Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review of Fairhead Bouldering Guide

Husband and wife team, Rob and Veronica Hunter, have gone and done what most climbers only day dream about. In August they quit their jobs, spending the last four months, climbing by day and writing and researching a bouldering guide in the evenings. Living the dream you might say.

The fruit of their labours has just emerged blinking into the daylight, a beautiful and very elegant Fair Head bouldering guidebook. For those who don't know, Fair Head is on the North East tip of the island of Ireland, in County Antrim not far from the Giant's Causeway, a short journey across the Irish Sea from Scotland.

Fair Head consist of over three miles of predominantly north facing dolerite cliffs up to 100m tall. For decades Irish climbers have been climbing trad routes up the corners and cracks of this massive crag, and word is slowly spreading, with some going so far as to call it the best crag in Britain and Ireland. Over 350 routes have been climbed on the cliff but between the foot of the crag and the water's edge lies a carpet of massive boulders stretching from one end of the crag to the other.

It's this expanse of grey dolerite boulders that captivated Rob and Veronica. Rob has been bouldering in Fair Head for over 15 years and knows the boulders better than anyone. When I was researching my Irish bouldering guidebook it was Rob who guided me through the boulders, pointing out problems, giving names and grades. Veronica is a more recent convert but no less devout.

I never thought that any bouldering area in Ireland could merit its own guidebook but Rob and Veronica have set me straight and done a great job.

As with any book, the first thing to strike you is the cover. In this case rather than a pseudo landscape shot or hardcore action photo it's a macro study of a piece of beautifully lichened dolerite. Some cover shots are designed to encourage the casual browser to buy, but that's the beauty of self publishing in such a specialist field. If someone wants the guide, they want the guide, and this gives great freedom to the guidebook writer.

The guide contains details of over 440 problems. To put this in context, the Peak District Bouldering guidebook describes 370 problems in Burbage Valley. Even after the last few months of gap filling by the authors there are still 80 unclimbed problems in the guide (these are included in the total problem count). There are, however, whole areas also awaiting development, all you need to do is put in the effort probing deeper in the scree.

The boulders in Fair Head were all, at one point, part of the cliffs above. As such they lie in a massive jumble giving problems of all angles. The rock is rough but not abrasive and problems tend to be mostly on edges with a lot of slopers as well. It's hard to generalise the climbing style but the typical problem at the Head is steep, crimpy and powerful. This is probably more a function of the preferences of the first ascentist than the rock itself. I think it's only right to note that some of the landings at the Head can be bad, most problems require a minimum of two pads and some a whole lot more.

Even thought there is a photo topo for every problem the content still has plenty of space to breath among the 206 pages. The scree in a three dimensional maze with few landmarks and walking (scrambling really) through it, especially when carrying a pad, is hard work and it's inevitable that there will be some wandering around, feeling lost. The proliferation of photos will help visitors orientate themselves, but the reality is that it takes a few visits before you moving directly and confidently from problem to problem.

The book's design is modern and unobtrusive. I can't help but notice some parallels in style between this guide and my book but this is inevitable considering the authors and I shared a muse in the form of the clean, crisp minimalism of the 7+8s Font guide.

There are a huge number of photos, action and landscape, giving the book a relaxed coffee table feel. Undoubtedly the page count could have been reduced if some of the photos were omitted, I counted over thirty double page spreads, but the book is still a reasonable size and I think the photos add value.

As well as covering the main areas at Murlough Bay and The Ballycastle end, the guide includes details of two smaller areas, The Miner's House and Promontory, both of which have better landings and lower grades than the main areas so they are ideal for climbers still getting to grips with bouldering.

There are probably two groups of visitors who will be interested in this guides. Climbers who come to the Head to climb routes but come up against some changeable weather or just fancy a bit of bouldering and visiting wads who want to check out a new area with hard, modern style problems and potential for first ascents.

For the last decade or so the popularity of bouldering at Fair Head was limited by the lack of information. This guide should both inspire and inform, opening Fair Head bouldering to a much to a wider audience.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bangor Trail article

I wrote an article about the Bangor Trail which was in the Sunday Times yesterday.

Unfortunantly an error was introduced in the sub-editing process which changed 16,000 hectares to 40 acres.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


 Got a tip off at the weekend about some boulders in the forest near the crag of Barnbawn near Glenealy, Wicklow. So went along today more in hope than expectation. There were some boulders near the crag but no bouldering. The rock is very similar to the Scalp, more like quartzite than granite. The forest is a really nice spot and the crag is ok, bit short and scrappy, probably wouldn't go back. Did a few solos since I was there.

