Thursday, 17 October 2013

Inishowen Rock Climbing

 The county of Donegal currently plays host to over 2800 rock climbs on pretty much every rock climbing medium that Ireland has to offer. From overhanging mudstone, multi-pitch mountain crags, uninhabited islands and off course, nearly 100 Sea Stacks, I tend to think of the rock climbing available in Donegal as Ireland in miniature. The Donegal on-line guide gives details of all these different climbing mediums and locations in 20 free PDF guidebook downloads, CLICK HERE.

 The peninsula of Inishowen in Northern Donegal is in rock climbing terms, Donegal in miniature, with a huge collection of climbs and locations around its coast. From the stack and sea cliffs at Leenan Head, the slabs, corners and cracks at the ever popular Malin Head (Ireland's most Northerly point) along the coast to Culdaff and down to Kinnego Bay. The current Inishowen climbing guidebook is available as a free PDF download CLICK HERE.

Dunaff Head rock climbing film

 Residing on the west coast of Inishowen lives the huge Dunaff Head, this headland is 210 meters at it's highest point and covers an area of approx. 4 square kilometers. Running along it's north face is a very impressive and slightly imposing sea cliff. Alas being a north facing cliff it sees very little direct sunlight and is thus very vegetated and is prone to feldspar leaching. It is in essence a huge wall of loose hairy sea cliff, very impressive to look at but alas not so impressive to climb.
 Living approx 200m out to sea from the base of this wall is a superb 50 meter high sea stack.

Inishowen Sea Stack

 And Sho, a swift E-mail from Sean and Julia, who were across in Donegal on a short break from London, it was descided a wee play out on the Dunaff Head sea stack would be a suitably adventurous activity.  

Julia on the storm beach

 Access to the stack from the surrounding cliff tops is an emotional affair, which involves descending the huge full crag height gully to the south of the stack. This 200 meter long gully descends steeply passing down through one 60m near vertical section below half height. We descended through this steep stepped section on a tensioned back rope using each other as anchors. This part of the gully was loose, wet and very overgrown in places and it was with a hint of relief we lowered down the final steepening and onto the boulder apron below.  

Sean at the base of the gully

 We continued to descend down the gully apron and the more we descended the larger the boulders became until we were approx 30 meters above the sea. Below us the boulders were more the size of houses and stacked in a way by Neptune that there was no easy way down to sea level. We made a very convoluted path through the boulders to a huge flat topped house sized boulder at approx 10 meters above sea level.
 A swift inflation of the wee dingy and one by one we made the 250 meter crossing to the sea level platforms at the seaward side of the stack. This is a very remote, isolated and committing place to be standing as stretching either side of us for at least a kilometer is the 200 meter high walls of Dunaff Head's north face. The sea had gone from being flat calm to a half meter swell from the North West and the winds were now blowing at 19 knots. A deep depression was moving in from the North West and with it an inch of rain was forecast for the following day.
 Due to our location and the height of the facing cliffs this stack does not get very much direct sunlight, especially in mid October, and so it was still very damp and very greasy. We worked our way around the sea level platforms and made to boat journey back to the bottom of the gully. Landing the boat was now a tad move complex as the boulder beach was now surrounded by slightly annoyed white water. A suitable harbour was found to the south and a short coastaleer later we were back at the base of the outstanding gully.  

Back on mainland Donegal

 An hour later we had re-ascended the gully and were standing on the clifftos once again overlooking the sea stack. As always nature has the last laugh as it had now been over 8 hours since we had left the car and this was the first time we had been in sunshine all day. It had of course been blazing sunshine on the summit of Dunaff the whole time we had been climbing. :-) It was at this point that the sun finally hit the stack. 

Re-ascending the gully

Evening Sun on Inishowen

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Head Lighthouse Abseil
 September has been an extremely busy month with everyday bringing a new place and a very varied selection of slightly foolish activities. With a 15 day tour of the coast of Ireland taking 11 international visitors up all the highest summits in the country. Another 7 days were spent private guiding, taking a couple of gentlemen to the summits of several mildly scary sea stacks and another few days spent preparing a young trooper for their first visit to the greater ranges. September has been a truly excellent end to an excellent summer in the vertical world of the North West.
 With a call from Fáiltre Ireland last week it was a visit to Fanad Head Lighthouse. The cunning plan was to do an interview for the TV cameras and abseil off the outside walkway at the top of the lighthouse.
 The forecast was a tad breeze blowing 30 knots from the east but thankfully no rain was on the cards and sunshine had been ordered for about 1pm.

Fanad Head Lighthouse Abseil Film

 It is always a tad surreal to be playing out under the ever watchful eye of a film crew. This is third time this year doing this type of thing under such scrutiny of the lens. The trick is to arrive early, get everything set up and in this case do the abseil before anyone else arrives. As when the film crew arrives there is always a flood of preparatory questions prior to them switching the cameras on. BUT much more importantly it also means you do your first abseil with its customary moment of mild concern as you weight the rope over a 30 meter drop and "Elvis entering the building," is not captured on film. HURRAH!
 Anyways, 6 abseils and an hour long interview later, job done, it was duly noted that Oscar the dog also regained his crown as Donegal's most filmed dog. :-)   

Fanad Head Lighthouse
Inside Fanad Head Lighthouse
Fanad Head Lighthouse Abseil