I have a friend called Eamon who doesn't like my flippant use of the word 'awesome'.
Lately, my attempts to reduce my use of the word in general conversation have lead me to appreciate it's true meaning. This weekend I was presented with a place and quality of climbing that left me in no doubt that Fairhead can be described as:
The weekends adventure started out for me as an opportunity to stay in the luxury accommodation of my newly purchased tent, which kept me sheltered, warm and worryingly felt far too much like home... I am actually concerned about how at home I felt waking up in it...
My tent and I did well and farmer Sean's fields were a great spot for the many climbers (I want to say a hundred or so?) who showed up.
Paul Brennen drove us down and himself, myself, Jane, Johnno and Brian did a fairly stand out job of fitting 5 sets of trad climbing gear, 3 tents, sleeping bags, stoves, food, helmets and a set of juggling balls not to mention other bits and bobs into the boot of Paul's Ford Focus.
The success of that game of 'weekend away car boot-tetris' meant we had more than enough room in the car to be comfortable on the long journey up from Dublin.
The journey up to Fairhead was nearly 4 hours and in that time, to pass the time, we chatted, sang songs... all the usual really, with the exception of the entertainment which came from a pineapple which was one of only a few things that made it into the car from the cleverly packed boot.
This pineapple was given a pair of shades, a climbing helmet, and a nose and moustache were fashioned from toilet roll to create Señor Pinapple... The fairhead Climbing Meet Mascot.
Photos to follow...
We arrived in Fairhead at about 1.30am on Friday night, pitched our tents and went to sleep.
Woke up the next day, absolutely psyched out of my mind to get bouldering, but had no idea (having travelled up with trad climbers) where the boulders were, or who was about to go bouldering with!
Went and had breakfast in a local cafe behind a petrol station near the turn off for Fairhead and fueled up for the day.
Headed back to the camp site and saw that there were a few heads heading bouldering - I plead my case and convinced them that Murlough Bay was THE place to go and despite initial hesitation, my plea must have had weight because after a few minutes discussion we were all bundled into the back of Phil's van and heading towards my destination of choice!
Phil left us at the car park and we headed off on what was a nice down hill stroll towards the boulders -
It looked epic!
The boulders were a composition of highball monsters in amongst a mess of broken blocks and were set against a back drop of the awesome sight of Fairhead craig, the edges of which were defined by a clear blue sky and as I walked towards what I knew was going to be a really special day's climbing, I thought - my god I love my sport!
We arrived at the 'Letter M' boulder, which curiously enough has a letter 'M' chiseled into it?
Warmed up on the slab on the back of the block, followed by the line 'Brought to you by the Letter M' (5+). It's a really classy line with satisfyingly positive crimps and a nice top out that gets your head in the game for what's to come!
I then moved on to 'Crazy Arete' (6a) and fell off the start of it before sending it on the next go. Another cool problem of open hand slopey arete holds finishing at the same-ish point as the previous problem.
The nerd I am, I had studied the guide and watched some videos and looked at photos before I went to Fairhead bouldering and all in all, the one boulder I wanted to visit more than any other was the 'Eat It' boulder.
I had looked through the bouldering guide and it caught my attention just as a block. Barry then mentioned that he was on for looking at it and I thought, ok it's not just the photo in the guide - this thing is really worth a look!
'Eat It' (7a) is listed in the back of the guide as one of THE problems in Ireland to try. Ricky Young met us earlier at the 'Letter M' boulder and brought us over to 'Eat It'.
Looking at the problem I was instantly inspired. It looked tough but doable with work. I easily caught the opening throw from a really positive crimp way out right at a long stretch to another crimp,. Time and time again I caught it, but couldn't move from it, so I though - right, time to work the next move...
Me on 'Eat It' (7a)
Starting from where I caught the first throw, I bumped my right hand out along the rail which turns into a deeper jug from the initial crimp. The jug is so deep I found I could cut loose, with my left hand and feet and still re-establish myself on the rock comfortably. I moved up to the next right hand throw and caught it...
Unsure of what to do next and under pressure from the intense moves, I dropped off.
I took a leaf out of Ricky's book and took off my climbing shoes to force a break from my efforts- I knew I was too eager and getting tired. We had been at the block for over an hour at that stage.
Colm had joined us, and was making as much progress as me on the problem but refused to take any sort of break and just seemed to possess some sort of unending energy for climbing. I wanted to know what he had for breakfast...
He said Sugar Puffs...
I put my shoes back on having had a substantial break and decided I would try the problem from the start. I caught the opening hold from the throw and to my amazement managed to bump my hand across and stick it. I matched the rail and threw my right hand up to the next hold about a foot higher up.
