Monday, 15 December 2008

Glendo Classics

Bouldering in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

Aerial view of Glendalough valley

"In any online discussion about grades, and there have been many of these over the years, you can almost set your watch by the arrival of some pundit who will roll out the aged old cliche that there are only two grades that matter: those you can do, and (wait for it) those you can't! The corollary being that grades are unimportant. [...] Grades and grading arguments are in our blood, and people who say they don't care about them are simply not being honest."

These are the words of the North-Wales Bouldering Guru, Simon Panton.

I personally tend to avoid mentioning any grade on this blog, because most of the time they would simply be wrong. Not that I am questioning any one's ability to grade problems, but for some reason as soon as you put a figure on a problem you get criticised. Either the figure is too high and you are full of it, or it is too low and you are a sandbagging scumbag ( not to be mixed with a scum bagging sandbag).

However there was various discussions recently about grades in Glendalough and more generally in Ireland and Dave Flanagan suggested me a post including a list showing in descending order the Glendalough problems that I have done and consider to be classics. Obviously this is expressing my opinion, and only mine (you can start shooting, I'm ready). So here it is:
  • Superstars of the BMX 7a+
  • The Fin SS 7a+
  • The Egg SS 7a+
  • 2.4 Pascal SS 7a+
  • Andy's Arete SS 7a
  • BBE (standing start) 7a
  • Road house and mingeback 7a
  • The Nu Rails SS 6c
  • Chillax SS 6c
  • Barry's Problem SS 6c
  • John's roof SS 6c
  • San Miguel SS 6c
  • Greg's Problem traverse 6c
  • Chuppa Chups 6b
  • Quality Control SS 6b
  • Superswinger SS 6b
  • The Plum 6b

To grade a boulder problem, here is what I personally think that a climber should take into consideration:
  • climbing level: if you send a new 7a every day for breakfast, there is no way you can make a difference between a 5 and a 6a. For instance John Gaskins climbed "Away from the numbers" a few years ago, a problem that was probably a piece of cake for him. At that time he roughly estimated the grade to be 7a+. I do suspect it is harder and I don't think that climb has received many ascents since then.
  • climbing style and diversity: having a 6a level should mean that you can climb any 6a. However it is never the case as we hardly have access to a diversity of rock, heights, angle, holds and landings. Most climbers rely on their local crag for obvious financial/time reasons and therefore they usually get spanked big time when they go and visit different climbing locations. This has a big impact on grading because it means we tend to specialise within the grade level, i.e. we find easy those Glendo hard moves we are used too, but we find the Font warm-ups very hard, leading us to think that their grades are messed up.
  • Amount of tries/ascents: when getting a problem after a hundred tries you cannot properly grade it, because you feel that you have achieved something far beyond your usual climbing. Conversely a problem that you have done many times feels much easier because your body knows the job perfectly: Has anyone ever seen Barry O'Dwyer in Glendo? The guy stopped climbing for a year but I bet you he still warms up on the Egg.
  • Conditions: That's a big one. Grades are floating with the wind, the temperature and the humidity. It might sound obvious but everything feels easier when conditions are perfect.
  • Climber's morphology: Another obvious one. I am over 6 ft (longer reach but bigger leverage), my ape index is negative (good for foot locks, bad for mantel), I have big feet (good for smearing, bad for edging), and long spatulate fingers (perfect on slopers but painful on pockets). So for me the Fin should be easier than the egg. It is probably not the case for a short monkey with tiny feet and stumpy fingers. By the way my wife says I also have big soft lips but she does not want to share them.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

White Bog and Black boulders

Bouldering near the Windy Gap (Dundalk/Newry area), Co. Louth

The White bog ( Lat 54:03:03N (54.05) Lon 6:13:43W (-6.23)) is an upper valley nested in the Cooley Mountains, Co. Louth. The crags have some potential for a few small routes but the scree has some quality bouldering and is really worth the journey. I first visited the place in May 2008 with Declan Tormey. Although it was a very warm sunny afternoon, we managed to climb The Nose, an excellent powerful problem. I continued to develop the venue overthe following summer months.

The rock is an excellent dark gabbro. Although it is very sharp, the grains and crystals are very small which makes it possible to climb even on a hot summer day. The valley is well weathered, but the scree is facing south west and is high enough to get a lot of wind. So the conditions are usually good.


From Dublin: head north on the Belfast motorway (M1). Take the last Dundalk exit: Dundalk north/Carlinford/N173. Follow the N173 (Cooley peninsula coast road) until the entrance of the village called The Bush. Take the U-turn road to the left towards the Windy Gap and follow the road at the bottom of the hills. Pass the Tain way (sign), pass the highest mountain, a small forest and a few houses. Park on the side of the road before a couple of lane ways to the right (54.04364, -6.24816, the place is called Glenmore, but there's no sign). Approx. 45Mn.

