Ong Gong Arête

(by Peter Britton, from IMC Newsletter Autumn 1999)
A new route in the Comeragh mountains.

An outing to the Boolas region of the Comeraghs, with two fellow Peaks members in June, produced a pleasant day’s climbing and the first ascent of Bells for Marion, a 20m VS. Pleased with our day, we returned under the spectacular shapes of Crotty’s Rock, now glowing in the evening sunshine. It beckoned me to its prominent prow, situated above an idyllic combination of lake and mountain that stretched down to an expanse of rich farm land running to the distant coast. The image of the prow remained with me such that I had no option but to return on a reconnaissance trip. While various short lines seemed possible, only one long line jumped out at me and this etched itself into my mind as an unavoidable challenge. Examination convinced me that the obvious obstacles could be overcome.

John Morrisey agreed to have a go and eventually good weather in July made us unstoppable. As we drove apprehensively towards our challenge, not quite knowing what lay ahead, John suggested that I take most of the leads. The argument being that I had a little more experience of multi-pitch climbing. This I readily agreed to, at that stage chuffed with the adventure that lay ahead and somewhat amazed, but pleased, with my new found courage. This, if it came off, would be my first significant contribution to Irish climbing. This, if it came off, would be one hell of an adventure. This, if it didn’t come off, would be a messy self rescue from the side of a rather large cliff face.

Confidence was high and self-doubt was banished to a distant corner of my mind as we struggled up the approach on a glorious morning. At noon we were roped up and ready to start climbing. How many pitches lay ahead? Well the first bit appeared to be a long scramble (I should know better by now!). Then, maybe two more pitches would bring us to the top via a crack system on a very exposed wall. What the hell, we’d have a go and see how far we’d get.

The first short wall looked completely avoidable but I was keen to undertake the longest line possible. I soon realised this pitch had more to offer than we thought. Further up, I reached a stance under an overhang. While John wondered at my slow progress on this supposedly ‘easy slab’ pitch, from my prospective, I faced a bold airy rightward step out onto a steep slab as I bid my protection farewell. The slab was overcome by delicate progress through a myriad of small conglomerate holds. Each of these needed prior checking but thankfully all but one proved reliable.

The second pitch looked promising with steeper and cleaner rock forming, in places, a prominent arête. It proved to be less difficult than the previous pitch, but extremely enjoyable due to another airy rightward step leading onto the arête proper. Then my heart sank as I saw what lay ahead, the final line I had anticipated was not an option. I awaited John’s arrival at the second belay to deliberate. Could we go much further?

A third (exploratory) pitch started up a steep crack at the back of our cramped belay. I reached a short chimney in an area at the back of the arête, not previously visible. Thankfully from here numerous options lay ahead. I belayed, expecting that one further pitch would finish it. John joined me in this superb belay. The chimney walls formed a frame around an incredible view. For John they provided necessary shelter from the cool breeze that hits the unfortunate second.

There was no stopping me now, which of the routes to take – well the one that brings us back onto the arête of course. Up the chimney and back to the arête. Another difficult rightward airy step lead to a tremendous knife edged arête. I ascended this with ease and excitement until, oops! That looks very steep, there at the end. Still it’s the last bit and it will surely go. What an arête! From the final pinnacle of the arête, a 3m block rested against a final 4m wall. I climbed the block and stood comfortably at its top, my arms resting against the wall like a criminal under arrest. Doubt was advancing from its corner of banishment to mid consciousness. I had to try. Three serious efforts were made. However, the mildly overhanging start and suspect conglomerate holds were at that stage beyond my capability. I had climbed about 100m with only 3m to go. With the right up-draught, I could just levitate to the top. A wisp of grass tempted me to swing to the right in the hope of finding a crack at its roots, but would the crack need cleaning and would it take a finger or maybe two? Would I try to go straight up again? Or would I just save my ass? I climbed regretfully down from the block and back to the arête from where an abseil might be possible.

My disappointment was slight, being overshadowed by satisfaction with the success so far. As John climbed the arête to meet me, I marvelled at our location while trying to get serious about what to do next. Left or right, we were facing a number of long abseils from a very serious position. A pinnacle below offered a good point from which to launch a long abseil. As we made an initial short abseil, I realised that the wisp of grass was in fact at the lip of a very large crack. The route could be finished, but unfortunately not that day. We had been climbing for 7 hours and tiredness, hunger and lateness of day all necessitated a continued retreat. A return visit was required.

Then we realised that we had reached easier ground and the top was reachable, maybe as a scramble (I’ll never learn!). John set off this time, heading for a large crack system. I followed with amazement, up what was no scramble, first bridging a gaping crack, then entering into a deep chimney which eased with height and then delivered me gently via a ramp to John at the glorious top. This was indeed a worthy finish to the day, offering further varied and thoroughly enjoyable climbing.

We had climbed 135m, a direct finish would be about 100m, either way the route went at about VS 4b/c. It was climbed on sight with little prior inspection, thus I guess we were dog lucky it required little gardening. We stumbled down the mountain, our legs now failing us, but in contrast we floated about for at least a week to follow. The result, Ong Gong arête with the Long John Finish; a direct finish is on the way.