Monday, 10 December 2012

Donegal's Hardest Rock Climb.

 On a flying visit to Co. Donegal at the end of the summer 2012, Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll and Ben Ditto climbed Donegal's first E7 graded rock climb. Their route takes the huge roof crack and bulging head wall on the Mindcrime Wall at Muckross Head in the South West of the county.
 Muckross Head has traditionally been thought off as Donegal's home of hard rock climbing as most of the routes are in the extreme grades and almost all the rock climbs being overhung or containing roof sections.  Muckross has been home to two E6 graded rock climbs which were first climbed in 1993 by local climber Paul Dunlop.
 Professional climbers Sean Villanueva and Ben Ditto are no strangers to hard rock climbing in locations all over the world with many first ascents on major big walls worldwide. Both climbers won the Piolet D'Or in 2011 for their Vertical Sailing GreenlandGreenland Vertical Sailing adventures.
 Check out the superb landscape and climbing photography on Ben Ditto's website at Ben Ditto photography.

Sideswipe E7 6c

Muckross Head Donegal

 The Muckross Head guide section has been updated and can be downloaded at,

Monday, 3 December 2012

Donegal Winter Climbing Guide

 And sho, Winter is almost upon us once again, it came and went last week with minus temperatures and a couple of inches of snow fall on Derryveagh's Slieve Snaght summit, and in the flash of a downpour it was all gone again.

Errigal from Maumlack Plateau

Winter in Donegal

 Donegal's winter climbing history stretches back to the 1970's when several routes where climbed in the Horseshoe Corrie by Lough Barra, unfortunately the details of these have disappeared into the ether, though I strongly suspect they were in The Morbid Angel falls area of the Horseshoe corrie. Since the 70's less than a route every decade was recorded in the county until 2009. In the winter of 2009/2010 the big freeze hit Ireland and with Donegal resembling a Scotland in miniature and with an almost unlimited supply of previously unclimbed gullies, cascades and ice smears covering the entire county the troops went out to play. With Donegal deep frozen and the road taking an Arctic Tundra appearance travelling by road around the county was an epic undertaking.
 Download the current and up to date Donegal winter climbing guide below.

Donegal winter climbing guide

Slieve Snaght summit, Derryveagh

 With the Donegal roads pretty much undrivable, two teams were out climbing as much ice and neve as possible in this period. Kevin McGee and Patrick Tinney stayed at the Northern end of the Derryveagh range hoovering up a multitude of lines on Muckish, Maumlack and the East face of Errigal. I was trapped at the Southern end of The Derryveagh range and did a similar hoovering campaign in The Poison Glen, Maumlack, The Horseshoe Corrie and Errigal. Many, many outstanding new routes were climbed in all these locations up to and breaking into the winter climbing grade of IV for the first recorded time in Donegal.

At 300m pitch 5, The Poison Glen

The West Ridge of Errigal, Donegal

Scardangal Falls, Derryveagh

 This superb winter cold snap culminated in a weekend visit to The Poison Glen by a group of six from The Colmcille Climbing Club led by Alan Tees. First Ascents of Gullies No1 and 2 high on the Castle face and the 450m long Sruahn na Bearna on the Bearna Face were climbed by separate teams on the first day. The following day a mass ascent of the massive and immaculate Castle Gully was made in outstanding winter conditions.
 Alas, this brought an end to the best winter climbing conditions the county has ever seen as the following day temperatures rose and the mountains returned to their green, brown and damp normal condition.      

 All that was left to do was haste to Scotland where the winter continued for several more months.......

Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis

 Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor
The White Room on The Cairngorm Plateau

High above Glen Coe

The Immaculate Cairngorms Summit Plateau

Monday, 26 November 2012

Donegal Rock Climbing Courses

 And Sho, the task is done and a small rock climbing army has been trained, assessed and qualified as rock climbing instructors, whilst working in secret under the cover of bright sunshine and clear blue skies on the Donegal coastline. The legion has now been duly dispatched back to from whence they came to every corner of this fair island to spread the vertical word.
 Our story begins almost a year ago when HQ at Gartan assembled the recruits and training began. A swift introduction to the ways of the vertical world began with the essentials of safe rock climbing practice and with the troops well versed in the safety chain we entered the fray in search of vertical pleasure.
 The secret to any good rock climbing strategy is in the weather and with all our covert missions operating well with in the little known Donegal rainshadow and we managed to climb from March to November with very few damp days. :-)

Donegal Rock Climbing

The chasm, Cruit Island

Gola Island, new routes

Easter Wall, Gola Island

The Outdoor Climbing Wall

 Progression is the key to appropriate teaching and over the course of the year we progressed through the learning ladder of the vertical world, top ropes, bottom ropes, belay building, escaping the system and a whole plethora of techniques and systems climbers use to stay safe whilst performing potentially dangerous activities. 

 Belay Building

Top Rope Systems

Bottom rope systems

Rock Climbing systems

A climbers committee meeting

Group work at Jock's wall, Cruit Island

 And so, as we progressed through the echelons of vertical teaching to arrive at the turning point of all seekers of vertical pleasure, learning to lead. An act of hand placing protection in the natural features in the rock and then defying logic and reason by climbing above it.
 With flying colours the troops passed through this portal and into the very real world of rock climbing.

Learning to Lead

The Perfect belay Stance

Donegal Rock Climbing

Another day at the office

 At this juncture the troops were signed off as lead climbers and off they went, very soon reports of new routes, unclimbed rock, big falls and suitably scary moments began to filter in from different parts of Ireland as the troops went on their vertical missions. 

Lead Climbing on Cruit Island

Preparing to Lead

 A massive well done to everyone on the FAS instructor course, everyone did extremely well and will go on to push their own envelopes in the greatly misunderstood vertical world.
 My favourite quote during the course came a gentleman upon completing his first lead quipped,
 "Top roping seems kind of boring now," and I'm sure Sean would agree "Exshellent Mish Moneypenny!"  

Rock Climbing in Ireland



Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mountain Training in Ireland

An sho, with the most defo passing of an outstanding summer in the distant North West, long gone are the warm sunny days and bright blue skies to be replaced with snow on the hills (Hurrah!) and white water rage on the coast line.

Ireland's Longest Rock climb

 Having spent the summer guiding people to some of the most outrageous locations in Ireland it is now the time of year to share these skills and the knowledge required to safely visit these outstanding locations and thus allow people to expand their horizons and safely visit their own outstandingly beautiful places of their desires. 

Eagles Rock, Leitrim

Glenlough Bay, Donegal

 Over the last few weeks what started as a trickle has become a flood of people requiring a vast array of different mountain training for many many different personal goals.
 Paid a visit to Dalkey Quarry and ran a days Single Pitch Award refresher course, ran several Learn to Lead courses, a Single Pitch Award Training course, a Mountain Skills 1 Training Course, directed a Mountain Leader Assessment and trained several people with very specific noble goals from sea stack climbing to standing on the summit of Everest.

Night Navigation in Donegal

 Mountain Leader Assessment

12 Bens Connemara

Mountain Skills Training

Learn to Lead Rock Climb, Donegal

Mountain Skills Training Sligo

Single Pitch Award Training

Group Abseil, SPA training

Mountain Skills Training, Donegal

 With continued bookings for many more courses one thing always stands out as a common denominator, there are people from all walks of life with a huge range of life experience all with a common goal and that is to explore, push their personal limitations and have as much fun as possible in the process. :-)


Monday, 15 October 2012

The Italian Alps

 And Sho, a wee phone call from Extreme Ireland and I was on a plane to Northern Italy. The cunning plan was for me to visit the area and write a trekking itinerary for a few Italian Alps trekking holidays that are being ran next summer.
 Arrived at base camp in Verbania in the dead of night alas with talk of the previous ten days being lashing rain things seemed to be very normal on the Irish/Scottish weather front. I had, of course taken a secret weapon through customs in the shape of a huge holdall of Cruit Island rainshadow weather and with as much possitivity as I could muster proclaimed to my hosts "I don't do Rain!"  

