All posts by alantees

Killarney Mountain Festival


First Ever Killarney Mountain Festival


Recommend this goes in the calendar for next year.  Twinned with the Kendal Mountain Festival, it had lots of outdoor films ( full length and short) in the cinema, and guest speakers such as Andy Cave, Stephen Venables, Dawson Stelfox, Dermott Somers, and Cameron McNeish.  All very entertaining, and nearly too much on, in fact.  There was a big circus tent at the back of the hotel which was designated as ‘Base Camp’ with stalls from gear shops, Scouting Ireland, Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering Ireland, and a café where people could meet and chat.   We were able to park the van overnight free in the car park beside the big top, within 200m of all the venues, and handy for all the town centre bars and restaurants.  Cameron McNeish lecture on Friday night.


Had a good morning out on Mangerton on Saturday and made it back for the match ( satisfactory result) then straight off to the screening of Sikkim Dreams’ in the cinema*, then straight back to the hotel for a lecture on the Alpine North faces by Dawson, Dermott and Tom Curtis ( very Funny) then Andy Cave.


*Gutted I wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor.  Had me acceptance speech written, but some old geezer called Attenborough pipped me at the post apparently.  Sooo unfair.


Sunday we went up Carrauntoohil from Cronins Yard.  Not much snow left, but we met David and Agnes, facebook CCC members, and did the mountain with them.


Another awesome mountain film at night, and home on Monday.


It’s a good time to go to Kerry, the best county in Ireland I think.

Well done to the organisers, a huge effort!


The thing about ice climbing..

George, Finbarr and self set off to Cogne via Ryanair and Sicily Car hire, and it all went quite smoothly, meeting Jack Bergin, (who had driven out), within an hour of our arrival.

George, a veteran of previous Cogne campaigns, rightly felt that we should start off with something not too difficult, particularly due to the age profile of his comrades.  The handiest best known route of this type being Cascade Lillaz, we headed there, only to find that there was a substantial queue at the bottom.  This came as a surprise as there was little sign of any other ice warriors in the village of Cogne.  Undeterred, we headed off through the woods to come upon a much more daunting affair which George identified as Tutto Relativo, a 4, which looked like a Rjukan 5+.   Not having ice climbed for about 10 years ( Finbarr has only done one route in Ponte Di Legno) we left Jack to belay George, and warmed up on a much smaller piece of ice to the right, placing and removing screws, and practising technique.  This proved worthwhile, as when it came out turn to climb the first pitch of the route (which George had ably led following his ‘Point 5’ practise route), we managed better than a ‘ring rusty’ Jack.  The second pitch was overhanging icicles, so we abbed off and went back down to Lillaz.  Quiter, but now beginning to melt in the late afternoon, I led the first 60m pitch, Finbarr the second, and me again the third and forth.

George had taken the steepest possible line on the first pitch, burning out Jack, so when we finished, we joined them in the café bar at Lillaz village.  Great first day.

Day 2 took us up a different valley and to the bottom of a grade 3 (looked like a Rjukan 4) called Thule.  I had a notion to lead the first pitch but cowardice set in, and when I watched George struggle, I thanked the craven gods.  Actually it wasn’t too bad on a top rope, and I began to feel comfortable on ice again.  George was belayed far back, about 20m below an ice curtain. Jack and Finbarr took a look at it and abbed off, while I belayed George.  When he reached the icicles, he was concerned lest he hadn’t enough screws, and decided to belay in a cave underneath and bring me up.  Cold water ran down his neck and the curtain looked frail, so he decided to abb off, but the screws were way off to his left, so he belayed me as I climbed up and took them out, before he lowered me back to the belay.  Some French climbers arrived at the belay and explained that it had been very dry, so what normally would have been a solid block of ice was now just a curtain of icicles, and thus harder.  We bailed!

Day 3.  Poor forecast, and heavy snow. Rest  and rugby.

Day 4.  Low cloud.  A long walk into the ‘Money’ area in poor visibility (after our initial objective was considered very avalanche prone)  sounds of many climbers led us up to the bottom of one of the most attractive routes called Cascade Di Patri 3 ( more like Picadilli Di Circuso).  What did we expect on a Sunday?  They disappeared quite quickly, and Jack and George led the first lovely pitch.  I seconded Jack and led the short second and third pitches, catching up with the hoardes on the big fourth.  Casting caution to the wind, I decided to lead, beginning a catalogue of incompetence, which I shall describe.