Spotted this on the walk out. About 10 foot high steep but pretty much choss shite. You would have to be desperate.

There are other crags and outcrops around this area but I don't think they will be worthwhile. The rock isn't suited to bouldering. Did see one small - 8foot - proper mountain granite erratic so there may well be more but life is too short. There are many more likely spots out there.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mall Hill

 Cold, sunny day = Mall hill. I have had my eye on the big slab on the Paris Beavais boulder so I brough a rope to give it a clean. In my minds eye it's the irish version of the Angel's Share. Which might be overstating it a little. The sun was just leaving it as I arrive via a horrific bushwack. The trees have grown so much since we first came their in 2003. The left hand crag is almost compeletly eneveloped in 12foot trees.

A good clean and it was ready to try on the rope. It came together pretty easily, probably about 5+ but highly tenious. Smearing and palming. Including my favourite move which is a double palm where you start gastoning and then swap to normal - hard to describe.

I hadn't tried the start for ages and it took a while to figure it out. The guide saids 6b+ but it's more like 5+/6a if you come at it from the right.

Will have to go back with a spotter to do it. It will be scary it's very smeary and 20foot high. Similar in style to Every given Sunday in The Scalp.

Met fellow blogger, Diamian, at the Living the Dream boulder, to my surprise. Tried the problem to the left, which I found desperate. He was getting very close, just need to get the topout sorted.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lough Dan

Got out to Lough Dan today, I was keen to comb through the boulder on the right hand side of the crag. Walked in on frozen ground, hopped across the river and had a good search through the scree. Didn't find anything very interesting. It's one of those places that looks like it should offer quite a lot but doesn't. I may have missed some stuff but I don't think there is a dozen three star lines lurking.

Line goes up the right side
Nice crimp just below the top

Found one nice looking hard project. Steep, about 35 degrees, landing isn't great but would be easily sorted. Maybe 3 very crimpy moves.

The big roof
 There is a big jutting roof that is very visible on the skyline when you are on the boulder left of the crag. It's probably more a route with a very sloping landing than a boulder but there seems to be a few holds on it.

Downhill side
Found one other boulder with two hard potential lines. Nothing special, just above the last big boulders on the right hands side.

Lake side

Beef to the Heel
Had a few goes on the lowball traverse Beef to the Heel, it's quite good and very beefy.

Last time I was in LD on the Sunday of the bouldering meet I found Shadow quite easy, this time I had to really fight to get up it. A great problem, best in Lough Dan and a total classic, worth the visit.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Awesome Walls Dublin open tomorrow

Had a sneak preview of Awesome Walls in Finglas today. It was a hive of activity as they had only 24 hours to go to their opening. The wall is massive another level compared to any other wall in this country. The bouldering is on two levels and looks great, I'm itching to get stuck in. The very steep prow lead wall looks great and I will definitely be bringing my harness next time. There is tonnes of space there will be a shop a cafe, a kids room/yoga studio and a board room. Check it out.

Upper Mezz

The LHS of the top rope walls

The lead wall
The Arch


Ricky Warming up

Michael and Ricky

Michael loves having his photo taken

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wicklow Gap

Warm up boulder
Went up to Wicklow Gap yesterday with Simon. The plan was originally was walk into Glanekeera but there was a very cold wind and the rain threatened so we decided to keep close to the road. Check out a boulder Seamus had mentioned near his boulder just west of the Gap, nice little warm up arete and another fingery little move.

Went on down to Seamy's boulder and did the right arete which felt a lot harder than last time, felt like I was missing something. Technique or strength maybe?

Right artete.
 Did the middle line quite quickly, I had a real fight on it last time but I knew the sequence and the top was dry this time. Did it two way from the left stepping in and from the right - the proper start - starting from the sidepulls. Very nice problem, plenty of thumbdercutting.

RHS of Left arete.

Tried both side of the left arete. RHS very technical bardoor and the right is more thuggy using the good incut flake/crack with a blank topout. Just right again is a nice wide layback crack. It's a great little boulder and well worth a visit. Will do a little topo soon.

Simon on the top slab.

