Reminiscences of a Relatively Recent Reluctant Rockclimber

(by Fiona Daly, from IMC Newsletter Summer 2000)
Three sisters at an IMC climbing meet in Connemara.

Gerry Moss is going to Connemara! Gerry Moss ALWAYS gets the weather right! It’ll be brilliant!

So suddenly I find myself jammed behind the steering wheel of my car, packed with tents, food, boots, ropes, mountains of jangling gear now silenced by wads of wet weather gear (which of course we won’t need cos “Gerry Moss always get the weather right”) flasks, stoves, sleeping bags, duvets, oh yes and two of my sisters, one buried in a pile of fruit which she gnawed throughout the journey, transforming my car into a fertile compost heap. Guess who? 9.30 pm Fri. June bank holiday we set off in the driving rain after lurking outside a pub in Templeogue for an hour to score some ‘gear’ from Kevin Byrne……..a Whillans ‘ballbreaker’ Harness, (the intended victim was not afflicted by such appendages so happily nothing was broken).

The drive was uneventful, profoundly uneventful, the car cut through the black wet and windswept night, my only company the juddering snores of the sleeping beauties, and the rain thrumming on my rooftop a rhythm that seemed to say ‘Gerry Moss gets it right, Gerry Moss gets it right……….’

At 2.30am we hit Salthill and bivouacked in a women’s refuge which was now populated by fishermen. Least said soonest……………… suffice it to say, we sized one up for a rockclimber, stuffed him in the car at dawn and fled to Dogs Bay. And lo, as we approached Dogs Bay the clouds started to thin and part, the heavenly chorus didn’t turn up but I think I heard a somewhat frail and uncertain voice carried on the damp air ‘Gerry moss gets it riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight……………’ Perhaps it was just the call of the curlew.

We hook up with the other climbers, Conor Murray and Peter Brown are to be seen on a distant crag bellowing impressive climbers calls at each other. The infamous Gerry Moss appears as if by magic, we had heard through wireless communication that he had spent the morning cleaning climbs for us. ’How nice’ I thought , ‘now I won’t get my frock dirty!’. Something about his demeanour, perhaps the lack of apron and featherduster, warned me that something much more sinister was afoot, the true import of which was not revealed till the following day.

Gerry in true gentlemanly fashion – (an attribute which he claimed for many of the original IMC members, and was at pains to point out, one which I and my sisters did not possess! This certainty was based not on our sex but on our somewhat liberal use of colloquialisms! Fair dues Gerry, on that basis I cannot argue) – Oh but back to the climbing, in true gentlemanly fashion Gerry directed us to a crag on Errisbeg, directly above Dogs Bay. This to me was heavenly climbing. Síle Daly led the first climb, (Broken Grooves) Tom Guest went up second, I went third. It was such a lovely climb, little things just offered themselves to me as I climbed, some nice stretches, the odd ‘oh s..t’ (non-gentlemanly expletive) where to now, and then the rock fairies would push out a sticky little toe hold, or hollow a little niche for my fingers, how I loved this rock, how this rock seemed to love me, Roundstone rock is like Fergie’s boyfriend, it doesn’t just grip your feet, it sucks your toes!

Áine Daly followed fourth on Síle’s rope, her very first climb and in my opinion no finer place to start. It started to rain when Tom was already up another climb (Original Rib) with me belaying. I am not a fan of climbing in the rain, my maiden climb was conducted on Yorkshire Pud in runners in the rain and I had spent much of the climb splayed on the rock with limbs flailing like a vertical Bambi on a string (only less graceful). Oh but this was so different, the rock seemed to become stickier in the rain, each foot held like a big farmer’s hand was cupping it into the rock, the climb is on a corner so it has that lovely open feel, it has really satisfying holds and while it might be kid’s stuff to more experienced climbers it was bliss to me.

Gerry, Peter and Conor appeared and lured us from our slightly windy crag to another one further down which was besieged by midges. Gerry soloed up and Tom and I followed on his rope; it was very fast and the details blurred by being served up as dinner to another species. What I hadn’t realised at that point was that Gerry had spotted a very challenging climb starting with a bit of an overhang and up a crack and just when you thought you were out of the woods the horror started again. Conor Murray had just put up this climb belayed by Gerry and Peter went up second in the rain! He had named it Holy Moley, as this was the only printable expletive used on the climb. This achievement was to set the tone of the following day.

We cut our losses and escaped before the midges decided who they were having for dessert. As we passed Holy Moley Conor pointed it out in the off-hand, rather comfortable manner of a man who knows he won’t ever have to climb it again. Then to the pub for some delicious sea-food, carefully avoiding the ‘open crab’ sandwich on the menu. A few pints and home to bed.

Sunday morning was a bit damp but the sky looked promising. Gerry had pointed out a climb, a crack that ran up a bulging face, thought it might be a nice one for Síle to put up. Tom spotted another 3m to the left of it that also looked good. There was also another climb near Holy Moley which Gerry reckoned was worth a try but it was sopping wet so he, Conor and Peter headed off elsewhere while it dried off.

The whole morning was spent trying to crack Síle’s climb; eventually she decided after a couple of falls on the crux to traverse to Tom’s crack on the left and continue it from there. A very mucky ledge, and a crumbling foot-hold dumped her swinging on a fair length of rope, with bits of skin left littering the needle-sharp hand-holds. She backed off on a trusty micro to bandage up and Tom gave it a go; he also came a cropper and drew blood. Síle eventually made the climb with the traverse in the middle, I came up second and fell at the crux and cut my fingers, Tom came up after me. We wanted a name to show it was a bloody climb, we decided to call it ‘Sanguine Expression’ for we had felt quite confident about it yet in the end it had drawn blood from us all.

By lunch time the weather was glorious, we returned to the scene of Holy Moley, and while Síle and Tom eyed up a couple of undone climbs I reclined on a warm flat rock which had a headrest in just the right spot for a good view of the crag and meditated on the true joy of rockclimbing. The others arrived and there was much deliberation as to who was going to put up a particular climb that was now dry and ready to go. I am not too sure if the gentlemanly deferring from one to another was spurred on by a post-prandial torpor or the genuine desire for each to get their fair share of the glory.

After much pottering and poking of bits of gear, and tutting about a dearth of protection Conor made the attempt. I must admit to being very impressed, particularly by some very balletic moves at the top of the ramp.Nureyev eat your heart out! He finished the climb and Peter and Gerry followed him. Tom decided to lead the second ascent on Holy Moley, and where Conor had used expletives, Tom used his knees (I exaggerate for dramatic impact, there was one knee and not a few cusses). To me it looked terrifying and I suspect Tom was not short of adrenalin when he reached the top. Síle went second and then I started up. I fell before I even got to the overhang, felt far too demoralised watching all these experienced climbers having a hard time on it, so I backed off to my warm rock. I finished the evening with a nice delicate climb on my favourite crag (Shallow Crack I think) – warm sun, fluffy clouds, fresh air, birds singing, beautiful scenery, everything was right with the world.

Monday morning, myself and Áine did some good confidence-building climbs with Conor while the others went off ‘to boldly go where no man…………….’ more crags to conquer! The sun sparkled on the bay, a light zephyr warded off the midges, the rock seemed to delight in our climbing it, a shaft of sunlight picked out an angelic chorus on the hillside, their voices reached us across the lilting air, rising to a crescendo ‘Gerry Moss AAALWAAAYS gets it riiiiiiiiiiiiiight……………..’