Donegal 2016 | Annual Reviews of Donegal

Rock Climbing in Donegal 2016

A review of Donegal Rock Climbing 2016


   As 2016 comes to a close it is safe to say it has been an absolutely outstanding year in every respect. With the weather over the year proving to be a shade more challenging than the bulk of 2015 but this did not prevent over 300 days out playing on the sea cliffs, sea stacks and the mountains of the county throughout the entire year. With most of these days out being in the company of visitors to Donegal from over 28 different countries, it would be an enormous blog post to highlight every great day out this year.
   This is a review and a round-up of all the rock climbing developments both vertical and horizontal with new climbs and significant repeats of established routes from around the county. 
   Last year finished on a high with the publication and launch of the long-awaited and much talked about Select Guidebook to Donegal. The publication of this paper guidebook has led to a noticeable increase in climbers visiting the county from both Ireland and the UK. A trend I've noticed this year is that the most popular Donegal venues are Muckross, Sail Rock and Cruit Island with Gola Island being a stand-alone very popular location. The first three venues have become a bit of a mini Donegal climbing tour with most visiting climbers spending a day at each and either going on out to Owey or staying on Cruit to sleep on one of the tropical beaches.          

   January to April

  As far as winter climbing and ice were concerned this year we pretty much had no winter season with only three large overnight dumps of snow in the first three months of 2016. The only winters day in January involved a visit to the summit of a very winterised Errigal with Nikki Bradley, shades of an epic day out as Nikki was road testing her brand new all-terrain crutches on the new medium of snow with success all round. Nikki has been battling a form of normally terminal form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma since 2002 when she was 16. Since then she has struggled through double-hip replacement operations while trying to raise awareness regarding her illness and at the time of this ascent, she was facing the possible amputation of her right leg.

Doengal Winter Climbing
Approaching the summit of Errigal

Nikki Bradley
Nikki Bradley

Winter Climbing in Ireland
Errigal Summit

 On the 29th and the 30th of March and totally out the blue, 48 hours of winter returned to western Donegal for a very fleeting visit. This was an unseasonally late couple of snow dumps over two nights in a row with most of the snow melting away in the very warm early morning spring sunshine the following days. Below is a short film of an ascent of a very fleeting winterised Errigal.

Winter on Errigal

During February and as uber proof of just how mild a winter it was, I was involved in the production of the worlds first 3D. 360°, 4K Virtual Reality sea stack climbing film. It was a most excellent day out on the Realm of the Senses Stack and in attendance were troops from Failte Ireland, Big O Media, Mark McGuire from Hexicam Aerials and off course my partner in crime, noble brother Ambrose Flynn. It was a very surreal moment paddling out into the Atlantic in a child's inflatable mid-winter wearing A LOT of filming gear in an unwaterproofed cradle above our heads, whilst the owners of the gear stood on a storm beach watching us disappear seaward. 

Filming with Failte Ireland

The 360 3D sea stack climb film

Cruit Island

   The popularity of Cruit Island continues to grow with a steady stream of visitors from all over Ireland and increasing numbers from the UK. With a shade over 400 climbs all less than 10 minutes walk from the car, I had thought all of the major lines and faces had been climbed up to about VS/HVS. Off course I was / am very wrong with another 30 or so new lines being climbed by new routing troops from four different countries over the past year.  
   Have a wee look at the up to date Cruit Island Guide.

Cruit Island Rock Climbing
Cruit Island Climbing in December

Climbing on Cruit Island
Climbing in the North West Zawn

Climbing on Cruit Island
The Morning Wall

The Chasm on Cruit Island
Climbing in The Chasm


Tyrolean Traverse

 Over the year I have been involved in the rigging and suspension of 7 reasonably major Tyrolean Traverses, each one was higher, longer and scarier than the last. Ireland's current highest traverse was rigged in March this year, it spanned the 55 metre void in the Rocky Gap Crag at 580 metres above sea level. This was a long and roasting hot day out with Dave Lee, Conall Ó Fiannachta and Conor Ó Braonáin playing out.

Ireland's Highest Tyrolean Traverse

Ireland Tyrolean Traverse
Cruit Island Tyrolean Traverse

Tyrolean Traverse in Donegal
Gweedore Tyrolean Traverse

Tyrolean Traverse
Air Time on Cruit island

   Donegal wandering resident Nigel "Yorkie" Robertson has been a guaranteed visitor to any tyrolean traverse location this year with an uncanny knack of just appearing out the blue as we are just about to launch the first body. Much, more importantly, Yorkie has been actively seeking out unclimbed rock with new crags on Cruit Island, several in The Bingorms and a new location on the hills around Dungloe. Over the winter I'll get good topo pictures of all the new crags and get them into the relevant guidebook PDF's. Keep up the good work Sir.


