I came back from Scotland on a high (if you’ll excuse the pun). I’d been caught out in what felt like blizzards to me, navigated through whiteouts, climbed up a myriad mixture of ice, snow, rock and most importantly, made it back to tell the tale unscathed. Of course the real world intervened and I had to sorta remember that I was in college to get my degree, not just fall in love with climbing (look out for this in future posts!).
The mighty Ailladie, it just gets higher and harder the further along you go! And more chance of getting soaked by some seaspray!
I was out active, hiking at weekends, running and at the climbing wall during the week, learning knots and downing shots. I felt class. So when I learned I’d the chance to go on a Learning to Lead climb course, I jumped at the chance. I’d been a few times with the lads to the Burren and learned a bit about it but this would be by a professional and he’d teach us best practice. Its a thing within the club I’ve noticed, in-house training is always cool but you can always lose a few things in the passing on of the knowledge even if 90% of the time its all good. By touching base with outdoor professionals to show you the ropes it keeps the club up to date and that knowledge gets passed around. Still I’ll not forget going out with Colm, Mitch, Darragh and Tony. Particularly Tony’s freakishly bomber gear that even he struggled to get out. Or giving myself a black eye when I yanked out a cam. Joy.
Getting a few handy pointers in gear placement.
So we spent a weekend there, the guides were leery enough of letting people lead (probably seeing the potential litigation) so it was mostly on rope systems and gear placement. Learned a lot but it was a bit of an information overload. And by a bit….I mean a lot. I was to find out why the next weekend doing my first leads (covered here). I already knew about nuts, hexes, cams e.t.c. but it was great fun setting up bomber gear placements or learning how to equalize anchors and rig up a top rope.
The above would be an example of an anchor system. I was taught to try and use karabiners before using snap-gates but most things will work in a pinch! Note how theres no slack, equally tensioned to prevent shock-loading if there’s a fall.
All of the above is necessary since in Ireland we do not bolt and the majority of climbing is traditional with placed protection, just like it is in Scotland, England and Wales. OLD SCHOOL!
After that it was a sweet semester. I was active and out every weekend I could manage. I was usually in the Burren rock climbing whenever I could. Generally Saturdays or heading off a Wednesday evening to get a route in before dark. Sunday I’d be hiking and I felt great, 18 and living life.
Early days, I cringe looking at this now. Still, we all start somewhere.
It also meant we’d be trying to do it where we managed it, including a half derelict castle down on the Shannon. That was fun since without the windows…you’d to crimp the whole way up. It was just top-roping but it was a great feeling to just stroll five minutes off campus and go climbing by the river with the sun shining through the trees. Certainly beat doing it indoors anyways.
Believe it or not, its harder than it looked. Norman fortifications were not designed with the climber in mind.
I still remember the names of the routes on Ailladie I’ve done (probably because the majority are too bloody hard for me!). Lisdoonfarout, Genesis, Amhrasach, Ground Control, Mad Mackerel, Go-Go, Bonnán Buí and Moonrill. HS mostly with a couple of VS’s. I’ve always been afraid to push the bar trad climbing, I guess I claim to be more of a mountaineer but its something about the pure vertical that just gets me. You’ll probably notice this trend as the thread goes on, it’ll probably get a post of its own, even if I’m not much for philosophical discourse. Crag climbing has never been a mad fancy of mine.
Top of Ground Control (VS 4c). Am I cool now?
Ailladie is in the Burren, its limestone with lots of crack climbing, cams are shite there.
The above is a diabolical statement. The Burren is a unique karst landscape in Ireland, UN protected and made primarily of limestone. Cromwell famously stated “not enough trees to hang a man, not enough water to drown him nor enough earth to bury him in”. Its like walking on the surface of the moon and is an ecologist’s delight. Since limestone is quite porous, its opened up many opportunities for climbers to enjoy. It’s also not too novice friendly as a lot of the routes are on the high end of the grade, sorta like Fair Head!
The place itself is a bit extreme with long routes the further you go along, some requiring you to abseil in. And there’s the mirror wall with up to E7/8 I believe. I wouldn’t know about that. I’ve gone to the bottom of some of these, just to gaze up in awe and wonder how they start it. Or get more than six feet off the ground. Whenever the winter storms are bad enough, they can smash boulders in along the cliffs and completely change the landscape. Jet is now no longer an E1 thanks to the placement of a large boulder covering the crux. Moonrill has lost a substantial flake which made for an interesting climb my last time on it!
At the foot of the Dancing Ledges. You can see how limestone pavement earns its name. And those boulders in the background? Brought in by the Atlantic. Yes, it is that strong.
Of course theres Ballyryan, a little crag above the road and further inland, Oughterard. These little crags have lots of HS/VS grades and I remember doing a lot of little leads up there for practice with gear. Being naturally skinny and around 5’10/11, I’ve a bit of a natural trend towards climbing (makes me feel shit-hot even when I’m not! :D). Or as my heavier friends say, “high speed, low drag”.
It was a good spring. I was failing college in a course I hated but I was living for my weekends and just getting out and away. In the long run, it was probably far better for me. Maturity wise I’d developed somewhat, though there was a long way to go (and still is!)
A good day’s work. You always find a trace of melancholy within as you leave when dusk comes. You’ve been privileged to visit but now its back to the wild.