From Belfast: Head south to Newry (A1). In Newry, follow the directions for Omeagh, pass the Carlingford Lough estuary (if you're on the Warrenpoint road A2, you're on the wrong side) and take the Fathom Line (small road). After the border, this becomes the R173. In Omeagh, take a turn right at the Petrol Station and follow this road towards the windy Gap. After passing the Gap (main car park) you reach a yield: take the road to the left. After approx. 2.5km / 1.5 mile, Glenmore and the waterfall should be on your left hand side.

Put on your wellies and walk up the farm lane way. Follow the path that leads to the bottom of the hill side behind the fields (two gates and an old cottage ruins). Turn left straight up the hill following the remains of old stone wall (steep but no ferns). Pass a couple of berms until you arrive in the White Bog valley: the scree should lay in front of you at the bottom of a crag. (20Mn a walk).

Remember: Do not block the field gates, and always keep them closed. I talked to the farmer and he seems to be a nice guy so let's not piss him off.

The Starter Arete sits completely on the left, hidden in a hollow. The landing is excellent, the rock is not too sharp and the problems are easy, making this area perfect for warming up.

Starter Arete is the obvious corner arete. It can be climbed from a sit start and has an eliminate on the right (basically eliminating the arete!). Starter traverse is following the round lip of the boulder from the lower right to the top left. There's also a nice little crimpy problem on the left side of the arete. To the right of the arete is another smaller boulder with a couple of sit-start deadpoints: Dec’s sit start takes the round corner and Pierre’s sit-start is the overhanging mini-arete.

The plate boulder is the huge flat boulder at the bottom of the scree. It has a good overhang on the left side and a big blank roof on the right side.

Lesbian Treaty follows the crack line on the left hand side overhang. Sit-start on the obvious bottom side pull right hand. Using a high flake far left, slap up to the break, match and move right on the crack. Avoid the easy V gap and go for a dynamic finish via the upper crimps. Three Stars.

Media Tick is standing to the right of the plate boulder. Sit-start on the crimps in the groove with a heel hook on the left (harder for the tall). Cross through to the crimps on the right, slap to the lip and rock over.

The Nose is the big obvious pointy nose at the top of the scree. An absolutely awesome problem with a nice grassy landing. Unfortunately it is rarely in conditions due to a green terrace above that keeps water running onto it. Start under the roof. Using a crimp to the right, the sharp arete and a heel hook, slap up to the nose then rock over the lip of the roof. Descent to the right. Sit-Start project from deep back wall.

The pebble is the huge boulder sitting in the middle of the scree. It has a couple of slopey lips with
various slab top-out variations.

Blade runner
, Sit-Start on the obvious jug. Go left onto the sharp crimps and left again to a hidden jug. Then reach the lip of the overhang to step out via the left arete or rock over onto the slab and top out.

To the rear of the Pebble is a little overhang with a nasty deapoint sit-start. Pull hard on the rather sharp and awkward break to reach the upper jugs. If you managed to keep your feet off the ground then top out.

The ship boulder is the big outcrop that stands on the far right of the scree.
The leak is the sit-start to the vertical crack with a high enough top out. Water-line uses the same sit-start but traverses the horizontal break crack and finish round the corner to the extreme right.

Dublin, November 2008

Saturday, 1 November 2008

About sharing and more Glendo off-track

Weather conditions were very mixed for the last bank holiday weekend: although the cold wind was keeping the rock at the perfect bouldering temperature, rain was also around...

On Saturday I got a text from Michael Duffy saying he was meeting Ricky Bell in the Cooley Mountains to check "one of the best lines in Ireland". This frightened me a bit as I thought the boys were on the trail of my latest secret spot. Oops, did I just say it? The fact is I do have a nice little spot in the Cooleys, but it does not have one of the best lines in Ireland, but at least 2 or 3 of them. No need to get excited though, this is just my very subjective opinion.

Talking about opinions, I already had got fairly paranoid when Dave Flanagan gave his own on first ascents back in June stating that "by saying nothing you are relequinshing your right to complain when someone does the 'first ascent' of your problem. " But I do share my discoveries and first ascents and the proof is my good mate Tim Chapman rung me that day asking if I had read Dave's article: "Do you think he knows about your new place?" The fact is I met a good few hill walkers around there and it's only a matter of time before climbers hear about it so let's start the sharing:

As for northies, it turned out that it was not what they were after. They were actually trying some serious line on one of the numerous outcrops that can be found in the Windy Gap. I had a quick walk around there before, but had never bothered checking that overhanging bit. I did not take any picture, but let's just say it is a high enough awesome looking slopey prow with what looks like a strenuous overhanging start. Unfortunatly the rain arrived and ruined the guys hopes as the upper slopers became damp. I would not be surprise if we hear about it soon though.

