Saturday, 26 December 2015

Rock Climbing in Donegal, Ireland 2015

A review of Donegal Rock Climbing in 2015

 As 2015 comes to a close it is safe to say it has been beyond an outstanding year. With nationwide rumours of bad weather, very little of which reached western Donegal and so 2015 allowed over 300 days out playing on the sea cliffs, sea stacks and the mountains of the county. With most of these days out being in the company of visitors to Donegal from over 20 different countries it would be an enormous blog post to highlight every great day out this year.

 This is a review and round up of all the rock climbing developments with the new routes and significant repeats of established routes from around the county.

Donegal Rock Climbing

 The year kicked off with perhaps the shortest winter ever, with just 4 days of good néve and then it was gone in a deluge of heavy rain. A well timed visit to the northern corrie of Muckish Mountain was only solution to this ice(less) crisis. In attendance were Donegal troops, Kevin Kiely, Patrick McDermott and Jason Black and we made the most of this 4 day winter. Patrick and Kevin climbed a new line of mixed grade II ground to the right of "The Escalator Gully." Whilst I tried to keep up with Jason, Jason is currently UBER fit and in preparation for a few big projects in the worlds greater ranges. Have Fun Sir.

Donegal Winter Film

Donegal Winter Mountains

 April was a month of tropical downpours and sunshine in equal amounts as several teams of international troopers played out around the county. A new route on Lurking Fear Sea Stack, ascents of Mainmast and Roaring Forties on Sail Rock, visits to Tory and Owey Island. Everyday in April was a new island, stack or location. Whilst on Tory Island we sat and watched the Northern Lights, not the faint glow on the horizon but the merry dancers high into the stratosphere.
 Ian Parnell, Ben Wilkinson, Jon Winter and Henry Jepson added a new route to the south face of Lurking Fear Stack in the Land of the Giants.

Owey Island Film

Lurkin Fear Stack

Owey Island

 Owey Island continues to receive visits from the strong with a collection of routes up to E7 being climbed this year on several new seaward walls including the very steep wall in The Black Spink to the east of Wild Atlantic Walls by Ronan Browner, John Gilmor, Michelle O'Loughlin, Pat Nolan, Kris McKooey and Ricky Bell. The following three pictures are robbed from Ricky Bells Blog and were taken by Pat Nolan.

   Ricky Bell At base of Holy Jaysus Wall

Michelle O'Loughlan in The Black Spink

Ricky Bell on Wild Atlantic Wall

 Sion Brocklehurst and Brian McAlinden climbed three new routes from E4 to VS on the steep walls between Wild Atlantic Walls and The Flutted Zawn, inc the excellent sounding route below.

A Race Against Time   E4 6a/b   22m   ***
 A fabulous route that has everything, jams, crimps, kneebars, and very physical with the crux approaching the top of the route. The obvious right to left crack is more overhanging than it first appears and is guaranteed to get the arms pumping. Start at the obvious thin corner and crack, climb to a ledge at the bottom of the main crack as it heads leftwards. Climb quickly as the crack steepens and your arms begin to wither with the climbing becoming more difficult as you head for the top. large cams, BD 4 & 5 handy
S. Brocklehurst, B. McAlinden June 2015 

 In April Ian Parnell and Ben Wilkinson climbed the seaward corner of the slab that faces onto Holy Jaysus wall at E2 and very exposed.

 Over the summer months John Mallon and Princess Kathy have been kayaking out and adding new lines to a newly discovered seaward wall, details in PDF download.

Cruit Island

 Whilst in the area Ronan Browner and John Gilmor played out in the Albatross Wall adding Hansel, an alternative finish to Gretal at E2 5c following the very obvious left trending flake crack. Below is Ronan's details of his excellent addition to the left of the Saco corner and takes the steepness and flared cracks to join John McCunes, How to Draw a Spaceship in the upper reaches.              

Suspended 3.8   E4 6a   20m   ***
 A brilliant little gem of a route; short but involved. Follow Best Possible Taste to a good stance 1m below the roof. Stretch left to a good side-pull rail and make a tricky move out to the blunt arête and hanging crack. Continue up this and onto the face to reach the diagonal flakes which terminate to a very rounded finish.
R. Browner, J. Gillmor, 3 August 2015.

