The Greatest Summer - Part V. 'Wundih?'

Flashing the main pitch of Immaculata. Photo: Henry Francis

 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

‘Uss ut wundih?’

 

The old man looked at me sternly, dark eyes and weathered cheeks. I had no idea what he’d said. ‘Err... sorry? I... what?’ I replied.

 

‘Uss ut wundih dun therr?’ he repeated. He was losing his patience. ‘The wund?’ His eyes narrowed slightly, annoyed with my ineptitude.

 

I fumbled with the rope awkwardly as I belayed Henry from the top of the crag. I felt embarrassed, wishing I could answer his question. I didn’t want to be a ‘stupid foreigner’. Could I get away with asking him to repeat a third time?

 

Suddenly it clicked. The wind! Of course, he wanted to know if it was windy whilst climbing. Wundih!

 

‘Oh aye,’ I said, beaming as the penny finally dropped. ‘Sorray, aye, ut’s ah but breezih dun therr! But yu’ll be faine thow,’ I said in my best accent. His mouth cracked into a toothy smile, eyes now shining brightly. He chuckled, apparently happy with the reply and muttered, ‘grand, that’s grand,’ before dropping his pack. I breathed a long sigh of relief and turned back to see how Henry was doing.

 

I’m happy to admit that I love accents. Like a parrot, I copy solely out of admiration. But the Irish accent was a whole new level...

 

***

 

Jack, Henry, Anna and I spent two weeks in Ireland this June, sampling a couple of the best climbing areas and the famous Fair Head meet. We were thoroughly impressed by the quality of Fair Head and Owey - they really do live up to their reputation. Every route we climbed at Fair Head was top quality. As in, every single route...

 

After the FH meet and consulting the locals, we decided to take a gamble and head to Owey. It sounded an adventure: call ‘Dan the Boat Man’ - a local with a boat and a friendly smile - and drive to the wild West coast of Ireland; enjoy the beautiful scenery, golden beaches and Atlantic sea, then hop across to the sparsely inhabited granite island; pitch your tent near the natural harbour and relax, before climbing a bunch of three-star classics.

 

I’d heard about Owey from UKC: John McCune put up two routes on the ‘Holy Jesus Wall’ in 2014. The climbing looked fantastic, with wild positions, good rock and a remote island feel. The grades obviously attracted me, too; John gave The Second Coming E7 6b and Immaculata E6/7 6b.

 

After a morning swim on a pristine sandy beach, we met Dan and motored across to the island. We had perfect weather throughout our stay, and enjoyed the fresh style of climbing. The Wild Atlantic Wall has plenty of mid-grade routes on immaculate granite, but we soon got distracted by the Holy Jesus Wall.

 

Jack kindly let me have a flash attempt on the right hand route, Immaculata - the E6/7 6b. I looked at the gear and put a bit of chalk on some of the holds on abseil. Things always look easier from above, so I didn’t stick loads of chalk on the route because it looked alright.

 

Jack led the first pitch of Immaculata. I then managed to flash the second (main) pitch. I was very pleased, particularly as I hadn’t really inspected the top half of the route so it felt like a bit of an onsight. The climbing is totally my style and the gear is great, so I felt confident going for it. I stripped the gear and Jack flashed it too - nice one lad. We both thought it was around ‘hard E5 6a.’

 

The next day we tried to go new-routing but it didn’t go well - Jack established a ‘3-star classic’ that was actually shit (sorry lad, but it was!). 

 

We headed back to the Holy Jesus wall to try John’s left hand route: The Second Coming. By the time we’d geared up it was 7 p.m., and we didn’t have much time, so decided to abseil in to the top pitch. This was a real shame as it would’ve been best to do the 5c first pitch as well. Oh well, another time. I zipped down the ab rope and got psyched for the onsight.

 

Lots of shaking out, up-and-downs and some tricky moves later, I managed pull over the top of the Holy Jesus wall after onsighting The Second Coming. It was a big fight, a proper ‘full-on’ experience, and I was chuffed. My arms were totally boxed, hands bleeding and tips shredded by the sharp granite, but hey - you’ve gotta love the fight. I think this is the second ascent.

 

Jack went for the flash but came unstuck after a good battle. He got it clean the next day - bon effort.

 

I’m not sure of the grade of The Second Coming. I didn’t think I could onsight E7 - even if it’s totally my style. Jack and I thought it felt a bit easier than E7 6b. We suggested a lot of grades, ranging from ‘hard E5 6b’ to ‘E7 6b.’ I guess it’s somewhere in the middle.

It felt a bit harder than a couple of the E6 6bs at Fair Head (Primal Scream andAbove and Beyond), but The Second Coming has so much good gear and the climbing is pumpy but not cruxy. Perhaps The Second Coming is worth E6 but I’m not sure. I tentatively suggested ‘hard E5 6b.’

Further ascents will clarify. I haven’t done loads of E6s and 7s, so who knows. Both the HJ routes are incredible, regardless of grade.

 

***

 

Another highlight was repeating John’s route, The Itchy Nose (E6 6b). It’s much more traditional 3D climbing on generally good rock. Jack led the first two pitches, tip-toeing under and over massive roofs, to belay ‘au cheval’ - straddling the nose feature.

 

The third and final pitch of The Itchy Nose turned out to be an emotional affair, with good gear but proper ‘strenners’ climbing. I kept trying to head left too early, drawn to a ledge on the arete that looked convincing. If you want some beta: from the ‘au cheval’ belay, follow the crackline straight up for 10/15 metres, ignoring the lower ledge out left after 5 m.

 

 

Leading the final pitch of The Itchy Nose (E6 6b).

Photo: Henry Francis/Anna Gilyeat

 

The final overhanging crack was horrendous. I cleared out the death flakes whilst abseiling down and now it was filled with gritty choss. I didn’t have any big cams left so, despite fighting tooth and nail on the lower ground, I got Henry to drop me a rope. I climbed it cleanly, thrutching and scraping upwards, but with the security of a top-rope. I felt like such a punter, and a bit ashamed about sacking it in, but I guess you’ve got to be humbled every now and again. That was my first real ‘overhanging offwidth/crack climbing’ experience, and I was expecting it to be nails.

 

The next day we left our island paradise for another week of climbing at Fair Head. Stay tuned, and browse the photos so far here.

 

 

Dan, the Owey Boat Man. Legend.

 

***

 

Massive thanks and respect to John McCune and co. for putting up these routes and drawing us to Ireland/Fair Head/Owey. We had a great time and are very grateful for your generosity and advice. You can read John’s account of his first ascents on the Holy Jesus Wall here.

 

Thanks also to Paul Swail, Mountaineering Ireland, Sean the Farmer and everyone involved in the Fair Head meet - we loved every minute and will be back.

 

Tom LivingstoneComment