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Fair Head Meet 2017

Fair Head is one my favorite places for climbing (even though I’ve only been there once before!). This place is an absolute must for anyone who is considering himself somewhat serious trad climber. I takes no prisoners, is very intimidating and absolutely unforgiving for the ego (albeit it takes all the gear you throw at it!)

There is no easy climbing at Fair Head. I think two thing are required to start enjoying this place 1. Know how to jam 2. Be comfortable leading grades  HVS/E1 (you really want to be minimum E2 climber to ‘truly’ appreciate the might of Fair Head though).

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Climbers enjoying good weather

The Fair Head Meet is an annual gathering of climbers taking place during June Bank Holiday weekend. Around 300 to 500 climbers from all over the Ireland, UK and beyond calls in to Sean’s Farm (the land owner) and for those few days totally overtakes the place.

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This was my first time attending,  mainly because in previous years I just wasn’t strong enough before to jump on anything above VS (and trust me, all the classics are always under siege, with people queuing to give them a shot).

This year was meant to be different, as I though I’d be strong enough to try myself. Unfortunately the poor weather forecast meant that a lot of my potential partners decided to stay behind (and save their weekend ‘passes’ for better occasion). Fair enough.

And here is where it got different for me – I normally don’t climb with random, just met people, but I took a chance and posted a mini add on the FB Irish climbers group ‘Looking for  Fair Head climbing buddy’. Sure enough a quickly got a response – and that’s how I met Peter.

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Turns out he was also solo for the weekend, and after some brief vetting (also known as internet stalking) we’ve decided to team up. Peter is a NI native who lives some 40mins drive of Fair Head.  He has passion for the great outdoors, been climbing for similar amount of time and grades as I do. Perfect match. Not even tinder could do it better!

I arrived to Sean’ Farm (that hosts the event) on Friday evening.  We sorted the gear, decided on early start (7am wake up) for the following day, got couple of beers and headed to the Barn for Calvin Torrans  and Clair Sheridan’s talk.

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These two are absolute legends and pioneers of Fair Head.  First ascensionist of many, many of the routes in Fair Head and beyond (over last 50 years!). Calvin, at a young age of 76, still climbs super hard, just recently (last 2 weeks)  establishing 3  new routes in E4/5 range ( example: Njold’s Saga,  E4/5, 6a/b. 2PA. 43m. C Torrans, C Sheridan. 25/5/17)

 

Saturday morning welcomed us with good weather forecast – it supposed to stay relatively dry until later afternoon (3.30pm or so).

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One of many sections of Fair Head (that itself over 2 miles long!)

We set of from the campsite as planned and were by the base of our first route by 8.30am:

Pangur Bán *** 36m HVS (5a)

C Sheridan, C Torrans. 14/10/1977.
A delightful pitch. Climb the corner and crack as for Crib Pad Crack and continue straight up past a short steep wall to finish via the sustained crack above.

I got the first lead, and with the double set of cams set out into the unknown. I got to say, Fair Head HVS is nothing like Dalkey (where average route length is 15 meters) or even Glendalough HVSs. It’s always long, sustained and just full on experience near my limit.

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Another team on Pangur Bán. Taken, just 20 mins after I lead that.

We quickly abbed off. It was Peter’s turn. He’s chosen:

Lazarus * 24m VS (4c)
T Ryan, K Higgs. 10/1977.
Climb the first crack in the gully to a jammed rocking block and continue up the groove above to an overhang. Pass the overhang on the left (crux). Continue more easily up the crack above.

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Peter getting up to the base of Lazarus.

We were flying up these routes, but more and more people started to show up. For my next route I’ve chosen:

Stone Mad 39m HVS (5a)
T. Hand, J McKenzie. 19/5/1979.
Start just right of Sabre Rattler. Climb the short slab to the start of a crack, continue up the crack past a bulge (crux) to a large platform. From here step right into a short corner with jammed blocks and continue to the top.

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Peter topped out Stone Mad.