 In 2013 Terry Ralphs, Nigel Robertson and G. Lancaster have made a couple of very productive visits to the island developing Scalpachore sea wall adding an E2, an E3 and the islands first E4. Terry and Nigel then returned in 2015 and developed several new wall on the far side of the golf course. An area to my horror i had completely forgotten about. Nice one Gents. :-)

 Paul Swail and Ellie Harvey climbed Cruit Islands hardest route to date, Kahlua's Scratch E5 6a/b * on 18th April. This route takes the steep ground (overhangs by 3 metres in its 12 meter height)  by Chimney Sweep on the Traderg Walls and is currently Cruit Islands hardest route.

The Aréte

 Paul Swail and Kevin McGee dispatched one of Paul's previously tried routes and came away with a contender for Ireland's best E6. For further details and a topo contact Paul at his blog HERE.

Rolling in the Deep   E6 6a/b   20m   ****
 A well protected and spectacular overhanging arete.
Take a stance 2m right of the arete on the sloping non-tidal ledge. Easy moves lead out left and onto the base of the aréte and climb the Aréte direct with crux at half height roof.
Paul Swail, Kevin McGee 19/04/15

The Aréte    pic Craig Hiller

Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag

 This sea cliff is located just to the north of Glenlough and is a very strong contender for Ireland's most remote climbing location. The main wall received 6 new routes this summer, all climbed with visiting American and Canadian troops.

Glenlough Bay

Sea Stacks 

 It has been a year of deeper exploration of (and Off) the Donegal coast with solo visits to The Stags of Owey, Roan Inish and The Stags of Broadhaven but it was in June that I feel I looked into the abyss beyond the outer Realms. A freesolo of Cnoc na Mara was always the original intent with this sea stack and combining this with a paddle to and from An Port road end made the whole experience a bit of a mindblower.

 Cnoc na Mara freesolo

Alone on Cnoc na Mara

 A multitude of stacks have been climbed throughout the year with a huge range of visitors to Donegal and Ireland.  

 Tent Stack in Glenlough Bay

Berg Stack

Teena on Berg Stack

Ends of the Earth Stack

Poisoned Glen

There has at long last been a renewed interest in this long neglected crag with three teams over the last two summers cleaning and climbing new routes on the main faces.
 Kevin McGee and Iain Miller climbed Micheál at E1 5b and 159 metres long on the West Buttress at the end of 2014.
 During the last few years Calvin Torrans and Clare Sherridan have been busy cleaning in the Glen and have currently climbed two new routes in the most impressive location in the glen. The Streets of Laredo E4 (6a,5b) ** and Gallowglass E4 (5c,6a) *** both climb the steep ground at the very top of the Bearnas Buttress. A swift repeat of Gallowglass in October by Kevin McGee, (P1) Pat Nolan, (P2) and Gerard O'Sullivan is perhaps an extremely good sign in the renewed interest of this long neglected crag.

The 2nd Ascent of Gallowglass. 18/10/15

 News from a year or two ago that I feel was a tad overlooked was one of Inishowen's last great rock features got climbed. I was back in Kinnego on a grey day to get pictures a while back and this rock feature is one of the stand out features in the bay.

Rugged Extreme Exposure E4 6a 30m
Climb the big seaward facing prow/arête. Start in the big V slot under the face. Climb directly up a steep crack with a few suspect holds to an overhang and rest at half height. Pull through the overhang on small holds into a rightward crack continue left and finish up the airy arête.
J. McCune, K. Maxwell 21/07/12

Tororragaun Island

 Tororragaun is the large lump of rock living between Gola Island and Umfin Island to the north. Made a couple of visit out to this island this year and opened an account with five new routes on its seaward face. The online guide is HERE.

 Tororragaun Island Film


 And Sho, after 4+ years of sitting at a laptop fiddling with text and pictures, going to crags and islands at sunrise and sunset to get crag shots and 1000's of e-mails back and forward, It all came to an end. The Rock Climbing in Donegal 2015 guidebook got published.