Sunday was another good discovery day. Again Michael Duffy texted us saying he was going to try a good looking roof crack he had spotted high in the scree. However after having spent a good time warming up and brushing the line, the few attempts he and Ron Browner gave it were far from enough to crack the line before the rain. In the meantime, I had met my old buddy Michael Nicholson who had decided to explore the surroundings. A good idea that was: he found a couple of huge caves, one of them containing one of Glendo's best problems. Not that it is particularly hard (Michael Duffy flashed the first ascent) but it has the good benefit of being sheltered from the rain, a quality that is not common among Glendo's problems... I am not talking about moisture here: by 5 o'clock all boulderers had fled the valley under lashing rain except for me, Kevin Griffin and Michael Duffy, who also had the taste of bringing lamps to light up the cave. The problem itself is a roof line, not too unsimilar to Chillax, but slightly harder. I suggested the name "Perma-dry" but Michael has probably come up with something better by now.

So, Dave, if you are reading this, here is a thought for your website: how about a database of perma-dry problems? I'll start: Perma-dry, 7a?, Glendo, in a cave high in the scree, 100m straight up above superstars of the BMX.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Art's Cross

Following a few discussions and posts on the short span message board about the big mother arete in Art's Cross, I decided to post some information about it. Officially it was first visited back in early 2007 when Dave Flanagan got tipped-off by O'Hanlon. However I have good reasons to believe that Seamus Crowley had already explored the place the previous year.The place is definitely worth a visit as it is quite awesome, even for non-climbers. There are a good few boulders around, which comes handy for warming up.


The main boulder has probably the most beautiful line I have seen in Ireland. Its western side is the first you should see when arriving: a 5m / 15ft high prow with two fairly blank aretes (actually the left one is too round to be called "arete").

We spent a good while trimming the wig all along the top edge so top-outs are now possible. The landing area is very grassy. However there is a stream passing right at the bottom, and although it is quite narrow it is deep enough in the ground to break an ankle if you land in it, so make sure you come with enough pads to cover a good landing area. We also have cleaned and climbed a few lines around. The first boulder we tried was the low overhanging arete at the back: either really hard from sit-start or too easy and too short from stand start. We also tried a class overhang problem 10m further down (passed round a corner). Unfortunately a horrible spiky rock is standing right below your ass... The big one itself has a few variations on its south side slab either really hard or fairly easy.


The boulder field lay in the upper part of the valley nested at the bottom of Art's Cross Crag. Dave's team arrived from the Wicklow gap. Although this walk is quite long, it's a good opportunity to visit the Glanakeera boulder known to some as the "Sheep's head boulder". However if you are not to keen about long solitary walks, there is a shorter approach from the gleenremore brook valley. From Hollywood, drive towards the Gap (R756). At Coonmore, drive straight instead of following the main road to the left (do not pass the Kings River) and follow the electric overhead lines. Follow that road for a while (rough, 4x4 welcome) till it finishes in a path. From there continue on foot. Pass a gate and a bridge, then right and walk up hill following the side of the forest. Once you've past the forest continue up hill and stay on the left side of the valley (good chance of meeting the deers). The total walk in is about 45 Mn.
I have located it on my google bouldering map (check side panel on the right) and don't forget that you can use OSI online to explore Ireland.

Good Luck.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Cheap Bouldering

I am sure by now most of us have heard about that recession bug. I am not quite sure how you catch it, but they told me that if I get it, I will have to save more and spend less. Apparently it affects everything from time schedule to regular income.... And there is no vaccin, but it looks like you can prevent it or at least reduce its effects by being poor. So here's a serie of tips that might help:

1) Get yourself a finger board

It might sound expensive but think about it. Your local wall probably has one of the cheapest membership scheme, say €100 per year plus €3.00 per visit. Yet if you go twice a week for 1 year (40 weeks +), that's about 340 plus petrol. Now say you have bought a 60 fingerboard (or even a pull up bar) and you replace one of your weekly wall sessions by a pull up session at home, you will now spend 220 at the wall and divide your petrol cost by 2.

2) Reduce travelling costs

Stop flying abroad to these world famous bouldering spots and enjoy more of the unpredictible Irish bouldering (weather wise). Don't drive on your own, share car space and petrol costs. Stop driving to the wall, take up cycling. It will get you fitter - I know, I know, do as I say, not as I do...

3) Recycle

You don't need that 20 brush kit from Metolius. Recycle your old tooth brushes. You don't need the latest Patagonia pants. Recycle your old casual Friday trousers.

4) This is Ireland, not bleedin' Nepal

So what you need is neither a pair of Louis Vuitton flip-flops, not a pair of high mountain boots. Instead, get yourself a pair of these:

A pair of wellies will cost you 15 quid and will do the job just as well as gaiters - actually even better because they are easy to put on and off, which is a solid pro argument when it comes to bouldering.

You think I'm joking? Check out the following pictures and see if you can identify those smiling wellington boots aficionados:

5) To the sissies

I know, you have a nice soft baby skin which suffers a lot from these repeated attempts on Wicklow granite problems. 

Like many boulderers, you use the Climb On! bar because that stuff is "a completely pure (synthetic & petrochemical free), powerful skin nourisher and first aid product to be applied to burns, cuts, scrapes, rashes, cracked cuticles and heels, tissue nose, road rash, diaper rash, abrasions, poison ivy...all skin problems [...] the MOST powerful skin repair recipe on the market." 

