First Leads on Rock. Dún Séanna/Dunshean Head.

So I felt this merited a little post of it’s own. I’ve been swapping in and out of these kinda writings where I focus either on a trip as a whole or those class days where a route or journey somewhere merit a post to themselves. Naturally having photos for these help as well!

The weekend I got my first leads done down in Kerry was probably one of the better ones in my life. Not because I was climbing, not because of the people who I was with (though it certainly helped!) but because of the way everything seemed to come together. You rarely get those perfect moments, but when you do, its an unforgettable feeling.

Seven of us all together crammed into two vehicles to head down there. I’d just done Learning to Lead and expressed interest in the club’s trip to the Alps. Since the organizer Gahan was quite committed to making it a great trip, he was kicking us into gear with training. Step one, get leading. So myself, Ross, Jen, Ais and Darragh went down to have him and Ois boot us up the rear.

I was a bit hungover on the drive down but was perked up by the time we made it to Tralee, its the closest town to where I’m from. We did a bit of a massive shop there, meatmeatmeat was the menu. Plus a few swiped shopping baskets from Tesco for a BBQ. Yes, I am a thief.

Now I knew the place was near Dingle but wasn’t expecting what we came to. It was Ireland in April. Yet it was above 20 degrees Celsius which for us pale-skinned Gaels is a temperature nearly as bad as a furnace. I’d brought suncream, amen, I’d be grateful of it later on!

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The author enjoying some rays. Kerry is heaven in the sun. Daywalkers can withstand up to 20minutes of weak sunlight.

Now Dingle (An Daingean) is in an area what we in Ireland call a Gaeltacht, where the Irish language takes precedence. Sadly these areas are confined to the western half of the Dingle Peninsula, parts of West Cork and Waterford, a village in Meath, Connemara, Belmullet and Ghaoth Dobhair in Donegal. We’re officially bilingual but the language has been in a steady decline since the 1800s, tír gan teanga, tír gan ainm.

 An Ghaeltacht however is a rural area and on the west coast, the regions are spectacular. I grew up just across the bay but even still, I was wowed. It helps that Ireland in the sun looks like something out of a fairy tale. 

Now to get to this crag, we’d to do a bit of a hike. No bother says you except for the fact you’re extremely laden down, crossing electric fences and barbed wire, all the while keeping a nervous eye out for a bull that is less than friendly towards outlanders.

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A 40m abseil to the foot of the Needle, a formidable sea stack.

We made it down there and set to work. Gahan wasn’t going to take us laying around enjoying the view, we went straight to work rigging up anchors to show him. I’ll admit, I was less than adequate and he was patient enough to show me again so my thick skull could absorb what I’d forgotten. Gahan being Gahan, he brought me and Darragh down to the foot of a 40m VS aptly named Giraffe. The routes are long. My main memory is of me getting wet feet as I belayed him, watching anxiously while the tide and waves did their best to swirl in around us. Myself and Darragh swaned up that climb with some traces of haste after that encouragement!

We rigged up an abseil to bring us to the foot of the climbs for ease of access. You then led up. If you weren’t able for it, there was a scramble up which was probably akin to the Climbers Descent in Ailladie for difficulty. We did a simulated lead where we were on a loose top-rope, Gahan’s main concern to have our gear placement checked. After that, we belted on.

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Myself and Darragh up from the scramble, flaking out the rope. The sun split the stones that day.

Since nerves were a bit high there was a natural tendency to want to go up something you knew. Unfortunately there was a queue for Nutella (HS 4C 20m) and when my turn came, I went on Panache (HS 4c 22m). I was nervous, very much so but Ois was belaying me and calmed me a good bit, I felt much better climbing with an experienced leader. The climb…I can’t really remember too much, beyond whooping with joy when I got to the top, having done my first lead. Other climbers from the Outdoor Education Centre in Kinsale grinned at the sight, probably remembering their own one. I was on such a high I made sure to go again. Nutella and Banana Split were crossed off the list.

