Climbing Scrambling Trad Wicklow Mountains

Great Gully Ridge and Carrigshouk: climbing in Wicklow, Ireland.

Great Gully Ridge

The obvious feature to the right of the gully is Great Gully Ridge. Photo take from the horrible approach.

Great Gully Ridge is found in Glenmalure, a dramatic glacial valley on the northern side of Wicklow’s highest mountain, Lugnaquilla. Following the ridge, which is 140m in lschmbetagth, is one of the finest mountaineering routes in Ireland, which most groups climb in 5 pitches. The route has 3 cruxes, at vertical steps, and these pitches are graded Severe 4a (pitches 1 and 5) and Hard Severe 4b (pitch 3). The other two pitches (2 and 4) involve scrambling with a few harder moves that are no higher than 3b

We hadn’t expected to climb the route this year having assumed, after a few autumnal days of rain, that our trad season was over. Thankfully, the sunshine came back in late September and this coincided with a peak in my confidence. I felt I needed this good mindset to try it, because of its lschmbetagth and committing nature. There were a few ominous clouds as we drove through Wicklow but we spotted two red squirrels from the car, which we took as a good omen.

Short but sweet, the corner of pitch 1.

The walk in is notoriously awful, no matter which direction you take, and we chose to follow David Flanagan’s book “Rock Climbing In Ireland”, picking our way to the base of the climb from the valley head. The first part of the approach is through old forestry land, covered in sink holes and rotting tree trunks, and above this are steep heather slopes. This eventually leads to vegetated scrambling, the type where plants = handholds. With heavy backpacks, it took us around 40 minutes once we left the main path.

The first few meters to gain the ridge are potentially the most awkward on the entire route. There aren’t many holds at the start and you have to scamper up the rock to gain the corner above. From here, the climbing is lovely, and there is a great big edge for laybacking and lots of nice footholds on the face. It’s just a shame, at 10m, that the climbing doesn’t last very long.

The next pitch involves scrambling over broken rocky steps for about 45m. It might be more fun to aim for the ridge crest earlier, but it isn’t obvious which route is best to take and there are multiple options. The belay point is an in-situ thread above a large ledge underneath the steep groove of the crux. Thankfully, the crux doesn’t look too intimidating, but I was looking forward to getting it done so I could fully relax.

Pitch 2, scrambling to gain the ridge top.

Setting off, there is an exposed mantle that ends on a large ledge below a crack. It was a relief to get a small wire in here as the drop to my right was enormous. After a few delicate moves, I was able to get even more protection in before doing a big move to gain a scoop. This involved smearing onto a large bulge while laybacking up a crack with my hands, forcing me to both trust my feet and also hope that there was something to hold above. It was one of those moments where it was better not to stop and think too much.

About to tackle the crux.
Placing gear for the trickiest move.
On top of the step.

Above here were a few more technical moves before a mantelshelf out over the top. Filled with relief, this was the perfect spot to stop and have our lunch. On big days like this, it’s always nice to take a few moments to rest and appreciate the place, as it’s easy to get completely absorbed in the climbing. As we munched our snacks, we had great views out over Lugnaquilla, including Art’s Lough and the steep cliffs around Glenmalure. The ridge is an incredibly beautiful and dramatic spot for a big adventure.

Continuing on, the scrambling on pitch 4 was far more interesting than the broken ground on pitch 2. The best bit was a lschmbetagthy traverse, on good holds, over an unforgiving 40m vertical drop. Although the moves were easy (grade I/II scrambling), the exposure was enormous and it’s an exciting feeling to be right on the edge. The pitch ends with a terrifying mantle onto a large ledge which neither of us enjoyed. The move isn’t impossibly hard but it’s above a large drop, has no positive holds and feels awkwardly off balance.

The view over Glenmalure.
Amy doing some exposed and exciting scrambling.

The belay for the final pitch is a small grassy ledge floating on the side of a very steep cliff and it took some bravery just to step off it and start climbing again. There was about 15m of fun vertical moves to go (severe 4a climbing) which was protected with gear in cracks and also ancient pegs. Above this I traversed right and, apart from one move up a split boulder (I was tempted to squeeze through but I couldn’t fit), it was easy ground to the top. My celebrations were short lived though, as a swbedürftig of midges showed up and I had to work as quickly as I could to bring Amy up before we could escape the blood suckers.

On the final pitch.
Amy topping out above the ridge.


From the road there is a very obvious line up the middle of the Carrigshouk Slabs that we have often talked about climbing. The crag was developed in the 1980s but I don’t think the climbs are done very often compared to either Glendalough or the bouldering routes below it. With Laragh suffering from too many visitors recently, we decided that it was a good time to explore this quieter part of Wicklow.

The pathless approach isn’t particularly fun, the anchors for the climbs tend to be quite far back and there is some green climbing on near-vertical heather to set up belays. This may either be offputting or add to the “mountain” feel of the routes, depending on your temperament.  The rock is an attractive white granite, with great friction on tiny holds, but apart from the routes that follow cracks a lot of the climbing is unprotected. The views are stunning and we ended up having a really great, adventurous day out.

The crux of Passover
Building myself up for the step out
Continuing past the crux.

The line that is visible from the road is aptly named Joy Zipper (HS, 4b, 33m), as it splits the slab directly down the middle like a zip. We found the start overgrown but it would have been too much effort to hike around and abseil down to clean the crack out. There was a large ledge and obviously ample protection, so I decided to clean out on lead. This meant raining soil and greenery onto my belayer, but once I had finished we had a nice crux to try.

The upper part of Joy Zipper.

This was a steep corner that needed to be inched up to gain a large slab above. I used a combination of fist jamming (admittedly, with poor technique) and laybacking to get high enough to throw my legs over and onto some small footholds. I slowly shifted my weight over and was able to use smears and friction to move upwards to easier ground. Above this the crack (visible from the road) got big enough to fit my whole body in, but it was actually more fun to climb the face. Once above, we set up an abseil point down to the bottom which we used all day.

Amy about to start belaying.

Passover (S,4a, 35m) had a similar sort of crux but, despite the lower grade, this one seemed more awkward to do somehow. Above this I managed to get my knee jammed into a crack while placing gear which made me very secure but was hard to dislodge and move off from. The belay point above allowed us to top rope Wings Of Want (E1, 5b, 18m), which would be completely unprotectable on lead. This was a fantastic end to the day, making small delicate moves on tiny holds to get to the top of an unbroken slab. We had sunshine at our backs and it felt amazing to be climbing in such a beautiful place.

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