Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Donegal Rock Climbing. Gull Island

 Living at the base of Slievtooey's north coast in one of Ireland's most remote and isolated locations, there lives a 100 m high flat topped island. The island sits approximately 6 KM from Maghera caves to the east, 8 km from An Port road end to the West and 4.5 KM from the nearest place to park the car to the south. Whichever way you approach Gull Island it is a long way across open, unpathed and rarely visited uplands.
 Access to the raised shingle storm beach which separated the island from mainland Donegal is by a 100 m steep grass / loose rock down climb and scramble.
 This marathon walk in and careful descent of the surrounding slopes takes you to an outrageous location as you stand on a huge horseshoe shaped raised shingle storm beach surrounded by a majestic back drop of the 300 m high sea cliffs of Slievetooey.  
 But it is what stands out to sea in front you that instills your first rushes of primal fear. The landward face of gull Island is quite simply an enormous 150m aréte of near biblical proportions. Standing at the base of this aréte tying into your rope and preparing to climb is where your internal battle with your inner demons begins. Inversely it is also what makes this type of adventurous rock climbing in potentially very serious locations one of the most foolish and rewarding activities it is possible to participate in.

Gull island Rock Climbing film

  It was in April 2009 that I made the first of many visits to this island, in attendance on this first visit was Martin Bonner and Andy Mcinroy. At this time both Gull Island and stack behind it were unclimbed. Our intent on this first visit was to climb the 80 m high twin summited sea stack off the seaward face of Gull Island but alas due to Neptunes rage and us being scared we opted for the "less chance of drowning "option of the landward aréte of Gull Island.
 Martin and myself climbed this monsterous aréte in three very dangerous feeling pitches. We used three pegs at the top of the first unprotected 45m pitch and placed an abseil stake on the summit and backed it up with a cairn. All in all an excellent and mildy terrifying day at the end of a rope.
 The original route description I gave Gull Island kind of speaks volumes of the type of climbing ans situations involved.

Gull Island   XS 5a   145m
 Pitch 1: 50m 4a To the left of landward aréte climb the soaring corner crack until the grassy rake. Traverse upwards and right to gain the aréte proper. Two good gear placements in 50m, fall and you will die)
 Pitch 2: 50m Climb the aréte by a very atmospheric scramble and up the jenga tower to the perched boulder at it's summit.
 Pitch 3: 45m Crimp left and up superb rock and continue to the summit by your easiest convenience.     Iain Miller, Martin Bonner 24/04/09

 Many thanks to our cliff top voyeur Andy Mcinroy, Andy's Photographic site is HERE.

Gull island, Donegal

 And sho, with these rather worrying memories lurking in my head it became time for a return visit to Gull Island and it's landward aréte. In attendance on this occasion were Aidan Mc Ginley and Louise O'Connor, both Aidan and Louise have been doing work experience with Unique Ascent over the summer as part of their FAS outdoor instructor course. And what better way to finish a work placement than a visit deep into the Realms of Chaos.

Storm Beach at the base of Gull island

Pitch 1

 And Sho, Gull Island round 2. We left our homes at an unsociably early hour in the morning and had a clandestine meet up and car share in Ardara to our real world exit point on the south face of Slievetooey. It was a misty, wet and pretty miserable two and a half hour walk over Slievetooey to the cliff tops overlooking Gull island and Satan.
 A swift abseil over the 100 m high edge and we pulled the Ab rope and scrambled / down climbed onto the huge storm beach. It was indeed the scary place that I had stored on the back shelves of memory as we racked up and prepared to climb. Louise and myself were to climb whilst Aidan was our photographer.

Pitch 1

 I led pitch one very carefully digging about for any meaningful gear placements and with a modicum of relief reach the tri-peg anchor at the top of the 45 m pitch. In total seven gear placement alas only three of them would have held even the smallest of falls and up came Louise.
 At the top of this pitch, 45 m above the storm beach we crouched on the 10 cm mud ledge as a passing shower paid a brief visit.

Pitch 3

 On pitch 2 due to the instability of the 15 m jenga tower, I built another peg belay on solid terra firma and Louise joined me for tea and tiffin.
 Pitch 3 is the beast in the back garden as you edge your way higher and higher above excellent gear amidst a sea of uncertainties. This pitch has a vast selection of unpleasant charactaristics which include a crimpy slab and an overhung jug haul to the salvation of a huge flat topped summit and it is a most outstanding sumit.
 Louise and myself had a wee wander around this football pitch pitch sized summit and all too quickly we began the descent.

Crux Moves on Pitch 3

 The descent from the summit of Gull Island involves two 50 meter abseils and a wee bit of guile and rope trickery in the middle section and we were back on the beach.
 with the addition of the peg belay at the top of pitch 2 and the digging about for gear placement I have altered the route description to allow for a more up to date idea of what an ascent of this stack involves.

Gull Island   E1 5a   125m
 Pitch 1: 50m, 3a. To the west of the landward aréte climb the huge corner crack until it terminates. traverse right and ascend the ramp to gain the aréte and a tri-peg belay. (3 good gear placements in 50m, fall & you will die)
 Pitch 2, 25m. Continue up the aréte by a very atmospheric scramble to the big block overhang at the base of the boulder field. (2 peg belay)
 Pitch 3, 50m, 5a. Climb the stack boulder field to the two big boulders perched on top. Crimp left and ascend to the summit through the two rock bands

The summit of Gull Island

Rock Climbing is not a spectator sport?

Gull island Panoramic

 Fear is not a negative emotion, fear is an understanding we have nothing to fear.

No comments:

Post a Comment