Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Donegal Rock Climbing 2014

 And sho, with 2014 coming to a close and with the summer but a distant memory it has been a most outstanding year on the sea cliffs, sea stacks and mountains of Co. Donegal. Below is a few of the climbing highlights of the year.

Winter Climbing

 The winter in Donegal at the start of 2014 lasted for a very short while with one huge dump of snow and average temperatures hovering around zero for less than a week. The bulk of the snow disappeared within 36 hours with the north face of Muckish holding onto it's snow just long enough for good consolidation and excellent climbing conditions. Alas these climbing conditions lasted for one day and with several teams out on Muckish for that day, three fully formed gullies were climbed. The following day the temperature rose to 10 degrees, the rains came and winter was over for another season.  

Climbing on Muckish Feb 2014  

Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag
 Fast forward to March and the summer climbing season kicked of with a visit to the most remote rock climbing location in Ireland, Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag with Louise O'Connor. A high line traverse to accompany last years low line traverse was the order of the day. This crag was visited several time over 2014 and now has 5 excellent and very atmospheric routes living on its off vertical face.

Beyond the Ends of the Earth Film   

Donegal Rock Climbing

 Crag with a view

Berg Stack

 This small wedge shaped stack had a multitude of visits over the course of the year with four good routes filling the gaps on the landward facing vertical wall. This stack was first climbed by Steven Young  and J. Leonard in 1973 and then again in 1988, the routes put up this year all take the remaining unclimbed features on the stack. 
 Berg stack was also the location for a pretty good tyrolean traverse for Columbia Clothing and Outsider Magazine in June, with 12 international journalists and perfect weather the day could not have gone any better.

Tyrolean Traverse in Donegal, Ireland

Owey Island

 The development of the seaward faces of Owey Island carried on from last year at it's very busy pace with Paul Swail and John McCune making many visits to the island over the summer with many climbing partners. Owey Island currently has three main new crags each providing very hard and suitably adventurous climbs. The main newly developed crags are The Nose, with mainly two pitch routes up to e5. Wild Atlantic Walls wildly overhanging single pitch crag with routes upto E6. But the prize for the wildest/hardest routes are on the aptly named holy Jaysus Wall, where John and Paul put up two e7 routes.  
 The current Owey Guidebook download has details of all the crags on Owey Island.

Owey Island Rock Climbing

  Sea Stacks

 A series of uber calm sea states allowed for three visits to very hard to reach locations on the Donegal coast. The first was a visit to the sea ward face of An Bhuideal with Louise O'Connor where we climbed a new route up the sea ward face of the stack at a very exposed Hard Severe.

Sea Stack Climbing

 The second visit to the further was with Leman Lemanski where we did the second ascent of Tormore Island and the first free ascent as we removed the need for an outboard engine. We gained the stack from Glenlough Bay by wee dingy and massive smiles.

Tormore Island Film

Tormore Island Summit

View from Tormore Island summit

 The third visit to the further was a solo quest to Bothanvarra sea stack off Dunaff head in Inishowen, more information on this stack here, Bothanvarra and the original blogpost.

Bothanvarra Film

Inishowen Rock Climbing

Inishowen Sea Stack


 High on the north face of Muckish Mountain there is a huge very exposed boulder known as Balor's Pillar. This 10 meter high boulder sits on a precarious ledge above Balor's Buttress and creates an excellent micro summit. A LOT of climbers have looked at possible ways to it's summit and pretty much everyone came to the same conclusion, it's too hard. This summer Marek Przybylski, Patrick Tinney and 11 year old Adam Tinney, climbed two new lines to it's summit at e1 and e2. 

  Balor's Pinnacle

 Whilst on Muckish, Marek and Patrick took advantage of the very dry weather to fill a few of the harder gaps high on Balors Buttress, three excellent routes at HVS, E1 and E2, all following hand cracks and all cleaned and climbed this summer. (images hand stolen from Patrick Tinneys FB page)

 Muckish new routes

 Details of the new routes on Muckish, Muckish Mountain guidebook download.

Donegal Guidebook 2015

 The future Donegal Guidebook is currently approx 65% edited and on 22 separate in-design folders, I am aiming to have the guide ready for printers by the start of January 2015. The guide is coming out as two volumes with this off course being volume one. Alas I am very much a novice book writer and am still finding new ways to make the guide better and better. Anyone who uses in-design, I salute you. :-)


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tormore Island, Ireland's highest seastack

 The most outstanding summer weather continues towards October and with the first ascent of Bothanvarra sea stack last month I kind of thought that was the end of the foolish nautical activities for 2014. But no, a very prolonged period of uber calm allowed a 4k ring of confidence to project from the west coast of Ireland for a 16 hour period. The contents of the ring was a less than 1 meter swell and a huge wave period and so a free ascent of Tormore Island was pushed to the very top of the to do list.

