In Search of Ithaca

(by Ambrose Flynn, July 2011)
"Dalkey was bathed in a glorious sunshine that cast leafy silhouettes onto a complex granite canvas … The portents were encouraging!"

On a beautiful Tuesday morning Elsa and I took our time gearing-up as Dalkey was bathed in a glorious sunshine that cast leafy silhouettes onto a complex granite canvas. A light midge-slaying wind added audio to this visual feast accompanied by the remote din of city life. The portents were encouraging!

Our first port of call was Pilaster *** VS 4c. On first inspection it looked more like a ‘highball’ bouldering problem, and that’s exactly what the start is, as there is no protection until one is 4/5 mtrs up and committed! Small crimping and delicate footwork is the order of the day until a crack for pro reveals itself and a more comfortable finish is available. Elsa followed using delicate moves to unlock the tricky start and cruised the rest of the way; a nice start to the morning. "What to do next?", a familiar question no doubt! The choice was easy considering we were beginning our voyage and Helios *** VS 4c, who resides at the White Wall, required thanks for this beautiful morn.

We strolled to the upper cliff and into the luscious summer-clad base of Helios. A route that can be climbed in one or two pitches. We chose the former fashion and I led-off. The first several metres are without pro, as far as I could establish, therefore I ventured out left and placed pro on a 120 extender in a neat crack and returned to the route. The corner is neat and the friction is good as one climbs towards the borehole and a relic from our climbing forefathers. Exposed bridging follows and a moment later a slabby top-out leads to a belay and a fantastic view of the city. Oh, and time to consider how fabulous Helios is and of course time to belay a valuable second up! "OK, climbing!"

The rhythm of belaying starts, beating out a steady tone with interludes occurring with the occurrence of gear removal. Elsa shouts up, "watch me here", commits to the exposure and bridges like a Romanian gymnast. As is usual with Elsa, the belay isn’t tested and she tops-out. Once again, we take our time as the view is spectacular and our Grecian host has treated us well. But akin to Ulysses our Odyssey was only beginning and our next stop was the superb Thrust *** HVS 5a.

On arriving at the base of Thrust the silence of a beautiful Tuesday morning has been replaced by my rapacious laughter as Elsa tried to remove substantial dog shit from her shoe. On successfully removing said organic material we take-in the line of Thrust. An absent French colleague recently stated that "Thrust is my favourite route in the quarry". Intrigued I started climbing and reached the first fantastic crack that revealed perfect tapered gear placements. Several fingerlocks later and a few howls of enjoyment brings one to the second even better crack where once again gear on-demand is available. As with all on-sights, which is the most exciting way to climb in my humble opinion, the next crack moves one to consider laybacking and ‘going with the flow’, I layback steeply towards the final diagonal airy traverse and top-out. The belay is perfect for watching a second in motion!

Elsa’s motion was thoughtful and exact as she approached the first crack. The rhythm of crack climbing ensued, finger-lock, movement upwards, finger-lock and a stance to catch one’s breath. Elsa breathing hard calls up, "gorgeous climbing – fu*k you", in reference to my claims while on route. Yet another outburst of rapacious laughter rebounds in the Quarry. Elsa takes a final look at the 5a move and commits to a sequence of laybacking, fingerlocks and an airy swing left towards the belay. Breathing hard she passes the belay and sits down to contemplate what she has just climbed and in good fashion. A hand shake occurs and we depart the upper cliffs for our voyage is incomplete.

We descend towards the West Quarry and Moonlighter VS 4b takes our fancy. A route without stars but one of my favourites nonetheless for its intricate footwork. An enjoyable start right of Paradise Lost similar to Pilaster but less serious perhaps! I cruise up and enjoy the airy finish several metres above the last piece of pro in anticipation of how Elsa will find the route. As expected she thoroughly enjoys the delicate start and romps up to safety accompanied by a big smile. However, Moonlighter was not our final port but rather a satellite of our final destination, Blood Crack * HVS 5b.

I was introduced to Blood Crack by Seán last year who dispatched the ‘perplexing start’ with little effort and cruised up the thin crack carrying 3 pieces of gear for the entire route! Subsequently I have battled with this start many times and have, to date, not completed it with style or grace. Blood Crack, akin to Penelope, has had many suitors and refuses to give up her secrets easily. Yet again today, she insists on spurning my advances. I will however, be back to woo the beautiful Penelope whereupon I will consider slaying the remaining 108 suitors!

Dalkey Quarry has treated us well on this fine Tuesday and we have encountered splendid and varied climbing in a beautiful setting. We have tested our skill, technique, strength, wisdom and partnership on a day I will recall for some time to come. But most importantly, we have shared a bond that develops between climbers of similar mind. A bond that reinforces one’s belief in what it means to live fully and experience life without conservatism.

For these experiences and much more I thank you Elsa and I wish you speed and good fortune on your search for your personal Ithaca.

To be continued …