Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tormore Island, Ireland's highest sea stack

 There are few places on Earth that can compare to the surreal nature of the coastal architecture that surrounds Tormore Island. This island sits at the southern end of Glenlough Bay at the far western tip of the Slievetooey coastline in South West Donegal.
 Living approximately 300 meters out to sea from the storm beach at the Entrance to Shambhala, resides this huge island/sea stack. At about 160 meters high Tormore Island is Ireland's highest sea stack and it stands guard over a truly outstanding collection of sea stacks and towers in this very inaccessible and mildly scary location. Surrounding the sea approaches to Tormore are the 100 meters high Cnoc na Mara, Lurking Fear, Hidden Stack and the 100 meters high Cobbler's Tower.
 This really is a surreal place of giants, the routes to the summits of the giants are all in the Donegal Sea Stack Guide and this guide only really scrapes the surface of the climbing potential of the Donegal coastline.

A paddle around Tormore Island

 Access to the base of the Tormore involves a 3 kilometer clifftop walk from the An Port road end and a 250 meter scramble down to one of two storm beaches at sea level. It is possible to access sea level from both The Entrance to Shambhala storm beach and An Chlochán Mór storm beach below Glenlough Bay. Each of those exit points for the sea crossing present it's own set of potential marine difficulties and both are very dependent on a specific set of nautical conditions and tide phases. Each of these two sea passages are of course equally emotional.
 From sea level it is then a 300 meter sea passage to the narrow channel separating Tormore Island from Cobbler's Tower. Cobblers Towers is Donegal's highest free standing tower and is connected to mainland Donegal by a series of suicidally loose ridges and collapsing minor towers. What this essentially means is the approach and possible escape from the labyrinth surrounding Tormore is by sea passage with no sane over land entry/exit points.

 Commitment to the task in hand is the key. :-)  

  Tormore Island (South View)

 The channel separating Tormore from Mainland Donegal is a nautical labyrinth comprising 4 major sea stacks and the Cobbler's tower massif. These five major land masses work well in conjunction with the myriad of smaller outlaying tidal skerries to produce a stretch of very difficult to predict tidal conflictions which unfortunately produce a great deal of white water violence.  

Tormore Island (North View)

 It was in August 2008 aboard a 240 HP driven R.i.B. four troopers left Burton Port bound for Tormore. On the R.i.B. was Alan Tees, Peter Copper Pete McConnel and Myself and off course captain Paul Bathgate. The short story of that day out and the First Ascent of Tormore Island is below.

The First Ascent of Tormore Island.

