by Andy Minshull
There are obvious attractions – and obvious drawbacks – to a Kerry meet. The attractions are Ireland’s most majestic mountains, some extraordinary climbing, and spectacular views. The drawbacks are fewer: mainly the perils of an Atlantic weather system and getting there!
So the Kerry meet in October 2016 saw the weather gods smiling on us. However, the tortuous drive down was a different story. I must admit I was pleased when we arrived on the Dingle Peninsula after a six hour journey and heard that other teams had also hit the same traffic.
When you leave especially early it’s frustrating to hear people who left after you arrived before you. As we passed Tralee and set out on the country road to Cloghane, I started to look out for fuel. Finding a garage there was 20 minutes of flaffing around as the owners tried to turn the pumps on. We then cut our losses and left without any diesel! Great fun.
We finally found the hostel after the use of multiple sat-navs. We rested our bones and met up with some of the others who’d already made it.
Tony Barry and Peter Wood had arrived early and enjoyed a very wet hike over the tops near Cloghane.
So the Mount Brandon hostel (mountbrandonhostel.com) had welcoming owners and an excellent kitchen, good sized dining area and a small lounge. Arriving in the dark I did not appreciate the real magic of the location. The next morning the true face of West Kerry showed itself. The dining room window faced the sunrise across Brandon Bay and both mornings we had fantastic calm water reflecting the sun magnificently.
A 10am start was agreed for Saturday so I managed a run first thing, round to a viewpoint at Fermoyle Strand and back taking in the sea views, and of imposing Mount Brandon.
So we left the hostel around 9:30/10:00 and followed the convoy to Dún Séanna Head outside Dingle for sea cliff climbing. I was really looking forward to climbing at the coast especially as it looked like it was not going to rain any time soon…
Tony was leading the meet and by the time we got over the 30min walk-in he and Peter were in the midst of rigging the ab rope. As Petra Tolarova, Vincent Astier and I were last in the queue and would be waiting a while for the ab we tried the scramble round to the east end of the crag, mentioned in Dave Flanagan’s Rock Climbing in Ireland. Weirdly, for October, it was sunny, and a few people started wondering if we would need sun cream. A good problem to have. The scramble was fun and we got to the base of the routes around the time of the first abbers. We picked a nice easy warm up route to get used to the rock type – sandstone – Peter Pan VDiff and Vincent came up after Petra as a third.
I had my eye on the Giraffe and Mr Allister and as we coiled ropes at the top two seasoned locals appeared. I went and looked at the long slabby angled routes with one of these guys, with a fantastic view out on the Atlantic towards the Skelligs island – where they shot the Star Wars the Force Awakens ending – behind the routes.
While the needle of The Razor’s Edge and Jumbo routes looked very adventurous and enticing I really wanted to build confidence on the VS Giraffe, billed (by one of the locals) as one of, if not the best, in Ireland. It was a fantastic looking route in an amazing position.
With the tide and swell the way it was we needed to get on it, so move we did, this time down the ab rope.
Other parties – Tony, Sile, Harry and Áine, Karen and Emma & Paulina and Peter were doing a plethora of routes further round , and David and Cearbhall were on the needle, sheltering from a brief shower (at one point) doing the E1 Jumbo The sun came out and quickly the rock was dry again. Getting to the start of Giraffe was exciting, and the sea looked like this [add link to video] which added an adrenaline spike. The two locals skipped past us to Mr Allister which looked amazing. I checked Petra was happy on her belay ledge way right of the start, which was being buffeted with big swell and picking a moment between waves got onto the start.
Fantastic protection, lovely long route that felt vertical but was a slabby angle, quality VS climbing in an amazing position, the sea crashing below, and a “yes” fall zone all the way. Great big boulder to sling for the belay at the top.
Petra flew up the second with relative ease, so after a snack and another thank you prayer to the weather Gods, we abbed in for Mr Allister HVS, before it got cut off by the sea. A more exciting traverse to the belay, with the swell coming up much higher now, so we chose a higher position this time, as the route started higher up anyhow. Again a fantastic climb, all there, more technical, with the crux near the top – a slightly sparse section in terms of protection and some thinking to work out the moves. I was feeling the pump by this point – I was probably over-gripping as I’d asked Vincent to take some pics and then felt a bit self conscious on the crux!
Exciting route, highly recommended, again good gear and a safe fall zone beneath on the whole route. Petra again seconded comfortably, though the tide was in and the waves were crashing and on the way to the start of the climb get drenched up to the knees – so a great effort with wet rock shoes.
I bottled out of the needle – needed a rest after that excitement so Petra led a severe – Openers. Paulina and David approached the Giraffe around this time but the sea swell was too momentous and drenched David head to toe – unfortunately no-one caught it on camera – Paulina I know will return to lead it herself soon …
I finished the day with a deceptively tiring chimney climb Thievery HS.
