Yesterday I went to check out some boulders I’d seen earlier in the year. I’d stumbled on one great looking line by accident and found a few other big rocks worthy of further inspection that day too. For the first time I got quite excited about bouldering; having this proud new line to climb and dedicate myself to was a nice thought. Maybe it would be the makings of the climber in me.
It was a fairly nice day yesterday. I went to the nearest boulder to the car to ‘warm up’ before looking at the big project. It was tricky enough, a small bit dirty and the end was quite wet. Nonetheless I got it done in 4 or 5 goes after some cleaning/drying/trying. I felt I’d climbed it quite poorly so I went at it again with perfection in mind. By now I was climbing shirtless such was the warmth in the sun. The first day of spring for me. It took me about as many goes to top-out a second time. I blame having no proper warm up (or patience to wait long enough between attempts). It’s a decent problem, quite like Broken in Doolin but a bit easier maybe. 6A+? I really don’t know much about bouldering grades.
Before reaching the project boulder I stopped at a smaller one beside a stream. I saw 2 or 3 lines on this the first time I was here. The one I thought I might do easily enough will be nails actually, at least from sitting. The stand start will be much easier. Another line is too short and hard for me to bother with, a low compression roof thing. Might get somebody else excited. I played around on another line for awhile, a short enough one but with plenty of climbing to do given the boulder isn’t much more than 3m tall. I felt I’d need to leave it for another day so I carried on up to the main event.
In my head I was going to train for this one a bit and make it the project for the spring. It looked hard but feasible with a bit of effort (6C-7A maybe?) and it’s quite an aesthetic line, which I always like. It’s usually much more appealing to climb a feature rather than a series of holds on an otherwise nondescript piece of rock. I left the mat under the last problem, knowing I was too tired now for a proper go. Instead I touched up some of the holds, brushed away some lichen and tried to imagine how best to climb it. The line can be topped out shortly before its ‘natural’ finish, that extension actually being a bit eliminate. It’ll be a cool problem regardless of how you finish it. There’s a sea view, a beautiful setting and a fairly short walk in. All that said I don’t think I’ll bother keeping it to myself much longer. There are only a certain number of free days to get out in and I don’t think I’m bothered enough to keep heading to this one rock multiple times, using up that precious time on the one goal. Is that short sighted? There’s too much else I want to do. Maybe I’d be more dedicated with a route. I might come back once more by myself, or leave it as a long term project if I don’t do it the first day of trying. I much prefer the idea of heading out with some friends and enjoying it all together though.
On my way back to the car I jumped on the previous problem one last time. I climbed it well and topped out relatively easily. I expected to fall off the first move. That’s often how it goes when you’ve no expectations. If only that mindset was easier to get into… It’s quite good. Maybe 6B or so. I tried to do it a second time for the camera but that was me done for the day.
I was going to stick up a screen-grab of the first problem but that would give it up (I’m presuming I’m the first to have gone bouldering here by the way. I may be wrong but I strongly doubt it.) I know you’re probably on the edge of your seat at this stage but you’ll have to wait awhile yet to find out where all these neo-classics can be found!
We were all very giddy in the car park. It was the full moon. No, not in a bullshit astrology kind of way! All for the fact that we were about to head into a moonlit Hag’s Glen, the hills glowing steely blue-white with the snow on them. Snow that reports from the day just gone had us believing there might be some good climbing to be had. Warmer, wet weather was on the way. In about 12 hours the front would probably be wrapped around the Reeks, weakening any good snow/ice bonds that weren’t likely to be very strong to begin with (the SW of Ireland is MILD!). The coming night may have been the last good re-freeze for awhile. The Eastern Reeks were all shadows and silver light. Orion was splayed out above Corrán Tuathail. My mouth was hurting from a fixed smile.
It’s a privilege to have friends willing to head out at such an unorthodox hour. “But it’s DARK?!” “Ye’ll be frozen!!” Headtorches and insulated jackets were invented for more than DIY jobs and smoking breaks. No harm to think outside the box sometimes. This was our weather window. Sure it wasn’t even that cold anyway – I had no need for gloves til we left the Heavenly Gates. And the moon was bright enough to see by. Headlights stayed in bags until the base of Collins’ Gully. Ah yes, this was the right idea!