So they say. 

But a 1 oz Bar (roughly 30 grams) costs about 10 and there is plenty of other stuff around.

I personally have tried a wide range of products from the famous Neutrogena Norwegian Formula to the expensive Lancome intense restoring lipid enriched cream, and so far I found the best you get for money value is the Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula.

It is "enriched in vitamin E with a soothing emollient base. Heals and softens rough, dry skin. Helps smooth and blend unattractive marks and scars. Tones skin. Ideal for deep moisturization, including overnight treatments. Widely recommended for stretch marks during and after pregnancy".

Also highly recommended for climber's dry hands. Available in many shops, it 's 5 times cheaper than  the Climb On! stuff.  Sense.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Calculate your bouldering Carbon Footprint

The above picture shows the total CO2 emissions in kilotons per country (red left) and the emissions per head in the same countries (blue right). I am not sure when or how this data was established but I found it not so long ago in the online edition of some famous french newspapers.

I must admit I always have been concerned about my impact on the environment and I am quite sure that most climbers and more generally those who love the outdoor are environmentally aware. Like most of us I usually try to do my bit to help. I use low energy light bulbs, recycle as much as possible and completely switch off most of my electrical appliances at night.... As an architect I decided to live within the city so I can usually walk / cycle to work and I have a recently built apartment which is supposedly better insulated.

But as a boulderer, I wanted to know what was my impact of the environment. And an obvious tool to quantify this is the carbon footprint test. Ireland's Plan of action on Climate change has a fairly straight forward carbon footprint test on their website You just register and fill in sections about your home, transport and waste. This is the result I got:

As shown on the comparison table if I was leaving in France, this would be fairly average, but as an resident of Ireland this is a good result. The trick then was to calculate how much of this was produced by my bouldering activity. In other words what amount of my carbon footprint is generated by:
  1. Driving to Wicklow / any outdoor bouldering venue

  2. Flying to Font or any other bouldering location on the continent

(Please note that a more precise quantification should also take into account the number of times you wash you climbing clothes, and the electricity used to light your training facility !)

So after a rapid estimation I took the test again excluding these transports figures and got the following result:

That basically means that bouldering is responsible for roughly 30% of my carbon emissions. Not exactly a environmentally friendly sport activity, is it?

So it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what can be done:
  1. Share your car as much as possible
  2. Replace famous venues (Font, Targassone, Albaracin, Sheffield...) by local exploration (Gap of Dunloe, Black Valley, Polldoo Glen...)

By the way that may sound alarmist but the oil peak is probably well past anyway


Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Portrane Update

Although the last weekend was probably the wettest of the last 2000 years in Dublin, the overall summer has not been as bad as last year, and I am sure most Dublin boulderers enjoyed at least a couple good sessions in Portrane over the last few months.

Firstly I wish to mention the visit of two Austrian climbers, Connie and Alex, who had decided to start their bouldering trip around Ireland by staying a week in Portrane. I must say we were quite puzzled when they mentioned it and we advised them to shorten their stay in Portrane and quickly move to the West. And for anyone else planning to visit Ireland, I reiterate my advice: although Portrane has a good bit of bouldering, it is clearly not your main destination and does not deserve a full week of your time. Donegal, Connemara and Kerry have much more to offer in term of rock quality and variety of landscape!

Two new problems were added at the Arch: I personally finally sent an old project linking Girls on film / Planet Earth to the Ear via the Arch. (See previous post) Although none of the moves is harder than 6c, it constitutes a long sustained traverse which I named the French Connection. This will have hopefully got me fitter and my traverse project in Clare should soon enough become the French Connection II. (For those who have never seen these films, go and rent the DVDs, they are much more entertaining than any climbing video). Michael Duffy added a new problem to the left of Planet Earth / Girls on Film: Sit-start under the roof using a small side pull left hand and the stone ledge for your feet (sometimes buried in the sand). Slap over the lip of the roof to an edge and go up left to a catchy in-cut.
Michael also succeeded where many others had previously failed: he managed to flash X-men, the tricky roof problem that was once described by the Portrane bouldering guru Kevin Cooper as the un-flashable problem. However it was not clearly established if Michael's foot freded* the ground or not. Moreover Michael seems to have climbed X-men using his knee, a method that, although that is perfectly acceptable, can be considered as terribly ugly among proper climbers. Kevin advised Michael to shape up a bit and climbed the line the properly. I managed to take a little video on my phone:

It should however be mentioned that Michael was probably tired from the hard work he has put on the Arch: As I mentioned in a previous post Michael has cleaned the upper part of the Arch and has worked out most of the moves to the top brown jug. So if Mr Weather finally decides to settle down a bit, it should not be long before that stunning line gets linked. By the way Michael has also climbed a new 8a in the Scalp called Switch. He said that the first move is the hardest, (a tough far slap) but the rest gets easier... I cannot but agree with him!