Tormore Island Film 2014

 Tormore Island is Ireland's highest sea stack and stands at 148 meters above the mighty Neptune. Access to the base of the stack is a very involved affair and on the stack's first ascent in 2008 we used a RiB and a 250 HP out-board engine to gain access, story of this ascent is HERE. This ascent of the stack with noble brothers Pete McConnel, Alan Tees, Peter Cooper was a most excellent day out alas with hindsight the use of an internal combustion engine to reach the stack began to niggle.
 As time passed a very cunning plan to remove the use of motorized nautical transport was devised and I soon realised that the most perfect sea and wind conditions would be necessary to allow safe passage.
 The island sits in a very exposed location in one of the most remote stretches of coastline in Ireland. Around the landward side of it's base live a collection of skerries and stacks which cause a great deal of white water violence and potentially great concern for any would be mariner.

 Tormore Island from south

Tormore Island from the north

 And sho, after having spent the last 8 years playing out on the coastline around Tormore, I had a very cunning plan to access the landward channel of the stack using,off course, the trusty inflatable dingy and no outboard engine.
 Joining me on this rather foolish quest was noble brother Leman Lemanski and with an unsociably early start we were walking into Glenlough Bay across the dark sky bog. As always with all cunning plans of this nature you never know if your nautical calculations are correct until you first sight your intended the sea passage, and lo upon our arrival at Glenlough Bay, the sea was very well behaved indeed. :-) 

 Tormore from Glenlough Bay

Glenlough Bay

The Land of the Giants

Landed on Tormore Island

 The weather and sea were in absolutely perfect condition with a very long and low wave period and pretty much no hint of white water anywhere. We sorted the dry bags and set sail from the landward side of Southern stack and paddled directly across the mouth of Glenlough Bay. on passage we bumped into sea kayakers, Valli and her pal just before entering the realm of the giants. The landward channel of Tormore comprises a small cauldron of outstanding natural beauty surrounded by the giants of Tormore, Hidden Stack, Cobblers Tower, Cnoc na Mara and about a dozen other semi submerged skerries. Under normal sea conditions this wee cauldron is a white watered pits of hate and a suicidal place to be paddling but today it was the entrance to the further. 
 We paddled through the flat calm cauldron and landed on the landward side of Tormore. A swift racking up and we were off upwards. The cunning plan was to follow the original route of 2008 and as I had made a return in 2013 with noble brother Aidan McGinely the belays at the tops of pitches 1 and 2 were in tip top condition.        

Looking down pitch 1

Looking up pitch 2

 The first two pitches of the route take you approx 80 meters up the stack and to this point the climbing is more mountaineering than technical rock climbing. At the top of pitch two we were standing on a grassy ledge clipped to a couple of equalised pegs, above us loomed slightly harder and more technical rock climbing. The next 40 meters of climbing is by far the most technical on the route with spaced gear, suspect rock and huge grass cornices to play on. This took us to a huge grassy ledge in the middle of nowhere and high above the sea. 
 The views from this stance are outstanding with the most remote and beautiful coastline in Ireland beginning to stretch from horizon to horizon. Alas above us is another 60 meters of climbing to the summit with 40 meters of it being unprotected vertical grass.  

Glenlough Bay from Tormore Summit

Tormore Island

 And so, standing on the summit of Tormore Island at 148 meters above the ocean, 500 meters from your nearest point of mainland Donegal, 20 odd kilometers from the nearest main road and over looking the distant edge of the further. It is impossible to express in words a location that few even know exists and only five have ever stood. A summit in which the ground nester reign supreme and the transient world we exist in is a far and distant memory.   

Tormore Summit view


Monday, 25 August 2014

Dunaff Head, Inishowen

 Living on the north west tip of the Inishowen Peninsula is the 230 meter high Dunaff Hill. This hill is hemmed in by Dunaff Bay to the south and by Rocktown Bay to the north, which in turn creates the Dunaff Headland. This headland has a 4 kilometer stretch of very exposed coast line running its circumference to a high point of 220 meters which overlooks the sea stack Bothanvarra.
 Bothanvarra is a 70m high chubby Matterhorn shaped sea stack which sits in the most remote, inescapable and atmospheric locations on the Inishowen coastline. It was until yesterday one of only two remaining unclimbed monster sea stacks on the Donegal coast.
 It was in 2010 when I first saw this stack but alas from this visit it did not look a viable proposition from the summit of Dunaff Hill in the rain and so it was buried in the to do list of epic proportions.