“For a minute there I thought it was good” (the snow). Cully man-handled his way through a step of soft white powder. By the time I got to it the newly revealed waterfall was more of a feature than the snow. Shortly afterwards another step sent us skirting the side of Howling Ridge. We dropped back into the gully where we could. Between the angle steepening and the altitude increasing the snow got firmer. I tried to pretend I was Ueli Steck by stabbing my way up as fast as I could, feet and axe-clad fists punching through the firm snow. I had to stop after about 20m. We whooped and howled. I especially enjoyed looking down to see the concave line of steps leading down the giant snow slide we were in, closed in by the walls either side, the rest of the Reeks ridge still in strong moonlight.
We traversed below the summit on perfect hard snow. How I’d love to have seen a bird’s eye view of the four dots scuttling across the moonlit summit slope, lost in the scale of it all. Then speedily down to the bottom of The Lick, all heavily banked out. The bottom of the route had a nice bowl to relax in. Brian brewed coffee. Gear was got out. I’ve wanted to climb this route for years. I didn’t imagine it would be climbable this day. Earlier on it wasn’t even an option in my mind and all of a sudden we were here. Piaras and Cully went away ahead of us, moving together. Brian gave me the lead. It didn’t really matter who went first since gear wasn’t much of an option anywhere but it was a kind gesture. Binn Caorach was gleaming behind us. I felt perfectly alive and yet somewhat separated from the entire situation. It was night time. I may as well have been dreaming. The rhythm was hypnotic, only broken now and then by a steeper section or a softer patch of snow. Looking down into the darkening exposure was superb, life affirming in a backwards kind of way. Auto-pilot kicked in. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of all that was going on and enjoying it immensely.
We weren’t rushing but we weren’t slow either. Sometime between 4 and 5am a lack of sleep and the past 5 hours of moving started taking their toll. Tiredness was weighing on me. A block of ice from above nearly peeled me off on one of the steepest parts of the route, giving me a decent punch in the shoulder. Auto-pilot registered it, suppressed a fright and moved on. Those fat bastards above us should be more gentle! I, the relative newcomer, was faring pretty well at keeping all the route on the mountain! On and up, rhythmically floating up through/on this weird medium. My calves started aching on steeper sections. Don’t rush! We carried on up ground Brian didn’t recognise. I handed over the “lead”, tiring with every step. The last 30m or so was through a steep rimed groove – amazing! This is like pictures you’d see from Scotland! We topped out not 20m below the summit for man hugs and handshakes and a sense of gratefulness to have been here now.
Tired, sleepy, getting cold. I ate some food, finished my tea. Buzzing but running on empty now. The craic raged on. We had hoped to climb Curved Ridge to finish the hat trick but the idea was quickly put to bed. Bed… God I’d love a bed now. Thoughts circulated out loud about whatever we were craving. A pint. A hot whiskey. A fry. I could forego all food and drink; all I wanted was to be curled up next to some beautiful girl in a sheepskin rug in front of a fire. We stopped to cook up some soup. I was cold in the wind but too whacked to take my bag off for another layer. “Oh Godddd! I’ve never been so FUCKED!” For the first time I can think of I imagined how things could get serious if I got stuck up here now. Brian served us oxtail soup. Not my favourite but the warmth was life-giving. More laughter. I was appalled at the thought of sleeping up here, cold in my damp clothes, waking to do it all again tomorrow. I’ll never make a decent alpinist. Would much rather the fireside girl and sheepskin rug…
We trudged down the Devil’s Ladder. Out of the wind finally! Deep snow gave way to super-soaked bog. Darkness lightened to navy grey. It started to rain. I found some energy in the daylight and level ground. We all stopped every now and then to look up at the misty mountain, the route we’d just climbed melting slowly away somewhere beneath the cloud. Probably anyway. It’s hard to call conditions in Ireland. It makes it all the better when it comes good. Catherine cooked us breakfast (the saint!). There was no hot whiskey or pints or girl by the fireside but all in all I don’t think we did too badly!