In the Alley, I added a sit-start just left of Andy's Problem: from a low undercut , deadpoint to the top end of the ramp and top out to the left as per the ramp. For the bolder finish, go straight up through the high overhang (spotter highly recommended).

There was also a good few sessions in the Pit to try the sit-start to Mr Topsy Turvy. This is the low roof indicated has a project in the guide. That problem has actually been done by both Michael Duffy and Rob Hunter and is clearly harder than 7a when you start with both hands on the roof undercut. And for those who feel really strong, there is an even harder project to the right: starting under the roof as well, use two wrongly oriented sharp hold and slap really far out to the right to link onto the big ledge of Mr Silly.
Finally I spent an evening Clogerhead back in June: I found a nice traverse not far from Alice in Crimperland. The Spine follows a long spiky break line from the left to the right. I also found a nice vertical wall with a few crystal crimps. I climbed a couple of problems on it but they do not top out as the wall is fairly high. They would definitely be better climbed as some little routes or alternatively deep water solos (although I have not checked the waterline at high tide.)*to fred: this term intends to refer to Swiss climber Fred Nicole who claimed a first ascent although this FA climb got clearly affected by the fact that he had been involuntary "pushed" by one of his spotters. Anyone who knows the exact story, please do not hesitate to stick it in the comments.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The best boulder problem in Ireland?

We all have a favorite bouldering problem, and generally it is our latest hardest ascent. But when you ask yourself honestly if that problem really deserves the award you generally come to the conclusion that there is actually a better line out there. So which one is the best bouldering line in Ireland?

Objective factors

Rock Quality
One might prefer sandstone to limestone but in the end it all comes to the same question: What is the quality of the rock like? Is it solid? Is it sharp? Does it get polished? Good rock is to bouldering what flour is to bread: It is the base ingredient that you cannot omit.

Although I am one of those who think you must deserve the climb, I must admit that a climb that stands on its own 2 hours a walk from the closest car park will never receive the attention it deserves. Ask yourself: What is the time ratio climbing/approach? How’s the walking like? Do you need a good pair of walking boots or will a pair of sandals do?


Some excellent lines are doomed by their conditions: Every time you want to try them, there is something wrong: too warm, too wet, midges, seepage, high tide, rain pond at the bottom....
Ask yourself: How often did you try the line?

Subjective factors:

Line Clarity
The best problem is a problem that does not need any description. I personally believe that the purity of a line is what the true boulderer should value most: No matter how good a problem is, it cannot be described as a proper line if you need to eliminate half the holds.
Ask yourself: Is this an eliminate? How easy is it to describe?

Line Quality
Probably the most controversial factor: what can feel really awesome to some of us will feel like absolute crap to others … However everyone will agree that the true boulderer is always looking for his ultimate hardest move: the most powerful, the weirdest, the stretchiest, the nastiest....
Ask yourself: What are the moves like? What are the holds like? If there are many moves, are they all very different? Is it sustained? If there is only one or two moves, how original are they?

I first thought this factor was objective, and then I thought of Bullock Harbour. I asked myself in which category would it fall. And surprisingly I could not choose. Obviously everyone loves beautiful places like Kerry, Wicklow, The Mournes or Donegal. They all have their stunning lonely valleys that you wish you could visit more often. And then there are the less attractive ones like Bullock Harbour: broken bottles, human and dog’s dumps, graffities and the junkie’s syringe. And of course the local bums who are always coming up with a good joke (You're a bit of an eejit mista', there's an easier way up there! ). Nonetheless I had some beautiful evening in Bullock Harbour, enjoying the sun, the sound of the sea, the view around and the occasional visit of the seals.
Ask yourself: Could I bring some non-climbing friend there for a picnic?

Finally a line is great because it receives attention. Otherwise it is just another piece of rock on Craggy Island.
Ask yourself: Is the problem well known? Has it been fairly described? How many ascents has it received? Do people refer to it by its name? Does it actually have a name? Is the grade still floating?

So I selected a list of 20 irish bouldering problems that I really like. I gave them a mark out of 5 (5=excellent, 1=very poor) for each of these preceding factors. Here’s the final score list:

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Bloque Andaluz - Nerja Bouldering

Si hay escaladores españoles que leen este blog, pues tengo una
--> cuestion: donde se puede encontrar informacion sobre el bloque andaluz?
Esta es la primera vez que pongo un poco de castellano aquí así que me perdonan los errores. Ya tengo unos artículos que tratan de España, pero siempre fueron destinados a unos amigos de Irlanda. Aunque en realidad el artículo en cual trataba de Pena Corneira tuviera que haber sido en castellano, porque hay mucho más probabilidades que interese a un ibérico que un británico. Ya visite unos sitios en España y me parece que los españoles, lo tenéis bastante bueno para el bloque: la verdad es que cada vez que estoy en algún sitio en España me encuentro con unas rocas muy atractivas. Sea donde sea. Claro que hay de todo, pero hay mucho y por todas partes.

