my travels Picos 2017

Picos de Europa Day 3 – Los Capitanos

Day 3 in Picos had us again at Fresnidiello wall. This time we opted in for a route called Los Capitanos. It goes from right hand side of the crag, thought the roof up the black streak. It’s a bit shorter than what we’ve done previous 2 days, but still a lot of fun.

Better view of the route. It goes diagonally left from where Peter is standing, through the middle of the roof, up via the very black streak top the top.

I started from a dodgy grassy base, which went pretty much unprotected. I got to say it wasn’t hard, but smallest mistake would have me decked with broken legs…


Next was the the roof itself. It has good holds and a bolt in the right place, but it’s missing pro for next 6-7 meters. That was the real difficulty, as it was intimidating and challenging. Peter experienced that on the sharp end of the rope…

Peter pulling on the roof holds. The crux came immediately after though.

From there It goes more less up, with another harder pitch, that this time was very well protected (2 bolts and a peg). Again, it happened to be on Peter’s lead.

Last 3 pitches are easy but super run out. It’s fun when dry and luckily we managed to catch it like that (except for the  last 20m of last pitch when it’s started to rain).

The ‘highway’ pitches. Easy, but very runout!

Luckily it wasn’t as desperate as yesterday and we made it to the top. (and safely back, although a bit wet).

Coming down in rain.

Overall, we are very happy as we got 2 great days out of what supposed to be wet weather (reality is that Spanish wet is the same as Irish summer). For me personally leading big run-outs is still somewhat intimidating, but I get by.
Tomorrow we have a ‘day off the walls’, as we have big walk in to the mountain hut by Naranjo de Bulnes, where we will stay for 2 nights and attempt to climb on the East face.

Looking from the top



Picos de Europa Day 2 Garrido Zapata route

Today we got back to Pena del Fresnidiello (1477m) with little expectations of climbing (due to poor forecast). Either way we set our minds on the other side of the wall (left) where the route Garrido Zapata goes (315m to the south summit).


BTW I should mention that the most recent English language guide book for the area is 28 years old, with only one edition printed in 1989….

Peter harnessing the power at the bottom of the crag.

Anyway the route is a reverse of what we did yesterday – easy enough start, with harder top pitches.
When we arrived, it was obvious that the sun won’t be out much, but after all it kind of worked for us. It was way too hot yesterday, so a bit of a shade was welcomed.

I started P1, which was a massive water carved slab that ran for 50m, with 1 bolt and almost no other pro (I might have put one or two nuts).

Me getting on with P1

Next pitches were very similar,  until Peter’s nasty traverse pitch, that gave a bit of variety. Rather blank and sparsely protected.

The scale is very difficult to convey through the photos 

At this point it started to rain, just as I was gearing up for first of series of more difficult pitches. Without much thinking I just went for it. I was a solid HVS bridging against weird ear shaped flakes (marked Diedro on the first picture above). It was OK protected, with odd piton and some nuts I placed, but definitely hardest so far.  

Peter on one of the middle sections

Peter’s next pitch was rather blank and now quite wet crux pitch. The weather was in ‘misty mode’ for quite a while now giving the wall  black color. Black limestone equals wet limestone.  Definitely not fun anymore.

Looking up at increasingly wet wall. Gotta continue!

Pete got to the anchors in ‘any means necessary style’. I followed.

Half way up I actually went flying (just some 5meters) when a dodgy hold exploded in my hand… My partner arrested the fall, I shook it off and continued it rain.


At this point we were 30 meters below the summit, but had no safe way to ascent any further. The rain was in full Irish mode, so we decided it’d be best to bail.


On a separate note, the pair of Spanish climbers, who were climbing alongside, retreated on the very first signs of bad weather, some 1.5h before us. Perhaps they were allergic to rain.

Either way, we were going down. Relatively quick abseils (I mean it still took around 45 to 60 mins) took us to the ground.  Quick drive back to Arenas, and we were sitting in a bar drinking beer and eating cheese again.  Tomorrow it’s round 3 at the same wall, and it’s meant to be wet again…


Picos de Europa days 0&1

We arrived to our hotel just outside of Santander, Spain around 10.30pm. Nothing to note other than the fact that it turned out that somehow I left one of my trousers and shorts in the rooom (there were in bag that must have fallen out of my luggage while in the room). Oh well. I’ll pick it up on the return.

First I have to say that Asturias look nothing like Spain. It’s more like Ireland, all green but with permanent good weather .

For first days route we picked 320m V+ (around VS 4c in our money), 7pitch classic, Elixir para calvos to the north summit of Fresnidiello.

On above photo the route goes right of the roof seen 1/4th high up it.

As the book says, the first two pitches are somewhat difficult, rest is rather cruise mode.

