Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ireland Part 1 - Fairhead and the Mournes

The ferry seemed to be taking forever, perhaps it was just the company. This grim Voyage of the Damned from Holyhead to Dublin had been a long time coming. Ever since watching the classic Irish climbing flick Underdeveloped it has been an aim of mine to spend some time in Ireland and sample the contrasting areas it has to offer. I was lucky enough to spend a month there this June and July. This was clearly going to be a less productive trip than the sunny months of last years trip to Ceuse; an early ferry home having rinsed all of our money on cafe cakes and Guiness was almost expected. Shockingly however the weather (mostly..) played ball, allowing us to sample all of Ireland's main jewels, from the enormous granite bastion of Fairhead, to the scrittly secluded beauty of the Mourne Mountains and the remote, unspoilt islands off the coast of Donegal. There are not enough words to describe the month in full so instead I hope these extracts do justice to what a wonderful trip it was.
The man with the orange face. Bob Hickish in a wild position on Rathlin Wall


Mountain quality rock without the walk, twice the height of the Cromlech, the best crag in Ireland (and therefore to this person, the world...) There had been some big chat about Fairhead; expectations were understandably high. Typically fidgety, me and Rob walk in to the crag in a hurry, leaving our more chilled-out partners behind in order to get to the crag a whole two minutes early. Even having been warned, the scale is still impressive. Arriving a week after the crags eponymous "meet" proves to a tactical masterstroke by Rob, as many of the classic lines are chalked and clean. After climbing a superb E4 to warm up attention turns to the classic Cooper frightener Primal Scream. With supposedly limited gear for the first 20m this route holds a reasonably big reputation, though admittedly this was somewhat diminished by the news that a well known southern chummer had onsighted it a few days previously. The route begins with a long leftwards traverse out from a corner. After this the climbing is tricky but broken up by many foot-ledges. This allows you to stand around for hours pondering the next move whilst your belay ages in the background. I really enjoyed this one, milking maximum time on the route whilst Oli shivered in the corner. After this it was straight down to Rathlin Wall. This is probably the most famous bit of cliff at the 'head, standing 70 metres in places and hosting most of the hard classics. Lengthy negotiation had landed me the lead on Primal and it was therefore only right that Oli got the lead on Above and Beyond. After despatching the first pitch of Wall of Prey, perhaps the classic E5 of Fairhead, Oli set off on the rising leftwards traverse of A and B. As the sun set and the crag was cast in golden light I remember thinking that I'd be happy if we got a better day this trip. Not bad for a first day!

The rest of the week flew by in a storm of poorly placed gear, blue tack and sandbag cracks. Quickly the final day of our week in Fairhead was upon us. The last act was an impressive effort from Oli, making an onsight of a highly chalked route that we'd all watched Ed Booth on the day before.

The atmospheric "Idlewild"

The Mournes

The Mourne Mountains are a pretty special place. Surrounded by the sea and flat countryside they rise from nowhere, with many of the rocks sitting on the very top of the hills. These high vantage points give the crags amazing aspects when they aren't smothered by low cloud. The section about the Mournes on the aforementioned film Underdeveloped is brilliant, with some impressively sketchy ascents of necky, smeary slab routes. The film also features a panning shot of crag, Buzzards Roost, home to the Dunne super-route Divided Years. The line of this route, coursing straight up the prow through the finest plummage of the bird is extremely impressive. It has long been a dream of mine to climb this line, but for me, this trip, it would to have wait. For Oli though there was no time to waste. James Machaffie and Ryan Pasquill had just done the deed and the youth was keen to continue his bitter crag rivalry with the former. In hindsight Oli described his ground up go on Divided as "shambolic." A crucial piece of kit for this route is a pecker hook placed before the hard climbing starts, eliminating the need to fiddle in a wire mid crux. This pecker somehow found its way off Oli's harness and into a thin hairline crack on one of the crux holds, rather than the inviting, ticked pocket up and right. Fortunately his attempts from here improved drastically. After a minimal look on abseil Oli proceeded to cruise the route a couple of days later, looking ridiculously smooth in the process. I can honestly say that watching this ascent was one of the highlights of the trip, even though no-one will believe me.

About to come unstuck. Next frame I'm almost off screen!

 Perhaps one of the best bits of footage on Underdeveloped is the scary, skiddy fall that Ricky Bell takes off the top of the classic Irish Si slab, Mushroom Boyz. Another of the routes featured on the film, Tolerance, had submitted to my top roping a few days previous and a new challenge was required. Thrill Issues of the Jellyman seemed a good option and after a brief inspection the lead was on. Headpointing is a funny one, in the past there have been occasions when even if I've felt sketchy on something I'll lead it, usually based on the logic that I've not fallen off many yet. This flawed approach was in full force this day as I climbed up, threaded a monster pocket and walked rightwards to where the meat of the route begins. The crimps feel warm, but its cold up here even when the sun is out. The route is two moves, stand up on the left foot, put the right high, stand up on the right, get in balance, walk to the arete. Pretty minimal. As the first stand is committed to all is not well, but all has been not well before and then it worked out OK. As the high right foot lands the left goes. Surreal scenes form as I fly past several ledges towards the ground, luckily coming up about a metre short, bashing my hip on rope stretch. Liam, dragged in during the fall, looks sick. I can't stop laughing. A few hours after and the comedown from the adrenalin leaves me feeling annoyed with myself. Invincibility is a good tool when headpointing but mine feels completely shattered. Luckily Liam's sickness is only temporary and that afternoon he makes Tolerance look very easy, a well deserved first of the grade for the Chorley Powerhouse.
Part 2 soonish