Hace unos días estuve en Nerja por segunda vez. La primera vez fue un par de años en invierno: mi mujer y yo estábamos harto de la lluvia irlandesa de Noviembre y decidimos de pasar unos días al sol.

Para los aficionados de las series de tele, este lugar es sinónimo de "Verano Azul", una serie culta de los 80s. Pero para los británicos es un sitio desconocido donde se puede pasar unas vacaciones tranquilas sin escuchar a ingles en cada sitio. ( La verdad es que en Nerja hay mogollón de irlandeses y británicos pero comparado con Torremolinos, es un mogollón muy pequeñito).

Estuve allí sin tener mucho tiempo para escalar y tubo suerte que había bastante roca en las plazas para practicar media hora al día. Lo que me extraña es que no se encuentra nada de info en el Internet. Es cierto que el Chorro queda muy cerca y que siendo una destilación muy importante hace sombra al resto. Pero eche un vistazo al google map y me parece que hay bastante por allí para blocar.

En fin me quede con las rocas de la playas que non son malas. Estoy seguro que no soy el primero porque hay muchas presas que están marcadas con magnesio y por eso me gustaría saber cuantos pasos hay por allí y si hay mas sitios cerca / alrededor.

Hize un par de videos:

For those who wonder what the heck, I was in Spain last week, enjoying the good sun (that yellow thing that appears from time to time in this rather gloomy irish sky) and I found some nice bouldering on the beach, but I could not find any info about it. The place is called Nerja. It's on the coast, close enough to El Chorro. The rock is a sort of conglomerate pudding: although it looks loose, it is actually very solid with a lot of overhangs and roofs. Very enjoyable but not documented as far as I know. So anyone who happens to know something about it, I would be interested to hear your comments.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Tick - The Nasty Bug

Who said that bouldering was not a dangerous activity?

Following a couple of fights with some tiny winny nasty dirty little bugs known as ticks, I have been looking for info and here is what I found: According to wikipedia, "tick is the common name for the small arachnids in superfamily Ixodoidea that, along with other mites, constitute the Acarina. Ticks are ectoparasites (external parasites), living by hematophagy on the blood of mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are important vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease. According to Pliny the Elder, ticks are the foulest and nastiest creatures that be."

Sure we all heard about this. But what is less known is:

  1. Because of climate change ticks have it better these days and there's more of them around, which means Lyme disease is actually more common. According to VHI healthcare, "there does not seem to be any great danger of contracting the disease from Irish deer. However, experts warn that the disease is gradually spreading to the most suitable habitats." So we are not all going to die right now, but we'd better get ready for when it happens.
  2. Lyme disease is only one of the threats that ticks are carrying and it is part of a broader range of infectious diseases affecting the brain. Another bad guy that is now spreading from the east is the Tick Borne Encephalitis, aka TBE, a virus that attacks your nervous system and can result in serious meningitis, brain inflammation and eventually death. According to a not so recent article this guy kills about 5 people out of a 1000 in Europe, and for those who survive, life is not always back to normal (Tick-Borne Encephalopathies: Epidemiology, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention., Günther & Haglund, 2005) . Not a nice one huh?
  3. Using greasy substances such as oil or vaseline is not actually helping. A long time ago my granny had taught me that the best way to get rid of a tick was to drown it in oil (olive oil or butter depending on which cuisine approach you are taking). Although this is true, this method is actually augmenting risk of infected materials being injected in to you: in other words, when drowning there's a fair chance that the bug will puke in your veins all the infectious crap it's got in him.
  4. Ticks prefer French blood. Now this has not been proven, but if this was not true, how come then that I'm always the one who gets the bite when all my irish mates pinky butts remain perfectly untouched?

Anyway there is plenty of information available online and I strongly advise any boulderer who fancies a trip in the Wicklow mountains to read it. A good website to check for general info is the travel health tick alert. And for those who want the ultimate gear (yes, you who bougth a brush kit specially designed for bouldering projects, I am talking to you), you can get yourself an O'Tom hook.

So good luck to everyone, and as Metallica used to say: Kill 'em all!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Portrane - The Arch

I hope everyone enjoyed the good sunshine over the bank holiday. I spent the Monday afternoon in a crowded Portrane with Chris Rooney and Michael Duffy. Michael cleaned the upper part of the Arch, and gave it a good few attempts: he has worked out most of the moves to the high brown stone jug. What would make it an ultimate line would be a top out to the left, although this would require some good spotting and a few mats. Definitly one of the best lines in Ireland.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Bouldering in Galicia - O Granito galego

Bouldering at Pena Corneira, Galicia, Spain

Forget Hampy, it is too far. Forget Targassonne, it's too cold or too hot. The futur of European granite bouldering lays a few kilometers away from a town called Ourense in the south of the Galicia region, northwest of Spain: here, 15km of hills are covered with huge round granite boulders. There is so much there that you could spent your entire life climbing first ascents. The place just blew me away. It has it all. It is beautiful and quiet. The winter conditions are perfect even though you can climb there till the early summer.
But first thing first, let's talk about Galicia. It is a country I love for lots of reasons. 

