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In the Mountains With Heidi

Date: 25th April 2009
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

A few months ago Pete Smith passed on a forum message to me from a "Heidi McBride", an American girl who wanted to get some climbing done during a trip to Ireland with her sister Stephanie. Sticking on my ambassadorial hat I encouraged her to join the ClimbFest as it coincided nicely with her travel dates. A few weeks ago there were some more emails expressing a desire to see "the mountains north of Dublin" and, since their arrival dates dovetailed nicely with my planned trip to the Mournes, I arranged to meet up at the Percy French in Newcastle on Friday evening. Yeah I know, it'd have to be a bar, wouldn't it?

Pete and PJ also decided to come and the 3 of us had a drink while the clock ticked way past the meeting time. Had we been duped by some clever ambitious internet burglary scheme designed to get us out of our houses, which even now were being ransacked by hooded villains carrying bags marked SWAG? No the girls were jet-lagged and had fallen asleep in their hire car a few feet away from where we'd parked up. Far from being the 15-stone trailer park munters that some had predicted they were delicate wee things who were still inclined to order up Baileys coffees.

At the Meelmore campsite we gathered in my new 3-man tent to discuss the morrow's routes. (PJ rolled her eyes as to why I had brought such a big tent, but it was just to test it out pre-ClimbFest I swear!) Unfortunately Pete and PJ had to head home due to unforeseen circumstances so suddenly I was on my own with the giggling duo. It was to a chorus of "Ooh look at the stone wall!" and "Ooh look at the sheepies!" that we trudged to Bearnagh Slabs via Spellack. Both girls had a real easygoing nature and found something to laugh at in nearly everything we did, especially when we posed for a pic on the timed camera that turned out to be in video mode. Pose, pose, pose, what's the camera doing?, pose, pose, ah feck it, go check, doh!, look at us playing statues...

Maybe it's hard to predict mountain weather but the weathermen had it totally wrong this weekend. They'd stated Saturday bad / Sunday good but it turned out to be the opposite. We had a pretty dry day on the Sat, a little wind but enough spots of sunshine to make it a pleasant enough day at the slabs.

Stephanie hadn't climbed outdoors before while Heidi was a little dynamo and spoke of many trips in San Diego climbing up to 5.10, which is bordering E2 in our parlance. I settled on Crooked Chimney, a popular 2 pitch HS, as a good opener. With 2 ropes I had the diminuitive but more experienced Heidi belay me, while I just tied Stef into the other for an easy swap into the system. Saved throwing down ropes and worrying about whether the knots were tied right.

The first pitch is a cakewalk but the second almost immediately throws you a big wide crack that the guide book requests you either "levitate gently" or "spraughle" up. Come on, surely that's not a real word? It also states you'd need a rock shoe on one foot and an alpine boot on the other. So true. I had my entire right arm and right leg jammed in the crack and slowly wedged my way up. At one point the leg was stuck so fast I had visions of a laughing mountain rescue team easing my leg out with butter or some other lubricating substance. Ahem.

Anyway Heidi "I love crack climbing, me" bounced up it and Stef hardly needed the super tight rope I gave her. She always knew when it was time to climb because she was 3 feet up the route before laying a hand on the rock. Having managed so well I decided to up the pace and we went for Peter De Bernac, a nice 2-star VS, just next to Crooked Chimney.

Again the 1st pitch wasn't too difficult, lots of smearing on occasionally damp rock and a deft step up through an overhang before reaching the tat at the big flake. From here though the crux first requires a delicate step across a steep slab (trust the shoes!) aiming for the mighty jug that is tantalisingly just out of reach. Breathe a short-lived sigh of relief when you get there.

There are some lovely blocks above this that you think you have to climb on, simply because it's easy to do so, but the route follows the steep face that you have just delicately stepped across. I'd placed a small friend just after the step but could see nothing else for at least 10m, despite trying a variety of little nuts and friends on some useless rounded wet cracks.

