Howth Climbing: The Deer Park Crag

Howth Climbing: The Deer Park Crag

It all began on a fine ‘Indian Summer’ day on 15 September 2014. Myself and Kevin Coakley had gone to climb the ‘Candlesticks’, two prominent short sea stacks on the Dublin Bay side of Howth. We beat a hasty retreat when the first candlestick turned out to be a load of old crumbling wax and began disintegrating under foot. Being such a fine day we decided to do a walk around the Ben of Howth and didn’t bother go back to the car with our climbing gear.

As we approached Muck Rock I said to Kevin “I know where there’s a great looking crag” so I led him down into the hidden tracks high up in the rhododendron forest and we arrived at the foot of the crag. I know Howth like the back of my hand and a couple of years ago as I walked by the foot of Muck Rock I said to Sue “Heh, this looks like a great crag, there must be a load of good routes up there”. However, as I’d only just started climbing I got drawn off to the bright lights of Dalkey, Glendalough, the Mournes etc and promptly forgot all about it. So it was with a bit more of an experienced eye that I re-looked at it that day last September and straight away I could see there appeared to be a whole heap of quality lines on offer.

Howth Castle & Environs

So having gone out to climb something new that day, and as Kevin had already had a go at the waxy Candestick, I was up. I picked a humane looking line and set off testing each hold carefully as I went. The very second hold I tested in the groove I was following pried out loose without too much effort. I groaned and wondered what the hell is this going to be like. However, the route chosen not being too difficult (it became Me Tarzan, You Insane S(4a)) I decide to persevere a bit and see how it went. To my delight everything was rock solid after that (not another loose rock on the whole route) and so it was with great pleasure when I finished out with a delicate move up a nice diagonal crack at the top (20m approx above) to look out over the impressive view of Deer Park Castle, Howth Harbour, Ireland’s Eye and the rest. Then I had to go hunting for a belay.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me Kevin was down below wondering what the hell was going on! Standing at the foot of the crag buried in the rhododendron forest he thought the height of the crag was the 10m or so face that was on view and that I’d topped out quite some time ago. I can still remember the look of surprise on his face when he finally joined me a while later saying something like “Jaysus, I’d no idea that there was a whole upper section to be climbed, I was wondering what the hell was going on!”.


So that was the start of our adventures in Deer Park. A check on wiki didn’t yield any routes listed so it looked like we had a blank canvas to go play with. Weather and other things intervened so it was 25 September before we made it back out there (this time with Ian Christie in tow for re-inforcement) and Kevin put up The Snapper VS(4c) (a crag classic in my opinion) and Ian Eva Lution S(4a). That was all we had time for that day so Ian and I came back 2 days later and I put up Lay Back and Think of Ireland’s Eye VS(4b) and Ian Indian Summer S(4a). The Dolomites beckoned for Kevin and I a few days later (and Nice not too long after that for the three of us) so that was it for Deer Park climbing in 2014.

As the crag faces NW it just gets sun from mid-afternoon and so because of its aspect and the grassy/heathery top in the depths of winter it is slow to dry out fully. We were all away again in the Costa Blanca in mid-March and I picked up a strain in my right hand so I had to take it handy for a good while afterwards and ended up buried in an extension planning project. Meanwhile, Kevin and Ian made it out a few times in May and put up another 2 routes and started the serious gardening work to open up the crag properly. May was a scrappy month weather wise so it was only in June that we were really able to launch off into it again properly and start clearing and putting up routes.

So, yes, we cleared a bit of muck, we found and removed some loose rock, and did a whole lot of gardening, but the crag has far exceeded our initial expectations for quality of climbs and volume of routes. There are still many harder routes just waiting to be tackled by anyone who chomps through HVS and E numbers and by and large the quality of the rock and protection is very good. Just like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat it was just hiding in the Deer Park rhododendron jungle waiting for someone to beat their way in with machetes.

So here’s the routes we’ve put up so far, together with access details and photos to whet your appetite so bon appetit.