 Donegal Guidebook Cover 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Donegal Rock Climbing Guidebook 2015

 And sho, what seems like a lifetime ago when I first started out on this noble quest the Mountaineering Ireland Donegal Rock Climbing Guidebook 2015 is back from the printers and is on sale through Mountaineering Ireland. More information HERE

Donegal Guidebook 2015

 This is a select guidebook to County Donegal it contains over 1000 outstanding rock climbs found throughout the entire length and breadth of the county from Muckross Head in the South to Malin Head at the northern tippy toe of the Inishowen Peninsula.

 The guide comprises 25 very different rock climbing areas these areas include Ireland's longest rock climb, Ireland's largest mountain crag, Ireland's highest sea stack as well as many more standard single and multi pitch venues above the sea, by the road, on the islands and in the mountains. Each area comprises descriptive text and an area map to ensure the ease of finding the location by any first time visitor. Throughout the book over 250 colour photographs have been used to help desc ribe every cliff and crag listed. This ensures that 96% the routes in the guide are shown on full colour photo topos with the photos that were taken from best angle/position and in optimum light so as to allow first time visitors to find their chosen routes. Each separate location is based on the online guide at Donegal on-line guide with each chapter in the book having an online counterpart. This allows more regular visitors to Donegal to explore further using these online more definite guides.

 The guide starts at Muckross in the south of the county and follows the coast clockwise to Tory Island. Along this coast we visit several of the previously established and documented locations such as Sail Rock, Malinbeg, Gola Island and Skelpoonagh Bay. This coast is by far the most developed areas of Donegal since the previous guide in 2002 with large numbers of new routes and locations on An Port coastline, Cruit and Arranmore Islands.

  Sail Rock

Cruit Island

Gola Island

 After Tory Island the guide goes inland and starting in the Bluestack Mountains back in the south of the county travels north over the Derryveagh Mountains, Muckish and Crockanaffrin to finish on the Inishowen Peninsula. The main developments since the previous guide have been at Ballaghageeha Buttress in the Poison Glen, Crockanaffrin and at Malin Head.




 The guide then finishes with a short four page chapter outlining the huge winter climbing potential of the county and developments over the last 50 years.

Donegal Winter Climbing

 What this guidebook will provide both first time visitor and more seasoned Donegal climbers is several life times of outstanding and in many cases world class rock climbing in some of the most beautiful places in Ireland.

Iain Miller 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015


Ireland's Newest Climbing Location

 Taking advantage of the outstanding late summer in the last few days in western Donegal, paddled out for a visit to the rarely visited Tororragaun Island. 
Tororragaun Film

   Tororragaun is a 22 metre high rocky granite island living in the channel between Gola and Umfin Islands four kilometres off the Gweedore coast. The island is effectively guarded on all sides by Gola Island quality Granite sea cliffs and off course the potential for climbing new routes is enormous. Running through the centre of the island is a huge, and I do mean HUGE, sea washed water spout. It is difficult to imagine the size of this water spout but it would easily accommodate a million tons of sea water at a time. During his visit Iain free soloed (unroped) five new 60 foot rock climbs on the seaward face of the island. These are the first recorded rock climbs on the island are in the Tororragaun free guidebook is Tororragaun Guidebook Webpage

   This rocky outcrop has been on the to do list for a couple of years and only now with a shiney sit on top and an indian summer the new routes account has been open on its seaward face. :-)

   There is no fresh water on the island and pretty much every horizontal surface is birded as this is home to approx. 500 nesting pairs of Fulmar and a token amount of Gannet.

   Access to the island by sea kayak from Port Arthur Pier at Map ref B798284 on the Gweedore Coast. Landing on Tororragaun is not without a certain degree of rocky uncertainty as there are no easy landing beaches, coves or recesses. The easiest landing is at the eastern tip of the island onto rock sea level ledges. With a west sea running the island provides excellent lee and this eastern tip has large non-tidal ledges for kayak storage.

Gweedore from Tororragaun

Gweedore Islands

Tororragaun Arch

Rock Climbing on Tororragaun

Monday, 12 October 2015

Sail Rock. Donegal Rock Climbing

 And sho, as summer comes to an end it is most definitely time to catch up on the backlog of much neglected unedited U-tube films, footage, pictures blog posts and in general trying to document some of the 200 or so days out playing on Donegal's sea cliffs, sea stacks and mountains this year so far. It has been beyond an outstanding year but more of that in future posts.