A successful ascent film Aug 2014

 Fast forward to 2013 and we were at Fanad Head to do a Failte Ireland film and abseil off the lighthouse. It was then that I saw the true nature of the beast and it was game on. A week later and a troop of four headed to have a wee look at gaining the stack from the summit of Dunaff Hill by gaining sea level and nautical passage from there. On this visit it was very apparent that this was a beast of a stack with major access and logistical problems but a lot was learned from this attempt and several cunning plans were formed.

An unsuccessful attempt film Oct 2013

 In October 2013 accompanied by a couple of troops (Sean O'Keefe and Julia) from London we descended the 200 meter high gully to the south of the stack to a monster storm beach at sea level. It was then a 300 meter sea passage to the base of the stack from here. On this occasion me made it on to the stack but alas the sun only arrived on the stack very late in the afternoon alas the entire stack was soaking wet and the climbing on the sea ward face looked very involved. We retreated and reascended the gully as evening began to approach.

Dunaff Sea Stack Oct 2013

Re-ascending the gully

 In May 2014 made a fourth attempt at the stack, this time with Louise O'Connor, with a slight change of plan we hammered in a stake and abseiled/scrambled down the steeper gully directly facing the northern tip of the stack. We descended this grotfest of a gully until about 20 meters above sea level alas with no sensible anchors and with 20 meters of steep slime covered slabs to the hideous boulder beach death drop below we retreated. Again from the position opposite the stack there did not look to be any easy way to the summit.
 And sho, with four attempts and having viewed all the approach strategies, a very cunning plan was hatched.
 It became very apparent from the previous attempts that this was an Uber stack of epic proportions, it was time to go it alone. 

A sea approach from Rocktown Harbour  

 It was now the 24th August 2014 and attempt five was underway, there was a 12 hour window of less than 1 meter swell and winds were blowing off shore for 24 hours. This time I was accompanied by Aiden McGinley as a clifftop photographer and a circumnavigation of Dunaff Head was the cunning plan. 
 We arrived at Rocktown Harbour and I set sail whilst Aidan headed of up to Dunaff Hill summit. The sea state was nice and relaxed as I paddled around the coast below the unescapable and extremely scary sea cliffs. After about 30 minutes and about 1.5 kilometers atmospheric paddling I landed on an offshore skerry approx 200 meters to the north of Bothanvarra.

View of north face from the stance

 From this sea level position the stack above looked like suicide and all round me in this very exposed wee stance the entrance to Hades became a very real doorway to the further. I decided to simply leave the stack summit to someone else as a rising tide of fear was beginning to dull the real world senses to a point where it was difficult to tell whether I was really there or simply in a dream after having drowned on the approach in the last 30 minutes.
Approaching the sea stack

 I got back in the boat and began paddling home through the channel between the stack and land. It was then with a lightening bolt of total recall, a crystal clear memory of a groove system running up the south face came to mind. I got into a position to view the south face, YES the groove system was there and it looked a very real proposition. Primal fear had been replaced with endorphins of the highest quality as I landed on the stack and hauled the boat and gear into a most excellent non-tidal stance.          

Climbing the sea stack

 The best way forwards from here was to simple freesolo the ground above until it became necessary to employ the inverted gri-gri climbing partner. The climbing was easy but very loose and just (and I do mean just) the right side of terrifying. I just continued climbing up through a huge hanging slab and bypassing monster roofs to my right, I found myself on the huge summit ridge. A quick glance at my feet and there was plenty of rock for abseil anchors, the sense of relief was overwhelming. It was now a scramble to the stacks highest point and I knew I could safely get off the summit, it was a bit like finding a hundred sets of lost car keys at once! :-)

Standing on Bothanvarra Summit 

 A swift scramble along the summit ridge on to the small very exposed summit. As with all wee adventures the summit only makes the half way point, but in the case of the unknown this summit marked the end of the uncertainty.
 With hindsight the uncertainty on the outward journey was the most intense I have ever experienced. Will I make the long unescapable sea passage? Will I be able to climb the stack? Can I then get back down off the stack's summit? These were three reference points of top end mental anguish which faded upon reaching this summit. :-)
 This stack is the second last of the unclimbed monster stacks in Donegal, with only one left and summer fading fast, looks like next year for a return match with fear. :-)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Donegal Rock Climbing