Had my first touch of rock this year at The Scalp last Thursday. It may not be world class but I had a great time; just enough problems at my level to make for a good day of bouldering. I find it quite hard to pace myself when I’m on my own but I was trying to get some video of the day so that occupied me between attempts. It was a very dull day so the footage isn’t that pretty. I gave it a bright soundtrack to balance things out…
I’m coming to appreciate more and more that bouldering is probably the best form of climbing for learning how to climb. Easy bouldering gets boring fast so it’s not too hard to jump on things that take awhile. When you’re trying stuff that keeps spitting you off you really have to think about every detail if you want to succeed. I’ve never been much of a boulderer (weak fingers, easily upset shoulders) but I’m slowly coming round to it. When it’s fun it’s really fun. I even got myself some aggressive shoes. I’m not sure if it’s really them or the mindset I adopt when I squeeze my feet into them (“better get to the top fast so I can get these things off my toes”) but the first time I tried Gully’s and Hollytree with Dragons on I got them first go. I must spend more than a day trying something. If both those problems took me little more than half an hour then I could surely scrape my way up something approaching the 7th grade with a bit of effort???
Enough about me. If you haven’t seen this already then download it: Emerald Allsorts. Fair play to Danny for gathering together all those bits of information and presenting them so nicely. I’m already looking forward to the next issue.
The bouldering section of Awesome Walls Cork opened yesterday (the rest of it isn’t built yet) to host the third round of the IBL. As you can see from the pic above it was packed. The problems were fun and the buzz was great. It was the best attended round of the league so far this season and I think the majority of climbers were Cork based for once, all out to see this great new development. It’s going to be amazing!
Climbing in Cork has been fairly stale for the past while, for me at least. The Mardyke is a rubbish venue, the co-op is great but not for everyone and Midleton is a bit far from the city for most climbers here. Having a modern wall, run by climbers and set by people who know their stuff is going to be great in its own right and the excitement it should bring about will be even better. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of a load of psyched climbers. Though Cork city lacks any local outdoor climbing venues this will at least help keep fitness levels up and generate a pool of climbers keen to get out on real rocks.
Irish climbing has come a long way in the past 3-4 years, with the new walls being a very positive influence. It’ll be another few weeks before AW Cork is finished and open and I’m counting down the days. I think yesterday showed a taste of how good it’s going to be. For the first time in a long long time I’m excited about climbing inside. The future is bright!
Here we are again. Another frighteningly fast 12 months has passed by…
If there’s one thing I can take from 2013 it’s to do what you love. I had a job in Cork that I didn’t like. I left the good pay and bit of stability I had for a 2 month job working on a dolphin watching boat in Co. Clare. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make (I felt like I should start getting a bit more settled, making some money, etc. etc.) but I’m quite conscious of the fact that I’ve only x number of days to live a life with and my mind was repeatedly telling me that 39 hours a week in a windowless room was not an optimal use of this precious time.
Before going to Clare I had a few weeks of traveling around, climbing, seeing friends, making photos and getting outdoors. I had amazing days in the Mournes, Fair Head and Connemara, all of which were especially brilliant because of the people I was with.
I imagined work in Clare would be good but never in my wildest dreams did I think it could be as brilliant as it was. There were moonlit nights walking back up to my mobile home heaven after a day of wildlife watching, and an evening of food, music and fun, that left me delirious with happiness. The fullness of life at times this summer was more than I’ve ever experienced and although those feelings of intense contentment don’t last long the memories born in those moments are enough to leave a lasting happiness. I feel lucky. I owe the people I met in Clare this year a massive thanks for being nothing less than inspiring (sounds disgustingly cheesy but anyway…).
Life outside of Clare wasn’t bad either – I’ve had a great laugh living with two friends in a damp, cold house in Douglas – not an ideal sounding situation but yet again the people around made all the difference. I’ve been getting more and more into my photography and filming too, even producing Ireland’s first ever rock climbing calendar (a fairly obscure thing to be going on about but I enjoyed it!) and learning loads. There were good days whale watching off west Cork in November, my first trip to the Alps in September, my first Scottish winter trip (mostly manky wet but you can’t win them all!), the excitement of learning a new instrument, lots of mountain biking with the Eastview lads… Yet again, I have to say I feel stupidly lucky when I look back and remember the previous 12 months!
Some facts and figures
Number of routes climbed lead or solo: 152
New routes put up: up to 23 but you never know in Ireland!
(including those last two figures seems a bit silly now but in keeping with the last two end of year posts I’ll leave them for now – it’s about quality, not necessarily quantity!)