In disbelief at my progress I went all out and thew for the top rail before the lip and caught it.
Barry had a arrived over and had smoothly moved through the line only moments before. He stuck a comfortable looking heel up onto the rail before throwing over the lip and I thought - that must be the way!
Holding the crimp with my right hand and the hold lower down with my left I ignored the obvious foot hold and attempted to move my heel onto the rail. It didn't work and I fell. I wasn't a bit bothered and thought - I'll just send it next go!
I never got near catching the opening hold with any authority for the rest of the session. My muscles were sore and tired after so many hours on the problem - we must have spent 4 hours there. For me, the moves were intense and my left shoulder and right arm and hand are aching now as I type!!
I was pretty chuffed that my beta seemed to sort out a send of the problem for Colm though. As I had been told in the past by many climbers down the Co op to relax onto the good holds, so I passed my acquired knowledge on, and the very next attempt Colm chilled out on a long straight arm as opposed to continuously cranking whilst catching the jug on the rail and moved through the rest of the problem with conviction and ease.
He was chuffed with the send - Ricky sent it straight after - and somewhere in the middle of all my messing, John Howard, who had just joined us at the 'Eat It' boulder nearly flashed the problem before sending it on his second go.
Barry and John both took attempts on the sitter to 'Eat It' (7b+), Barry caught the opening throw. The move is really long and I thought - it's nice to know, as in the case of 'Rhythm and Stealth' (7a) in Glendalough, that once the stand start to 'Eat It' is complete - the fun isn't over! It looks nails hard and is a fine excuse to return to the block over and over again!!
Colm had moved on to working the Arete to the right of 'Eat It' - a line called 'Stop Feeding It' (7a+) John had just flashed it and Colm was making fantastic progress on it and before we all knew it he was at the top out which was more or less the same place as the top out of 'Eat It' (7a) He looked like sending it but seemed strangely stuck in the one spot.
It never occurred to me that he wouldn't send it and I thought he was just taking a breath before pushing through his heel and standing up -
He exploded off the top of the line and plummeted to the mats below falling right on top of John who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - John seemed to be flattened by the fall but the two, after shaking off their initial shock appeared to walk away ok - though John's knee certainly took the brunt of it.
That fall may have even been more epic a bouldering fall than I saw Squib take in Albarracin last month. In the excitement of the prospect of somebody sending, it can be quite easy to forget how high up they are and how sometimes...
Colm sent the line on his next attempt
I was absolutely shattered as we moved on from our 4 or 5 hour stint on the 'Eat It' boulder. The guys seemed eager to try 'Missing in Action' (6a/7a?) and though impressively enough he sent the line first, Colm had a bit of an epic top out which left me with a sinking feeling and a rock solid excuse not to put my boots on.
Barry on Missing in Action (6a/7a?)
I was tired and wanted to boulder the following day... Barry sent it followed by John and they headed off along with Michael before the rest of us went to check out Carbide (7a)
Having nothing left in the tank, I watched the beta come together on Carbide safe in the knowledge I'd be back in the morning. The top out look horrendous but I was looking forward to seeing if I could do my usual trick of convincing myself I was only two foot off the ground and could make the move the following day.
We set off home from the boulders that evening at about 8.30pm and the walk out was about as much as I could take. Scrambling over boulders is far more stressful a prospect than climbing them for me. I'm never scared bouldering but scrambling leaves my ankles in tatters and my nerves in shreds...
On the way out we stopped at a giant boulder near the sea front which had lots of chalk marks on it and lead up what appeared to be some of the most beautiful face climbing I've seen in some time - it was difficult to tell how hard or easy the lines were, but I'd love to get back and try them!!
We arrived back in the campsite and ate dinner and I swapped stories of bouldering and heard stories of trad climbing epics in return. There were 12 boulderers out sending lines at Fairhead this year, and it had the feel of a meet all on it's own.
The trad scene was obviously overrun, and with the sunshine and psyche, the day went well for one and all and culminated in a gathering of around 100 climbers in a shed on a farm in Fairhead watching a slideshow projected onto a white sheet of climbing footage taken over the last 6 months by Ricky Bell and Paul Swail.
The footage is nothing short of insane!!
I woke up and couldn't wait to get to the boulders this morning... 15 minutes later, the rain started...
and didn't stop.
Footage of Fairhead Bouldering by the 'Tops off for Power' crew: http://vimeo.com/23933949 ... enjoy! x x
My favorite bit of gear for Fairhead!
Thanks to Jordan who took all of the photos all day.