Sunday, 8 July 2012

Irish Sea Stacks. Cnoc na Mara

 Standing at 100m high, 150m out to sea, at the base of a 250m sea cliff and approx 25km from the nearest main road is Cnoc na Mara. This iconic Donegal sea stack was first climbed in 2008 by myself, Alan Tees and Martin McGuigan by it's 150m long landward arete. This route provides one of the most outstanding rock climbing adventures in Ireland.
 And So, in the house were Steve & Dell Hambling on a three week tour of Ireland from Indiana US of A, Steve had set his sights on the summit of the mighty Cnoc na Mara.
 We arrived at the Port road end and made the 3km walk along the clifftops to the 250m descent slopes, Dell was our clifftop photographer and opted to stay on a wee flattening 200m above and overlooking our stack.

Cnoc na Mara in the early morning sun

 It was early morning and the sun had yet to make it's way around to our descent slopes, an hour of very careful descent and we rigged and made the final 40m abseil onto the lonely storm beach facing Cnoc na Mara. The descent down these slopes plays a very unusual optical illusion, as you descend the slopes Cnoc na Mara gets bigger and bigger and bigger, by the time you are at sea level you are left in no doubt as to what a 100m high sea stack looks like. :-) This storm beach is one of the most atmospheric places in Ireland,  with a seaward view of three monster sea stacks (inc Tormore Island, Ireland's highest sea stack), basking seals, two sea arches, many huge sea caves and a almost overwhelming sense of being truly alive.

The short abseil onto the storm beach

 We sorted the climbing gear, inflated the boat and made the 150m sea passage out to the stack. The sea had a 1m westerly swell and we traveled out in the lee of Cnoc na Mara which allowed us to make a smooth sea passage to the base of the landward face of the stack.

Steve landing on the sea stack

  The first 40m pitch is gentle introduction to sea stack climbing up a smooth basalt wall and along a short exposed ridge to a large grassy ledge. The second pitch is an airy ascent of a 25m ramp along the edge of a 40 to 60m overhanging wall, the situation and atmosphere is outstanding. This took us to a huge boulder belay and now fully warmed up and in the zone we began the ascent of pitch 3. 

Looking down pitch 3

 Pitch 3 is 30m long and climbs a super exposed ridge line up the spine of the stacks landward face, climbing up the ramp and stepping round the corner is a moment you will remember forever. :-) As we both sat on the ledge at the top of pitch 3, with 80m of air and overhanging drops back to sea level all around us, we savoured our surrounding and began the fourth and final pitch to the summit of Cnoc na Mara.  

Climbers at top of Pitch 3

 The final ridge climb to the summit is the money shot, it's 58m long and climbs a knife edge ridge with 100m vertical drops either side of you as you ascend over the towers to the pin point summit of this outstanding sea stack. We made made our way carefully to the summit and with a high five, Steve was standing on the summit block and Dell was taking the shot from her lofty perch on the clifftops high above us. 

Steve on the summit ridge

On the summit of Cnoc na Mara

View from the summit looking South

 The descent from the summit back to sea level is an involved affair and involves two abseils and a great deal of guile and care. 

Abseil down the summit ridge

Abseil to sea level

 And so, once back to sea level we made the return sea passage to once more stand on the storm beach at the entrance to Shambhala. 
 This had been Steve's first sea stack climb and it is safe to say it won't be his last! :-)

Cnoc na Mara in the evening sun

 Below is a film shot on Cnoc na Mara last year with quite a large number of Irish climbers making the first mass ascent of the landward ridge of the stack.

Cnoc na Mara film shot last year

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