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Climbfest 2008 - Moving Up a Gear

Date: 3rd May 2008
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

It was a weekend for doing the same old things but doing them better than before. For me the ClimbFest has always been about renewing old acquaintances, putting tents up and taking them down in the rain, drinking cold beer round a bonfire whilst singing tunelessly and not caring one jot and finally testing myself on something hard to set goals for the summer ahead. So for 2008 it was tick, tick, tick and tick to all of the above. Only this time the old acquaintances brought new acquaintances, the tents went up and down in the rain but didn't blow away, the singing and drinking lasted 2 nights instead of one and I finally lead a HVS that was worthy of the grade and tested me all the way. Like I said, the same only better!

Saturday morning was wet and diluted my enthusiam to get up at 8am and arrive early, so I rolled over till 9am. By the time I'd mobilised the small army of my sister Helen, her fella John and their 3 kids plus my 3 boys we didn't make it to Culdaff until 1pm. My cousin Sean and his kids were arriving with my new storm proof tent later and I was eager to test it against the stiff wind. There were a few promising specks of blue in the sky and when I got to Dunmore Head the wind was drying the rock nicely. I'd met Niall Kielt and his entourage at the campsite and met them again at the rock. George was top roping Ferg up the beginnings of Bean Bob (VS 4c) but he struggled in trainers and backed off it.

With no other beginners about Mike and I were itching to get on something so we drew straws to see who would lead. I won and picked Anorexia (VS 4c) which is very aptly named. You think you can squeeze your body through the tight chimney but the trick is to shuffle up using only your right hand in the crack and eventually reach round the outside with the left to grab the big jug at the top. An interesting move that would take some working out, but I cheated and asked George instead.

Mike was really itching now and started looking at Subduction Zone (E1 5b), obviously brim full of confidence but Rodney assured him it was more like E2 6a and that subdued him a little. George arrived and was also desperate to climb something after his beginner morning. He convinced Mike that the gear placement on How Do Chimney (HVS 5b) was tricky and leapt to the head of the queue. Bad George! The move on to the bottomless chimney is adventurous and I was very glad of the 2 nights a week training at the Redpoint wall in Brum. Mike breezed it of course, having spent his time warming up on the first moves of Subduction. We commented on how technical E-climbing is like doing bouldering problems only 20m off the ground.

I met Chris McDaid and he told me there would be no grading debates from him that weekend and I tried to take this on board for the rest of the weekend. We all do it I'm sure: "That was more like VS than HS" as we try and convince ourselves we're climbing harder than we are and that the original grader was some super-fit athlete who solos E1s to warm up. I fell at the first hurdle of course and declared the HVS I was to lead as harder than the previous week's HVS, therefore due an upgrade to at least 5b...

I convinced Mike to belay me up Fluid Inclusions (HVS 5a), described by both Mike and George as a "smear fest". They got that right! The first move is an athletic stretch of the right foot high over the overhang and two pinchy fingertip holds to take the full body weight on the swing through. It took me 3 goes to get it and I declared to George "That some ballsy move!" as he descended Pea Pod on the abseil. "Ummm... it's not the hardest move on it!" he replied. GULP! A few more pinchy strenuous moves got me to the blank section in the middle and a distinct lack of gear placement. I footered and fussed and ummed and aahed and asked advice of about 3 different climbers how to get to the inviting large overhead crack where the next obvious gear placement was.

My biggest problems when it comes to adventurous leading has always been the fear of falling. When I have fallen (which hasn't been often) the actual fall is over so quickly and painlessly that it's no big deal. The issue seems to be that instant when you feel your grip or your balance go and your mind goes into PANIC!!! mode. You definitely need a strong mental presence on the harder routes to tell yourself that A - you can do the move and B - if you fall it won't be so bad and your gear will hold. I think maybe what I need is to fall more often, to get used to the sensation so I become de-sensitised as it were. If I keep trying to lead HVS maybe that'll happen anyway as a matter of course! :)

Anyway on Fluid my biggest worry was that if I fell I was going to swing into the gully of Pea Pod because of the gear placement. Eventually after much faffing about I found a tiny crack for the smallest of nuts which meant that if I fell it would be directly downward. I'd felt like I'd chickened out on Bunratti Pillar (HVS) the week before and was determined not to let this one beat me so I took a deep breath and went for the smear across the face and up to the crack into which I placed TWO cams (a size 3 and a size 4). After the cam placement I was full of confidence again, and although I was completely pumped by the end I finished the whole thing cleanly. It did take me at least an hour to climb it and there were a few "superglue" jibes and other comments: "Is he STILL on that route???". I don't care. Like last years ClimbFest when I lead my first VS 4c I've "moved up a gear" and that's going to set the standard for the summer.