 A. First screw, handle gets entangled in my wrist loop- delay. B. Second screw won’t go in, as blocked with ice. C. Drop replacement screw. D. Next attempt cracks a piece of melting ice, and it has to be relocated. E. Finally get second screw in, but Elvis leg now in evidence, right glove soaking, and hand numb. F. Just as wondering if this was a good idea, Finbarr points out that he thinks my crampon has come loose.  Get lowered off. Follow George up.

Day 4.  Every day starts off with a quandary, but seems to work out.  This is no different.  Clear but brutally  cold, but at least we can see everything, everything that is buried in new snow, or has a queue.  Across the valley there is a big route, Cool Couloir, still in shadow and with only 2 climbers on it.  On reaching the bottom, we realise that it is big and steep and graded 4+, and the guys onit are not finding it easy.  George, (he of Point 5), is keen, not having climbed it before, so Finbarr belays him while I decide to take photos.  Camera drained by the -20 temperatures.  George gets up it, and I learn that I will have greatness thrust upon me as Finbarr has cold feet ( and cold everything else).   A sustained 60m pitch has me up with George.   The second looks shorter and easier so we decide to give it a go.  It is neither. The first two thirds of this 60m pitch is fine , but the top George described as Knarly.  It was that, and a few other things, but worse, I got soft snow on my glasses, couldn’t see me feet, and couldn’t let go my axes to clear them.  Somehow I got up.  2 abbs and we were down.

Day 5. Injured knee, and Achilles tendon.  Cleared up the room while the others went back to retrieve a screw dropped the day before.  Drove to Bergamo, while Jack tried to unfreeze his diesel.  Overnight in Bergamo, and home to meet the Beast from the East!!



Irish Sikkim Expedition, a personal perspective.


Why did I go?  I knew the terrain was tough, the weather patterns unhelpful, and there would be long periods in the sleeping bags between short periods of euphoria.  Maybe I had to get the monkey off my back after leaving the previous expedition almost as soon as I got to base camp. Maybe I thought it would be different this time, maybe I thought that with a fit young team of cutting edge climbers we would achieve something special?  Maybe I wanted another great adventure, or maybe I just needed to lose weight.


No time wasted on the approach. Into Kolkata, and the next evening we were back in Joe Wongden’s homestay in Mangan (he who has a sister in Antrim).  Never thought I would be back there again. A day for Raja to buy food, and the next day we were on the road again, but only half way to Beh, as a land slip in August had dammed the river and created a lake (and 18 submerged houses).  We unloaded, crossed by dinghy, and got 2 more jeeps on the other side.  The approach by foot started the next morning.  Another landslide had swept away the path necessitating a very difficult exposed traverse across the cliff, during which one of our 16 porters fell.  Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt, but our supply of vegetables landed in the river, and was last seen making good progress down the Ganges towards Kolkata (resulting in a restricted menu of rice and Dhal).  We made the Tolung Gompa about 2.00 PM (never thought I would be back there again) despite the attentions of leeches, killer bees, giant ticks and a cobra.  Next evening to Tolung Yak camp (without the yaks) and then river camp, then the ascent from hell to base camp (never thought……..).  The weather was good to base camp, but as soon as we arrived it clagged in and rained and snowed for a couple of days.  After that it settled to a pattern where it was clear from 5.00AM to about 11.00, and after that rain, snow, mist etc


We crossed the river up at the lake (at the cost of one broken and mangled finger to Piaras) and set up ABC at 4300m in the valley above and to the right, with dramatic views of the Singel chu Needles. In the next four days we climbed 3 unclimbed peaks near the camp, Diwali Lho 4960 Scottish Gr 111 apparently, and two others either side of a saddle, the second a VS rock climb.  Another peak was attempted from a high camp, but abandoned due to danger of frostbite.  The photos of this area do not even come close to doing it justice.  These guys are good climbers who, having studied pictures taken by the 2014 expedition, had big ideas about routes on the most challenging Zumthul Phuk peaks and needles.  They were unprepared for the scale, technicality, and level of commitment required when they saw them in the flesh, and wisely settled for coming home alive.  Up in the valley of ABC there are numerous more amenable unclimbed peaks, but with long moraine approaches.  Back at base camp, 3 had had enough hardship, and descended with Raja, who was going down to arrange porters and a visa extension.  Five stayed a further 3 days.  We did a bit of exploration towards the German pass, but I developed a sore ankle after that, and decided to rest it before the descent from hell.  Painkillers and determination got me down to Tolung Gompa in 9 hours, and the following day something similar to Mangan.  This was the best couple of days weather we had!