Deer Park Crag, Howth: The Climbs

Access: Closest access is from Deer Park hotel and golf course car park (5 mins) – crag is clearly visible from the car park. This is a public golf course and is on the Howth tourist trail, containing the Howth Transport Museum, Deer Park Castle and the much visited rhododendron forest and Muck Rock crag up behind the hotel on the right side.

Approach: From the car park walk around the right side of the hotel and follow the track leading to the rhododendron forest. Just past the sign “Flowers must not be picked” turn right and take the small narrow left hand track at the small boulder. After approx 30m take fainter left hand track heading upwards. Walk up this for approx 200m (2 mins), ignoring overgrown leftside scrambles, and take further left hand track heading up the steps. 30m along this is up through a rhododendron ‘tunnel’ on the left (the 2nd tunnel, not the 1st) is ‘De Northside’ face. For ‘De Southside’ overhanging face just continue along the track for 20m to the next path junction. ‘De Alcove’ is the elevated grassy area between the two.

Aspect: The crag faces NW so gets sun from mid-afternoon till sunset. De Southside face has a more westerly orientation and gets the sun first. Because of its aspect it may take while to properly dry out early in the season.

Protection Ratings (PR): VG, G, M (Moderate), P (Poor)

 Climbs listed left to right.

Deer Park Topo (Left)

Fire Certificate (S 4a) 18m
Fight your way up through the jungle from the lower path junction (arrow on tree), or abseil in from Pine Tree Ledge, this climb is approx 40m to the left of De Northside face. Start at a V groove in the rock and bridge up for 4m without protection on good holds. Clamber up the groove or the arête to top out on pine tree ledge, belay from the tree with backup.
Kevin Coakley, Colm Peppard – 2015

Three Piece Sweet (S 4a) 30m, 2 pitches  PR: M
Go to the left of De Northside face past “Sharran’s Craic” for 15m till you come to an 8m high detached pinnacle which has a pointed 1m high rock coming out from the ground at the base of it.
1. (4a) At the left end of the pinnacle is a cave and a tree beside it. Climb up onto the arête and continue to top of pinnacle. Step left onto a ramp which trends up leftwards until you come to a point where you can step up right to climb straight up on the slab to an angled grassy area (thread belay).
2. (3c) Move right to cross underneath the roof above and then climb up the crack on the right of it to the top.
Ian Christie, Colm Peppard – 29 June 2015

Alternative start: The Sofa Start (HS 4b) PR: P
Start at the right side of the base of the pinnacle and step onto the detached rock. From here step onto the pinnacle and up delicately trending left to the left arête and to the top of the pinnacle.
PR: P No protection for this section hence HS 4b rating.
Ian Christie, Colm Peppard – 29 June 2015

Sharran’s Craic (VS 4c)* 24m
Walk 4m to the left of The Snapper and you will see a vertical crack in the face, this is the start of the climb. The bouldery start is the crux of the climb and you must move up on small flakes and edges above the protection to reach easier holds. Climb the crack above until it finishes and then move left 2 meters into a V shaped short gully and climb this. From the top of the gully trend right over easier ledges following the cleaned rock to a crack, climb the crack and follow the obvious route to the easy finish.
Kevin Coakley, Colm Peppard – 2015

Nicky Place (Diff)
6m to the left of the snapper you come to an alcove, climb this on the left side then right at 6m up the crack to the right of “Sharran’s Craic”. Finish as for “Sharran’s Craic”.
Ian Christie – June 2015

Sail of the Sentry (VS 4b)** 16m
Access the start by scrambling up the first 3m of The Snapper and moving a few metres left, along the grassy ledge, to the shallow ‘sentry box’ in the corner. The climb starts here.

Move to the top of the sentry box, reach out and climb right and up onto a narrow ledge.  Using the groove on the left, move up easily on good holds to the larger ledge above. Move over right to just left of a diagonal crack (possible long runner) and climb boldly leftwards & up with a delicate move (crux) to finish (escape possible to the left before tackling the crux).
Gary Smith, Colm Peppard – 2 July 2015

The Snapper (VS 4c)*** 25m
Immediately in front of the entrance tunnel to De Northside face you will see a large (3m high) triangular block detached from the face, this is the start of the climb.