After several aborted attempts there really was no other option than smear up using the first decent undercut and hope that other handholds would miraculously appear as I got higher. It was a series of hesitant searching moves, expecting at any minute for the feet to leave me, but I eventually found some little edges and undercuts and made my way onto the slab above. I gave a loud whoop of pleasure and relief and may have even uttered a few "J.C.s" and other expletives which I hope didn't offend the girls good Christian ears.

Above this a series of twisting cracks made for interesting climbing and I was soon at the top in the warmish afternoon sun. Heidi again made short work of it, beaming away and seemingly having great fun. Stef also didn't have much trouble, since the super-tight rope made hand-holds that were one minute just out of reach suddenly appear in her hand. On the walk down we found a shared love of Monty Python and the time passed quickly quoting our favourite lines. "Your mother is a hamster and your father smells of elderberries", "I fart in your general direction", etc. :)

After some dinner in Newcastle and swapping Irish / American jokes I found myself saying goodnight and crawling into my sleeping bag at 9:15pm and nodding off. On a Saturday? What's wrong with ye man? I slept almost completely right through till 9:30am and despite kicking the jet-lagged lumps in the girls' tent none of us were really up and about till noon. Like the previous morning Heidi tucked into a huge fry that defied her small stature while Stef and I had the ubiquitous bacon and egg butties. "What's a, um, booty?" she'd asked reading the menu. Yes I do like brown sauce on my booty, sorry buttie...

Having believed my predictions on the weather Mike and George were already at Lower Cove by this point but given the dampness I wanted something closer and easier. A fella on Facebook had mentioned FM, a 162m 6-pitch VDiff on Lamagan Slabs, and this sounded perfect wet weather material. Hell, we might even do it in big boots! We met the 2 lads as we were walking in, and they out, having given up after 1 VS route in the cold wet conditions and deciding to go to the Hot Rock wall instead. We seemed to time things perfectly though because the cloud lifted a fair bit as we reached the slabs.

The first 2 pitchs of FM were wee buns. Nicely laid back rock, great friction and we monkied up in no time. I think I maybe placed 2 bits of gear on the 80m of the 2 pitches, partly because of a lack of placement and partly because the going was so easy. The 3rd 12m pitch is called the "mauvais pas", which I think is French for "this is never a VDiff move", and it took me a couple of goes to work out the step up left and into the corner using the handy big flake.

Above this the guidebook speaks of "ascending the grooves above", which I took to mean "climb straight up" but this actually takes you onto the Severe direct finish. It means 1 less pitch but slightly harder climbing, smearing up a big blankish slab into a steep corner. Trust the shoes time again. The corner had a huge overhanging block and when I had the girls secured I set off up it briskly, eager to finish the route and get out of the stiff wind. I found myself hanging onto the block though, leaning way out and wishing my one piece of gear had been placed a little higher. But with Heidi shouting something like "Go Anthony!" I swung up into the move, calling down afterwards "That was a little bold..."

Heidi and I had climbed with rucksacks carrying all our boots for a quick swap into warm footwear at the top and we descended quickly, buzzing away at completing such a nice route. I heard how Heidi had saved for nearly 3 years to come here and eventually found she could afford to pay for her sister too. Some Christmas present that was, eh Stef?

The rain had thoroughly come in now so we marched back to camp to find the girls' tent near flattened by the weather. A room in the hostel was looking the better option and I left them to sort it out, it being near 9pm by this stage and a long drive to Derry ahead of me. I sorted them out with a possible interinary of the north coast first that would lead them nicely to the ClimbFest via Ballycastle, Giant's Causeway, Derry, Culdaff and Bunbeg.

I gotta say it was one of the best weekend's climbing I've had in ages. My ribs still hurt from all the laughter. The cynics among you will question whether I'd have had as much fun with 2 fellas. Maybe not, there's definitely something about a wowing female audience, but I'd just call you all jealous. Ha!


27 Apr 2009

And Jesus? What about Jesus?

27 Apr 2009
Anthony Feeney

I might have called His name a few names under duress but happily avoided any wrathful bolts of lightning.

Photo of Route