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Owey Island Donegal

Date: June 24th 2007
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

The promise of a slew of unclimbed rock got me up at 7am Saturday morning for the trip to Owey. George and I shared a car down to Cruit pier to catch the boat-man at 10:30, ended up in Dungloe having missed the turn off for the island but arrived in time for the 2nd trip over. PJ, Pete and the kids and Micael Hassan had taken the first boat; Valli, Alan, Margaret, were already there from the night before and late-comers Pete Cooper and Dave Millar arrived on the 3rd boat.

It showered on and off but by noon-ish we had set up camp and Pete, George, Michael and myself were eyeing up an impressive south-looking face on the west of the island close to the pinnacle sea-stack. We ended up climbing all 3 sides of this inlet but started off with a 30m abseil down the large blank section on the south wall. You could sense the eagerness in me, Pete and George to get our names on something new and I stole a march on George by borrowing his gear and taking off up a Severe looking line, with Michael belaying. George belayed Pete up a possible VS and hugged the wall as Pete sent buckets of loose rock down into the sea behind us. About half way up this 25m route I encountered the loose stuff myself and ended up tip-toeing the last 5m waiting for the whole cliff to crumble round me. It took so long that George had completed a more solid Severe route up a corner on the west face and was shouting warnings over to me about ricocheting rock bouncing close to the helmet-less Michael below. Possible route names all involved the word "Crumble", apple, rhubarb etc.

Pete and George stayed on the west face and Pete led a great looking VS crack line running diagonally left across the middle of the face. They followed this up with another VS into a corner left of this huge crack, and yet another on the face to the left of this corner. Michael and I had spotted what looked like a nice Severe zig-zag crack line on the north face but ended up just being an easily stepped V.Diff that we mastered despite some rope confusion. Just to the right, around the corner from this zig-zag was a nice looking face peppered with horizontal cracks. With the low tide we were able to get right down to a low step and thinnish edges to give a more difficult start of this HS route. With deep water below and a few moves to the first protection it was exciting stuff and I had to force myself to stay on the face and not edge towards the easier blocks on the right and left that threatened to turn the route into a V.Diff.

We had a look at some more lines but they all looked more like scrambles and not worth the effort so with bellies rumbling we retired to camp for tea. When everyone else had returned Michael and I took directions from Alan for the cave under the lake and set off with head torches. However the lake is guarded on its south side by a ridge of rock so that if you're 3/4 of the way up the shoulder of the hill you can't see it. You have to be really low or really high and since we were neither we ended up in the wrong gully scrambling round looking at possible clefts in the rock. Finally we tiredly headed for the trig point, spotted the edge of the lake beyond the ridge and found our way down into the dark entrance of the cave. It's a tight squeeze in, very muddy inside and without proper wellies we could only venture to the edge of the water in there.

Back at camp we had our usual alcoholic suppings and PJ, Valli, Sandra and Alan described the massive 70m abseil they'd conducted on the north west of the island leading them to climb a Severe route back up of the same length. The cliffs were certainly impressive when Michael and I passed them earlier but the belay posts looked a little dodgy!

We then ventured to the hill above the village where the locals had built a mid-summer bonfire and provided tin-whistle entertainment, backed ably by Alan's guitar. We met the future king, a lad in his mid-teens, and all his mates who told us about taking a boat way down into the cave. The rain got heavier towards midnight but we were all geared up for it and it was only when the fire died down that we retired.

Jealous of Pete and George's numerous VS leads the previous day I vowed to find a nice route to scare me on the Sunday morning and Valli, George, Michael and I headed off east of the pier to look at 400K (S) and Nordkapp (HS). The night before George and Valli had attempted a possible HVS route just right of Nordkapp under the big wide crack and leading to a corner full of sloping hand holds at the exit. In the wet they backed off it on to the exit of 400K, having also tried the Sting(VS) exit 1m right.

It was Sting route that I eyed up in the brightening sunshine as Valli led 400K with George. Starting on the face next to the big crack you bobble over some nice big holds up towards 2 large blocks that are gained without too much trouble. But the 2nd block is overhung by a 3rd that forces you to lean right back out, stretch up for the holds, let the feet dangle into space before tucking the knees up for a nice ledge for the right foot, bridging to the wall on the left. A gutsy enough move that took me 3 attempts and left me Elvis legged on top but shouting "Yee Haa!" into the wind. George led it after Michael had sweated up it and we both reckoned VS 4c.

Meanwhile Pete Cooper and Dave had done Nordkapp which they reckoned as actually VS, followed by a new route starting the same but with a different VS exit. PJ led 400K to get over backing off it the year before, Sandra and myself then led it at nearly the same time, with Michael dancing round our combined ropes as he seconded. George and Valli tried Nordkapp and Pete Cooper's line and by then it was noon and time to de-camp for the early boat back home.

Another great weekend, made special by the new routes, just a pity that Sting wasn't the virgin line I originally thought!

Photo of Route