It is quite different from the spanish stereotype you may have in mind: Like the Irish, Galicians are Celts. Like the Irish, they're welcoming and hepfull. Like the Irish, they have their own music and their own language. And like the Irish, there is a fair amount of them on the other side of the Atlantic.But unlike the green people, Galicians know what matters in life: quality food, quality wine and taking the time to enjoy them.

So, what's the rock like? 

Imagine a granite so fine that it sometimes looks like grit. Although this not the case everywhere, it is definitly very enjoyable in the "developed" areas. I met there with Miguel Feijoo Fernández, one of the very few but dedicated locals. They climb only in the Pena Corneira itself - the tip of the hills range), where they have 4 sectors more or less "explored", the reason for this being that this is where the granite is the finest. But with all the work they have put in there, they are far from having it developed! Miguel is currently trying to organise a oudoor competition in Octobre, the reason for this being to open more problems.... It says it all.

Here is the usual info:
Best season: Autumn to Spring although the magic conditions occur most often in Octobre / Novembre.
Nearest airport: Santiago de Compostella (home of one of the most famous christian pilgrimage)
Language: they don't expect you to speak galician so you'll be fine if you speak spanish (you should be able to survive with english only though)
Accomodation: lots of hostels in Ourense, but you can camp in Pena Corneira, the place is a paradise.

More info available on Miguel blog.

There also a general blog about climbing in Galicia here. These guys have a forum, and some of them speak english.

More pictures here.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Mall Hill Video

The Wicklow cranking season is nearly over and with the longer and warmer days, boulderers will be back to good old Portrane. So as a conclusion of this winter’s posts, here is a video of Mall Hill. Yes I finally took the time to put these little videos together.

They are not as great as I hoped they would be, but I think they are good enough to show the quality of the bouldering in there. It only features the Dublin-Beauvais boulder on the left side of the hill and a couple of boulders in the forest: I have not recorded anything on the right side of the hill but maybe this is an opportunity for next year as there are some awesome lines there too.

I should also mention the climbers names: Michael “the Dude” Nicholson on the slab and “The small Matter of Up” (No Mikey, this was not a first ascent…) , Michael Duffy on “Piece de Resistance” (Michael, this is the only French name I could think of, so feel free to rename it) and Myself on “Living the dream” and “Coup d’Etat”.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The Short Span New Problem Database

Deadly! You can now register your irish first ascents online: Dave Flanagan has set up a New Problem Database on his Short Span website. I think we'll probably see some banter going on, but this has been a long time waited tool that should prove to be very handy in the future.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


Mall Hill is probably my favourite venue at the moment. I first climbed in there back in 2004; At the time a good bit of the forest was still standing and the place looked very different. Dave Flanagan, Diarmuid Smith and Ped Mc Mahon had given us a tour but we were not too impressed by the walking around the place. You first need to cross a river and although this is not a problem when you wear a good pair of rubber boots, you may find these same rubber boots very inefficient when it comes to walk up hill through the wet logs and the piles of pines branches left over by the forest exploitation. The only problem that really stunned me at that time, was the excellent “Living the dream”, in my humble opinion probably the second best Irish line in the 6 grade after Andy Robinson’s stunning “Shadow” in Lough Dan.

However I never came back to that problem, due to various reasons: the walk in, the travel distance and off course the usual unpredictable weather. Besides I was not even sure where the bloody line was. I did come back to Mall Hill the following year with Seamus Crowley, Dec Tormey and Kev Cooper. As some more of the forest had been cleared, new boulders had appeared: we climbed things like the “Chigaray arête” and the “Dublin-Beauvais” dyno. This latest boulder has a huge undercut slab and to the rear is a very round arête that looked quite attractive: this is probably the only project I kept thinking of in Mall Hill.

But after having spent most of this winter sessions in the Stonecutters Glen, I needed to come back to some well developed areas, that would involved less brushing and more climbing. So one of the latest weekends, I went back to Mall Hill with Michael Duffy and he showed me a good few lines that I did not know about: I am not going to give any names here, firstly because he did not give me any and also because I am not sure if they’re even recorded on Dave Flanagan’s guide. I came back to my round arête anyway, just to find that it was an eliminate with 3 various top outs. Without much surprise Michael sent two of them in no time, but I am foolishly still hoping that I will get the last one. He asked me to give it a French name, so I am proposing “Piece de Resistance”: it should suit it given the fact that it might keep one busy for a while. We also decided to check what was left of the forest, and there it was again: although it was too wet to climb it at that time, “Living the dream” was waiting silently hidden in the forest, 20m away from the path. I had forgotten how good that line looked like but I was psyched straight away.