Climb up the block on easy holds and stand on the top, place protection in the flake above and step up, follow the flake left until it peters out. Clamber on to the top (crux) of the flake (subtle move) and reach into the scoop for an excellent hand hold, place protection on your left and move up the slab on crimps and small pockets trending rightwards. Aim for vertical righthand crack above and move up this to finish up over blocky slab to belay point.
Kevin Coakley, Colm Peppard, Ian Christie – 2014

Me Tarzan, You Insane! (S 4a) 20m  PR: M/G
A couple of metres to the right of De Northside face entrance is a distinct protruding block just above head height. Climb over this on good holds to a small alcove above (protection placements), step out right and make a delicate push up to gain easier ground. Climb obvious crack in the short face on your left (great view over the top), scramble across easy ground to the face on the left side and climb diagonal crack with a delicate move to finish (crux).
PR: M/G – Protection is good but for delicate step up near the start of the climb gear is over 1m away tucked in an alcove on the left.
Colm Peppard, Kevin Coakley – 15 Sept 2014

The Budgie Has Landed (S 4a) 22m PR: G
Start 5m to the right of MTYI (as for The Commitment) and just to the right of a narrow vegetated area. Climb goes up left side of the obvious slab, then briefly across vegetated gully and up the obvious alcove on the left at the top. Climb up triangular block (no gear but straightforward) and initially move up right (for a cam placement if you don’t want a long ‘run in’). Strike leftward to follow clear thin diagonal crack running up the left side. Follow this as far as protection/bravery takes you and then cross grassy gully to alcove on the left with a protruding block overhead. Climb up alcove on the right to finish. (Challenge is to stay on the rock and off the grassy gully on your left).
Colm Peppard, Kevin Coakley – 8 June 2015

The Commitment (VS 4b)** 22m
Start on the 2m high boulder in front of the slab approx 5m to the right of Me Tarzan, you will see a vegetated gully to the left and a vertical slab and then a V shaped rock gully (sometimes called a Diedre). Climb directly to this avoiding the vegetation and loose rock by staying to the left on clean rock. Place protection and bridge up the gully exiting on the right. Move carefully rightward over loose rock and place a good cam in the horizontal crack at ankle level and climb the arête confidently with small holds to the top.
Kevin Coakley, Colm Peppard – 2015

Damn You Newton (VS 4c)* 23m PR: G
Start is 3m to the right of TBHL and 2m back from the right hand edge of De Northside face. The climb goes up an obvious large leg jamb sized crack which requires a big hex/cam. Climb this with strong moves to gain a foothold to push up to the top of the crack (crux).Trend right past the overhang and move into De Alcove area. Cross this and head for the middle of the slab straight ahead (a little down from the rhododendron stumps). Make a delicate step up right at the obvious lower point. Move up briefly straight (protection placements) and then trend right for the small block on the skyline on your right and finish left around this.
Colm Peppard, Ian Christie – 8 June 2015

Deer Park Topo (Right)

Indian Summer (S 4a)** 24m PR: G
At the right hand end of De Northside face immediately past Damn You Newton there is a wide crack on the right side of the slab leading to a small ledge at 2m. Surmount this and move up a crack above to an angled grassy bank at 6m to enter De Alcove. Move straight across De Alcove and straight up to the right of the rhododendron stumps following the obvious crack on up to the top.
Ian Christie, Colm Peppard – 27 Sept 14

Eva Lution (HS 4a)** 29mPR: M
Just before the track junction going up to De Southside face there is a prominent outcrop of rock about 3m high. Climb this (bouldering start) and continue up over boulders to a right trending crack. Up this to a prominent nose (~10m). Go right of this then immediately back left and up a left trending ramp then straight up to the top.
Ian Christie, Colm Peppard, Kevin Coakley – 25 Sept 14