All of it tho is rather run out (as fory taste). All pitchea were on avg 40m and u wouldn’t fine more than 5-6 protection points(1-2 bolts, redt trad). All belays bolted.

The approach was also rather steep. 45mins and some 400m elevation gain in full sun.

Peter started P1 and in 4hours we were on the summit.

There wad another couple of climbers in front of us. Very nice Spaniards Marta and Carlos. We met with them later in the village we are staying (Arenas) for quick exchange of plans and ideas for future climbing projects.

As for climbing itself the whole idea of easy but run out routes is somewhat new to me. I like to have an option to protect myclimbs, which is not something people seem to be bothered about here.

7-9m runout seems a norm. I guess it’s something I’ll have to learn.

It’s meant to rain tomorrow so I’m not sure what the plan will be. We shall see…


Slieve Beg at Mourne Mountains

An ordinary climb rendered difficult by a dangerous combination of weather, injuries, darkness, lack of preparedness or other adverse factors.

Went up North (Mournes, Slieve Beg) to do some more adventurous climbs. Had one for sure. Not exactly an epic, but quite interesting combination of unfamiliar terrain, midges & rain.
From the beginning though – Met up with Peter at Donard car park on Sat 9am. Decided to put up some effort and walk up all the way to Slieve Beg – by some described as best mountain crag in the Mournes.

The walk taken just over 1.5h (all uphill, some 500m elevation gain) The views are indeed spectacular and worth the hard work.

Crag description (from

The most obvious feature is the huge central gully of the Devil’s Coach Road. To the left is the Main Face, south-east facing and characterised by a series of corners, and to the left again are two large south-facing areas separated by a steep grassy section, with on the far left a small buttress called Satan’s Buttress. To the right of the Devil’s Coach Road are more broken crags the most obvious feature being a steep broad slab of rock taken by Mourne Maggie.

Slieve Beg crag, The Devil’s Coachroad in middle-right

First order of business – gearing up, abseil to the base of:

Sweetie Mice *** 40m HVS (5a)
J. McGuinness, J. Bruce. 19/5/73.
An excellent classic one of the best in the Mournes but there is a risk the rock could have a veneer of lichen due to lack of ascents. Start at the steep diedre at the bottom of the Devil’s Coach Road. Climb the diedre until forced to step right at a bulge onto the arete at 25m and follow this more easily to the top.

Getting to Sweetie Mice, HVS 5a *** – the route is the obvious corner. Unfortunately very overgrown these days.

Now, the 3* rating might have been accurate few years ago when the route was clean – for us it was a rather severe case of extreme gardening. Peter lead it, I followed and pulled a ton of green stuff in the process. Perhaps next party of climbers will enjoy it more.

Sweetie Mice, HVS 5a *** – aka gardening 101

It wasn’t a bad route. Just not really in 3* condition.

Anyway – from there we decided to move the other side and try and find:

Wabash Cannonball ** 85m VS (4c, 4b)
C. Torrans, S. Billane, W. J. Baxter. 8/9/74.
1) 45m Trend left and follow crack to reach the diedre proper. Continue straight up corner (dirty exit) or (cleaner) up until it is possible to move out left on a big flake to the outside face and trend back right. On up ledges to good belay on the highest one.
2) 40m Up corner to cracks on right and up cracks and easy ground to an arete on the right. Finish airily up corner in the arete.


By the time we thought we were at the base of the climb the midges were already out.

The anti midges squad.

We figured we had the line so I just got on it.

Me leading 1st pitch of ‘WTF am I’.

It felt hard for the grade (supposedly VS 4c), but I kept going until a grassy ledge. From there it kind of didn’t match the description anymore, and I was only 25m up (p1 was meant to be 40m). I figured I’ll build a belay, bring Peter up and we’ll take it from there. And so we did.

Unfortunately for us the single droplets turned into heavier rain, but that din’t scare away the insects. Double whammy.

Anyway Peter went up another 20 odd meters, to a point where there was nowhere to go (at least not for our grade in those conditions). We were definitely off route.

Totally lost.

At this point we figured bailing makes most sense. We sacrificed 2 nuts, abseiled back to the base of the climb and scrambled around to the top.

Bailing of the route – not my proudest moment.

I studied the guide book later and I’m pretty sure we miss identified the start and instead of Wabash Cannonball VS we attempted  Burden of Dreams (E3) – (and got shutdown on it’s 3rd, 6a pitch).

