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Mummy’s little hikers…

Newry mother scales Greece’s highest peak with youngest son four years after climbing Africa’s tallest mountain with his big brother

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Lauren and Rowan on the slopes of Mount Olympus

Lauren and Rowan on the slopes of Mount Olympus

Lauren and Rowan at the summit of Mount Olympus in May 2022. They have an Irish flag and a US flag because Lauren is originally from Boston

Lauren and Rowan at the summit of Mount Olympus in May 2022. They have an Irish flag and a US flag because Lauren is originally from Boston

Lauren and Rowan on their Mount Olympus climb in May 2022

Lauren and Rowan on their Mount Olympus climb in May 2022

Lauren with her son Conor at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2018

Lauren with her son Conor at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2018

Lauren with her sons Conor and Rowan

Lauren with her sons Conor and Rowan

Photo Lauren took during her Mount Kilimanjaro climb with Conor in October 2018

Photo Lauren took during her Mount Kilimanjaro climb with Conor in October 2018

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Lauren and Rowan on the slopes of Mount Olympus

Standing at the summit of a snow-capped mountain with his mum at his side may not be the way most schoolboys celebrate their 11th birthday.

But for Rowan Bannon, from Jonesborough, Newry, a mother-son adventure was always on the cards to mark his final year of primary school.

Rowan and his mum Lauren O’Malley have just returned from scaling Mount Olympus, in Greece — reaching the Skala summit at 2,882m above sea level on May 31.

Four years ago, Lauren also did a mountain climb to mark her elder son Conor’s 11th birthday — with the pair tackling Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, in October 2018.

Lauren (43) explains: “Eleven is a great age for this sort of adventure — it’s the last year of primary before going up to big school and it’s felt like a rite of passage with each of the boys.

“As we approached Rowan’s 11th birthday on November 15th, 2021, I asked him to pick an adventure that we could do together. We did some research online and saw that Mount Olympus looked really spectacular.”

The family are no strangers to adventure. Conor’s dad is fireman Terence ‘Banjo’ Bannon (54), the second person from Northern Ireland to climb Everest in 2003.

Terence and Lauren, who is originally from Boston, actually met at Everest Base Camp in the Himalayas, and have brought up their sons Conor and Rowan (left) to be adventurous globe-trotters.

The couple have taken their boys to Vietnam, Belize, Thailand, India and Mexico. They’ve been backpacking in Borneo, and back home in Northern Ireland they’re regularly out running, cycling, kayaking or hiking in the Mournes.

Lauren and Conor’s Kilimanjaro climb also marked Lauren’s 40th birthday, and she’d always promised Rowan that when he turned 11 they would pick a challenge to follow in his big brother’s footsteps.

“It’s really special because it’s mother and son time,” she explains. “It’s something we experience together that we’ll always have for the rest of our lives. It creates a special closeness.

“The adventure starts with the training. Me and Rowan were out climbing mountains in the Mournes three times a week from February.

“I’d pick him up after school, with his hiking boots and a snack in the car and we’d set out together. It was quality one-on-one time we wouldn’t have got back in the house, with him in front of the TV and me doing the cleaning.”

Lauren and Rowan flew to Greece on Friday, May 27, leaving Conor at home with his dad. They spent the weekend acclimatising to the heat before travelling to Litochoro, in the foothills.

Rowan, who has just finished his final year at Killean Primary School, says he loved Greece — especially relaxing and swimming in the hotel pool before they set off.

“Greece was so beautiful. I liked not getting wet for a change,” he smiles.

They began their climb at 7am on Monday, May 30, and Lauren says one of the toughest elements was the heat.

“It was 30C when we set off, and of course we’re not used to climbing in that climate carrying all our gear,” she says. “It’s also a mountain with a lot of exposure to very sheer drops — it’s not a good one if you have any fear of heights.

“My heart was in my mouth a few times, as the paths are quite narrow in places, but Rowan absolutely loved it; it really appealed to his sense of adventure.”

After staying overnight at a remote mountain lodge, they continued at 6am the following morning and soon climbed above the snowline.

“One of the most amazing things about Olympus is the spectacular setting; it’s just so beautiful,” says Lauren. “You go from the heat into the snow, and below you can see the sea.

“Arriving at the summit at about 11am was a really special moment. There was definitely a sense of achievement that we’d accomplished something really special together.

“We stayed there for a short time and Rowan was able to play in the snow, bum-sliding down the gullies.”

Meanwhile back home in Newry, Conor and Terence were cheering them on, checking the mountain weather forecasts and making WhatsApp contact whenever they could.

Conor (14) is still adventurous and recently did a bungee jump in Belfast.

“They are two very different boys, but they are very supportive of each other, despite the occasional bit of sibling rivalry,” laughs Lauren. “They each did very different climbs to mark their 11th birthdays — and that just reflects what suited them best.”

Rowan also chose to support a local fundraising appeal with his climb, and has raised around £1,400 for Aaron’s Mission to Walk, to support a five-year-old Newry boy with cerebral palsy and diplegia.

“Rowan felt very strongly about that,” says Lauren. “I think it’s really important that they know that this amazing opportunity to climb a mountain isn’t just a holiday — it’s a chance to do something worthwhile and raise money for a good cause too.

“Conor raised money for Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice with his climb.

“It gives them that extra drive when they have tough days training, knowing they’re not just doing it for themselves.”

Rowan says he very much had Aaron in his mind during the last steep part of his ascent.

“The climb was different to what I expected. It was more beautiful and so much bigger than the photos I’d seen of Mount Olympus online,” he says. “When you looked off the edge of the cliffs it looked amazing.

“The hardest bit was the last day. It was 10 hours of pure walking and it was a steep climb to reach the summit.

“When I was standing at the top I felt so accomplished with myself and I thought about wee Aaron getting his surgery, and how lucky I was to be able to do the climb to support him.”

Rowan says now he’s back home he’s looking forward to a well-earned break, but he’ll still be out hiking in the Mournes and other mountains near home at weekends.

“My favourite thing about climbing is when you make it to the summit you get a real thrill, a tingly feeling,” he adds.

“You get that feeling in this country too. I love Hen Mountain the best.

“It’s not the biggest but the rock climbing is really exciting, it’s a good challenge.”


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