Panache and Banana Split were the same, splitting only halfway up. Well protected and with lovely sandstone to grip on, it was a world away from the Burren. I was quite proud of my sling on one spike, that wasn’t going anywhere. All I can recall about Nutella is awkward, awkward toeholds. Or maybe my shoes were too small.

Hard work done, we left the crag at dusk to get some food in us. A BBQ made up with the shopping baskets, we went to it with a will. Gahan and Ois were like proud parents as they returned from Dingle with beer and we settled down to gossip over the day.

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The author chowing down on some meat. Burger and a beer, what more could you ask for?

We slept that night in the sand dunes, no tent or anything, just a sleeping bag. It was almost impossible to sleep. This far out from a town, there was no light pollution and we just stared in humble silence at all the stars and constellations visible. I knew the North Star and the Plough obviously but to be able to see Vega, Cassiopeia, Orion, all these names you read about but never see, it was amazing. I saw shooting stars for the first time that night, something you don’t forget.

We’d an unusual awakening. I was feeling groggy and rolling around in my sleeping bag. Yelping sounded and poor Ross was nearly steamrolled by a brace of over eager dogs with their owner out for an early morning walk. With most of us trampled by these cunning canines, the farmer seemed bemused to find us sleeping in the dunes while Ross went searching for his groundsheet. Gahan and Ois had already departed for the first climbs of the day, the sun meant we’d follow them soon.

Since we reluctantly had to face up to a commute back to Limerick, we only had a couple of hours left. I was aching and stiff all over but when Gahan offered a chance to climb the sea stack, I leaped at it.

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The author running over his life choices and wondering where it all went wrong.

We abseiled down some 40m+ to the base of the stack, you had to be careful near the end to avoid landing in the water. It meant for some tense swinging out onto the ledge to land there. Once I’d clipped off, the nerves kicked in. I’d just gotten off the rope and was standing on this bit of rock, water swirling around me and wondering what I was doing and how I was to get back up.

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The sea swell had kicked up quite a bit that day.

Myself, Ois, Ross and Gahan had elected to it with the latter leading. He did it in no time while we shivered in the shadow between the Needle and cliff. Sadly it means ditching a sling to have a proper anchor up there but how often do you climb a sea stack? The climb was short but strangely exposed. The rope drag and swing also meant you’d to be careful just a tad since it wasn’t your average climb! I remember placing my hand in some birdshit but I didn’t really care as I stood on the top. South and west the Atlantic stretched away, clear blue for miles. On my other sides were the sea cliffs looming over even the Needle while below me the sea spray was crashing high enough to splatter part of the route.

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Victory! You can see all the slings discarded by previous climbs. Why take a chance on corroded gear?

I was on a real high as we landed back down on the ledge. Now….how do we get out? Gahan again. Indestructible. Unstoppable. He led a 40m E1 out of it. It was a corner, perfect 90 degree angle with one long crack running the whole way up. Footholds….very very little! Age being before beauty, Ross let me go up first since my skinny frame meant I was already shivering, wet from the sea spray and being in the shadow not helping. Ois took the third option, absolutely knackered from climbing, he went from the ledge to the water to swim to the ledges 10m across. We could see him grinning and flashing the V-sign while we gritted our teeth.

It was a long climb. My shoes got wet traversing over to the wall so it was just handjam, look for footholds, handjam and so on. I remember being halfway up and being level with the ledge where Darragh had taken all the wonderful photographs from. My words were less than polite when I looked up and realized how far I’d yet to go.

Gahan was grinning his head off when he saw me clamber over, probably fit to drop. Being a sedate, genteel individual, I could just about smile in between pants for air. Screw it, I did it and had a great time. What a way to finish the weekend.

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Once more, with feeling. Dunshean Head 2010. A memory that won’t fade.

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About Ropaire

Dia daoibh agus fáilte go dtí mo bhlag! My name's Fearghal and you can find my musings and ramblings split over www.ropaire.wordpress.com and www.ceitherne.wordpress.com. I hope you enjoy it.
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