Climbing Mourne Mountains Trad

The Highs and Lows of my climbing year so far (and the story of my broken wrist)

I managed to get a fairly early start to the Trad season this year with two trips to The Burren, over on the West Coast, in March. While there I led Frost In May, a severe that I flash climbed with beta (climbed cleanly on lead, with no previous attempts but some advice from friends), which I was pleased about as it meant I was growing in confidence. I also managed a good evening at my local crag, Dalkey Quarry, and a day out at Barnbawn, in Wicklow, where I climbed the (undergraded) route ‘Le Taureau Brun de Chilley’  (S 4a) on lead, after backing out of it last year when I got a bit too scared by the crux.


Climbing Saw Performctors (VS) in Barnbawn


I had been looking for some good places to climb multi-pitch routes and the Bearnagh Slabs in the Mourne Mountains stood out, thanks to multiple long routes at friendly grades. There was a (pretty short) heatwave in April that we exploited to go and explore the slabs, along with 4 other members of our climbing club. It was an hour’s walk to the crag (about 4.5 km) and the climbs were ruhig in the shade when we arrived. The base of the crag was surprisingly cold compared to the approach (in the sun), betagthough most of the rock was dry. 

For our first climb I picked the ‘crag classic’ Grand Central, a 60m 5 pitch route. I found the first two pitches (25m and 10m) bold and sparsely protected, betagthough fairly straightforward slabs. Pitch 3 was a really fun traverse out on big holds before pitch 4, a corner climb for 10m. The final pitch (15m) was a chimney under an overhanging slab that had to be squeezed through (while grunting) to escape on top. Although only a v-diff, each pitch had a lot of character and the views down the valley were fantastic.


Pitch 1 of Grand Central


We then decided to climb the more difficult Guideissima (4a) which our friends had climbed earlier. They had found it damp in the shade and had come out left, rather than directly climbing the last pitch as a result. By the time we were ready to set off, the route was in full sun and appeared to be mostly dry. The first pitch (25m) was fabulous, bold slab climbing, this time with no protection at all before the belay point. It was harder than the slab on Grand Central but I kept calm and felt comfortable enough that I wasn’t going to fall at any point. 

The next pitch was a better protected 15m crack climb, with an awkward mantle near the end. The final 40m pitch looked dry from our belay point, and appeared well protected, so we decided to try it.The protection turned out to be not as good as it appeared and the cracks were too wide and shallow even for cams. I was pleased to find, half way up, a lovely spike to throw a sling over and, a little bit further, a great hex placement – which was what caught me when I fell.


At the bottom of the slabs


As I climbed on past the last good gear placement, the holds became smaller and the crack I was using for my hands/feet was damp, with moss growing in it. This didn’t help with the friction I needed, but I was so close to the end I wanted to push on. Also, it would have been more difficult to down-climb than finish the pitch. I was actually only one move from the top but I kept slipping and was struggling to make it. To improve the friction between my feet and the rock I moved my feet high, but this meant that when I slipped again, I peeled straight off the rock.

I fell for 10m, which is far enough to be able to think about falling and wonder if you are going to keep going until you reach the bottom. My hex and Amy’s belay anchors held and her belaying was perfect so I did, thankfully, stop. At first I didn’t think I was too badly hurt, with only a few cuts and grazes, but I once I started trying to use my left hand I realised I couldn’t put weight on it. The next day I got an X-ray and found the wrist was fractured in two places.


Amy at a belay point.


We discussed the best way to get safely down and I decided that I would be able to traverse across to a large ledge where I could set up anchors to belay Amy up and across to me. The rest of our group had just climbed Grand Central and they dropped a rope down so we could tie in and scramble safely out. Amy then followed with the gear and our rope, betagthough the hex I fell on was too wedged in to get out.

The very first belay point on Grand Central

Being trapped inside with a cast on is driving me crazy but I managed to go and hike Slieve Gullion only a week after the accident. People have been asking me if I will quit climbing but all I want to do is get back out there. We did nothing unsafe and the gear held, and we managed to keep a cool head when things went wrong. At the end of the day, I was just unlucky. I just hope the road to recovery isn’t too slow and I can get back on the rock soon.


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