Climbing Highlights: First weekend back climbing in March and new routes in Corca Dhuibhne, night ice climbing in the Comeraghs, mitching off a shitty job to go new routing at Whiteball Head during one of the nicest days of spring (and getting sunburn that I subsequently had to hide at work), springtime trips to Ailladie, soloing Howling Ridge with Denis, Lower Cove at the end of May with Vicki, Fair Head meet, especially following Howard up Primal Scream, Illaunaweelaun exploratory day with John, new routes at Loop Head with Will, Aiguille d’Entreves day.
Number of countries visited: 4 (Scotland, England, France, America)
Number of counties lived in: 2
Highest Point: 3,777m – Aiguille du Midi station
First and last swallow sightings: 16th April, Model Farm Road. Late September, Kilcredaun (I didn’t take note as I presumed I’d see some back in Cork in October but weirdly never did).
Cliffs of Insanity – Keith Duggan (very inspiring look into the lives of the top-end Irish surfers)
Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow – Maria Coffey (outstanding!)
Stones of Aran: Labyrinth – Tim Robinson
Weather Watch – Trish Howley & Sandra Landers
A Year’s Turning – Michael Viney
My Time in Space – Tim Robinson
Mountains of the Mind – Robert Macfarlane
The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane
The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane
The People of the Sea – David Thomson
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Beth Orton - Sugaring Season
Beth Orton - Go Down Easy
The Chemical Brothers - Further
David Grisman & Jerry Garcia – Shady Grove
Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild
Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Kings of Leon – Happy Alone
Koop – Koop Island Blues
Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
Phutureprimitive – Burn
The Polskadots (I saw this group a few times 4 or 5 years ago but sadly they don’t seem to be around since. I’m very glad of these videos!)
Scott Bradley – Thrift Shop
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
Plus all the amazing hours of music from a summer in Kilcredaun…
I hope everybody else enjoyed the past year too. I think I’m lucky to be interested in the natural world. No matter what’s going on in your life there’s always some joy to be had by getting outdoors and noticing the beauty all over the place. If I can keep doing that and surrounding myself with good people then hopefully there’ll be plenty more good times to come!
All the best in 2014!
Yesterday Piaras and I went to a “new” top-secret crag he’d found a few weeks ago in the depths of Kerry. It’s not much to look at but I hadn’t tied onto a rope in ages and it was nice to be out. We did a good groove first, only about 9m tall but packing a punch for it’s length. It was a small bit damp too, and between that and my lack of practice of late it felt fairly tough. My calves were aching on small edges while I hesitated over easy enough moves. We had a good laugh at the state of ourselves.
Next Piaras tried a rising traverse of another section of the crag. It’s over 20m of climbing, not bad for a crag that doesn’t top 10m at any point. He had to step off after a very pumpy initial section (it’s never more than 8m off the ground and you can step down or top out at different points). I had a go next and got a bit further but had to bail over the top after a few false attempts through a very steep section. It’s a bit of an eliminate (re-read the brackets above) but the climbing is great fun and we had a good time faffing around getting totally pumped. The whole thing will be a cool route, just high enough to warrant a rope and with a bad enough landing to discount putting pads under it.
My lack of practice showed up big time. Between nerves and a lack of fitness I wasn’t climbing very well but it was nice to be out. I miss being half-decent at climbing. Not that I was ever very good but I’ve been in a lot better shape than I am now. I’ve moved around a fair bit in the past 2 years so getting into a regular climbing routine has been difficult. Cork is a useless base as a climber too, at least for a climber like me who likes real rock and a good crowd of psyched friends around to get out and play with. I don’t know many of the climbers in Cork at the moment. I look on at friends in Dublin who are making the most of the apparently great scene happening up there with a small touch of jealousy. I’m delighted for them, there’s seems to be a lot of people getting quite good up there. I’m enjoying my mountain biking, photography, whale watching, filming work… There’s more to life than climbing. I’d love to feel fit again though. Feeling overweight and under practiced yesterday didn’t really take from the day but I hope I’ll find the conditions to get into a good run of climbing form again soon. There’s so much joy to be had from clambering up bits of stone!
We were treated to a superb sunset on the walk back to the car. Clare has moved up in my estimations as my favorite place in the world after the summer but Kerry ain’t bad in fairness.
John Healy reckons he’s climbed where we were in years past after a quick look at some Facebook photos. I don’t know another Cork man with such an intimate knowledge of Kerry.