We had a delicious communal meal in the evening, very gourmet with three courses. The buzz of the day’s climbing and the luck we’d had with the weather made for great spirits and though in a hostel shared dining area we were undisturbed by other punters and it felt great to be part of the IMC.
There had been no clear consensus for the Sunday’s plans – after the meal some talked of walking and others of climbing. I was fixed on heading to the Gap of Dunloe as it both looked amazing and shaved some time off the journey home. Petra and Paulina were very keen to climb too. We found Hugh was also uninterested in walking and teamed up as a four, and packed up and set off – as early as we could – 8:30 ish.
We arrived at the Gap – my first time there – I felt like I was looking at Llanberis Pass in a way, the place I first discovered my love of climbing. Though the ponies and single track road were a surprise I did notice it was a bit windy. We’d been advised the day before, to get to the Gap early as it acts as a wind tunnel later in the day. Instead of looking at which routes would be sheltered I was blinkered and looked at the routes I wanted to climb, either Bimbo Limbo VS or Jamaica Plains HVS multi pitches on the High Buttress. By its very name it sounds more exposed to the wind but the guide book description of long quality routes, and the look of the high mountain crag from the car park, were too appealing. As we hiked up we noticed it was now fairly windy. Beautiful sunshine though!
Though Petra and I left the cars first, Paulina and Hugh found a cunning shortcut and were uncoiling ropes at the VS as we arrived, so we went to look at Jamaica Plains HVS. I don’t usually warm up on HVS but the first pitch looked ok so we went for it.
I thought I had had a good look at the route on the walk in, and had the key landmarks on the route in my mind and the route description fairly well memorised. There’s an off width in the middle pitch, which I was both nervous of and excited about – carried my camalot 5 in readiness. Anyway, I went left instead of right at the top of pitch 2, realised the error but we decided not to correct – it was powerfully, saucily windy by now.
So pitch 3 was a gardening pitch, to join the last bit of L’Orange with the start of the fourth pitch of Jamaica Plains, unfortunately above the odd-width!
Slightly gutted I set off on the 4b pitch expecting to make light work of it. It was amazing.
The wind factor had increased to feisty by now, and communication with Petra was becoming tricky. We had discussed the three tugs on the rope method but it’s never reliable when there’s rope drag.
For some reason when I reached the belay,and there were no anchor points, I assumed I was too far left and headed right – half-knowingly embarking on a cool traverse link-up to another route The Bird VS – I think I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want it to finish. When we got to the foot of the fourth and final pitch and there were two bolts – way at the back of the big “Burnt Ledge” 4 or 5 metres from end of pitch 3 – I guess people who know they are there top out and walk back to them for anchors, where I saw none. Still , the traverse on the link-up was ace and I highly recommend it – there’s a 5a move on it. It sort of made up for missing the off width. By the point of starting the fourth pitch we were high up on High Buttress and the wind was massive and furious. Kind of Old Testament.
We bumped into Hugh and Paulina around here topping out on their second route and throwing abseil ropes into trees for fun.
We had a brief blustery conversation about whether the wind was better or worse on one side than the other, and agreed it was windy everywhere! We could see other climbers had stayed low on the less exposed crags – wise move – the wind was sapping our energy and our bags, and lunch, were 4 pitches below us.
Petra was feeling slightly windbeaten and was enjoying the experience less than me, doing all the seconding meant a good bit of waiting around in the wind. The fifth pitch was interesting but I jammed one rope – I’m going to blame the wind – so Petra finished on one half rope. There was a solid chain and two bolts at the top so we abbed down to the previous ledge, and found the other set of bolts abseil chain. Yes that’s the third time I’ve mentioned bolts – in Ireland – very odd but very useful to have chains to ab off. For both abseils, with the wind as ragingly cheeky as it was, I did the saddle bag method, had read about it but never done it – it worked brilliantly. I did try throwing the rope once – it went sideways and then up – would have needed to be weighed down and we did not have much for that.
That was it for the day – the route took several hours with all the factors (mainly the gale-force wind) and it was time to head home by the time we got down.
Some of the others enjoyed the single pitch by the road and Dave and Cearbhall did the Roost – a fantastic looking route. Apparently it was windy there too.
A great weekend, trouble free return journey, and I can’t wait to get back to Kerry to sample more with the great company and fantastic climbing.
A summary round up of other routes done by other people on the meet:
David Keogh and Cearbhall Daly – Jumbo E1 5b
Áine O’Reilly – Panache HS and the other severes…
Harry McGee – Banana Split VS
Gap of Dunloe
David and Cearbhall – the Stoop E2 5c
Emma Hand – Tom
Áine – Resonate