And so, after nearly two decades of finding, sussing, swimming, paddling and eventually climbing. All of Donegal's previously unclimbed sea stack summits have now been stood on and catalogued in the Donegal Sea Stack Guidebook.
On June 28th 2019 Will Gadd and John Price arrived in Donegal for a week of nautical play on and off the coastline of the county. Will Gadd is the very well known Canadian Red Bull / Arc'teryx sponsored athlete and John Price was fresh off capturing the first ascent on a Greenland big wall and was on stills and filming duties for the week.
Ireland's last remaining big unclimbed sea stack
Our primary goal of the trip was the first ascent of Chaos Stack just below Mullaghtan Head to the north of Glencolmcille in the south-west of the county. This is the last of the big unclimbed sea stack in Donegal and I strongly suspect, the last big unclimbed sea stack in Ireland. The approach to this stack requires considerable nautical considerations and seafaring guile. Chaos Stack lives at the base of the 200m high choss wall of Mullaghtan Head. This vertical obstacle means a long sea passage from either Glencolmcille to the south or the remote and lonely An Port to the north.
Chaos Stack, Dare to Be Stack and the Sturrall below Mullaghtan Head
Chaos Stack XS 45m
Living in the northern shadow of Dare to Be Stack, Chaos Stack provides a suitable journey into the pounding heart of nautical darkness. This route climbs the south face of the stack from the tidal ledge at its south-west tip. Abseil descent from the only good rock on the summit of the stack at the northeast corner at bottom of the grass and rubble slope. Considerable nautical and mountain guile are required for a happy ascent of Chaos.
From the southern edge of the tidal ledge climb the horizontally bedded south-facing wall on the immaculate rock for approx 18m to a rubble-strewn ledge. Continue upwards on ever-decreasing rock quality with the final 10 m a bit of an Alpine Jenga fest.
W. Gadd, I. Miller 28/06/19
Will Gadd Notes: Holy shit this is a cool climb, and there are several more good routes to do on the face. The sea, the southern exposure, and the exciting finish all combine to make this one of the coolest routes I’ve done. Take care to anchor the belayer out of the line of fire, Iain’s description of “Jenga” climbing is accurate. I belayed by going over the top of the stack and down a ways. There’s a bomber four-piece anchor for rapping off on the landward side where you find the good rock, but it will probably rust out in roughly a week so bring more nuts. The cam is yours.
Chaos Stack from above Mullaghtan Head
Chaos and Dare to Be Sea Stacks
Will Gadd on the summit of Chaos Stack
The most remote location in Ireland
Neptune remained in a kind mood for the second day of the week and we went for a visit to arguably the most remote place in Ireland. Pyramid Stack is the highest summit in the Enchanted Islands archipelago living below the remote north face of Slievetooey. We climbed an outstanding line in two pitches up the seaward face of the stack. Immaculate rock and climbing with an outstanding exposed feel on the 2nd pitch and an excellent wee pull though a wee roof to finish on the summit.
Details of Pyramid Stack and the Enchanted Islands: Pyramid Stack Guide
Standing on the summit of Pyramid Stack
Above and Beyond HVS 5a 45m ***
This route climbs the seaward face of Pyramid Stack taking the outstanding corner of the stack in pitch two.
Pitch 1 20m Directly below the summit corner of the stack lives a perfect square cut sea level recess, belay on the perfect stand below the roof in this recess. climb directly up to the left-facing corner on perfect cracks and water sculptured holds. Climb the recessed corner to a palatial belay ledge.
Pitch 2 25m Climb the soaring corner above at first on its right then on its left following perfects hold up to the capping roof. Climb the slotted groove to below the capping roof, consider climbing the roof and then exit airily left onto the summit.
W. Gadd, I. Miller 29/06/19
Will Gadd Notes: This route is ridiculously fun, and the descent is casual off the backside. If you don’t enjoy yourself climbing this then you’re probably ready to be retired and turned into fertilizer. Seriously, this is an awesome climb at an accessible grade in a magic location with caves, surging sea, birds flying, it’s just unlike any other place I’ve ever climbed.
Will Gadd on pitch two of Above and Beyond
Alas, the predicted worsening of Neptune's mood meant we took refuge in the lea of the east side of Owey Island. A huge selection of potential unclimbed lines was paddled under and a sea arch in Cladagharoan became the line of choice.
Owey Island guidebook download: Owey Island Guidebook
Owey Island sea arch in The Bay of Seals
The Arch E1 5b 20m **
This route climbs the seaward face of the sea arch on immaculate Granite.
Gain the tidal ledge on the left side of the arch as you look through it. Climb the steep edge of the arch to a niche at the apex. Follow the left arete in the groove above to the grassy ridge.
W. Gadd, I. Miller 30/06/19
Will Gadd notes: There are no other good routes in this area, don’t go there, especially the tall skinny stack behind the arch that we didn’t get on because of nesting birds, no, that would be a terrible climb straight up the front where my bud Ian Parnell reportedly backed off, no don’t go there, it sucks and the sea has monsters.
Owey Island Rock Climbing
A day of the classic west coast of Ireland summer weather and we went for a play on a couple of unclimbed lines that have been hidden in full view in the Albatross Zawn on Cruit Island.
Cruit Island guidebook download: Cruit Island Guidebook
Albatross Zawn on Cruit Island
Trouser Rippers Suck E3 6a 20m ***
Climb the obvious corner crack of Gretel and up direct through the monster offwidth roof crack. There is a secret to avoid the stacked fist jamming doom, but you’ll want to get your grrr on.
W. Gadd, I. Miller 01/07/19
Hipsters at Play E4 6b 20m **
Climb direct to the Suspended 3.8 side pull rail and step left to below the roof crack. Pull through roof crack and follow flakes above.
W. Gadd, I. Miller 01/07/19
Will Gadd notes: A tad spicy. 5.11, and awesome once you figure it all out. Stellar rock and moves, in fact, the whole little area is a sort of mini-golf fun zone that reminded me a lot of Colorado’s South Platte or maybe the less-visited parts of the Bugaboos. It’s short, in your face, and really puzzling.
These two routes reminded me why I love climbing granite cracks and roofs. Hidden holds, committing moves, 3D puzzle-solving, it’s just full-on mental and physical sports action from the ground to the sheep belay at the top (not really, but there are sheep). At the end of the day, I was happier to have onsighted both of these pitches than any routes I’ve climbed recently, it’s just really really engaging climbing. Plus the view is really good too! Magic. A great place to work on trad systems as well. And it’s really beautiful, again. This is a problem with Ireland, too much beauty, it almost gets overwhelming at times.
Climbing and filming the first ascent of Hipsters at Play
With the sea bouncing suitably from the north-west with a dry gentle northeast wind we headed to Arranmore Island. The cunning plan was a new route of the south face of the Lighthouse Stack, just below Rinrawros Lighthouse on the seaward face of Arranmore Island. This was a truly outstanding day of play in Donegal's mid realms
Arranmore Island guidebook: Arranmore Island Guidebook
The Arranmore Island Lighthouse Sea Stack
Will Gadd on the summit of Lighthouse Sea stack