Alpe Devero

 The following day we drove through the cloud up through the lower stratosphere with many hairpins and corkscrew tunnels to arrive in Alpe Devero, a most outstanding high pasture alpine village, The view from the car park was truly mind blowing, and thus began a week of clear blue skies and most excellent trekking in a truly beautiful part of the world.   

View from the Black Lake
Pizzo Cornera

 Went for a wee mossie around the black lake and up to the base of the mother of all unclimbed big walls, 300m of vertical nastiness loomed above. Standing at base of this monster between two sentinels from the other an angel passed through and it all became clear, big walls were the way forward all that was missing was Neptune and his wrath.  

Passo di Cornera

View from Alpe Devero

 Next on the menu was Himalayan Wall, Mont Rossa, this wall, the largest in the alps is a leisurely couple of hours hike from the high pasture road end at Macugnaga. Acting on the advice of the angel text a mucker to see if they would be keen for an ascent of the original route next year and less than 30 seconds passed before the affirmative text returned and thus the plans for a return were cemented!   

Refuge Zamboni 

Himalayan Wall, Monte Rosa

 The 2nd last day was by far the most surreal, a couple of hours hike to a private refuge that was part owned by my Italian hosts and used as a hunting lodge. We walked up in the thick cloud and light drizzle to arrive at an excellent wee lads retreat, fully equipped with solar power, a beer and wine stocked fridge and a full a la carte Italian deli. It was very far and away removed from the Scottish style bothy I had imagined. No sooner had the picnic table been spread with a shmorgishborg of hip increasing fare, the clouds inverted and we sat in a location that can only be described as a mountaineering nirvana. (with a full a la carte Italian menu) My guide for the day spoke no English and I even less Italian and thus we sat in a truly mind blowing location communicating in a mix of ad lib and charades.      

Borca from the private refuge 

Pik Bianco

 And so after 30 years of hill walking in the Scottish and Irish uplands I finally realised that we (The Celts) have been doing it all wrong. On day 3 I went for a trek with Rocco and after a few hours walking we sat on the Northern Italian border with Switzerland at an unused border control building, surrounded by 3000m Damoclean monsters in perfect clear blue skies and sunshine.
 "Would you like a sandwich?" asked Rocco.
 "Excellent, Sir" Said I
 Rocco, then began to sort a buffet fit for an Italian lord and brew the cafeteria, for proper coffee! 
 And thus after 30 years of soggy sandwiches and flasks of tea paled in the viewless mist of insignificance. :-(
 Many, many thanks to Francesca and her family for their hospitality and off course, to Rocco for showing the way of the cafeteria!   

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Donegal Indoor Wall Climbing

 And Sho, as the summer passes into Autumn and Autumn has well and truly arrived in Donegal it is time to head indoors in search of vertical pleasure.
 Gartan OEC are running two six week indoor climbing courses aimed anyone who is keen to get indoors and climb. These courses are designed for anyone from those who have never climbed before to those more experienced climbers who which to use the wall to train for the arrival of next summer.
 Both courses will be tailored to the experience of the individual with full instruction of the safety equipment used on indoor climbing walls and for the more experienced a full training program will be provided.  

Donegal Indoor Climbing Wall

 The adult course will commence on Friday 12th October at 6pm until 9pm and will run for the following 5 weeks.

The Junior Course will commence on Saturday 13th October at 10am until Noon and will run for the following 5 weeks.

 Both courses will be ran at the Gartan indoor wall and the cost is €60 per person for each course. 

 Instruction will be given by Unique Ascent qualified rock climbing instructors.