 One of this years Unique Ascent trainee Fionnuala Donnelly spent the middle of the summer seeking vertical pleasure on the Donegal coastline. On a sunny Saturday morning we paid a visit to one of Donegal's older and more established climbing venues to make an ascent of the classic VS Roaring Forties.

Sail Rock Film

 Sail Rock is an outstanding 80m high quartzite slab in an excellent coastal location living in amongst the much poorer quality rock on the sea cliffs along the spectacular Slieve League coastline in the south west of Co Donegal for the free online guide click here to download.
 The Slieve League area of Co Donegal has changed dramatically in the last year or two with the new improved access roads and the massive visitor footfall that Slieve League and the Wild Atlantic Way brings this to this area, it is now possible to drive very close to the crag and save the carrying of a 100 metres static abseil rope from the old car park.
 To find Sail Rock from the Slieve League access road, from the road keep looking towards the sea was you walk/drive along the road until you see the clifftop watch tower then simply follow the path from the road down to the tower, Once at the tower the summit of Sail Rock is but 50 metres to your east.
 Access to the base of Sail Rock is by either an abseil or by a very steep and quite loose alpine scramble down the ridge on the opposite side of the basin to the face. The abseil down the face is by far the best way to reach the base of the face and the start of the routes. Alas as this was not our primary venue choice for today and there was a sea stack in Mayo still laugh at us from across the bay we did not have our 100 metre static with us and so a descent of the ridge it was by default. 
 It took about 25 steep loose minutes to gain the cauldron at the bottom of the routes. We descended the loose aréte until approx 40 metres above the sea and then did an easy 50 metre traverse into the top of the bason and pretty much the start of Mainmast.

Abseil down Sail Rock

Access Traverse

The Base of Sail Rock

Looking up Sail Rock

 Anyways on this occasion Fionnuala and my good self climbed Roaring Forties combined the first two pitches and savoured the last pitch especially the final 10 metre pull out onto the main face jugfest. 

 Looking down pitch 2

Topping Out

Friday, 12 June 2015

Stag Rocks Donegal

 Living 7 kilometres of the west coast of Donegal are a tiny collection of three rocky islands known as Stag Rocks or simply the Stags of Owey. They live 2 km directly out into the ocean from the seaward side of Owey Island. The islands themselves are only 6 meters high on their summits and they are surrounded by semi submerged skerries which means they are normally surrounded by very turbulent water. This makes them a tad tricky to access as they are by any stretch of the imagination a long way from mainland Donegal.

 I have had the idea to land on these remote outcrops for several years now but always seemed to distracted by slightly higher offshore islands when the seas wee calm enough to allow safe access. Anyways after several recces looking at different options and exit points from mainland Donegal. It became very apparent I needed a more sea worthy vessel than the ever faithful Lidl dingy. Step forward the Decathlon one person inflatable kayak and what better way to to have its maiden voyage than the Stags.

Stag Rocks Film

 Set sail from the far tip of cruit Island at the Owey Pier with a short paddle out to the lee of Owey Islands north coast. It was then simply a case of making the 2 km open sea passage out to the Stags. This sea passage took it seemed forever as the Stags never got any closer no matter how long I was paddling for. When I arrived at the Stags there was a touch of white water and the only sane place to land was on the NE tip of the North Island and after a wee bit of hesitation and bouncing about made a successful landing.  

Donegal from Stag Rocks

 It is safe to say this very rarely visited remote rocky outcrop is an outstanding place to be especially when the sun is shining in a bright blue sky. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Donegal Rock Climbing 2015

The Story so far in 2015..........

 So far in 2015 it has been a very mixed bag of weather and sea conditions with a 3 week tropical heatwave at the start of April to the thunder storms and the near return of winter in mid May. But no matter what the weather brings we have been out to play pretty much every day, with visits to every main climbing location in Donegal so far this year and all, I hasten to add, in glorious sunshine.

Owey Island Rock Climbing

Owey Island Rock Climbing

Tory Island Rock Climbing

 On a wee visit from the U.K. Ian Parnell, Ben Wilkinson, Jon Winter and Henry Jepson made hay while the Donegal sun shone with visits to Owey Island, Sail Rock, Lurking Fear and Cruit Island. With new routes by the Holy Jaysus Wall on Owey and Lurking Fear Stack, the sea and the weather played ball.