I missed a good opportunity two weeks ago thanks to the good old Irish mist so this weekend I did not leave anything to chance: I came prepared with 3 mats and my old reliable mate Michael Nicholson as a spotter. We warmed up on what looked like an uncleaned line: after some serious brushing Mikey sent what he wanted to name “Kate Moss”. After having checked the guide, it seems that this line had already been climbed as it matches the description of “the small matter of up”, something which we find really hard to believe given the amount of cleaning that was required prior to any possible attempt. We then moved towards the goal of the day, and although I must admit I firstly felt nervous, I sent “Living the dream” in a couple of tries. So our attention turned to 2 other projects on the same boulder. The first one is “Strictly Ballroom”, a hard sit-start to some very slopey holds that link onto the traverse of the top of the boulder. This remains a project. However the other one gave up after a good few attempts. “Coup d’etat” is a hard deadpoint that can result in a high, funny but very safe fall if missed. This is probably what I like most about all these lines: unlike Glendalough, the landings are generally very safe.

Altogether Mall Hill is a beautiful place loaded with problems and projects. And the forest part is very enjoyable on a dry day, so I strongly recommend it to anyone who has not been there yet. And do not wait because I would not be surprised if next year the whole forest was cleared. I am currently putting some videos together which should be shortly be available here.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Updated bouldering guide to Ireland 2008

The Short Span Bouldering guide to Ireland 2008 - Version 3 has arrived!
Dave Flanagan has put a huge effort in it as this edition now contains over 1000 problems and takes less memory than the previous PDF guide.

The main addition is the popular Doolin, but it doesn't include the newly discovered Black Valley in Kerry. This should be updated more regularly in the next editions. Another area that Dave is planning to add in the next edition is the controversial Glendalough update.

More information on The Short Span website.

Friday, 4 April 2008


Bouldering in Stonecutters Glen, Co. Wicklow

The bouldering guide to the Stonecutters Glen is now available here.

As far as I know an onsight climb means you have never seen anyone on the route before, you have not heard any info or received any beta (which is hard these days giving the description you get in some guide books), you have clearly not toproped the route before or even inspected it with an absail. When you are climbing a route after having seen someone on it, it is called a Flash. A lead that you have actually worked out is a redpoint.

Now not so long ago (when I was still a sports climber, that is) an onsight was the base on which a grade was given. So if some route was given 7a, that meant onsighting it would mean that you would have climbed 7a, flashing it was 6c+, leading it was 6c and toproping it was 6b+. But this is sports climbing, I've been told the real trad thing is different.

Anyway when it comes to bouldering, these concepts become very subjectives, and grades are supposedly there as a pure technical info. How come then we are still arguing about adding a + between these 3 and 4 grades? Actually in some guide you can even find problems graded 4a+. And don't oppose me the "Vermine" example, I have also seen some V10+ in climbing magazines...

So anyway, I personnally think we should go back to the good old Font colour code, and I decided to give it a go. I can already ear some people saying "Hey, do you know that rockover problem in the Stonecutters? I think it 's definitly yellow, not blue!" You wish...

Anyway, any comments welcommed!

Monday, 17 March 2008


The Stonecutters Glen is the real name of that not so secret Area 52. And since it is not that secret anymore, here is a bit of information on what is there. Please note that the following is just an outline and I will prepare a more detailed information for the update of Dave Flanagan’s Bouldering guide to Ireland in the next few days.

Park at the same carpark than Lough Bray, two kilometres south of Glencree on the military road beside the small quarry. Go up to the top of the small quarry and walk through the bog toward the Sugarloaf. Lough Bray should be in your back and Glencree on your left. After 20mn you will reach the Stonecutters Glen. The first main boulders you should come across are the egg and the split boulder.

The Egg is the first big boulder you should come across. It has a very recognisable roundish blank slab (project) and a nice problem on its north side (right side on picture) involving a tricky top out on a round top: The egg. On the smaller boulder below is good sit-start deapoint that takes a few tries to adjust: Bloody clawmarks.


Mickey’s traverse is still a project: it's the low traverse that follows the very round lip leftward from the corner jug. Warning: skin grater. Too little to late is the traverse that follows the top on the right.

Upper on the valley stand two nice boulders. There’s been blood is the excellent arete shown on the video. It involves finger jamming, dynamic slaping and a high enough finish. There's also an eliminate version using the arete only (project). The boulder below has two nice lines: Bert's rockover is the right hand side corner of the roundish slab. Gorillas in the mist is the right side of the arete. The start is reachy and definitly easier when you are tall.

Brutal overhanging arête. Definitly the hardest line in the Stonecutters Glen. Rif Raf is the hard deadpoint from a crimpy rail on the right hand side.

The Big triangle slab at the top end of the valley is definitly worth a visit. The left hand side is Rock it : From the big bottom step rock over the arete to reach a good break higher and top out.
Soledad is the excellent middle slab: Tricky start without footholds then up the various rails. The right hand side arete is much easier.

There is approximatly 25 lines developed in total. The lower part of the valley was not explored as it does not seem to be of much interest. 

Thanks to everyone involved in the cleaning:
Tim Chapman,
Mickey 'the Dude' Nicholson,
Bernie O’Rourke,
Dec Tormey
& Sean Walsh.

Text and Info by Pierre Fuentes

Dublin, March 2008.