   The mudstone cliff of Muckross has received the attentions of the steely fingered with Colm Shannon, John McCune and Paul Swail.
   Colm Shannon and Laura Mc Donald added Ciúnas Bothar Cailín Bainne E3 6a, found just before the large cave at the far end of the crag, this 2** route takes an obvious crack leads to the left side of a niche below the headwall. Jump start to a left-hand crimp, and move up and right to good cams. From here, tackle the crack to gain a rest in the niche, step right, and go to the top on glory jugs.
John McCune and Paul Swail added a new E5 to the main wall in the Banded Wagon area.
   The Muckross guide is Muckross Head Guide.      

Owey Island

   Owey Island continues to deliver hard classic rock on its seaward faces with Paul Swail, John McCune and Eamon Quinn continuing to explore the steep wall facing the USA, the Owey Guide PDF is HERE. There are whispers of Ireland's best E6 pitch on the steep wall to the right of "Fat Arsed Crack." Below are just a few of the lines climbed this year around Owey. 

Sleeping Beauty   E4 6a   25m   **
   Start as for Pride of Kingcasslagh and follow it for 8m until you get established on a sloping ledge.   From the slopping ledge arrange gear and make some technical moves up and left to get established on the gently overhanging wall.  Small positive edges and well-protected climbing leads you to the top and a somewhat sloppy top out. Very good face climbing on excellent rock.

The Invisible Gorilla   E1 5b   15m   **
   Located roughly 40m NNW of Photographic Clothing are 2 square granite blocks you can easily scrambling to the top of the first one.   The Invisible Gorilla is the obvious crack line you can see on the WSW face of the block. The approach is easiest via abseil to the platform at the base of the route. Climb the initial steep section on good jams to a rest. The crack gets wider but the climbing gets easier to an awkward and thoughtful top out.

Looking is not seeing, E5 6a   20m   ***
   Another absolute gem. Start 2 crack lines left A Race Against Time at the base unappealing black cleft but don’t let this put you off.... Climb in to the back of the cleft, easier and more enjoyable than it looks and emerges from the darkness with some exciting steep jams. Tackle the gently leaning wall on slopers, jams and finger locks to a head in the belly on platform rest and finish to the right up an easy groove.

   At slightly more modest grades two new lines were climbed on the Tor Lice Riseagh sea stack by Iain Miller and Michelle Ibanez. "A Day in the Life" and "Cloud of Midgies" climb two excellent crack lines at VS 4c and 5a on the seaward face of the stack. 

Climbing on Owey Island
New Route climbing on Owey Island

Gola Island

   Gola has seen a large increase in climbing visitors this summer with weekend and midweek camper around the lake being a common site on the island. Whispers of repeats on most of the more established E4 and 5's on the main walls and twin cave Buttress, with reports of outstanding climbing and rock on all the routes. On Mhachaire na nGall Walls, Kath McGuire and Ruth Whelan added "Feeling the Altitude" which takes the steep wide crack around the corner left of bootleg at about Hard Severe.
  At the other side of the Island, I paddled from Port Arthur to the centre of the north coast of Gola and climbed four new lines on the 25m sea stack that lives out to sea from the north West Zawn area. I'm guessing this was a first ascent of the stack as well but being quite an easy scramble from the north it very likely to have been stood before.

 The Gola Island PDF guide is at Gola Island Guidebook Download.