I remember both of my leads to be very long. Longest single pitch HVS I’ve ever done. I also remember using all of the cams I had on me (and I had doubles of almost each size up to size 4 BD).

We knew the weather was closing in, so quickly picked a route for Peter:

The Offence 24m HVS (5a)
D Stelfox, R Lawson. 8/4/1980.
Runs up from the left side of the grassy ledge. Climb the arête just right of The Fence using blocky holds on the right to the base of the cracks. Climb the cracks to a ledge on the right. Continue up a crack to the top of the pillar on the left, follow the crack to the top.

Even though these last 2 routes didn’t have any “*” (meaning they’d be of high quality & recommended) they were super enjoyable, and if they were in any other place, they all would have at least one each.

As we were topping out our 4th route together, it started to rain, and we knew that was it for the day. It was still relatively early (around 3.30pm), but the forecast had ‘rain all afternoon’. It wasn’t wrong. We got back to the campsite, had some food, beer and rest, and set off to Tom Randal’s (of Wide Boyz fame) talk on his and his climbing partner’s exploits and adventures.

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Another great presentation by one of the world’s top climbers.

The Sunday plan was simple – do two quick climbs before the rain catches us (forecast for showers from 12).

8am departure with bags full of hardware got us plenty of time to accomplish that. It was definitely colder that day (tshirt climbing previous day vs 2 layers on Sun).

We got pack to The Prow sector and decided to jump on whatever was free at the time. Simple pick:

Curlew 28m VS (4c)
I Rea, E Cooper. 17/3/1985.
This takes the crack right of Revival. Climb the crack to the top of the pillar and finish up the right-hand crack.

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Peter seconding Curlew. Bit of poor rope management in the foreground. Courtesy of ‘it’s cold, I dont care!’

As I made first steps into that route, a lone American wolf from California, and aspiring crack climber, Connor, who recently moved to NI, bumped into us and asked if he could join us (we met him the previous night, so he wasn’t exactly a stranger). No problem at all, since we had extra time, and clear agenda of 2 routes for the day anyway.

For the final route of the trip Peter picked:

Good Morning Judge 24m HVS (5a, 4a)
S Billane, V McCartney. 19/3/1977.
Start in the corner beside a short chimney with an overhang.
1) 12m (5a). Climb the short chimney to the overhang. Pass this on the right and belay on the pulpit.
2) 12m (4a). Continue up the crack to the top.

I’m not sure why would someone do it in 2 pitches, we did it in one.

I actually don’t have any picks of the start of the route but chimney climbing is not something I’d have much experience with.

As I made my way up the chimney (ass jamming FTW!) two big blocks (water melon size) got loose from under my feet and hurled down with force, stopping some 200m below the crag (or so I’ve been told by people how narrowly missed them). Luckily I managed to shout and anyone at the base of other climbs managed to move aside. No injuries.

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Peter belaying, with Conor topping out ‘Good Morning Judge’

The climb was mighty, and hopefully the boys taken some shots of our struggles. Again – loads of hand jamming, probably the most of all the climb we did.

That was it for us for this weekend. Peter is travelling for work tomorrow, I was also happy to call it (mainly in light of poor weather that was supposed to hit the region).

We sorted the gear, had celebratory hard boiled egg each (cause why not!), and headed back.

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It was meant to be one egg each. Peter must have swallowed his in whole, as I swear i thought he still had it when i took that photo!

I have a feeling that’s not the last time I see him though 😉

 

Update:

I got rest of the photos here .

Also EpicTV’s coverage from this years meet is worth watching (to get a glimpse of the feel of this place ).

Categories
climbing

Fair Head and other Northern Adventures.

    It finally happened. I managed to convince people (well, it took zero convincing this time, the team was more motivated than I) and climb in Fair Head. It was my (and Tereza’s) first ever trip there – while for Jirka it was a return after 8 years of absence.