Burden of Dreams *** 114m E3 (5a, 5a, 6a, 4a)
I. Rea, P. Holmes. 23/4/90.
Takes the left-hand, clean corner of the double diedre which gives a superb crux. Start at a left trending crack a few metres left of a grassy ramp which starts at the lowest point of rock.
1) 22m Go up crack which leads to a flake system trending left and follow this directly to belay on a ledge.
2) 12m Follow another left trending system of flakes to the left edge of overhang. Traverse horizontally under overhang until possible to cross it at break and then go straight up to ledge.
3) 40m Climb up to first roof and layback around this on the right and go up a bit until possible to step left into base of a very steep right facing diedre. Go up this and over roof (sustained) into niche as for The Fiddler and continue up to large ledge.
4) 40m Climb and scramble up the rock and heather as for The Fiddler.


Walk of shame.

The midges were still full on out and the weather closed in totally, so we wanted to GTFO ASAP.

Midges trap!

Luckily it was mostly downhill now, and for a while we had a good company – local farmer and his crew!


By 6.30pm we were by the Pigeon Rock – another crag, some 20mins drive from Slieve Beg, hoping to actually do some climbing the following day. It’s a place of great beauty and minimal walk-in. Something that appealed to us without a doubt after a lengthy day.

Pigeon Rock

Unfortunately the morning greeted us with rain, rain & more rain. This adventure was over. Totally worth it though. The outstanding beauty of the Mourn Mountains combined with fantastic routes available there make me thing I’ll be back many more times.

Before & after.

For now though it’s time to start getting ready for next adventure – Picos de Europa in northern Spain! Departing Fri the 28th of July with Peter. 7 days of hopefully adventures of equally epic proportions.


Revenge on Ifreann Direct

Plans for today’s climbing changed at least 3 times in the last few days. The constant struggle of deciding between the Burren, the Mournes or staying locally in Wicklow is becoming a weekly ritual.

Glendalough was chosen. It’s never a bad choice, although I’m starting to run out of routes to climb (in my grade). This time it was Diarmuid and Monika who joined me. Having odd number of people isn’t necessarily a bad thing, things will just go slower than in a pair.
From the moment I parked at the upper lake I knew today will be spent at East Wing – home to the Forrest Ledge, where number of fantastic climbs are located.

We’ve actually been there already this year (early in the season) and if you are reading this blog u’d know I’ve fallen on gear on route called Ifreann Direct. It was time to try again. And this time I wasn’t planning on giving up easily.

Monika approaching the base of our climb.

But from the beginning…. First of all there was a large group with couple of top ropes on Acorn buttress, so we skipped it by walking around.

Then Diarmuid lead what normally is 2nd, 40m VS (4a) pitch of Forrest Raphsody all the way up to the Forrest Ledge.

Monika following what was our climb number 1.

Then the revenge time came:

IFREANN DIRECT *** 18m HVS (5b)A superb finger-jamming crack, intense and engaging, lasting all too short a time. Start about 4m right of the pillar on Ifreann where a steep, thin crack runs up the right side of the prominent, rectangular overhang. It is hardest at the start. Excellent protection.E. Goulding, J. Tobin, S. Rothery, P. Kavanagh, 6/3/1966.

Getting ready for action.

I think I was a bit to relaxed (or maybe not relaxed enough?) and actually had to back off on my first attempt, just after 2 or 3 moves.  But in to time I got back on it and wouldn’t let go, until I clipped the anchors.

Route start

Monika and Diarmuid followed, although Mon had difficulties adjusting to finger jamming.

Above the crux, but still far away to the top.

Indeed it’s not something you can easily learn. Kudos to her for topping out.
While this route is graded HVS, it’s technical mark is higher than your average HVS. At 5b it is not easy.

The real deal came next – Diarmuid decided he’s gonna jump on a climb on the Upper Tier called:

An exciting climb requiring a studied approach; delicate to start with a strenuous finish.
Start 2m right of Aisling Arête, directly above the boulder embedded in Forest Ledge. Climb the wall just left of the thin seam: small wires. A breathless move gains a ledge at 13m (crux). Climb up steeply right to the overlaps. There are good holds high above.
K. Higgs, June 1977.

Technically, similar in grade than the route I’ve just done, but it’s not as well protected. As a matter of fact I know for a fact that I wouldn’t lead it because of the sparse gear placements. And that ladies and gents is the difference between HVS and E1…

It’s difficult to see, but there are 2 serious run-outs.

I climbed 2nd, collecting all the gear and waited for Monika just after the crux to encourage her not to give up. Even on what is essentially TR this wall is pretty exposed and can be intimidating.

Monika in action on CONCRETE WALLFLOWER

She didn’t disappoint and was up with me in no time.

In the mean time we run into Killian and Geraldine who were doing another classic upper tier route – Jackey (VS, 4c)


Both of our routes have the same belay/abseil, so I snapped this random photo, where every one is looking in different direction, but at least we all used 1 set of ropes to get down 😉

They went home (being at the crag since 9am) – we decided to do one more route.

