Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Climbing Great Gully Ridge

Great Gully Ridge on Ben Leagh from walk in
On the nasty gorse sinkhole walk out we bumped into a lad who asked what I did on the top pitch, did I do the crack with the piton? I described to him. gesturing with my hands, taking the first crack, getting in a good #3 nut, stepping up into this barn-door bridge-ish feet with my left-hand, bottom fingers turned sideways, slotted under a hidden crack and my right arm pulling on an edge, moving my left foot up a bit and then moving my left hand up expecting an edge but only finding slopers...not enough for me to hold and jump my right hand up...climbing as we know it!

A perfect day! The couple of mistakes I made were inconsequential in the end. The plan was to meet at the car park for Baravore Valley at 8.30. I had not organised buying an OS map for the area and had the WhatsApp directions from a friend in my head "turn right into Glenmalure having travelled down the Old Military Road from Laragh". I left 10 minutes later than planned and arrived in Laragh at 8.30, as I came in I saw a brown sign for the old military road kind of half going to the right outside the Glendalough Green cafe. I pulled up and asked the waitress, who was just starting to say "we don't have...", was that the Old Military Road, pointing to the right. She said "Yes, thanks a million", no doubt relieved I was not jonesing for coffee, as she gripped her first smoke.

So I headed up the road, passing the first big lay-by after a few minutes where there were some cars stationed and I could see tents in the trees. The road kept going and going, a couple of hikers, more campers, a cyclist - a perfect road for that. Another 10 minutes and there was a lad at the back of his car with the hatch up, I rolled up and popped the question. "You are on the wrong road mate, this goes to the Sally Gap, head back down to the crossroad, turn right back into Laragh, past Lynhams, then turn right and follow the Glenmalure sign". Military road my ass, 30 minutes lost.

Glenmalure is a u-shaped glacial valley in the Wicklow Mountains in eastern Ireland, 250m higher than Glendalough, with this being the one road leading in or out, I turned right at the Drumgoff crossroads, with Glenmalure Lodge on the left, and took the road to the end where the Baravore Car Park was unexpectedly large. We left the car park at 9.40 having figured we walked up past the hostel. The warden was out in the garden and we queried about accessing Great Gully Ridge? "Keep on going, head up to the left, there are 2 lads ahead of ye", he called out, as we kept moving. This was useful when a couple of minutes later the road swung to the left with a path going on ahead.

So warm already, a guaranteed cracker of a day under the precious high-pressure spell. As we walked in the unsealed road into the heart of the Fraughan Rock Glen, another name for the valley, Colm told us about Michael Dwyer, who was a captain in the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798. The area around us was a stronghold for rebels against the British due to its remoteness and inaccessibility but also relative closeness to Dublin. He held out for years in the hills with the British attempting to deny him shelter by severely punishing those suspected of harbouring his men. They assigned thousands of troops to Wicklow, and built a series of barracks as well as the aforementioned military road! Eventually, a deal was made but the British reneged on an agreement to give him safe passage to America and he spent 18 months in Kilmainham jail before he was sent to Australia as an unsentenced exile in 1805. However, he was stripped of his free settler status and transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). In 1808 the Governor of New South Wales ordered that Michael Dwyer's freedom was reinstated. Amazingly, Michael Dwyer was later to become Chief of Police (1813–1820) at Liverpool, New South Wales.

As the road progressed into the valley it became more and more obvious that our route was up in the right corner, a relief with the left side in shade somewhat. It's marked  Baravore Upper in the guide. As the unsealed road ended it was clear we need to cross the rough ground towards the base of the ridge, there was a slab with some water trickling down it that's better to cross lower than higher. We were at the base of the route at 11.00.

The route is HS, 4 pitches of 4a,3c,4b,4a and is described as 140m long on the route wiki. The system for grading traditionally protected climbs in Ireland is the traditional, two-part British \ Irish grade, a combination of the adjectival and technical grades. From the BMC site: "The adjectival grade [HS - Hard Severe] is the first part of the grade, and attempts to give a sense of the overall difficulty of a climb. This will be influenced by many aspects, including seriousness, sustaindness, technical difficulty, exposure, strenuousness, rock quality, and any other less tangible aspects which lend difficulty to a pitch. The second part of the grade, the technical grade [4a, 4b], is there to give an indication of the hardest move to be found on the route, irrespective of how many of them there might be, how strenuous it is, or how frightened you are when you do it." Comparing this to the USA where they have a single grade, the route is 5.6 from my experience.

David Flanagan's book Rock climbing in Ireland has a topo of the route and he has made these available: longer topocloser topo. We used the former for route finding:
Dave Flanagan's Topo
I lead all the pitches, bringing 2 ropes, with Colm coming second cleaning the gear and Dave following third bringing the backpack. We only used one of the ropes for leading\belaying. I did clip one or 2 pieces into the 2nd rope to protect Dave when there was some traversing and he was being belayed on that rope. I ran out the 2nd pitch but still needed a 3rd scrambling pitch to set up a belay at the grassy wall described for the last pitch.

Tom on 2nd pitch

As we moved up the wall Art's Lough came more into view and the gorgeous weather made the thought of swimming across it all the more appealing.

