Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Fair Head

Ireland - land of Guinness, shamrocks, leprechauns and superb sandbag rock climbs. This was my second visit to Fair Head so I was knew what I was getting myself into – a seriously impressive crag about 5 km long, with climbs ranging from one to three pitches, mostly up really impressive features.

Tony Stone was keen on Wall of Prey (E5 6b) as a warm up route, straight out of the car! and I got the short straw of attempting to second him up this (being 2E grades harder than my best lead ever) This turned out to be not too bad as the only really hard bit was through a wee roof, a rest and some French free (Frigged!) moves got me through the worst of it and back onto ground that I could actually climb. The belay “ledge” is in a superb position out in space above the roof. Tony led the next pitch, although it was “only” 5c we didn’t know if it was E1 5c or E4 5c. Seconding it was a joy, a really nice pitch up a ragged crack come groove line with repeated mantle moves on slopey ledges. I kind of wished I had led it, but would probably have bricked myself and faffed, plus Tony was cold and I had had the hot aches on the crux of pitch one.

Tony Just after the crux on Wall of Prey

After a spot of lunch in the sun it was now my choice of route and I opted for Hell’s Kitchen – a three star HVS. The deal was I would lead both pitches as I had seconded Tony on the last two. Brilliant route, the kind of climbing I really enjoy, with pitch one succumbing to some old school shoulder scuming and technical bridgery. Pitch two is a belter with more bridging and some smearing and crimping through a blanker section. The crux is very finely placed (i.e. right at the top !). We both reckoned this would get E1 5a **** if it was in the Scottish mountains (or even easy 5b). N.B. My enjoyment of this route was in no way reduced by Tony seconding it in trainers – GIT !

The crux pitch of Hells Kitchen - Cheers Tony for the photo

I was dreading Tony’s choice of route which turned out to be Primal Scream (E6 6b) – I politely declined to second this. I may have used the F word followed by Off. I was happy to belay him though as the ledge was palatial and the belay bomber. We rapped into the belay ledge as the climb is essentially a single pitch at the top of a very blank looking wall – the lower wall pitch has been climbed at head pointed E8. Tony was really steady on the lead, getting the gear in and working out the moves. I was happy belaying, eating nuts & cereal bars and taking snaps of the seriously impressive situation. A couple of hours later he topped out – job done.

Primal Scream

Day 2 Tony decided he would chill out so I teamed up with Chris McDaid for Chieftain – a two pitch VS. the were a couple of moves on both pitches that were a bit rude that early in the morning ! The Fair Head VS did not disappoint. At lunch Tony was trying to talk us into Equinox – the classic 2 pitch E2 of the crag – like cenotaph corner but much bigger. He seemed to have intimate knowledge of the route, strange seen as this was his first visit to Fair Head. After some further questioning it turned out he had soloed it while we were on Chieftain – Nutter !

After Lunch we opted for some single pitch stuff in the sun and headed round to the prow which looks really like kilt rock on Skye. Chris was really keen that I did the fence, a VS that he had done the previous day with Iain Millar. I soon found out the art of sandbagging is not dead as I struggled up the HARD VS ! – Really good route though ! I Seconded Jim Hall up The Black Thief (VS – strangely not a sandbag) to finish off the day.

Tony had got the psyche watching Kev Power on Primal Scream and had persuaded Lesley Ann to rap into the hanging belay on The Wall of Prey to have a go on Above And Beyond (E6 6b). This takes a leftward line directly above the big overhangs. We sat around watching while Tony did the business – Smooth and in complete control all the time. Again, another really impressive on sight lead, very good to watch. Some team work in getting the pitch stripped and Tony & Lesley Ann back down got us to the Chinese just in the nick of time. (Thanks Kev for the assistance & lend of the rope) Turns out this was the 7th ascent – not bad for a chill out day.

Mr Stone setting off on Above & Beyond - Lesley Ann on the belay shared with Wall of Prey.

Day 3 and after faffing about I decided not to bother climbing and took photos of Jim, Chris & Lesley Ann on Hells Kitchen. I also pondered on my approach to climbs at Fair Head. Warming up on the VSs doesn’t really do your head any good as I think the difference between VS and E2 is not as big here as it is on other crags. Next year I’ll be treating it like a mountain crag – no warm-up routes, just stretch, strap it on and get in amongst the routes you really like the look of. Equinox here we come …

Chris McDaid about to start the spicy bit of Hells Kitchen