On Being Shown the Ropes

(by Declan Cunningham, from the IMC Newsletter, Summer 2000)
The Glendalough weekend, the grand finale of the IMC beginners’ course.

The Thursday night sessions had come to an end as had the reign of the weather fairy that had blessed us for that part of the beginners’ course in Dalkey. Now we were setting our sights on bigger and better things in the shape of what is arguably the best crag in the country – Glendalough.

I had been a little apprehensive about the use of the word ‘HUT’ to describe our lodgings for the weekend but was pleasantly relieved on my arrival to find a structure that not only had walls and a roof but running water, electricity and bunks with mattresses!

As with most get-togethers like this you get a fierce mix of people (or should that be a mix of fierce people?) From the outset though the one difference I was immediately aware of was that between the Leaders and the Beginners. Maybe it was just me but I suppose I felt like I just hadn’t earned the right to make that beautiful clinking noise just yet.

Those of us who ventured out on Friday went to the local watering hole for a few ‘sociables’ and needless to say the demon drink loosened tongues and tightened the group.

Saturday dawned, a glorious day. Everyone busied themselves with breakfast and climbing gear before starting the wee trek to the crag. Not so wee a trek actually and I was glad I hadn’t overdone it the night before.

People broke into groups and headed their separate ways in increasingly septic weather conditions. Conor Byrne was leading myself Barry and Sheila up what was for each of us, our first multi-pitch climb. It’s called Forest Rhapsody and we were all eager to get to grips with it.

It was pretty wet from the rain but the sun was doing its best to dry it off as we leapfrogged our way up the first few pitches. Things were going swimmingly. In fact I hardly even noticed how high it was until I’d just left the apparent safety of Forest Ledge and slid my way out onto the corner on small holds. This was the first time I felt the space of the valley behind me tugging at my back. I still had to look down though, I mean when would I be there next?

The rain and hail made good their threats to visit us and the miserable conditions slowed us down a fair bit on the last two pitches. To be honest I wasn’t too bothered about the hail or the wind or the cold. The only element that mattered was mine and I was in it.

Getting down was an epic with the shitty weather well and truly taking hold. Abseiling down Expectancy Slab (or Pregnancy as it was fondly referred to) I felt the onset of the climbing equivalent of labour pains. I was clinging to my 8mm nylon umbilical chord as the wind lifted me off the slab and the hail bounced off the rock and into my face. It was still fun though.

We were all glad to get back to the hut and even treated ourselves to showers. Bellies rumbled and appetites were soon sorted with salad, rolls and a lovely chilli thingy not quite hot enough to merit putting toilet rolls in the fridge for the morning.

Our bellies weren’t quite satisfied so the cleanup was followed by the inevitable exodus to the Glendalough Hotel to exchange tales, down ales or simply ‘work the room’. Those of us who felt, in our wisdom, that enough wasn’t enough decided to make ourselves welcome at a wedding that was much too convenient to avoid. Our adventure ended with a cold shoulder from the manager, followed swiftly by a warm welcome from the bride. At that stage the novelty had worn off so it was back to the hut where the chatting continued to the wee hours.

Bar a little tiredness it was surprisingly easy to rise and shine on Sunday morning despite the antics of the night before. The weather was once again coaxing us out with idle promises of sunshine that would no doubt turn to hail once again.

I was feeling adventurous and was among the first to head for the crag. We met some early risers already coming back but my head was set and I could feel myself trying to see around the trees to the crag even before I got there.

The weather was mixed but unfortunately because of a lot of waiting around on the route meant we got very little done. As was expected the weather turned nasty; once again we were forced to beat a reluctant retreat. With everything soaked that would be it for the day. I remember looking back and seeing a group high up on Forest Rhapsody. I was envious despite the rain.

Getting home proved to be an adventure in itself but it had been a thoroughly enjoyable and excellent weekend. It was invaluable not only from a climbing point of view but probably more importantly it was the first time I felt like I wasn’t just getting to know members of the club but making friends.

I’m sure I speak for all the beginners when I say a VERY BIG THANK-YOU to all the leaders for leading us up climbs when you would much rather being doing routes on your own and to the IMC for running such an excellent course. I mean what other course would you be able to climb a Yorkshire Pudding, see a Ghost, crash a wedding, turn in your Grave, sleep ten to a room and find Paradise Lost?

Long may it continue so see you in Dalkey and bring a friend.