Art's Lough from Great Gully Ridge
Taking snaps along the route got me thinking of a problem I never had climbing in the 90s and the first half of the naughties, what's a solution for carrying a camera phone when climbing? For multi-pitches, I used a small camera bag in the past clipped to my rack, but the camera always had a strap. Maybe a phone loop is an answer?

Dave & Colm on route
Dave Flanagan's 2012 blog on the route, describes three cruxes which are spot on, the first being literally at the start. I agree there is plenty of gear for all the cruxes. The exposure on the last pitch is outstanding and I wished it just kept going but it ended all too soon when another perfect belay spot materialised. There was about another 50m scramble up some grass, if you were to contine to the ridge top.

Colm found the abseil chain, I double-fishermaned the two ropes together and tossed them towards the narrow grassy gully. I ended up coming down a clean buttress, which must be the headwall area, it has a couple of 20m star VSs (D-for-Dog & Z-Backwards), which looked about right from abing down. The 50m rope barely got to the gully on the stretch. The orange rope would not pull! No tricks would get it loose. So it was out with my prusik to self-belay climbing up the corner. The 4 pm sun was catching us now and without a head scarf under my helmet, the sweat was literally streaming in rivers into my eyes, as I bridged up, with the sun block burning them as a result. I had to keep my eyes closed tight and trust those feet, feeling the prusik inching up. It's always great to have a reference and mine was The Maiden in Boulder's Flatirons in 1995 and having to "Kill the fear" and jumar with prusiks up a hanging free rope in the dark in order to free what ended up being a knot jammed on the other side of the lip. This time, it was easier, I reached a grassy bank and was able to traverse over to where I was above a point I passed between on the 2nd  pitch where I knew there was another abseil point. I figured the rope had to pull from there and it did with some effort.

Great Gully Ridge looking down route
So talking to the lad we met walking out, I pulled out of my climbing gestures and said, yep, I backed off and climbed the crack with the old piton in it! It was exposed but felt very solid in comparison to the first crack 😀 The lads said most people go that way! Reading the UK Climbing log, one climber says the first crack is a VS finish, which feels about right for my rusty climbing skills, a good edge for liebacking he says...hmmm, not sure about that part! This lad still had another 15 minutes slog to the base, he had two women with him and he was leading having done the route a few time before. He was going to walk down via the head of the glen near the watercourse. It was 6.30 and he had a solid 4 hours of light left, you can't beat Irish summer evenings!

We were out of water! Colm gave me the last 10ml when I got down after the abseil saga. I was well thirsty after all that! My reference was a summer day in Eldorado Canyon with Matt, perhaps my favourite crag to climb in the world, getting down and driving to a gas station and drinking a straight bottle of Gatorade! I think this was worse! On the ridge, we had spotted the 2 climbers ahead of us cutting directly from the base to the road and we followed suite. Clearly, there is no path through and with the vegetation at a mid-summer high, it was not possible to avoid sinkhole drops in the gorse. Not an escape to the road to remember, most definitely climb with all your gear and walk out via the watercourse after you top out on the ridge and walk down to where it drops into the valley. Next time I would also walk in the same way we did, taking the road to the end.

Gorse walk-out marked - it does not look so bad from a height!
We called into the hostel desperate for water - it's pretty much is a simple Mountain Hut, with no running water or electricity. We could hear the Avonbeg River flowing at the back of the hostel and see their stack of 5L Bottles in the kitchen. The volunteer wardens very kindly brought us out some glasses, I drank 5 straight. They told us the hostel is now open in the summer months and every weekend through the year, staffed by volunteers.

The hostel was originally built as a hunting lodge and key historical Irish figures have spent time there, Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne and her son Sean McBride, a founding member of Amnesty International and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Of course, Maud Gonne was W.B. Yeats's Muse, so Yeats also visited. J.M Synge owned the estate at one point and he wrote a play which was set in the house. It also hosted Irish presidents Eamon De Valera and Erskine Childers. It was donated to An Oige in 1955. The climbers ahead of us had stayed at the hostel the night before, an ideal choice for getting a proper early start on the route.

The Glenmalure Lodge was a perfect stop before the 2-hour drive home and this was my order for myself! A new reference point for thirst!

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Unknown said...

Brilliant read start to finish, love all the historical context too.

Unknown said...

Fantastic read Tom! Serious line up of liquids to end the day. Water a must, Guinness of course, but two Orange sodas?? What an incredible line it seems. Nice work on all the leads. I'm pretty sure you meant to say the Maiden not Devils thumb on your prussik reference. The picture of you on pitch 2 tells it all! Excellent.

board tc said...

Thanks lads!

Matt, on the walk out I told the lads the story of the Maiden, naming it correctly! When writing-up I was searching in vain for the story about that climb, "Killing the Fear", which I wrote for the DCU Bouldering competition program in 1995. A broken link I found had the title The Devil's Thumb and I ended up second guessing myself! Corrected now :-)

There is a soda mix over here, half orange and half lemon, called Rock Shandy, which is a non-guilty pleasure when the thirst comes! With no lemon, two orange was the result :-)

Unknown said...

Looks like a perfect line alright, its got everything, blue sky views over Wicklow. Makes me want to fly home for a weekend climbing and wild swimming in Glendalough

board tc said...

I found the story about The Maiden: Killing the fear

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