Rock-Climbing and Climbing Walls

Rock-climbing, simply stated, is seeking out harder and harder ways to climb rock faces.


The usual team is two, attached through harnesses to the ends of a strong but very light rope, who climb one at a time. The better climber goes first, utilising cracks, small ledges, sloping surfaces to climb until he reaches a ledge ("stance") where he can tie himself to the rock. He then brings up the other climber.


Because it is a risk sport, safety methods are highly developed. The rope was the first safety feature, but if a leader is, say, 20m above the second climber who is firmly tied to the rock when he falls, then he'll fall 20m past the second, that's 40m - enough for serious damage.





Now climbers have developed mechanical "protection" - aluminium wedges, cams, even mechanically adjustable cams of various sizes which can be slotted into cracks which the lead climber finds in the rock, to which the rope is clipped through an opening link.


At a difficult move, the leader will fix a cam, clip his rope into it, and if he falls, with the "pro" only a couple of metres below, he/she will only fall perhaps 5m. The second climber is of course well protected by the rope from above.

How to Get Involved

It is fairly simple to get into rock-climbing in Ireland.

The Mountaineering Council of Ireland(*) will tell you which clubs cater for rock-climbing and many of the Outdoor Education and Adventure Centres offer training courses. The MCI has a range of qualifications for climbers who want to lead groups.

Gear is the biggest expense, but as a beginner there is no need to bankrupt yourself buying all the wonderful bits of equipment you see in Adventure Sports shops. The absolute necessities are rock boots, harness, helmet, rope and some basic safety gear.

The other basic need is a climbing partner, perhaps from the club you join or the training course you take; best of all someone who is better than you, though not by too much.

Why Climb?

To most non-climbers, climbing seems to involve the taking of needless risk. Of course it is a risk sport, but precisely because of that, climbers take very serious precautions - they don't walk around clanking with ironmongery just to draw attention to themselves.


All sports involve people to a certain extent testing themselves to find the limit of their capabilities. Why pick rock-climbing as the way to make that test? It is because climbing demands the use of all the faculties, physical and mental.


Walkers, golfers, anglers have time to think of their woes. On the rock, feeling its texture with sensitive fingers, nothing matters but the next move, and so, paradoxically, it is hugely relaxing.

Ghost slab in Dalkey Quarry

The old quarry in Dalkey is full of opportunity for climbing. Most of the rock is sound and protectable. There are two valleys in the quarry as well as the upper cliffs amounting in some 500 climbing routes, and thatís just the ones that are in the guidebook. The routes in the valleys are generally short and sustained, whilst the climbs on the upper cliffs are much longer and in some cases are split up into two or more pitches. The quarry is a great place to learn to abseil and to climb as it has some great uncomplicated slabs of rock to practice on. This particular climb that is shown here is called Ghost and is a very challenging and un-nerving slab climb as there are very few places for the lead climber (Jonathan Mullen) to place pieces of gear to protect himself.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Ghost slab in Dalkey Quarry
Copyright Richard Mangan

Ghost slab in Dalkey Quarry

The old quarry in Dalkey is full of opportunity for climbing. Most of the rock is sound and protectable. There are two valleys in the quarry as well as the upper cliffs amounting in some 500 climbing routes, and thatís just the ones that are in the guidebook. The routes in the valleys are generally short and sustained, whilst the climbs on the upper cliffs are much longer and in some cases are split up into two or more pitches. The quarry is a great place to learn to abseil and to climb as it has some great uncomplicated slabs of rock to practice on. This particular climb that is shown here is called Ghost and is a very challenging and un-nerving slab climb as there are very few places for the lead climber (Jonathan Mullen) to place pieces of gear to protect himself.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Enlarge image

Saddleback sow, Burren

This photo was taken in the Burren in Co. Clare on the Dancing Ledges of the Ailadie Cliffs. The climb is called Saddle Back Sow and the climber is Robert Whelan, from the DCU climbing club. The climb is graded HVS and is a very enjoyable route. Unlike so many of the hard climbing in the Burren this climb is accessible from a small fishermanís decent so there is no need to abseil down to the beginning of the climb. The Burren is a fantastic experience for those interested in climbing. The cliffs are very steep and exposed, and much of the routes push climbers to the limit of their capabilities. The Burren is a place where extreme caution must be taken at all times as nature can be at it fiercest here also. It is also important to respect the wildlife especially in the Burren, as it is an area of natural conservation.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Saddleback sow, Burren
Copyright Richard Mangan

Saddleback sow, Burren

This photo was taken in the Burren in Co. Clare on the Dancing Ledges of the Ailadie Cliffs. The climb is called Saddle Back Sow and the climber is Robert Whelan, from the DCU climbing club. The climb is graded HVS and is a very enjoyable route. Unlike so many of the hard climbing in the Burren this climb is accessible from a small fishermanís decent so there is no need to abseil down to the beginning of the climb. The Burren is a fantastic experience for those interested in climbing. The cliffs are very steep and exposed, and much of the routes push climbers to the limit of their capabilities. The Burren is a place where extreme caution must be taken at all times as nature can be at it fiercest here also. It is also important to respect the wildlife especially in the Burren, as it is an area of natural conservation.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Enlarge image

Where to Climb?

The Dubliner is well-catered for - the disused granite quarry at Dalkey is a wonderful place for beginners and experienced climbers alike, and there are bigger crags in Co Wicklow.