 Summer has arrived in Western Donegal with a vengeance, blistering sunshine, flat calms seas and a multitude of nautical summits to be stood on. We've been out to play pretty much everyday and this months highlights include a vertical kicking on a potential new route in the Poison Glen, a new route on An Bhuideal sea stack, several visits to Owey Island to collect photographs, 4 other sea stack summits and a day out filming for German Television.
 I've finally finished the paperback version of the Donegal Guidebook, 1000+ routes and 200+ photo topo's compiled, edited and sorted. All sections are currently complete with one more big push out to Owey Island to get the last three remaining seaward face crags. :-) All that really remains to do then is to populate the topos and sort out the scenery and action shots and we are off to the printers. HURRAH!
 Anyways, went for a wee play with Louise O'Connor to the outstanding An Port Bay. The cunning plan was simply to once again stand on the summit of An Staca. This 23 meter sea stack is known locally as Búd an Diabhil (The Devil's Penis) was first climbed in March 2011 by a superb route up the seaward face. A couple of anonymous climbers climbed a bold route up the landward arete the following year and since then the stack has been pretty much left alone. 

An Staca Film 2014

 Sitting at the end of a 20 km winding b list road and living in one of the most remote locations in Ireland is An Port. This little known and very isolated road end is outstandingly beautiful and residing either side of it is a truly excellent collection of gothic leviathans in the form of 36 very isolated and mildy scary sea stacks.

An Staca Film 2011

 Access to An Staca is by a swift 500 meter paddle directly out to sea from the road end to land on the landward side of the sea stack. The normally tetchy Atlantic Ocean was like a mill pond was we gently paddled out to our nautical oasis.
 We racked up in the shadow of the stack in baking sunshine with the rock under our bare foot being almost too hot to stand on. At a modest grade of VS 4C the sea ward face route begins with very easy stepped climbing with a slight increase in steepness with every move. This takes you to a niche just below the summit, alas between you and the summit is a big steep bulge and off course the 4C move. With my good self at the sharp end it was with several ups and downs and a bit of a grunt to arrive on the summit. Louise off course, floated up the route and wondered what all the fuss was about. :-)
 A most outstanding climb, location and summit, the last time I stood on this summit the stack was surrounded by 20 footers and a modicum of white water. The two films above show the difference in a calm and a bouncy day out sea stack climbing.    

An Port Bay, Donegal

Launching the mighty vessel

Landing on the sea stack

The view from the base of the stack

The Summit

The view from An Staca Summit

Monday, 19 May 2014

Glenlough Bay Donegal

 Living in one of the most remote locations in Ireland is Glenlough Bay, this huge raised shingle storm beach (An Clochán Mór) stretches for over a kilometer along the base of an amphitheatre of 250 meter high scree and sea cliffs. Easiest access is from An Port road end but an equally scenic way to the bay is by the nearly reclaimed by nature footpath into the two ruins at the east end of Glenlough. These ruins are where Dylan Thomas spent some quiet time over the summer of 1935, during his stay he wrote a collection of his best know works.
 " Ten miles from the nearest human being and as lonely as Christ." were the words of Dylan on his stay in Glenlough.
 Anyways, Glenlough Bay is a most outstanding location and from an exploratory rock climbers perspective it contains a huge amount of climbable rock. :-)
 The current rock climbers guidebook to this area is HERE.

Glenlough Bay Film

 The safest access to the beach is by descent down a huge funneled gully at the southern end of the bay. This gully is pretty much steep heather and scree most of the way, with a short rock slab at half height. As you walk along the cliff tops from the Cnoc na Mara viewpoint, the descent gully is approx 300 meteres from the view point. During the descent simply keep following the stream until you are approx 50 meters above the beach, from here trend right and follow the sheep track onto the beach.   

March 2013

 Glenlough bay contains five major sea stacks including Tormore Island, Ireland's highest sea stack. Tormore stands guard at the southern end of the bay and dominates this stretch of coastline from An Bhuideal to Glenlough. At the northern end of Glenlough lives the two most remote climbing locations in Ireland, "The End's of the Earth Crag" and "Beyond the End's of the Earth Crag." Both of these quartzite sea cliffs sit in very exposed locations and get hammered in big west to south west seas.  
 The End's of the Earth Crag is the huge stepped slab at the far north of the bay. Access to the base of the crag is by a short exposed scramble and an easy angled abseil down "Groovy Gully" at the seaward side of the crag. By far the best time to visit this crag is during huge South West motion as the entire crag is protected from sea motion by a huge roof  below the slab.
 Just to the north of Glenlough lives "The Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag," a near vertical wall of immaculate quartzite. Again this crag is best visited whilst it is under very heavy sea conditions to feel the full effect of Neptune and the forces of nature.  

