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Alpinists at Fairhead

Date: June 2009
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

The alpinists met up at Fairhead ostensibly to do some multi pitching and practise the old fast moving rope work and changeovers. Since PJ, Sandra and I were a little late arriving, we found Mike, George and Trevor gearing up for Chieftain (VS 4b, 4b **). Trevor is kinda new to this climbing malarkey so George wanted to go easy on him. Ahem.

It was payday weekend, the sun was shining and I was looking forward to a solid day's carefree climbing, camping and craic. In top form I decided to do Girona (VS 4c, 4c ***) with the girls. Almost straight away though there was an "Ooh Mummy" moment as I moved up right, through the initial overhang and onto some crimpy face holds. Faced with a blank wall there was nothing for it but to move back left into the crack, stick in several bits of gear and make the spicy layback move onwards and upwards. The 1st pitch is over 40m and seemed to go on for ever but it all felt solid and grippy; gear galore and holds always appearing just in the right place. The girls were full of praise at the belay stance and with head swelled I pressed on to lead the 2nd pitch.

I could have done with a little less swelling in the buttocks as I squeezed the arse behind the big free standing block, but managed to extricate myself and mantle up the next 2 ledges. It felt very airy but decent gear again and biggish holds made this pitch seem easier than the first. perhaps just because it's much shorter at 20 odd metres. I was glad to see the girls struggle with the tight gap also, Sandra once again blaming the study diet. (1 hour of study = 1 doughnut reward). PJ had to reverse out to get aligned properly and some wag made a "meep meep meep, wide load reversing" quip.

It was a fantastic route and I was in even higher spirits having mastered it. The lads had wrapped up Chieftain, Trevor getting a thorough testing and George and Mike were already on Aoife (E1 5b **) by the time we topped out. We headed down to the packs to await them and have some lunch, removing the tight rockshoes to let the feet breathe. Amid all the banter around Trevor's Kajagoogoo monkey-embossed climbing trousers and Sandra's elongated little toe, I just had to blurt out I'd once been told I had lovely feet and could have been a foot model. In revenge for all the "fat-bottomed girls" jokes earlier Sandra had me posing without me really knowing what she was up to until the guffaws broke out all around. Bah!

Anyway George and Mike arrived and we all trooped over to Roaring Meg (VS 5a, 4b, 4a **), a 100m 3 pitch beauty that I'd hankered after for a while. Fairhead Tip: Never wear shorts if you're going to negotiate the brambly bottom of the routes. My poor shins! Initially George, myself and Trevor grouped off and the girls were to go with Mike (once Sandra went back for the rope). The first pitch would easily be HVS on it's own, a tight layback move up left through an overhang until a big reach with the right hand grabs a very solid block. Phew! Full praise to George for leading it. I'd a bit of a scare when a lump I stood on near the start fell out (a lighter person may have been OK) but held on to continue moving up.

At the less than spacious belay stance George started to bring Trevor up but it proved too much. He lowered off and Sandra came up instead. By the time I'd dismantled (the new weekend word) my anchors and pushed on to lead the 2nd pitch, Mike was almost up already! Talented little so-and-so. And as PJ arrived 4 people tried to occupy a space meant for 2.

As the laughing banter continued below me I found myself on a laid back ramp and it was more like a scramble as I hurried through it. But right at the end it goes very vertical with yet another layback that had the sweat running into my eyes and the first touch of fear that weekend. Slightly pumped I was glad to get the anchors in and bring George and Sandra up. The final pitch is easier again but involves an exposed traverse across a somewhat grassy ledge. No shame in getting down on all fours as I did. The last few moves also keep you feeling off balance, a thin crack for the hand and thinnish sloping edges for the feet.

Everyone was in a heady mood as we sauntered back to pitch the tents in the sheep be-shitted ruins near the car park. (£5 a head folks). A few beers, a quick change and a splash of the old afty and we headed for the bright lights of Ballycastle for a slap-up feed. Several beers later we found the best bars were closing and headed back to the campsite where we could make as much noise as we liked. At least that was the plan until we got there and found another dozen tents and cars, some Slovakians and a cross sleeper who was a bit miffed at being disturbed by my hysterical cackling. "Shut up will ya?!" And so to bed.

And so to morning. 5:30am to be precise and the formerly cross sleeper was now a deep sleeper with all the snoring ability of an overweight St Bernard hound. The former hysterical moi was now a cross non-sleeper and despite trying headphones with soft music and rattling the snorer's tent I found myself wandering the hill, kicking turf and glaring at rabbits. Eventually exhausation took over and I climbed back into the tent and dropped off. George however hadn't fared better and was awake from 6am probably through a combination of snoring and my sweary trampling and huffing.

Breakfast was a lavish bacon-fest and the girls were packing up soon after, PJ with kids to see and Sandra that long drive home. Originally I was supposed to get a lift back with them but put my foot in it by uttering "I'd stay and climb, lads but I've no other way home". Mike just had to offer to give me a lift to Derry, didn't he? Bugger. George had been raving about Pangur Ban (HVS 5a **) and one mildly hungover tramp and a scary abseil found us lethargically at the bottom. Of course we all had to go over the side without a climbing rope didn't we?

Missing rope problem sorted, George scooted off while I tried to get the 2-rope belaying technique right for once. Mid-way through the climb and with George on a fairly balancy section I gave the rope an unnecessary tighten. George's panicked but vociferous reply had me apologising profusely. Only when he'd made the (yet another) layback crux and gained the top did he let on just how much the route had freaked him, the previous night's alcohol consumption having lowered the performance considerably.

In a "not-too-fussed" mood I started up myself, the left arm twinging a bit from some overly dynamic wall climbing mid-week. I could easily have dodged a difficult chimney section by moving out right onto blockier stuff but George threatened to pelt me with stones if I went off route, so I was stuck with having a go. I managed it easier than I thought and was now starting to warm up to the climbing. Again the rock was dry, solid and grippy, holds where you wanted them but still required some strategic thinking. The layback is supposed to be the crux but I found it to be a brilliant thrilling move up, needing some strength but still easier than some of the lower sections. I'd highly recommend this route to anyone.

At the top my left arm suddenly felt like it was on fire and Mike wasn't really in the form for anything else, despite George suggesting a VS called Lazarus that a couple of Londoners had just climbed. Crib Pad Crack (E1 5b ***) would have to wait till another day. And so to home.

Photo of Route