Then we made our way up the hill to check out some slabs that I had terraced a while back. Tried two of the three. Did the top one, very nice incut little crimps. The bottom one will go but didn't. And the middle one looks quite hard, but good.

We headed to St Kevin's crack but just as we got there it rained and then stopped once we got to the car but that was that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Scalp

Crux move on Gully's problem.

Have been to The Scalp the last two days, I'm trying to get some bouldering under my belt in preparation for the winter. The Scalp is ideal as its a short drive, zero walk in and there is loads of stuff at or just above my current level. My ultimate goal is to do all the 6b/6c in a day but first I have to do them at all. It really is a pleasant spot and the problems are quite unique both powerful and subtle. I might make a video once I have got them all wired, I have a suspicion that everyone uses different beta on most problems.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Glendo - real climbing

Anyone know what route this is? Fanfare maybe.

Climbed on the main crag in Glendo for the first time on Saturday. I had only done a few single pitches on Acorn Buttress prior. Lovely breezy day, warm even in our shirt sleeves. Clancy and I did three routes, all multi starred classics.

Quartz Gully HS
Cracks on the Garden of Eden VS
Deirdre VS

We started QG a little low and I led the first two pitches, Clancy took the last. Crux is cool, lovely exposure, easy for 4b I feel. Plenty of stuck gear as well, like a sport route.

Someone had done a dump below the start of Cracks, Clancy got the first pitch and laybacked up the corner. I used holds on the right which felt a lot easier. I didn't bother going left to the hand crack at the start of p2 went straight up past the loose flake. Top section is brilliant steep, good handholds all the way but lacking feet in places, I got pumped and had to move out left for a shakeout which was weak, should of just pushed on but I don't see why I would have any stamina.

Clancy led the hard pitch of Deirdre, I was still pumped and found it tricky seconding. I led the top pitch, very easy, didn't place any gear due to lack to massive cams.

I'm not sure why a lot of the routes are divided into so many pitches, I understand why this was done back in the day but it doesn't make any sense to describe them thus now. All three routes we did could of been done in a single pitch with a 60m rope if one was very careful about extending runners.

There was loads of people out bouldering and it was funny to walk down from the crag and slag them. I've been on the receiving end many a time. It was great to climb on the crag, the rock is incredible and it's such a great setting.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cnoc Na Mara


A fortnight ago Ped and I went up to Donegal hoping to climb the famous sea stack Cnoc Na Mara. I have followed Iain Miller sea stack exploits with great interest for years but it's was only recently when I started doing some trad that it become a possibility for me to have a go.

The Sunday Times were interested in an article about it so that sealed the deal and we set a date. I did as much research in advance studying photos and video and asking Iain plenty of questions partly because that's the way I roll and partly because I was daunted by the scale of the undertaking.

I didn't get as much trad climbing done as I would of liked this summer so I didn't exactly feel like an old hand but I assumed that even though the route got VS that the climbing itself would be at the lower end of the scale with the grade reflecting the overall effort of getting to the top.

For those who don't know much about Cnoc Na Mara it's pretty remote. A long drive down tiny roads leads to An Port from their its a 30 minute walk to the top of the descent gully which doesn't take too long to get to the bottom of (going up is a different story), then its a ab down to the beach, inflate your vessel and a short paddle leads to the base of the stack. From there it's 4 pitches to the top.

The forecast was bad for the first day so we booked into the rather rustic Dooey Hostel in Glencolmcille. It was quiet so we asked for and got the group house to ourselves, it basically a kip but for €15 a head a night it's good value.

So day 1 we walked in the pissing rain to check out the stack. It looked cool.

Day 2 the weather was pretty day sunny but with the odd shower. On the walk in you get a good view of the landward ridge of Cnoc, one section in particular looked very steep but we assumed it wasn't that bad once you got there. We got down to the beach after some minor difficulty finding the abseil pegs. The grass gully is really steep, a few degrees steeper and it wouldn't be possible to descend without a rope. I choose to slide down on my arse to save my legs, Ped kept his dignity and walked down.

Just as we where inflating the boat it started to piss so that was that. With the rock soaking we went for a quick paddle just to get a feel for it then tied the boat up and left. Iain uses a two person inflatable dingy but we brought my inflatable canoe which while a lot more robust and sea worthy weights a ton.

Day 3 started off rainy and we thought the jig was up. At this stage we where pretty sick of the will we won't we situation but it cleared up and we set off. I was nervous about the whole thing. Not in a bad way just aware that there was a lot of variables.