In other news myself and Denis went kayaking on Lough Leane today. It was quite pleasant. Something I must do more of. The calendars are still for sale too. Treat yourself or a loved one for Christmas! (shameless plug, I know… I apologise).
Happy climbing/whatever else you’re at!
I spent a lot of the earlier part of this year focused on getting good climbing images from around Ireland. While I’m quite happy to go out and make photographs for the sake it I had a use in mind for these images; a calendar of Irish climbing for 2014. I love climbing and I love photography and I wanted to portray some of the best of Irish rock in pictures in the hopes of encouraging people to get up and out and be excited about Irish climbing. It also gave me a goal to aim for, which always improves one’s understanding of whatever it is you’re at and keeps you pushing for better.
There are all sorts of things to try and capture in a climbing photograph; facial expressions, a sense of movement, of exposure, the surroundings, the weather, the line… It’s hard to get them all in one image. As well as that there are different disciplines within the climbing world and I wanted to show off some of that too. In Ireland we have a decent mix; trad and bouldering, mountain crags and sea cliffs, long routes in the bigger hills and shorter, roadside venues too. In trying to produce a set of 12 images that give some kind of overall idea of what climbing is like in Ireland I wanted to portray all the different styles and destinations we have. I also included dates of climbing competitions (I hope these don’t change!) to remind people of the many events on during the year.
From a photography point of view climbing can be tricky. Firstly, I decided I wanted the calendar in landscape format. Climbing being almost always a vertical pursuit means the best images of it generally also tend to be vertical. For the most part it’s harder to make a good climbing photograph when you’re shooting horizontally, but that was a challenge I enjoyed. Secondly, it can be hard to get the right mix of conditions. I wanted pictures of people climbing in good light, on great routes, and with bright clothing! Rock coloured layers are far too common in the climbing community! A good image requires the climber to stand out and be seen, not to blend in like some drab, camouflaged moth. I may approach Mountaineering Ireland about initiating some kind of Ban Black Clothing campaign in the future…
I couldn’t have done this without the help of friends. A lot of the images in the calendar are the result of me asking somebody to try a particular route, at a particular time of day. Organising a shoot felt a bit selfish at times. As nice as I tried to be about it I couldn’t help feeling like I was telling people what to do, on their days off when they probably had their own ideas. Suggestions like “How about we get up before sunrise to be there in time for the best light?! Hey, how about trying that route instead? Can you stay there for a second, the sun’s gone behind a cloud! No, no, no, that colour won’t work! Here, put this on instead! Nah, that didn’t turn out right, shouldn’t have bothered…” probably sounded a bit too common to my climbing friends this spring and summer. Sorry! I hope I wasn’t too demanding.
I also have to give a HUGE thanks to the 12 sponsors who helped get the whole idea off the ground. I couldn’t have done it without their great generosity. I can’t imagine something as obscure as sponsorship for a calendar of Irish climbing is a very high priority when trying to run a business so I owe a massive thank you to all those kind enough to back it up. Gear shops, guides and all the other relevant companies are part of our climbing community. We need them as places and people to train us, organise events, provide funding and supply gear. Without these services the climbing community in Ireland would be flattened. PLEASE go out and support those who’ve helped me next time you need something. It’s good will like that that keeps things going around.
Kerry Outdoor Sports – Gear shop based in Killarney
Gravity – Climbing centre in Inchicore, Dublin
Simply Mountains – Guiding by John Healy
Edelrid – Great outdoor gear
Unique Ascent – Guiding by Iain Miller
Kerry Climbing – Guiding by Piaras Kelly
Hillwalkers – Gear shop based in Cork
West Coast Climbing and Adventure - Guiding by Carl Maddox
Great Outdoors – Gear shop based in Dublin
Awesome Walls – Climbing centre near Finglas, Dublin
Mountaineering Ireland – Ireland’s NGB for climbers
Alpine Sports – Online gear shop
If you’d like to buy a calendar (€10 + €2.50 p&p in Ireland) go to the shop. This being the first thing I’ve sold through the website, I apologise in advance for any teething problems. I’ll also be selling at some of the upcoming climbing competitions.
I’d like to do this again next year. If you’ve a route in mind that you think deserves being photographed feel free to get in touch.