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Ben Bulben Abseil

Date: 10th December 2006
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
To paraphrase Elvis: "On a cold and wet Sligo morn" the Colm Cillers gathered at the Yeats Tavern in Drumcliff ready for the hike up Ben Bulben and the abseil down its nose. 11 of us turned up in the end: Alan, Margaret, Marty, Pete, Shane, Mark, PJ, JJ, George, Valli and myself. George and I travelled down the night before and stayed with Valli, who shifted a few cats around to make room for us. After a quick look at "Happy Valli Crag" we had a very enjoyable evening where Valli and her friend Karen cooked a sumptuous meal, including warm mince pies and ice cream for afters. We downed plenty of wine, whiskey and beer and decorated our climbing helmets with various baubles, beads and bits of Xmas tree.

The festive helmets were applauded in the Yeats Tavern car park and we took a group photo before we set off. We parked up on the north side of Ben Bulben and had a quick "What kind of eejits are yeese?" conversation with a local farmer in his 4x4 as we got the wet weather gear on. Ben Bulben was wrapped in low cloud and it was drizzling a bit. Before we set off Margaret scolded the less prepared of us who didn't have torches (or at least a torch with a working battery) and Marty made a declaration along the lines of "If anything happens to you it's not my fault". We all nodded agreement but it kinda brought home that walking up a cold, wet cloudy mountain and abbing off it wasn't a simple task. We shared out the heavy belay stakes and powered up the back of Bulben. Well some of us (me) huffed, puffed and slogged our way up but we got there eventually. Marty was carrying a 100m and a 60m rope and struggled a bit, even though JJ carried only a water pack cos his legs were sore from a bit of mountain biking, the poor lad.

On the way Alan showed us a great little face which you can read about here:

We hiked westward across the top of Bulben to the summit and further west to the nose. The wind fair howled across the summit and I for one was glad of the extra layers I'd put on that morning. There was a bit of humming and hahing about the placing of the belay stakes but Alan and Marty eventually settled for getting right down onto the exposed nose just feet from the edge, to give us a bit more length to work with. Marty hammered in the 4 stakes and set up a strong anchor to abseil off the side away from the wind. Then off he went with his little radio, the 100m rope feeding out of his pack and the 60m rope as a spare in case he ran out of rope. We hadn't a clue if the 100m would get us down to the bottom and there was much fearful discussion of how to "pass the knot" if he had to tie the 2 ropes together.

Luckily the 100m did the job and we were able to set up a second 100m one so that 2 people could abseil together. There was quite a bit of loose rock on the face so 2 people going down side by side made sense so that they weren't dropping boulders on one another. Marty cleverly got out of the way at the bottom and there were quite a few bits and pieces rolling down as we all made our way down. Alan and Pete went first as they were coming back up to get the stakes (and Margaret and Muck the dog). Then like true gentlemen we let the ladies Valli and PJ go next. The wind cut right across the nose but we found a little dip that sheltered us a little. Even so by the time Shane and JJ went and it was me and George's turn I was starting to get the shivers pretty bad. By that time Alan and Pete had arrived back up and Alan doubled checked my prussik etc. before I stepped somewhat shakily over the edge, pausing only for a photo in the silly helmet.

In the swirling mist you couldn't see the bottom which helped steady the nerves a bit. Alan's description of a "scary enough" abseil was spot on to begin with as the wet rock allowed no purchase for the hiking boots and the wet rope didn't travel easily through the prussik. Most of us had the same trouble, and Valli even wished for a knife at one point as her prussik got so jammed. After a few incidents of my Xmas decorations getting caught in my figure-eight, getting turned round as my boots slipped and slid and knocking a rock loose to bounce it's way down, I eventually got the hang of the prussik and started to enjoy myself. The abseil down the main face was over quickly and the next section was down a steep slope with another smaller drop down to the end of the rope.

Mark followed down last and JJ was eventually forced to carry something as Alan threw one 100m rope down. We slipped and slid our way back round to the cars on the slopes of Ben Bulben. At one stage JJ and I just sat down stuck our feet and the air and slid on our arses down the short wet grass. We were slipping that much and we were so wet through anyway that it really was the best way to travel. The rock formations above us looked stunning in the lifting mist and there was many a photo taken on our way down, with waterfalls and streams in the background. We all agreed we'd love to come back in more clement weather.

Back at the cars Alan, Margaret and Pete were just arriving. Muck the dog was glad to be back with Valli again and Margaret broke out the mince pies to add to the festive spirit. Then it was back to the Yeats Tavern for a Guinness / whiskey / coffee / whatever, some dry clothes and a chat and laugh about the day. There was talk of the Climb Fest and "ice climbing" up a stairway of old doors. Ahem. Ask Alan.

For those of you who stayed in your warm lazy beds having peeked out at the wet weather, you missed a great day out. The 11 of us now have bragging rights on the rest of you and will always be able to say "I've abbed that" as we pass Ben Bulben on our way to Sligo / Galway in the future. Nyaah nyaah nyaah nyaah nyaah!

Photo of Route
Ben Bulben misty rock formations - A wet but festive Anthony trekking down Ben Bulben after the abseil down the nose.