A day in Mangan, two in Darjeeling, and overnight on the train to Kolkata, with Raja entertaining us to dinner and a Bollywood Band on the last night.  Didn’t climb to the summit of anything, but it was a great full on mountaineering experience, pure exploration, despite the hardships.  Good bunch of lads from Ireland and girl from Finland, with never a harsh word spoken, and Raja’s team of Lackpa, Irun, Rakesh and Phurba were cheerful and tireless.


 Oh aye, and Raja found some footprints……..


In Praise of Offwidths and Chimneys




Five of us flew Ryanair Dublin to Wroclau, in Poland, to be met by Ivan and Matty, and escorted the 100km drive to a cottage he had rented in the middle of the village of Adrapach, just across the Czech border.  Karen had supper prepared for us and Ivan supplied the beer.


In the morning the wonder of our surroundings became apparent, as the edge of this remarkable massif of pinnacles and towers could be seen across the field.  Leisurely coffee and cake in the café was followed by an exploration of the nearest section of this city of rock.   It is a tourist destination with well trodden walk ways threading their way between the most remarkable features, but the side alleys are the domain of the rock climber. 


The last guide book was 15 years ago and there were over 10,000 routes then.  It is an intimidating place if you are a climber, and many a visiting rock star has left with his tail firmly between his legs.  The rock is steep, holds rounded, and the ethics ramp the risk factor up by a multiple of at least 2.  Chimneys and off widths abound, hand jamming cracks (the local climbers wear gloves), and normal gear and chalk are banned.   Protection are knots tied in the rope, jammed in with a paint brush handle.   There are ring bolts, but they are 20m apart,  the first one is at least that off the ground, and I have no idea how the first climbers placed them, as you have to climb the tower first before you can abb it.  AND, they all go a have a few pints in the morning BEFORE they go climbing.  Awesome.  But I suppose at 70 cents a pint Dutch courage comes cheap.  10 pints and change out of 10 euro!


Ivan wisely decided to start us off on an easy grade 3. Ivan’s son Gerry (he who was lusted after by all the ladies) led and we took turns to get jammed in an off width.  Very funny once you had done it, not so funny when you were clamped helpless and hopeless in its sandstone clutches.  We abbed off somewhat humbled and traumatised.  Something easier Ivan?  Ivan scratched his head, too diplomatic to say that there was nothing easier.  He picked a nearby short grade 5 without offwidth or chimney, and dignity was restored somewhat, with Sandra climbing it in trainers and a couple of us managing a harder variation nextdoor.  Pub and Pizza and all was well.


On Friday, Gerry was keen for us to try one of the classics, the normal route on the King, but as a warm up we did another pinnacle involving a chimney, an awkward traverse, and a short climb on pockets to the top, led again by Gerry.  The King could not be put off any longer.  The highest in the area, this tower is split by a 27m chimney, to the top of the lower of the two parts , step across, and climb a crack/groove onto the crown. Gerry led, followed by Martin.  Then Sandra, and we watched as she taught herself the craft of upward momentum in the bowels of a chimney.  Tension rose as she reached the top of the chimney, bridged, and looked up at the final section. “Aw fir fecks sake”, (said with such feeling), reached our shocked ears.  Finbarr next.  There was a lot of wriggling with no apparent result, before he cracked it, and away he went.  Me next (less said the better) and Matti, whose 6 foot long legs must have struggled it the confined space, then Ivan, then down to the pub.  The house began to fill up as friends of the Krella family arrived and we had a guitar music session around the fire with Czech and Irish songs sung with great enthusiasm.


Egos were better, but now backs were bruised, so we decided to go walking next day, after a swim in the lake (‘No swimming’ the notice said, but Czechs do not appear to be able to read this type of sign).


This walk took us around to a different side of the rock city, and we did a loop around terrain much like Petra, very popular with tourists, and busy as it was now the weekend. Ivan pointed out various epic climbs, some almost 100 years old.  We watched young climbers, mostly top roping hard routes.  This can obviously be done if it is not a detached tower.  Lunch and pints at the far end, and a walk back through the pinnacles.


Our final day, we went climbing again to a grade 4 tower called Noon.  Gerry had gone to do hard things, so Ivan led, followed by Martin and the rest of us, including Margaret, who showed she had lost none of her old skills to Munroing and Corbiteering. 


In the morning,  Martin left for Chamonix and Ivan put the rest of us on the right road to the airport.


A great trip and thanks to Ivan, Matti, Gerry, Karen and all their many friends for a level of craic and hospitality that will be hard to follow.


Peregrinations and a Goshawk


Back to Muckish again, for the umpteenth look at the Colossus, the big pillar off to the right of the miners track- but this time we had a plan…


So much for the first bit of the plan, (that the evening sun would come around and bathe the north face in benign warmth).  The cloud was down.