So there we were, yet again on epic adventure trail.  We left on Friday and for a change spent a night at a with a roof over our head(rather than camping) in Ballymena’s Slemish Barn. It’s actually a really nice place at very reasonable price point (15GBP for a bed in a dorm room).
They have very good facilities, with basic breakfast provided (which is a nice touch – we didn’t expected it). The owner (Michael) is a very nice guy, and will accept Euro if you ask nicely.
The place is situated strategically close to Fair Head (40min drive via the coast road, I think it’d be faster via the other route), and allows for nice & early start in the morning. Obviously camping at the farm on Fri was also an option, but sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself to a warm bed.

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And that’s what we’ve done. Got up ‘early’ on Sat &  we were at Sean’s farm before 9, where we also bumped into Ambrose and his magic van.

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We quickly moved towards the crag (it’s a 15 min walk through the farm, in fantastic setting) – as the forecast predicted rain at 1pm.

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By 10am we were racked up at the bottom of our first victim, 2 pitch classic on Ballycastle Descent Gully East-  Girona *** VS 5a (although the book we have says 4c, 4c) – I lead the first (apparently harder one), Jirka flew the second one.

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Below – Jirka on Pitch 2
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Jirka & I below.

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Few drops of rain didn’t discourage us at all and we made our way to The Prow to find our next targets.

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Not being over-enthusiastic about our ability to lead these long ‘hard for the grades’ routes we’ve settled on another classic, The Black Thief VS 4b .

 

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It was such  a nice route to lead. Nearly 30m of fantastic bridging and jamming. Gear everywhere, fantastic views – Fair Head at it’s finest!
I lead it, and then Tereza (who’s relatively new to the sport) – lead it on my pre-placed gear. She actually flew it, without looking back. I’d say – teach the girl how to place gear and she’d be leading HVS on her own  in no time!

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Jirka collected the gear after us, we abseiled and sent him for what turned out to be the last route of the day – The Fence, VS 4c.

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He enjoyed every single move of this 24m high route. Tereza cleaned the gear 2nd and  I went last to meet their smiling faces at the top of the wall.


We cleaned up and headed back to the farm to make some food and relax.
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Once we pitch the tents and setup my precious Kelly Kettle, we got a nice surprise from Sean, the landowner who brought fresh supply of fire wood – for a nice pit-fire.

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It was very nice of him. We had a friendly chat about the history of his land (he owns over 400 acres) and climbing in general in the area. He doesn’t climb himself but is very friendly and welcoming to all climbers – big (like his most recent famous guest – Alex Honnold) – and small – like us.

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We sat by the fire and enjoyed the bottle of 12 year old anCnoc, talking about future plans, climbing, big bulls, small rabbits and other less important things.

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The morning welcomed us with windy weather, sore hands and loud children (well these, from the tent nearby, were crying all night, so there wasn’t much sleep)…
Since it was Jirka’s last days in the country, we’ve decided to give up climbing for the day,  and explore local touristy spots.20160807_083151


We stopped by in Ballycastle, to look at Fair Head from distance.

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And the move further west. The hanging bridge and Giant’s Causeway are ok, but it’s nothing special after day like we had the day before. Although the massive waves made quite the impression.


Bushmills Distillery at the other hand it’s a different story.

Both of us being admirers of good whiskey couldn’t miss the chance to visit that place (it’s been there since 1608!).

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We completed very interesting 40min tour around the factory (it’s operational 24/7, so there are strict no-photography rules). You get to walk (with a guide) around the production line, as he explains how this fine drink is made. At the end you get to exchange your ticket for a taster of their produce. Jirka actually ended up with 5 shots (since some of our visiting group didn’t drink whiskey, others were driving), while I picked up a bottle of their 12year old single malt reserve (available only at their factory shop, nowhere else!).

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That concluded our short outing to The North. Drive back to Dublin was uneventful. It’s actually quite straight forward – motorway all the way down…

I hope we’ll be able to squeeze in one more trip before Jirka returns home…

Entire album with some more descriptions is available here.