Access Gully to Glenlough

Donegal Sea Stacks

View from the summit of Tent Stack

The Land of the Giants

Glenlough Bay beach

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Arranmore Island. The Lighthouse Stack

  Arranmore, (Árrain Mhór) Donegal's largest and most populated island provides a huge seaward face of outstanding sea cliffs and monster sea stacks. From Stac an Iolar at the islands south west tip to Torneady Point at the north west point this 10 kilometre coast line provides a very wild rock climbing location.

The Lighthouse Stack film 2014

 Over the last few weeks we've made three visits to Arranmore with a view to several cunning plans. The first of which was simply a revisit to the summit of The Lighthouse Stack at Rinrawros Point. This superb 50 meter sea stack sits below the spectacular lighthouse at the southern end of the Giants Reek Cauldron. First climbed in July 2009 then again in Aug 2010 and in keeping with these first two ascents it would have been rude not to solo the stack for a third time. 

The Lighthouse Stack Film 2010 

 And Sho, armed with clifftop photographer Aidan Mc Ginley and Oscar we took the early morning ferry from Burtonport with Arranmore Ferry company. A swift drive across the island and we were once more overlooking the abyss at the Rinrawros Lighthouse. 
 The cunning plan for the day was to climb the landward Arete of the stack, this 85 meter long route climbs the very obvious ridge on the stack. This climb is one of the best Diff graded rock climbs in Ireland, with tetchy nautical access, an adventurous location, considerable exposure, immaculate rock and a general sense of commitment.

The Lighthouse Stack

 The first task at hand was to gain the base of the stack, alas the southerly winds had arrived 12 hours earlier and the south facing cliffs around the stack were bouncing a wee bit white. After over an hour of seeking the best exit point I was finally afloat and immediately headed straight out to sea to avoid the inshore whiteness at the base of the cliffs. A 300 meter paddle took me the the channel around the stack and once more to be dwarfed the giants.

The sea passage to the sea stack

Base of the Sea Stack

 Once in the channel between the stack and the land the sea calmed it's self greatly as I was now in the lea of Arranmore Island and landing on the stack was a simple step off. A swift change of attire and it was now simply a case of following the jugs and immaculate rock to the summit of the stack. The line take the soaring landward aréte and provides considerable exposure as you ascend the knife edge aréte. 

Climbing the Stack

Sea Stack Summit

 And so, once more onto the summit alas during this time the southerly winds had increased and the sea and my mainland exit point were under attack from the legions. A 500 meter paddle along the innaccessible coastline to the south of the stack was necessary to arrive at the mini harbour built for supplying the lighthouse in the days long before regular ferry service to the island.
 It is now at this juncture that the proceeding become a wee bit surreal. Inland of the harbour is a huge 80 meter long sea arch and as I was afloat anyways decided to paddle through it. On the return journey through the arch I met a naked Italian swimmer who looked very much like Jesus. :-) An outstanding end to an outstanding day. :-)

Jesus in a Sea Cave  


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Ireland's Remote Places

 Spring has arrived in Donegal with a blast of glorious sunshine and without further ado Louise O' Connor and my good self made two swift visits to "Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag." The first of these visits was on a day of uber bouncy south west seas running and alas the crag was taking green and white to walls and roof of the cave at the back of the crag. We abandoned any cunning plans and went and visited an old friend along the coast, "The Unforgiven" sea stack now has a new and slightly less emotional exit point. :-)
 The second visit to the crag resulted in equally bumpy sea conditions BUT seas were running from the west and allowed us to abseil into the cave at the back of the crag and climb a superb 40 meter high line traverse across the wall, all in glorious sunshine. "Exposure Explosion" is an excellent traverse line with superb juggy rock throughout the climb.  

Exposure Explosion film

 "Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag" is surely a prime contender for the most remote rock climbing location on mainland Ireland. It sits approx 5 km from An Port road end and the walk in is along the wildest stretch of coast line in Ireland. I have been playing out on this area of coast since May 2008 and have made over 500 visits to the sea cliffs and sea stacks living along this coast, it really is an outstanding place to be. I have never failed to have fun on this coast in all my visits in fact it gets harder to leave and return to the real world on every visit.

DJ Locker Traverse film

 The above film shows the first visit to this remote sea cliff as Peter O' Toole joined in the nautical action for a 70 meter low level traverse above an equally tetchy ocean. The climbing on this route is of the same high quality as "Exposure Explosion," but being much closer to the sea it is prone to much more nautical action as the above film shows.

Glenlough Bay

Beyond The End's of the Earth

View from the crag

"Exposure Explosion" the route

Peter O' Toole on "DJ Locker Traverse"

 Louise O' Connor on "Exposure Explosion."