Donegal 2017

Climbing Eagles Rock Leitrim

Eagles Rock Leitrim


Climbing Eagles Rock

   Looming high above Glenade in County Leitrim lives a 330m high limestone tower called Eagles Rock. Eagles Rock is Ireland’s highest free-standing tower who’s summit had only been stood on once in 1971 by a caving team from the UK. This huge pillar of decaying limestone, primary jungle and crumbling grot is a bit of a monster and with this in mind, it presents one of Ireland's most outstanding mountaineering challenges.
   Eagles Rock is one of these very unusual natural features you will find around Ireland, in that it is a huge and very obvious mountaineering challenge. It can be seen on the horizon from the main road at Bundoran on the Donegal Town to Sligo national road and like Dún Briste it has been pretty much ignored by the climbing community.  

   For more details of the logistics, equipment, pitfalls and general thoughts on climbing Eagles Rock, CLICK HERE

Eagles Rock climbing Film

The Cunning Plan

   As with all great adventures, it began with the suitably ominous text from noble brother Stephen "Jock" Read, it simply read "Can you Play?" and so another slightly worrying adventure was underway. Joining Jock and my good self on this quest was Stephen McCann, Stephen was a first-year trainee FAS outdoor instructor and he was spending a month with Unique Ascent, as the work experience part of his course. This climb was his inaugural visit into the shadowy world of adventure climbing and into The Realm's of Chaos, a two-day course in Jenga stacking and rubble shuffling at the edge of reason. Meaning this was forecast to be a bit scary, foolish and standing on the summit seemed before we started to be quite unlikely, which is how all great adventures begin. 

Packing for Eagles Rock Climb
Packing for Eagles Rock

  We met in a sunny county Leitrim and began to assemble into some sort of order a collection of perhaps to the untrained eye, non-standard rock climbing equipment for our mission that lay ahead. Our gear included technical ice axes, an alpine hammer, 20 metres of 12mm polyprop, 23 assorted pitons of various vintages and condition, 2 snow bars, several mallions, a huge standard climbing rack and of course, 3 enormous grins.

   Having sorted the rack and divided it between the three of us we headed out for a days recce of the tower. Jock had made extensive research of our objective and was armed with an account of the first (and only) ascent of the tower. From the road end, the tower looked suitably tetchy and as we walked closer the apparent tetch became outstanding, this was indeed going to be an epic adventure. Jock's research found the single previous ascent of the tower in 1971 took the much shorted East face and it was their notes and route we were intending to follow. 

Approaching Eagles Rock
Approaching from the East

Approaching Eagles Rock
Approaching Eagles Rock

Eagles Rock Recee
Reccee of Eagles Rock

   We spent the first-day trekking around the base of the tower and the collection of sub towers surveying the climbing potential and finding the original 1971 route to the summit. This 1971 route climbs up the east face of Eagles Rock in three short pitches. The rock, the route and the location were suitably atmospheric, having had enough of the glorious sunshine and fresh air Jock disappeared underground to inspect a cave system, whilst Stephen and I sat in quiet contemplation of tomorrows task at hand. 

The Climb

   The following day we once again arrived at the base of Eagles Rock having left all our heavy climbing gear at the base of our intended route the previous day and having taken the Eastern approach we arrived in quick time, psyched and ready to climb. We racked up and scrambled to the base of the 1971 route which starts at approx 280m above sea level and is a mildly scary place to be. To gain this point at the start of the route simply involves a short section of steep wet and greasy scrambling to gain a superb wee ridge and stance at the start of the vertical ground above.

Eagles Rock route to the summit Climbing Eagles Rock
Approaching the start of the climb and the first pitch

   Without further ado Jock led the first pitch to the grassy topped pillar overlooking the abyss. This pitch is protected by a couple of very small wires which takes you to a superb ledge with a colossal amount of air. I joined him on this lofty perch and he led the second pitch which takes a rising traverse to the summit of a semi-detached pillar. This pillar appeared to be about 20,000 tons of boulders defying gravity and held in place by a miracle. A swift decision was made and Jock led the final terrifying, gearless grass pitch to the summit. Which of course left Stephen and I to follow Jock to the summit. 

Standing on the Summit of Eagles Rock
Team standing on the summit of Eagles Rock

On the summit of Eagles Rock in Leitrim
Jock on the summit of Eagles Rock

 Once all three of us were safely on the summit we roped up alpine style and explored this most outstanding summit plateau. The entire plateau is covered in a super thick carpet of the most luxurious soft bouncy heather and gives mind blowing views towards Slieve League in Co Donegal and over the summit plateau of Arroo to the north.

The Descent

   Alas, the only sensible way we could see to get off the summit was to abseil the route we had just climbed, unfortunately, there are not many natural anchors on the summit Plateau which is of course why we brought so much supplementary equipment. We placed a deep angle iron stake and equalised it with a collection of tree routes, using approximately 20 metres of semi-static rope. The abseil descent of the route was as scary as the ascent. It involves abbing down the side of the seemingly detached pillar and swinging onto the stance at top of pitch one. Here it is a swift re-belay and a nice reacquaintance with terra firma. 

      This article is my account of the second ascent of Eagles Rock which we climbed in 2012, a version of this article originally appeared in an older blog of mine, HERE

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