 It was in the midst of a monsoon at 7am on a wet and dark Sunday morning that four troopers gathered on Burtonport Pier. In attendance were noble brothers Peter Cooper, Alan Tees, Pete Copper and myself, we all sat in the impending gloom as the dark vertical rods of rain from the blackened sky rained down on our cars.
 The object of our collective desires was the summit of the 160 meter previously unclimbed Tormore Island, Ireland's highest sea stack. Alan and Myself had made several attempts at taming this beast in the past, so by default the approach of choice today was to be by R.I.B. Our noble stead was being Captained by Paul Bathgate, a veteran of nautical misadventures along the Donegal coastline. Our noble stead it's self was a 76 mph monster of a R.I.B. and we were on our way.
 Now I'm not sure if my fellow cohorts knew what to expect when I mentioned using this type of vessel for an attempt, but upon setting sail and Captain Bathgate opening the throttle a tad, the white knuckles and blank expressions from the troopers spoke volumes.
 It was indeed excellent to see that after 30 seconds of this adventure that we were already mildly terrified.
 Ten minutes later we rounded Torneady Point at the Northern tip of Arranmore Island and into very atmospheric seas and for the next 40 minutes we got a bit of a nautical kicking as we pounded up, over and through 20 foot walls of white nautical rage. Words can't describe our journey from Arranmore to Tormore Island suffice to say it was very emotional indeed.
 As we arrived at Tormore Island it was under siege by the legions of the damned and they were riding monster white horses, Neptune was in attendance and was furious. Our fearless and mildly insane Captain navigated the channel separating the stack from Cobbler's Tower, sensory overload had already been well and truly reached and breached as we entered the cauldron of angry white sea in the pits of hate. After 10 minutes of pretty amazing boat handling skills four wide eyed fools were left on a non-tidal ledge at the bottom of the landward face of Tormore Island.
 With a "See you at Four" our boat and Captain screamed out of the channel and into the maelstrom. 
 And Sho, as ordered the rain stopped and the Sun came out. 
 "Lets cane the beast" we all cried in unison.
 The first 45 meter pitch was an excellent affair of V. Diff climbing up superb quartz and growing atmosphere to an excellent block belay at the very edge of the abyss.
 We were climbing caterpillar stylee, which means as three troops met on a stance, the next pitch is led while the fourth trooper is ascending the previous pitch. 
 Anyways, as Peter Cooper came up pitch one, Alan Tees led off up pitch two of slabby mixed ground to a lofty perch below the monsterous roofs which loomed above us in the middle distance.
 Pitch three bypassed the roofs on the left and had a modicum of exposure and atmosphere as further mixed ground took us to a huge ledge and superb tri-peg belay stance. Thankfully the discovery of this belay meant we could now definitely abseil off this stack, a minor point of concern I had been giving due consideration all morning.
 Pete McConnel hoovered up pitch 4, it being a vertical celebration of mud, grass and grot with 2 useless runners in the first 30 meters, it was a rude awakening to stack world for Noble Brother McConnel. The summit ridge was reached and a solitary block belay in a huge ocean of green was found. One by One we scrambled the last 20 meter grass ridge a spectacular summit at about 160 meters above sea level. 
 Photos were taken and evidence of previous visitors sought, we found no evidence of any previous visitors.
 We made an abseil descent of our route, 4 X 45 meter abseils using the now insitu peg belays, took us to our non tidal ledge to await our lift home.
 Being last to abseil, I arrived at the ledge to a very ominous silence. The seas were now crashing either side off the channel and every forth wave threw thousands of tons of green on to Hidden Stack about 40 meters away opposite us. This was absolutely outstanding to stand and watch but alas it was not so good for our travel arrangements as we had no sleeping bags.
 "What do you think?" Asked Brother Tees
 "Aw, it'll be fine." came my confident reply. Internally I considered us to be in a spot of mild peril.
 And so, for the next half hour we sat in quiet contemplation, and with a bang, into the channel of rage came our noble stead listing at 50 degrees to Port and riding a monster Greeny, full astern and Captain Bathgate and Crewman Mike Crowe got thrashed about in an astounding display of seamanship, our mighty vessel was getting an almighty nautical kicking. Several passes of our ledge and with the luggage was safely stowed on board, our noble stead spent the next 10 minutes in the center of the cauldron riding the chaotic seas.
 "RIGHT, I'M COMING IN AGAIN, I CAN'T SAY IN HERE ANY LONGER, GET IN!" came our orders from our now slightly manic Captain Bathgate and in he came and a single nano second later we were all in the boat.
 "THANK F*CK FOR THAT!" our nautical maestro roared as we crashed through the green to exit the channel and out onto the high seas.
 Now that, Ladies and Gentlemen was a high end emotional exit from a sea stack.
 The journey back to Burtonport was bumpy, but in full daylight and sunshine it was excellent sport. Half an hour of wave bouncing later saw us into sheltered water between Arranmore Island and Burtonport harbour, it was at this point Captain Bathgate gave the beast full throttle and 60 mph + we arrived in Burtonport Harbour, a bit like flying on a very very low flying Plane.
 Tormore Island Route

 Tormore Island   VS   220m
 Grid Reference G556908. At 160m high is Irelands highest sea stack and is the daddy of Donegal's sea stacks, it can be seen from Dungloe, approx 40 KM to the North East. 
 This route climbs the very obvious landward arete at the eastern end of the island. This feature can be clearly seen from any position along this coast overlooking the stack. Access to the stack is an involved affair and a boat approach is recommended.
 Descent is by 4 50m abseils down the route using the block and peg belays described.
 Pitch 1. 45m Starting on the non tidal ledge in the centre of the landward face, directly opposite Hidden Stack. Climb the blunt arete to the right of the basalt vein, follow the corners and ledges on superb quartz to a large block belay.
 Pitch 2, 40m Continue up the blunt arete on slabby mixed ground to a large ledge below the huge capping roof. (Peg Belay)
 Pitch 3. 45m Climb direct to the left end of the huge roofs on excellent rock, with an increased awareness of your surroundings. Pass the roof on their left and continue up the huge shallow gully on mixed ground to a large ledge. (Peg Belay)
 Pitch 4. 45m Climb direct up the vertical grass to the exposed summit ridge, scramble along the ridge for 15m to a large block belay.
 Pitch 5. 20m scramble the grassy ridge to the summit.
 I. Miller, P. McConnel, A. Tees, P. Cooper 10/08/08

Glenlough Bay Approach

 There are/were two sea stack along the Donegal coast that on their first ascents the bases of the stacks were accessed by the use of a R.i.B. and an outboard engine, these two stacks were Tormore Island and the 120 meter high Giants Reek Stack off Aranmore Island. I always thought this was a tad unsporting and just lately Aiden McGinley and myself made an unmotorized landing on Tormore island, alas we only climbed the first two pitches (100 meters) and abseiled back to sea level due to oncoming wind and rain. We are currently awaiting a suitable day with Neptune in a good mood to return to Tormore and make a full unmotorized ascent of the stack. 

Landing on Tormore

Climbers on Pitch 2

climbers on pitch 2

Top of Pitch 3

Summit of Tormore Island

Hidden Stack & Cobbler's Tower from Tormore

Cnoc na Mara & Tormore from Cobbler's Tower 


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