Many other towns have local crags where you can get started. Belfast is well served by the granite crags of the Mournes. You can also start on a Climbing Wall (see below).†

The finest crags in Ireland are in Wicklow, the Mournes and Donegal (granite), at Fair Head (basalt) and the Burren (limestone). While many of these are mountain crags, others are sea cliffs, easily accessible without much walking.

There are specialised climbing guides to all these major crags. Each climb on a crag has a name (it is the privilege of the climber who makes the first ascent to name it), a length, a standard of difficulty and perhaps a few words on the type of climbing (delicate, strenuous).



The longer climbs are split into "pitches", the sections which one climber leads while the other "belays" (holds the rope so that if the leader falls, he can be stopped before he falls too far).

There will be sketches or photographs to help you pick out the climb on the crag. Lesser crags generally do not rate a guidebook, but similar information is to be found on a web-site(*).

Climbing wall in University of Limerick

This photo was taken at a climbing competition at the University of Limerick. Climbing walls like this are a great idea to get students in colleges to take an interest in the sport. They are also great training for climbers who wish to build up their strength or simply to keep climbing during the winter months when it is too wet and cold to climb outdoors. In Ireland there is a climbing competition run by the Mountaineering Council of Ireland called the Lowe Alpine Irish Bouldering League which is held in various climbing walls around the country. These walls are usually in DCU, UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, and Belfastís Ozone Centre. Climbers will climb set routes on the walls and score a number of points for reaching the last grip in the climb. Each climber gets 3 chances for each problem. The scoring depends on which attempt you reach the last grip on, eg 10 on the first attempt, 7 for the second, and 4 for the last attempt. The aim of the competition is to bring climbers from all over the country together and to promote the sport itself in a safe competitive environment. The idea of bouldering is that the climber can climb to a moderate height and fall off onto bouldering mats without hurting themselves.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Climbing wall in University of Limerick
Copyright Richard Mangan

Climbing wall in University of Limerick

This photo was taken at a climbing competition at the University of Limerick. Climbing walls like this are a great idea to get students in colleges to take an interest in the sport. They are also great training for climbers who wish to build up their strength or simply to keep climbing during the winter months when it is too wet and cold to climb outdoors. In Ireland there is a climbing competition run by the Mountaineering Council of Ireland called the Lowe Alpine Irish Bouldering League which is held in various climbing walls around the country. These walls are usually in DCU, UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, and Belfastís Ozone Centre. Climbers will climb set routes on the walls and score a number of points for reaching the last grip in the climb. Each climber gets 3 chances for each problem. The scoring depends on which attempt you reach the last grip on, eg 10 on the first attempt, 7 for the second, and 4 for the last attempt. The aim of the competition is to bring climbers from all over the country together and to promote the sport itself in a safe competitive environment. The idea of bouldering is that the climber can climb to a moderate height and fall off onto bouldering mats without hurting themselves.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Enlarge image

Recently Climbing Walls have become popular. These are indoor walls, mostly in gyms, which have been fitted with hard resin bolt-on holds.

Ropes are slung over fixtures at the top of the Wall, so that you can climb with a safety rope and test yourself without any danger of falling and hurting yourself. By changing the position and number of the holds, it is easy to change the difficulty of the climbs - all levels of climber can be catered for.


These walls serve several purposes. Given the Irish climate, you can enjoy a few hours on a climbing wall when the real crags are streaming with water, you can improve your techniques in safety, you can socialise a lot, and finally it is possible to have competitions - there is a flourishing "Irish Bouldering League" which runs five national competitions through the winter, and there are many local competitions both for adults and schools.

Websites

Mountaineering Council of Ireland (general): www.mountaineering.ie
Rock-climbing (including on-line route guides): www.climbing.ie

Doolin Rouge, Burren

This is a photo taken of the Ailladee cliffs in the Burren region of Co. Clare. In the photo you can see a number of climbers who have abseiled down the face of the cliff in order to climb the routes back up to the top. The routes are outlined in rockclimbing guide books and usually follow the line of a crack or a corner up the steep rock. The harder the routes the smaller the crack lines and blanker the rock faces. There are some very famous climbing routes on this particular slab including Doolin Rouge and Great Balls of Fire. The climbers at the bottom of the face have attached themselves to the rock using various devices that jam into cracks and niches in the rock. This person will then belay the lead climber (hold the rope) as he/she climbs to the top. When the lead climber has secured himself at the top the second climber can detach himself from the rock and climb up the cliff on the rope.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Doolin Rouge, Burren
Copyright Richard Mangan

Doolin Rouge, Burren

This is a photo taken of the Ailladee cliffs in the Burren region of Co. Clare. In the photo you can see a number of climbers who have abseiled down the face of the cliff in order to climb the routes back up to the top. The routes are outlined in rockclimbing guide books and usually follow the line of a crack or a corner up the steep rock. The harder the routes the smaller the crack lines and blanker the rock faces. There are some very famous climbing routes on this particular slab including Doolin Rouge and Great Balls of Fire. The climbers at the bottom of the face have attached themselves to the rock using various devices that jam into cracks and niches in the rock. This person will then belay the lead climber (hold the rope) as he/she climbs to the top. When the lead climber has secured himself at the top the second climber can detach himself from the rock and climb up the cliff on the rope.

Copyright Richard Mangan
Enlarge image

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