Gripple Wall Gola Island
Gripple Wall on Gola Island

Main Walls on Gola Island
Playing on The Main Walls on Gola Island

Gola Island Sea Stack
Playing on The Gola Island Sea Stack

Gola Island Tyrolean Traverse
A tyrolean Traverse across the Narrow Zawn

Sea Stacks

   It always comes down to sea stack and this year there has been an incredible amount of sea stack action from Tory Island to An Port starting in February and ending mid-October. First up for a bit of sea stack action was Centre Stack on Tory Island, after doing the first ascent of the Landward Aréte in 2009, I always thought that this line would be a good option for a free-solo. The story of this climb is HERE and off course with hindsight, it was an extremely foolish wee adventure but it was most excellent fun. Climbing with Brian Barnes did a new route on Rolling Thunder Stack at An Port "1 Millibar" climbs the wide crack / shallow groove up the centre of the wall at Hard Severe 4b up the middle of the landward face of the stack. Tor na Dhumchha got a new route from US troops Brian and Megan Martin taking the first seaward corner to the left of the main face at about Hard Severe. 
   I said I would never write another book after publishing the guide to Donegal last year, but alas "The Realms of Chaos, A Climbers Guide to a Midlife Crisis," is currently about 70% complete. Its a picture storybook and quite simply it details a descent into madness from climbing the Old Man of Hoy and wondering how to get back down to sea level at midnight to freesoloing Cnoc na Mara and spending three weeks returning to the real world.


   After a bit of a run of bad weather antics of the last few years, Culdaff based Climbfest got a good weekend of weather this year and returned to its former glory. Large crowds attended and routes got climbed all over Innishowen over the weekend, this is an excellent return of the Climbfest of previous years as it has been running annually now over the last 10 years. Nice One, Alan Tees and all involved in the organising committee.
   Daniel Barrios-O'Neill reports of outstanding bouldering potential for both the uber strong and for the not so steely fingered at Malin Head.  

New Guidebooks and Locations

 The following locations have been subdivided and now have their own guidebooks.

 Arranmore Island:   This is Donegal’s largest and most populated island with a population of approximately 500 people and a regular car ferry sailing from Burtonport on mainland Donegal. The seaward coast of Arranmore Island is a 9km stretch of uninhabited and very exposed coastline. Alas, much of this coast is of little interest to most climbers as the rock is of the very adventurous variety with access to the bases of the cliff bring a little involved. Where the rock is good it is outstanding and provides routes of a very high standard in outrageous marine settings. This guidebook is simply what has been climbed so far with potential for many more routes, locations and adventures to be found around the island.

 Tororragaun: This guidebook covers a 22-metre high rocky granite island living in the channel between Gola and Umfin Islands four kilometres off the Gweedore coast. The island is effectively guarded on all sides by Gola Island quality sea cliffs and of course, the potential for climbing new routes is enormous. Running through the centre of the island is a huge, and I do mean HUGE, sea-washed water spout. It is difficult to imagine the size of this water spout but it would easily accommodate a million tons of seawater at a time. 

 Umphin Island: This is a small uninhabited island living on the seaward side of Inishmeane and just to the North of the much better known Gola Island. The island sits approximately 3 KM from mainland Donegal and is normally surrounded by mildly tetchy seas. Umphin is home to a ground-nesting colony of several thousand sea birds and sees very few visitors of the humankind.

 Gweedore Guide: Known locally as Gaoth Dohair, Gweedores coastline along the Wild Atlantic Way stretches for approximately 25km from Meenaclady in the north to Crolly in the south and can easily be described simply as one enormous Caribbean type sandy beach and as such is an outstanding place to visit in the summer months. Within in the parish of Gweedore there a large amount of bouldering and highball rock dotted all over the region, it is simply a case of stopping the car whenever you see the rock from the road and going for a look.

 Downings Guidebook: This is a route guide to Pollnalong Sea Cliffs on the West Coast of the Rosguill Peninsula. This dolerite sea cliff on the western coast of the Rosguill Peninsula provides a goods day’s worth of climbing on reasonably sheltered sea cliffs.

 Tory Island: There are very few places that come close to comparing to Tory Island, the entire island is wedge-shaped with the north face of the island almost one continual unclimbed granite sea cliff and the south face at sea level. The potential for exploration, unclimbed rock and bagging new routes is huge with the main climbing development to date being on the sea stacks and the outrageous Tor Mor ridge at the far eastern end of the island.

 Glenlough Bay:  Glenlough is a breathtakingly beautiful bay in the most remote location on mainland Ireland. It lives three kilometres north of An Port at the end of a winding 20km single track road and is Ireland’s last great wilderness. Living along this coast is a huge collection of outrageous sea stacks and very remote sea cliffs. This guidebook covers this outstanding rock-climbing location in Ireland's distant reaches.

Dun Briste

   One of the truly stand out personal moments of this vertical year was making the second ascent (26 years after the first ascent) of Dún Briste sea stack off Downpatrick Head on the north Mayo Coast, fuller story HERE.

   Only seven people have stood on its summit since it was created in 1393, one person per century, it is quite simply an outstanding summit to stand on. :-)

Downpatrick Head Sea Stack Climb Film

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