Part 2 was the erection of a bomb-proof belay on the short side of the pillar.  We would attempt it on the long side, and when/if the leader (Marty) got to the top, he would untie and drop the end of the rope down the short side to the belayer ( me) who had scuttled back around.  The rope was secured ( no need for a desperate search for an ab point on top), and we would ab back down the long side.


Part 3 was a fixed line across the exposed ledge to protect my peregrinations* back and forth.


This went to plan and soon we were across the ledge, me belayed, and Marty climbing up into the mist. From the belay climb into an unattractive corner, and swing out left and continue up on sloping spikes etc to a big ledge.  He had been to the upper ledge before, and made short work of the first bit.  Sounds of hammering echoed from the cliffs as he placed two pegs up on the ledge ( there was nothing else) something he learned from his last visit.   I craned my neck to catch glimpses of my noble leader as he went this way, then that, then this way again, managing to place a good cam high on an overhanging crack before retreating.  Then he traversed left around the corner.  “Slack, Slack”, I was giving him slack as best I could,  but the rope was going through the high cam, then back down, under an overhang and around the corner.  I kept playing out and gradually it became taut.  Suddenly he was on top.  The rope was flicked over, no more drag, and he went up the final step to the top, untied and dropped the rope down the short side- to which I had peregrinated*.  I tied it to the belay and peregrinated back across the ledge.


My turn.  The first bit was a bit awkward and exposed, and my hands were cold, but ok, about 4b, to the upper ledge.  Then I had to recover Marty’s cam in the high crack, and back down. The traverse left was easy and there was this lovely wall with good holds, but then there were no more.  How Marty got up that with drag is beyond me, because although it was only a couple of moves and the friction was good, it was quite ballancy, and  totally devoid of protection.  I found it unnerving enough on a top rope.


We abbed off ( a free abb) stripped everything and were back in the pub for 7.30.


A great day and a great climb, Goshawk HVS 4c ( or 5a)  see what anyone else thinks.  I had been looking at this for almost 40 years. 


Culdaff International Climbfest.


Culdaff International Climbfest.


Well, that what it was.  We had citizens of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Iran, Wales, England, Scotland, (and probably a few I have forgotten) with a much higher proportion female than ever before.


The beginners’ session at Dunmore started late due to morning rain, but was well supported with 40-50 at the crag.  It was getting mobbed, so I took a group of 12 who arrived from IMC around to Finbarr wall, which was sheltered and sunny.  There were other groups at Brasil Rock etc at the same time.


The top ropes at Dunowen were a great success, maybe we could setup more next year?


It stayed dry for the barby for a change.


Sunday also started wet, but cleared after 9.00, and Pinnacle bay and Brazil got a lot of traffic, before the forcasted rain arrived about 3.00.  People were pretty climbed out, so some packed up and went home, while others went to McGrorys for a bite.


Just a few climbed (plus a couple of late arrivals) on Monday, which was bright and blowy with a few short sharp showers,  before the site was cleared.


We are missing two kiddies body harnesses, possibly a DMM harness of Anthony’s, a pair of green rock shoes belonging to Valli, a screwgate belonging to Gerard, and I have a couple of harnesses I don’t recognise in the kit bag + a 9mm rope possibly Geoffs.   Let me know if you have some of this, or are missing anything.


A concern was people not wearing helmets, particularly belayers.  Whilst the routes had been mostly checked for loose rock, you can never be sure, and particularly so when the climber strays off route.


Thanks to everybody who turned up and helped, the feedback I got from all our visitors was great, they all loved it.


Crag Cleaning at Dunowen

Got a good crowd on Sunday.  Access paths cleared, Bogged til the Oxters, cleaned by Damien, Jericho, Thessalonians, Utmost Good Faith and Aries cleaned by Jim, Andy, Yours truly and Frank. The crabs Claw climbed by Margaret etc plus ascents of a number of routes.  Plenty of sunshine on top, alas in the shade below.

Scottish Winter Meets 2016, Onich(MI), and Ullapool (CCC)


Scottish Winter Meets 2016, Onich(MI), and Ullapool (CCC)


I pretty much missed the first one, having arrived in Onich,( fresh from a fine traverse of Ben Cruachan), on Friday, the last night of the MI meet.   Also almost managed to miss Keith, Billy and Alex on Ben Cruachan, over a combination of changes of plan, and lack of a phone signal.  I caught up with them on the way down.   Weather was fine but the snow was soft and tiring.