I lead:

LETHE ** 31m VS (4c)Start 4m right of Aisling arête, follow the tempting quartzy crack to a ledge and gain a crack on the right with difficulty. Up this with increasing difficulty until an escape left is possible at the foot of an ominous, steep groove. Continue up left past a perched block to finish.P. Kenny, F. Winder, S. Rothery, 25/4/1954.

A route I’ve done in previous years, a rather fun one for the end of the day (no photos though).

One thing I very enjoy doing is photographing other climbers on the other side of the crag. Today’s special was a team of 3 in what looks like a serious, all day siege of Sarcophagus.
These guys seems to take at least 5 hours to get up it, very often getting off route (is that even possible?), coming back and forth, doing belays in  weird places. Looked like loads of fun!

Random group on the side of The Main Face.

Either way, we all had a great day, that finished with a big burgers and pints at Glendalough Inn.  Great reward for great day’s climbing!




The Dream Team

Derek is one of my oldest climbing partners (although I don’t get to climb with him that often these days) and I was very happy to hear that he was up for a day out in Glendalough. He’s still recovering from winter injuries, so we agreed I’d lead any hard(er) pitches we might encounter.

2 out 3 members of the original Dream Team.

Upon arriving to the base of the main face we ran into Andy&Vanessa, who were half way up first pitch of Prelude-Nightmare.

We settled on Scimitar Crack, one of the last of classic HVS routes in Glendalough I haven’t led yet.

Looking down half way up the Scimitar Crack route.



This is the curved crack-line slashing the great triangle of the central Main Face from bottom left to top right. The 40m main pitch is well protected throughout, except for the brief crux where the protection is adequate.
1. 34m Just to the right of Quartz Gully vegetation has overrun the original route to the crack-line. Instead take the first two pitches of Prelude-Nightmare to an imposing flake belay on a narrow ledge.
2. 40m Follow the curving fault-line. Difficulty increases as it steepens. Bridge up a broad groove to a hanging quartz vein (crux). The climbing relaxes higher up as large holds appear. Swing right out of the groove onto the arête for the final moves.
F. Winder, S. Rothery, 28/6/1953.

We did what every one does these days (and the book suggests) – and climbed (Del’s lead) superb first  pitches (VS 4b, 4b) of Prelude.

We swapped leads at the dodgy as hell flake (with some fixed slings) and I reluctantly moved on 40m adventure up the route.

Scimitar Crack pitch2,  (HVS 5a **) in all its glory.

The pitch wasn’t hard, definitely wasn’t harder than any of the HVS’s I’ve done this year, although the crux is VERY difficult to protect.

At the top I met a couple of Kerry climbers who were visiting for the weekend. They were just abseiling to the top P3 of Sarcophagus, to attempt the Left Hand Finish of it’s last pitch (E1, 5a) – something Diarmuid and I wanted to attempt on our last visit.

I met them later on, on the way home, and they said the top part of it was wet, but still worth doing. I still don’t know how to find the start of that pitch though…

Anyway, Del promptly followed collecting all the gear and we moved to Expectancy Slab abseil point.

Derek in power pose!

This is mainly because my 50m double ropes wouldn’t take us to the ground from the main faces’ abseil point (which by the way is a nice and shiny stainless steel wire, great job and I’m sure it will serve the community for few seasons!)

We met there Andy & Vanessa again (who were just finishing up Deirdre, a classic VS).

Vanessa peeking from behind Deirdre.

We decided to quickly ab off and and do it ourselves. I’ve led both pitches in 1 push (as it’s commonly done). The route has couple of variations, but I kept to what seems like the classic configuration.

DEIRDRE ** 25m VS (4c,3c)
Tackles the left edge of the Main Face right of Expectancy Slab and is clearly visible from below. There are several alternatives but the following is the most popular line.
1. 15m Just right of the foot of the true arête there is an open shallow corner with a thin crack. Climb the arête left of the crack to a good ledge. The exquisite, thin crack above is grappled past the vacant pod to another ledge. Belay in the corner.
2. 10m Continue up the corner crack and then move out left onto the arête to finish.
The original route included a now neglected introductory pitch at 4b which follows a rock rib to a midway ledge and then moves right to regain the groove which is followed to the usual starting belay on the path below the steep wall.
F. Winder, P. Kelly, 7/6/1953.

Half way up the offwith part of P2 of Deirdre. I had to move the camera to the other pocket, might as well snap a photo. 😉

We wen’t down again, this time to the base of main face and as we were packing up it started to rain. The rainbow over Miner’s Village was a signal to go home. Nobody argued over that 😉

Faint Rainbow over Miner’s Village.