Lurking Fear Stack

 No visit to to the cliffs of SW Donegal is complete without a look at Sail Rock. We arrived mid afternoon and after an abseil rigging and a 100m rope uncoiling session two teams were at the base of the face. Ian and Ben going for Mainmast and Jon and Henry nipping up Roaring Forties.

Sail Rock

Sail Rock in evening sun

  In classic bouncefest fashion and with a modicum of mild concern five different stacks have been climbed fourteen times so far in 2015. A considerable number of mainstream climbing press have had forays into the shady world of sea stacks climbing. It is an entirely different sport taking people onto sea stacks whom you know are going to publish their thoughts in well read publications. Taking someone who has never climbed a stack before (and in most cases never climbed before) onto a nautical summit through white water rage and into the pits of hate is a bit of a mind blower and it never ceases to be enormous fun.

   Sea Stack Climbing

The Sturrall Headland

Donegal Sea Stack

 Off course, sea stack climbing is not all about The Pits of Hate and Davie Jones Locker it also has a much lighter side and when Gaia and Neptune allow, a day out on a nautical summit will be a most relaxed affair with close encounters with many sea creatures in their natural habitat and a visit to your inner self. 

The End's of the Earth Sea Stack

Sea Stack Summit View 

 When not out playing I currently spend far too much time lying under a laptop editing the future Donegal Guidebook. A couple of months ago I thought it was finished alas my knowledge of publishing matters was sadly lacking and as it turned out there was still much to do. Where Dave Flanagan and myself are at the moment is we have approx 2/3rds of the book complete. As it is a select guide and covering the entire county what crags and routes to include was always going to be tricky but that is done and what we are doing now is all the nitty gritty editing that I did not realise had to be done. :-( Below are a couple of screenshots of finished pages, Gola island and Muckross as random samples.

 Donegal Guidebook Screenshot: Gola

Donegal Guidebook Screenshot: Muckross

 One of the great ironies of writing a guidebook is that even before it is published new crags and new routes are being found and climbed, that there is simply not room to include in a select guide to the county. So in essence you spend an evening editing a crag and the next day you go out climb a new route thus making your previous nights editing out of date. :-) Below is a couple of shots of Beyond the Ends of the Earth Crag, the first being a new two star route climbed with a couple of America visitors to the county last week. I95 take the centre line up the highest part of the crag at about 30m long and graded Hard Severe.

 Donegal Rock Climbing

Donegal Rock Climbing

 Living in such a fickle climate so close to the Eastern Atlantic it is always a case of good prior planning as to where to play out on the almost endless vertical mediums found around Co Donegal. 

 Sunset at Muckross Head

Monday, 2 March 2015

Donegal Rock Climbing Guidebook 2015

update from 9th Feb 2015 Donegal Guidebook 2015

 And sho, following on from the above post and where we were at three weeks ago, there has been a change or three to the original cunning plan.

 The Donegal Rock Climbing Guidebook 2015 is now a 352 page select guide to the entire county and covers every uber classic route from Muckross Head to Malin Head. What has been done is to take the two volumes I edited over the winter and which weighed in at near 700 pages and dissect them into a single select guide. (for information on the two volumes see above link)
 This has been done and we are now at the getting my amateur Indesign bothering guide to a proper publisher for the transition to a book. Step forth Noble Brother Dave Flannagan and Three Rock Books, Dave is now on board for a wee bit (lot) of Indesign wisdom and has been signed by Mountaineering Ireland to get this guidebook to a printer friendly state. 
 This is a massive relief to my good self as I took the production of this project as far as I could and without the necessary further publishing skills I always knew a dead end was in sight.
 What Dave and myself are currently doing is sorting each chapter at a time. The routes, crags and content is all ready decided with the guide now having 5 distinct chapters (from South to North) and each chapter split into localised areas. This is off course, the fine tuning stage and it is this attention to detail that makes or breaks a guidebook. Below are a couple of screen shots from the five chapters and gives an idea of where we are are at present. :-)

The five chapters are: 

South Donegal


South West




Cnoc na Affrain

Tory Island