We had a sociable night in the Inchcree centre, joined by Sandra and Dave and the remaining MI contingent.  I was pretty bushed, so decided not to join the other 8 on the ring of Steall on Saturday, which I thought was a bit ambitious anyway, given the conditions.  Went to climb Buachaille Etive Beg, my last remaining Munroe in Glencoe, only to realise when I got there, that I climbed it last year.  Plan B was to hire a mountain bike at Aonach Mor ( there were none), so it was plan C, coffee and the rugby.  Alas!  Still, the others were soon blown back to Fort William and a congenial evening had by all.


I thought we had a plan to do Ledge Route on Sunday, but my lack of a deodorant must have kicked in, with most preferring to go somewhere else or stay in bed.  Mercifully Sandra took pity on this Johnny no friends, and we had a great day out on this easy*** classic route.  Co-incidentally this was the day the young couple disappeared from their tent behind the CIC hut, but we were unaware of the tragedy about to unfold.  An added bonus was the lift we got from the top car park back to the Hobbit.


 I went on to meet up with eldest son Chris in Aviemore,  in the morning, picking up the line manager at Inverness Airport, and staying with my brother Jimmy and Mairi.  Had an afternoon walk on the Cat’s Back’ a local hill, and the next day we were joined by Chris, in the aptly named Dufftown, to climb an easy Corbett called Ben Riness.  Easy my ****!  We had to abandon it in the most extreme wind I have ever experienced .The zip pocket in the top of my rucsac blew open twice, with the contents taking off over the Cairngorms so fast I didn’t see them go.  Two hats, goggles, gloves, an iphone bag are missing, presumed lost, (sofar).  We crawled off.


Having been entertained to another fine dinner by Mairi, we left for Ullapool and Finbarr.


Wednesday dawned wet, but cleared nicely in the afternoon, so Margaret, Finbarr and self had a trip up Stac Polly in lovely conditions, then we moved around the coast to Gruinard Bay for an early start for Ben Dearg Beg.  This is a remote and dramatic peak in Fisherfield with a 3 to 3.5 hour walk in to the base.  We left at 8.00 on Thursday, and did the traverse over the 3 summits dropping to the col at the far side by 2.45.  It took us to 8.00 PM to get out to the road, with the last two and a half hours in darkness. Epic or what?  A great mountain though.


Our late arrival caused some consternation amongst the gathered hoardes of Colmcillers who had arrived at the rented house in Ullapool, as apparently some elderly people were reported on Scottish radio to have got into trouble. I don’t know what all the fuss was about as It couldn’t have been us, as we are not old.


Keith was back, this time with Sam, and at the house, Sandra, Dave, Les, Ivan, Gerry, PJ and Anthony.  The weather forecast alas was dire, so while we exhausted young folk took a rest, the others tacked Stac Polly in fairly challenging conditions.


Saturday’s forecast was no better, but a party of six trogged up the valley and climbed a gully in Ben Dearg with chest deep spindrift.  There was some discussion as to whether it was Orangeman’s gully or Papist’s Passage, before someone lodged a’ Petition of concern’  a decision could not be made, and the matter was put in abeyance.


The other six, ably led by ‘Keith the snowplough’, conquered another Corbett called something beginning with E. 


The weather, being no better on Sunday, I headed South towards home.


The hostel and the Hobbit

Despite a number of cryoffs there will still 7 hardy souls in the Old Monastry Hostel in Letterfrack.  It is rustic but lovely, full of character, warm and cheap.  On Saturday we climbed the Glencullin Ridge on Ben Bury, in deteriorating conditions, getting down safely, saturated and somewhat humbled.  Meal out in the Bards Den.  Sunday was supposed to be worse, so the wimps went home, I had a dry walk by L.Inagh, Valli had a very wet Canoe/swim, and Denis was going for a walk along the Killary track.  Finbarr arrived just in time for the weather to get even worse overnight.  We pulled the wagons into a circle for protection but had to evacuate the area in the morneng just before floods closed the Westport road.  Good call as the sun was out in Sligo and we had a good scramble around Eagle Rock.  I stayed outside Valli’s but another storm ensured little sleep, so I headed up more flooded roads early morning home, Must get more buoyancy fitted to the Hobbit.

MI October Meet Glendalough

Had a great weekend at the MI October gathering in Glendalough. I am not a fan of the Wicklows, but reluctantly have to admit the rock climbing in Glendalough is superb. Did a couple of routes on Hobnail Buttress, Pyramid Route and Hobnail Chimney, with Jack Bergin, both excellent, and the 5 pitch Great Gully Ridge** with Jack and Maeve. I think it deserves***. Bloody cold though.