It turned out to be a glorious day and we got back to the boat and get everything ready to launch. We had a decent rack and double ropes in two drybags. The sea seemed pretty calm but there was still a 2m swell and landing on the stack was a bit tricky but I don't think we made a good fist of it. The sun was roasting and the sea felt warm so we weren't bothered that we got wet to the waist. We tied the boat up and I set off up the first pitch.

First pitch
The rock in the first few meters is beautiful but it goes downhill very quickly. I made my way up pretty easy ground with very little gear passing sea birds and lots of vegetation. The rock was very very loose. I think I was slightly off route and ended up on top of the ridge away from the first belay but the rope drag was too bad so I just took a firm stance and brought Ped up, shouting down "no falls". A quick traverse led to the rope sling that is the proper first belay. Ped wasn't leading so we swapped ends at each belay which was a small faff.

Second pitch was just a scramble along the ridge which I followed to where it got steep. There was a steep wall a ledge led left around the corner. I brought Ped up. The belay was pretty good, 3 decent nuts in pretty solid feeling rock but it's hard to trust. The ledge has big blocks on it and overhung the south face. I really felt that the whole thing could collapse at any moment. I crawled along the ledge and after one tentative go got around the corner. Only now could I see ahead and it looked hard, nearly vertical on small holds for around 10m to where the arete went horizontal again, I was standing at the foot of the steep section we had seen in profile. I pretty instantly knew I wasn't going up there. I placed a shitty nut but if I fell it was going to be on the belay, the rock didn't look that bad but I couldn't trust it. I went back had a rest and then went back out it didn't feel any better so I went back to the ledge and told Ped I was done. He went around for a look and wasn't impressed either.

It was an easy decision to retreat, I wasn't torn. It was too much for me. I was disappointed and I knew that I would question the decision in the future. We sat on the ledge and enjoyed the views for a while, it's really is a spectacular spot.

Getting back down was fine but there is plenty for potential for hassle. Our ropes pulled fine as much by luck as design and we didn't kick any loose blocks on each other. I was expecting to shit it on the ab but it was grand maybe I just glad to be going home.

Launching the boat was tricky I ended up just jumping in. And the slog up the slope was savage, really gruelling. I hadn't eaten enough all day and was starting to feel it. Ped very kindly gave me some of his water. Once at the top of the gully we strolled back to the car, pretty fucked tired. We got back at 7, it would of been dark at 9 so we would of ended up walking out in the dark if we had gone on. (We started lateish, maybe 11).

We meet Iain at the carpark and his commiserated with us and was very gracious.

Yesterday I was looking for photos on the web and stumbled across one of Iain's that he shot looking down the third pitch and I realised that the rope ran up the ledges to the right of the arete rather than going around the corner like we attempted. I emailed Iain and sure enough we should of kept to the stepped ledge system to the right of the arete for another while before traversing around onto the south face. So we were off route.
Updated topo

On the descent I had looked up and noticed the ledge system and thought that it looked easy but I didn't think much of it at the time. I guess I had my blinkers on as I made a beeline for the ridge and the least I should of done was consider my options before retreating but I suppose I wasn't thinking very straight. In my defence the route description is pretty vague " Pitch 2, 22m. Scramble up the slab to the base of the huge knife edge arete. Pitch 3, 35m. Climb the arete to a peg and block belay on the ledge at it's top."

Either way it was a great adventure but I would really would of liked to get to the top. Knowing now that the correct route mightn't be as bad I think I would like to go back.

There are a few more photos on flickr.

EDIT download Iain Miller's excellent sea stack guide from

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Can across this on Alex Honnold facebook page. Good to see one of the worlds best climbers get told he is doing it all wrong by some total punt. Steer clear of Alex's page unless you want to see some of the saddest examples of lame hero worship. My favourite "You would be a really cool friend to have Alex! .

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Real climbing?

It's all quiet on the bouldering front so you will forgive me if I digress from the usual subject matter of this blog. I haven't bouldered for a few months now but I have been doing some trad climbing in the Quarry. The last few weeks I have been getting out a few evenings a week in an effort to steel myself for a trip to Donegal.

