Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Winter Climbing in Donegal, Ireland

Winter in Donegal film

 Muckish North Face

 Ideal winter climbing conditions in the Donegal mountains are a rare beast indeed, requiring a prolonged mix of freeze/ thaws cycles and a good couple of dumps of snow. Alas with the relative low altitude of Donegal's highest summits and their very close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean the prevalent conditions in the uplands are greatly influenced by the North Atlantic Drift and it's warm and wet air stream.
 What this all means is, if the correct climactic conditions occur to allow frozen cascades of ice and gullies filled with pristine néve then it is case of, get out and play, because tomorrow it may all be gone.

View from the start of the climb

 After several e-mails back and forward to Noble Bother Laurence Glynn (Larry), we finally got an alignment of the planets and a small weather window to allow winter to make an attendance in County Donegal. 
 After a week of heavy snow and several nights of minus temperatures, the hills of he county were beginning of show great signs of being winterized. 

Pitch 1: Arrive at the gully

Base of "Gully of the Gods."

 We met early Sunday morning and we sorted our climbing rack and headed to the North Face of Muckish Mountain. By our weather watching and calculations the center of this north facing corrie would contain suitable refrozen frozen snow and good winter climbing.
 This was Larry's first dabble with winter climbing and as we parked the van at the old mine working at the road end, the North corrie of Muckish looked extremely atmospheric and thankfully very winter indeed! :-)  

Pitch 2, in the Gods proper

Winter Climbing in Ireland

Muckish Mountain view

We parked the van at the lower roadside parking and headed up into the corrie. Underfoot the snow was showing great signs of consolidation and all ground water was frozen solid. We headed straight up the centre of the corrie as this allowed us to see into all the gullies on both sides of the corrie. What we were looking for was the most complete and thickest tongue of néve running down the best looking gully. 
 We decided on and headed straight to the base of "Gully of the Gods," a superb grade I/II gully running up the back of the corrie. Approx 40 meters below the start of the gully we roped up and rigged a belay as the steep ground around us had a light covering of windslab and several runnels indicated previous avalanche activity. 

Mid height in the gully

Mid Height in "Gully of the Gods."

100m up the route

 Once in the gully proper the snow firmed to become solid néve and the ground steepened to give perfect grade 1 climbing on perfect snow ice. We continued to pitch the route in 30 to 50 m pitches and the higher we climbed the better the néve became. he final 40 meter pitch was solid néve which allowed us to climb on front points and axe picks, the finest type of winter climbing there is. 
 It is one of the great joys of winter climbing to be on a steep face of solid snow with you held in place by approx 4 inches of metal, one inch on each foot and hand, all the time with a 500 meter steep drop at your heels. :-)  

Larry arrives at the final belay

Topping Out onto the summit Plateau of Muckish

Winter climbing in Ireland

 Whilst Larry and I were at play in The Gully of the Gods, Adam and Patrick Tinney climbed a new grade 1 gully to the right of the chunky tower and the "White Reverence" Face. This excellent looking gully is the most obvious on this side of the corrie alas it is prone to catching any sunshine that is going and is prone to a quick thaw and disappearance. Nice one gents!

Donegal Winter Climbing Guidebook


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