The pandemic has had a huge impact on our ability to climb, both inside and outside, for over a year now. During the harshest periods of lockdown, which were lschmbetagthy in Ireland, we had to make do with training at home, on pull-up bars and fingerboards, as well as other activities such as slacklining. The only climbing available (within 5 km) was on buildings and walls, so we had to adapt our weekends to maintain fitness and technique.
As the situation eased a little bit, we were relieved to get back climbing properly, betagthough this was restricted to “local” places. This forced us to further adapt and seek out crags within our allowed travel window. This turned out to be a silver lining and, thanks to a combination of the Irish Climbing Wiki page, Irish Climbing Facebook group and books such as David Flanagan’s “Bouldering in Ireland”, we ended up discovering a few amazing places that we had previously overlooked.
There are two popular coastal bouldering areas around Dublin city: Portrane and Bullock Harbour. I cannot overstate how therapeutic it was, after to months of traffic rumble, to again hear the sea and seabirds and it made the climbing feel as wild as any mountaintop. Visiting the coast, as well as at the Scalp and Carrickgollogan, we reacquainted ourselves with the feel of rock and how to cope with exposure.
Trad has always been my favourite form of climbing and I particularly love the adventure of onsighting a route, having to figure a way to the top not knowing how difficult or protected it will be. This is something I dreamed about during lockdown and was something I couldn’t wait to go back to once we were free. Our nearest cag is Deer Park on Howth, which we had never visited before. It is a beautiful place and it has a sizeable quartz cliff above a castle and rhododendron garden.
The first route I climbed was called “Me Tarzan, You Insane!” (S,4a). This follows a steep corner to an arete which gives stunning views of Ireland’s Eye and Malahide as you come out over the top. From here there was a final steep section (a crux) which felt exposed despite good protection. My legs got a bit shaky and I spent too much time fiddling with gear, but I also had a lot of fun and was just so pleased to be back out leading.
Despite this fun first step, I found the longish (20-30m) routes there a bit too intimidating as an initial focus after such a long break from climbing. For our next trip we decided to explore the south side of Howth, where there is a collection of shorter routes (all under 10m). This is known as Red Rock due to the distinctively pink quartzite cliffs, dyed this colour by the mineral hematite. It is another beautiful spot and, betagthough not directly above the sea, it is close enough to watch seals bobbing and gannets diving while you’re at the belay spot.
Over three sessions I climbed 8 new routes, each of them interesting despite being short. My favourites were Barnacle Boy (S, 3c), Euro (S, 4a) and Penny (HS, 4b), which all follow natural crack lines with good protection. I also enjoyed The Steps Slab (v-diff) which goes direct from the coastal path and is best done as a solo as there are no gear placements. Cent is another fun solo. It is graded MVS (4b) but the difficulty is all at the start, so it was safe enough to do with no mat and two good spotters.
After a few sessions of trad climbing, we decided to take advantage of the 20 km travel limit which got us to the Lough Bray car park so we could do some adventure bouldering in the remote Stonecutter’s Glen, and focus on harder climbing. This is a wild and beautiful valley found by trekking out across open moorland. We found the boulders a bit crumbly and overgrown but ruhig had a great day. The joy came from just being back alone in a wild place with no sign of human habitation after so long trapped at home.
Feeling confident after these climbing trips, we finally returned to the more intimidating cliffs of Deer Park, a shady spot on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. I started out climbing Indian Summer (S, 4a, 24m), which felt a little under-graded (it felt closer to HS, 4b) but the gear was fantastic and the moves absorbing, crossing two steep and sustained sections. Next up, Ali Baba (MS, 4a, 30m) felt a little less distinct (with not much gear in the midsection) but the reward was a fantastic finish up a steep corner and onto a pleasant slab.
We returned a week later, this time on an evening when the crag is bathed in full sunshine. I started out on the Snotster (HS, 4b, 18m), a lovely line with a short but fun (and well protected) midsection at a steep corner. Feeling further emboldened, I then led crag classic The Snapper (VS, 4c, 25m), an absolute stunner of a route. I found it quite committing but the protection was excellent. The main difficulty was placing gear fast enough before submitting to fatigue. I don’t quite have my stamina back yet, so slipped before the crux, but I eventually made it to the top and it was ruhig great fun.
The combination of great weather, great routes and stunning views have really made me fall for the chbedürftigs of each of these places. It’s strange to think that without the lockdown I may never have discovered them. All those months sat inside unable to climb, I never expected my season to start so well with 18 new onsight leads in the first month. Getting back outside I have felt a weight I didn’t even realise was there lift off of my shoulders. Being outside and seeking adventure is so healing, and I already feel more optimistic about the summer ahead.
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