I started climbing in the Quarry and through my college years climbed there quite a lot. After that I got into bouldering and while I went back the odd time I haven't done much there for almost ten years. I always knew I would get back into trad, as a boulderer it's one of those things real climbers ask you regularly. Though I don't think I will forsake bouldering, I have too much I want to do and once the weather gets colder that's where the focus will be.

But right now I find trad fascinating. My goal has been to get solid rather than pick off a few harder soft touches. It would be pretty easy for even a mediocer boulderer like myself to go to the Quarry and do an E1 or two and then get their arse kicked an certain VS. So my goal is to be solid on HVS, any one, any time, without fuss.

So I have started slow, doing lots of S and HS and now I'm starting to venture onto some of the VS. And they are hard. Not hard moves but hard work. The trick I find is that it's easy just to pull through thinking it's only VS and that's why seconding can be hard as the route may be VS 4b but if you don't take the time to figure out the easiest sequence you might be doing 5a movs.

Did Helios recently which was great but a battle, an internal one, I don't think I do much shaking or shouting but I felt tested. Wouldn't of been so bad if I had a tricam for the borehold where I found myself thinking that I really didn't want to fall.

It seems to me trad is all about suppressing the fight or flight instinct and staying calm in the face of exposure or a tenious position or tiredness.

Going to stick with the VS for another few weeks and then seek out some of the easier HVSs. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Went to Glendo today with a list of shots to get for the book. It was sunny and there was a good breeze, I'd say the conditions would of been pretty good in the shade but I was in the sun taking photos. I downloaded some extra firmware for the camera called Magic Lantern that does lots of weird and wonderful things but most importantly for me it has an intervalometer and I can trigger shots by clapping which is pretty cool makes life a lot easier. The ground was pretty damp and there were lots of little streams crossing the path on the walk in. The river has also got pretty close to Big Jim could be a deep water solo soon. The recent rain has washed away all the chalk which was nice made the place feel nice and fresh. There is an impressive bare patch of earth below Smear Test. I bought some new tshirts just for the occasion and none of them were brown, green or grey. Makes all the difference.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Story of Two Worlds

「The Story of Two Worlds low start V16」 from project_daihold on Vimeo.

The whole internet is raving about this video and with good reason. Some serious heel and toe hooking going on here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Glanekeera video

The new problem. Haven't come up with a name yet.

Glanekeera part 4

Got back to Glanekeera today. The ground was pretty dry got away with the runners. Climbed the arete on the first boulder as you walk in. Bit vegatated by nice.

As I walked to the Tyre boulder it started to spit but it held off for the rest of the day. Had about 15 million goes of the slab, couldn't get the first move. Probably wasn't a great day for smearing anyway. Must get back to this when it's a little colder. Really want to do it.

Then strolled down to the vertical wall I has spied when here with Michael. Amazing line of undercuts/sidepulls on a vertical wall. Gave it a quick brush and got it a few tentative tries. Brilliant problem. Midge came out otherwise I would of given it a proper clean as it's a classic. Nice heather top out as well. I took a video of it.

This is a very beautiful but sadly impossible slab. About 16 feet high with not a hold. On the right is a discontinous crack but it ends about 5 feet from the top. May go though.

 Nice boulder with an excellent SS on the LHS that I will go back for.

Loads of rock. This valley has large potential. There are a huge number of low route/highball outcrops. The rock is nice but needs a bit of a clean.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Times article about Carrot Ridge

I wrote a piece about Carrot Ridge for the Sunday Times.

Friday, May 25, 2012

3rock evening

Trish and I headed up Three Rock last night. Left the car after seven and got back just before the gate was due to close at ten. It's was Trish's first time so we started at the furthest boulder and she dispatched everything with ease. Even the hard mantle that probably isn't that hard. Especially now that a girl has done it. I felt like a bit of show pony, I have been bouldering up on Three Rock for a long time and while the flesh is weak the mind is strong and I have a lot of muscle memory. Brendan and James arrived just as I was demoing the dyno. Managed not to get it for the camera though.

Headed over to the second rock and went to work on the middle line. Great problem I haven't done it for ages and it felt pretty ok so I must be doing something right. It's pretty tricky, the secret being this funny pinch using the side of your thumb. After a few burns on the traverse we went to work on the great unclimbed line, to the right of the steep face is a short vertical wall. We all has a few goes but without progress.

I took some shots but my companions were dressed entirely in garnite-hued clothing (though someone forgot their undercrackers) so it was virtually pointless. Just like bouldering.