By Tony Merrick

The weather forecast leading up to the day of the climb kept showing that the conditions were going to be favourable on the day. However, as we set off on our one and a half hour journey from our hotel in Dumfries to Mt Merrick the skies were disappointingly dark and we had rain for most of the journey.  On approach to our starting point we were encouraged by the brightening skies despite the fact that Merrick still had its summit in the cloud.
After a team photo at the Merrick trail notice board and a safety briefing to the younger members we optimistically set off looking forward to the challenge ahead.  The ascent was quite reasonable at first and the surrounding views of the loch and foot hills started to emerge.  The trail was a linear route ie, returning the same way as we went up, so we encouraged the boys to do some map reading and to stop and look behind them regularly so that they could admire the views and remember the route for our return journey. The initial route took us alongside a lovely cascading mountain stream and then through forest with some fantastic moss and brightly coloured toadstools.  After an hour or so the terrain became steeper and quite rocky with a lot of bogs that we kept sinking into.  The mist also started to roll in as we ascended into the cloud and the rain forced us all to don our waterproof clothing.  The cloud continued to thicken and we kept reinforcing the importance to the younger members of all remaining within sight of each other and not wandering off from the group.  The visibility continued to decrease to just a few metres as we approached the summit and the temperature started to fall rapidly as the wind increased. We were all elated at reaching the summit, none more so than Jen, as it had been much harder than expected.  With the weather conditions worsening by the minute our celebrations were cut short by the urgency of making a hasty retreat from the summit.  Visibility decreased dramatically and the rain started to drive in. For those not having experienced these sort of conditions before it was also quite worrying to have the added realisation that our return route was no longer visible and that we could easily wander off in to the near zero visibility in the wrong direction.
Map and compass was needed to get us back on to our return track and the rain had made the terrain much more treacherous than the ascent.  We were walking through mini streams as the rain made its way off the mountain and the bogs were deeper and the stones and boulders becoming more slippery as we continued.  We had a few falls and a painful twisted thigh for one member as we became more and more tired in the fading light.  At one point we started to think that we had taken a wrong turn and became a little bit demoralised at the thought of having to retrace our footsteps but we soon recognised some way points and knew that the end was near.  Jen burst into tears on returning to the start point and reminded me how of much she hated me for talking her into doing it.  It was a lot harder than we anticipated and all of us found it a personal challenge.  After nine hours on the mountain we were all relieved to be getting out of our wet clothing and getting into the car. 
We had champagne in our hotel room ready to go on ice and we had previously booked a table at the restaurant for a celebratory dinner at 8pm but our long day meant that we wouldn't make it until at least 9.15.  We phoned the hotel to let them know that we would be late, only to be told that being a Sunday the restaurant closes at 9pm.  When we got back we had to just rush into the bar dressed as we were so that we could at least have a drink to our success and to then telephone an order for takeaway pizzas that we ate in our rooms.  There were a few sore limbs at breakfast the following morning and a few stories for everyone to tell.  One thing for sure is that every single one of us will remember this challenge for the rest of our lives.

We are extremely grateful to all of you for supporting us and helping us raise funds for the charity.  We didn't achieve our target but we always knew that it was quite an ambitious one.  We don't have a final total yet as some last minute donations are still coming in.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to the climbers for their resilience and determination and for working together as a team to ensure that we successfully completed the challenge.

Well done, I'm proud of you all.