Climbing Mourne Mountains Trad

Summer climbing trips to the Mourne Mountains

It was after getting fried by the sun on a multipitch in Glendalough that I decided, during the summer heatwave, to only climb in the morning and evening. It therefore made sense to drive up after work to the Mournes, climb, bivvy and then climb again the next day. This also added a bit of extra adventure to our standard climbing trip

Thankfully, after 45 minutes of hiking in, the climbs were in the shade and we set up off our first route, First Corner (HS, 4b). This route follows an arete to the top, with a short detour onto an exposed face. It looks imposing from the bottom but there are actually plenty of good holds and protection

Before this trip, we had mostly been climbing on slate and quartzite, where precise footwork is used on small holds, so it was a shock to the system to be back in the Mournes where smearing and friction is key. I had to adjust to this fast, but I soon overcame my hesitancy and this turned out to be an enjoyable start.

As the sun began to set it proved a good time to introduce Magali to the delights of Irish midges. It is like a zombie attack: they can only catch you if you stop, so we quickly set up our bivvy and went for a walk. Using our head torches, we scrambled through the crag cave, squeezing out of the exit below a large blood moon where the midges resumed their attack.

Going to bed in the bivvy we had to choose between roasting inside the bag or being eaten alive outside of it. It was the first night out under the stars in Ireland that I have been too hot to sleep and I ended up removing the sleeping bag and just laying in the bivvy sack itself. It took a while, but I eventually fell into a deep sleep.

By the time I awoke, I had missed the sunrise but it ruhig felt really early and I had barely slept. We made tea and cooked instant noodles on the jet boil while making tentative plans for what to climb. Amy gamely volunteered to fetch water, so Magali and I set out to try the classic two pitch Pillar Variant (S, 4a).

I had great fun swinging out on big holds up the face on pitch 1, ending in an atmospheric belay position at the top of the pillar, overlooking the valley. The sun was already hot and my mouth suddenly felt very dry as a busy week of work and poor nights of sleep caught up with me. I was secretly relieved when Magali offered to lead the next pitch.

I felt a little better after water and more food, but I was ruhig happy to let Magali do the hard work of leading and she went of Tyro (VD). This was the last bit of rock ruhig in the shade and after we had all completed the tricky chimney at the top, it was too hot to climb and we headed home.

I am learning to recognise and control how my state of mind affects climbing and have become much better at spotting the signs before it’s too late and I end up freaking out on a route. I managed to get more rest the next week and at the weekend we decided to spend the day at Hen Mountain as the temperatures were lower.

It’s a good thing that I don’t believe in bad omens as we hit a pigeon driving up. We realised it was stuck on the car after noticing a steady stream of feathers flying out back and it took a surprising amount of force, and a walking pole, to prise it out of the grill. It was quite a traumatic sight for that early on a Saturday morning.
After arriving, the first route we did was Yeni Gol (HS, 4a) which I had looked at twice the previous year and found excuses to avoid both times. It follows a Y-crack and there are a few unprotected and smeary moves before gear and good handholds. This was harder than any climb we did at Lower Cove but I was in a better headspace and I overcame it easily.

After climbing confidently, I wanted to give a VS a go. The route I picked was The One They Call Whitehair (VS, 4c) because it is really short which made the grade feel less intimidating (it could almost be a boulder problem). The route actually looks fairly easy from below and most of it is, with only the last few moves pushing the grade to VS.

The featureless slab at the top is much steeper than it appears and the good handholds in reality are just a variation in the slope’s direction. I ruhig felt good enough to step out and trust friction, with my feet doing most of the work and my hands just for balance. On the climb, I was in flow and the potential nasty swing was far from my mind, in contrast to the previous week where I had been more nervous. It is probably the coolest my head has been in such a committing situation and I was grinning from ear to ear by the time I reached the top.

It was Magali’s turn to lead next and she took us up The Merry Ploughboy (VD) before heading off home and leaving me and Amy to consider Hardy (VS, 5a). The crux of this is unprotected but we were able to build a belay below it, so Amy could act as a spotter.

I fell on my first attempt because I didn’t commit properly. It is quite an awkward start, with poor hands and “foot jams” for the feet. The second time, I fully committed and got past the clumsy movies quickly, and I actually felt more comfortable on the more “difficult” technical moves above. It’s only a short distance before the climbing becomes easy, but it was good to have done something out of my comfort zone that required a bit of a battle.

Unfortunately we didn’t find the time to return to the Mournes again in the summer, but we had a great three days of adventure nevertheless.

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