Ali Baba (MS 4a)*** 29m PR: G
Climb “Eva Lution” but at the top of the right trending crack stay right onto the arête and then keep right on the arête until you can step out on to the main face. Continue up this to the top.
Ian Christie, Kevin Coakley – May 15

We Do This For Fun? (HVS 5a)*** 17m PR: G (cams required)
Climb goes through the clear gap on the left side of the large blocky overhang. Start is 4m up from the path junction on the left through the 2nd narrow opening where there is a clear rock ramp. Follow the obvious crack moving diagonally right to gain the shelf below the gap in the overhang. Climb straight up just left of the gap to under the overhang (and get a cam in!). Make a brave pull up to seek out a good hold over the top for the fully committed swing across right to gain a foothold to surmount the overhang (crux). There are great holds for this but they have to be found. Above the overhang you have a choice. 1) Step up left and climb the short angled face on your right with the large crack (the original lead). 2) Move up right and climb straight up the slight overhang on the main face using the first crack on the right for a nice vertical finish.
Colm Peppard – 4 June 2015

Lay Back & Think Of Ireland’s Eye (VS 4b)** 17m PR: G
In the middle of De Southside face is a large blocky overhang. This climb takes the obvious line up the right hand side of this. Start is 6m up from the path junction on the left through the largest (3rd) opening. Climb blocky slab on the right side trending rightwards.Move over to your right to climb around and up the right side of the overhang at the large crack (medium cam). Make a committed move to surmount the slight overhang(crux).Follow the crack leftwards to the small alcove above where you have a choice. 1) Make a delicate swing out right onto the faceand climb straight up to the top (the original lead). 2) Climb straight up the alcove for a satisfying direct finish.
Colm Peppard, Ian Christie – 27 Sept 2014

Dempsey’s Rocky Road (VS 4b) 24m
On De Southside face start on a diagonal crack to the left of the obvious promontory (“the pulpit”) . Climb the crack rightwards and clamber on to the top of the pulpit, continue to the right and surmount the vertical crack and bulge (crux) with a good placement below the crux move (as per LB&ToIE). When you make easier ground traverse out to the right and finish up the Arete.
Kevin Coakley, Ian Christie – 2015

Two Bagger Arête (HS 4a) 12m PR: M/G
The climb follows a direct line from bottom to top going up just left of the 2nd arête in from the right hand edge of De Southside face. Start is through the next opening up from LB&ToIE (4th opening) Move up around right until the 2nd arête is directly above you with a distinct ‘nose’ jutting out as an overhang. At ground level climb the smooth face immediately below the arête with the thin crack (crux) to gain a mini pinnacle just right of the arête. Step across left to gain the arête and proceed up delicate moves directly to the top (ignoring the tempting gully to the left).
PR: M/G – Protection is good but there is a short run out at the top (hence HS 4a rating). The top has good hand and footholds and can be bailed either left or right if desired so PR M/G.
Colm Peppard, Kevin Coakley – 15 June 2015

Three Bagger Arête (VS 4c)* 12m PR: G
As for Two Bagger Arête but instead move left around the underside of the nose (protection placement) and make a committed pull up and step right to surmount the nose.
PR: G – On the basis that once you’ve hauled yourself over the nose the short run out at the top won’t bother you!
Colm Peppard, Gary Smith – 27 June 2015

Did Anyone See My Golf Ball? (S4a) 13m PR: G
The climb follows a direct line from bottom to top going up just left of the 1st arête in from the right hand edge of De Southside face. Start is just right of Two Bagger Arete. Climb up the small alcove and move slightly right to follow a direct line up the left side of the arête ignoring the tempting gully to the left.
Colm Peppard, Kevin Coakley – 9 June 2015

Fire Alarm (VD 3a) 12m
At the extreme right of De Southside face this climb goes up to the right of the arête where a block seems to stand by itself. Clamber up onto a good ledge and climb the groove without dislodging the large loose boulder. At the top climb the cracks to the left to top out easily.
Kevin Coakley, Colm Peppard – 2015

Snapper 1st Ascent