seven Summits

One Team, One Dream – Mourne Seven Summits

24th May, 2021

The Seven Summits captured in moment: “brace yourself” I called back to Orla and Niall ten metres behind as I rounded the first (false) summit of Slieve Binnian, Peak 6. Shortly after there were gasps of “what!?”, “no”, and other expletives. We thought we were there but the next mile of climb opened up as part of a magnificent vista across the Silent Valley and down to the Irish Sea. Suffice to say the second half of the hike was a battle of will power as much as endurance. The three (or more strictly four) Binnian peaks served up the starter in the psychological menu, then a few hours later we found out that whomever said it was downhill all the way from the top of Slieve Lamagan to the carpark had blocked out Cove Mountain and Sleive Beg. It might be time to rebrand as the twelve peak challenge?

The Options Seven Summit challenge was conceived by Matt Ballantyne on a frosty morning hiking meeting on the west shoulder of Divis in the middle of December. We wanted to stick a big outdoors and fitness “team” event in the diary in late May to give everyone in Options Belfast something to focus on beyond the winter of Covid. Traditionally we’ve always used the Belfast Marathon as a key event in our social calendar and raised quite a bit of money for charity along the way. Over the last few years the Mourne Seven Summits challenges have developed a reputation for being the toughest fund-raising events run on the Island of Ireland. As one person put it, “tough enough that finishing is a proper accompaniment”.

My son Daniel (aged 8) was out with us that morning and immediately decided he wanted to join in and in doing so (probably) take the record for the youngest person ever to complete the course. We held off on making the challenge official until late January. One problem with being the boss is that once the MEMO is sent there is no backing out, and in this case I also knew that meant there’d be no backing out for Daniel either. To set some context he’d already been up Slieve Donard a bunch of times and walked the Divis and Black mountain trails every weekend since the first set of lockdown restrictions lifted in June so he’d already a great fitness base.

More than anything else the challenge provided all of us with some extra motivation to get outdoors and exercise through the winter and what turned out to be a brutal fourth lockdown lasting from December 26th until well into April and May in NI. It’s easier to train when there’s a common goal, through what was a notably dark and cold winter, one we’ll try to forget. We drafted in some additional “professional” coaching help including a fascinating one hour session with celebrated alpinist Steve House.

Roll on the day and a very cold and blustery Donard Carpark at 5:45am. We’d a group of 23 from Options, Daniel, and a few friends. There was a sense of trepidation not least due to the cold and the 2-3 inches of rain that had fallen in the Mournes in the previous three days. As we headed up through the woods and towards the Saddle it was clear that the fast group (a.k.a. the “kids”) were going to be very fast, with the first four Jason Davidson, Mark McGratten, Sean Harper and Conall McErlean finishing in a blistering 8:36.

The “steady pace” group formed at the Saddle ofter Donard and the twelve of us stayed together for the rest of the day, as we said frequently, “one team, one dream.” We worked our way around together. Things almost went badly wrong early with a few dangerous slips and falls on the descent of a very slippery Commedagh (Peak two). Luckily ground conditions improved through the day. The first few hours were properly hypothermic with windchill temperatures well below zero and even a flurry of snow at one point, I for one was not dressed for the conditions. The weather improved too and through the afternoon we’d crystal clear May sunshine at times and the wind dropped giving perfect hiking conditions.

And so the day ended. The fast group was very fast. The steady pace group started and finished as a team despite a few bumps along the way. We (probably) took the record for the youngest finisher. Everyone had a lot of fun, some much needed social time with colleagues and laid down a few bonds that will last a lifetime.

Danny Moore, President & CEO

The Seven Seven’s is an 18 mile, 8100ft test of endurance and mountain skills. The objective is to climb all seven peaks in the Mourne Mountains that are over 700m above sea level. Our team sat off at 6am, completing the challenge in under 13 hours and raising funds for two very worthwhile causes along the way: The Woodland Trust and Mourne Mountain Rescue. If you would like to support our endeavours, please donate here.

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