Mike lead Orange Blossom (HS 4a) going out on the face to give it more adventure then we headed to the campsite for dinner. We were late getting there and the BBQ in the wheelbarrow was already out. I wasted a full bottle of meths trying to light the bugger until PJ took pity and lent me one of her Tesco dispoable ones. Could I get that to light? Could I heck! PJ tried, Sandra tried but the damn thing wouldn't catch. Some kind soul let me use his M&S one, which lit fantastically well. Those Tesco ones - so Housing Executive. 3 hours later when we'd drunk our fill round the bonfire and sang our hearts out to the accompaniment of a guitar and banjo Sandra tapped me on the shoulder. "C'mere till you see this!". There was our wee Tesco barbie burning brightly and crying out for an Aberdeen Angus burger to be sizzled on it. The tiny wee corner we managed to get lit must have spread eventually in the high wind.

The bonfire shenanigans were up to the usual standard and the book of lyrics was well thumbed. The Derry contingent were generally the loudest during any lull, trying to get the crowd started on such hits as "Lay the blanket on the ground" and "Town I love so well". Knowing Helen wouldn't be long in doing some Meatloaf I prompted her with "Dah dah dah dunh dunh, Dah dah dah dunh dunh" the rocking chorus to Bat Out Of Hell and was duly rewarded with a badly sung version. I then tried in vain to start off on U2's "One" but I think I sounded like an enthusiastically strangled cat and was admonished to shut the hell up by a large section of the crowd. :)

Next morning the rain was on again and I took the opportunity for a lie-in till the weather cleared, then helped Helen, John and my cousin Sean to pack up. Another of Niall's mates Odhran (pronounched Oran you numpties!) turned up and his Mum? friend? relative? offered to give them a lift saving me the bother of a drive to Derry. I took Niall and gang to Galavoir Point to meet up with Keith, Sandra, Pete, PJ and Alan. After leading them through some dubious thorny ground we found the others but once again I'd managed to leave the rock shoes behind. For the rest of the day Niall, Odhran and I shared the same sweaty pair which was not particularly pleasant but so far my feet have remained fungus free...

On Jura wall I scanned the guide for a wee Severe and started up it only to hear an "Ahem!" from Alan. "Uh, what route are you doing?". "This wee Severe up through that crack." "Umm, that's an E2 6a that Pete Cooper sweated on and backed off". "OOOOOKKKKKK. Where's that damn guide?!". There were 2 Severes, a V.Diff and a HS all called Jura-something and we covered the lot, with PJ leading again, though I was back at the re-grading when I struggled on a lower part of Jura Jaunt and lost a small friend deep in the crack. Scavenger's beware. Most of these routes are heavily vegetated.

We moved on to the main wall and Pete lead Good Ship Venus (VS 4c). He fair bounced up the first section to gasps of awe from the gawpers below. When I came to second it I realised it's because there's no other way to do it but there are very positive holds and the little traverse looks worse that it actually is. The end section take some guts to lead though. You step round the corner and get a real airy feel as the rock drops away from beneath you. Once again the holds are positive but the lack of protection meant that without a micro-wire on your rack you're going to have a runout from the last bit of gear round the corner. It would have been an breath-taking swing I can tell you! Definitely the most enjoyable route of the day and I enthused so much Niall had a go too. Mike was eager to lead again having just done Black Toe (S 3c), so we went for Salty Dog (S 4a ***) that Alan and PJ had done. Niall was busy with our one pair of rock shoes on Venus so I seconded it in big boots making sure there were a few photos taken to stroke my planet sized ego. Nice finish up the horizontal crack on the slab.

Back at the campsite Helen, John, Sean and Donna had returned minus kids. I was ready to settle into a curry and a cold beer when Pete approached. "Me and you are not done!". So off we went to do Glengad Girls (HS 4b) while Mike followed us down and took Odhran up Blondes Have More Fun (VS 4c). When Odhran was at the difficult midpoint I discovered that his name was not pronounced "Odd-ran" as he replied "F*ck OFF!" to my tips on where the holds were! He got through it though and got the heart palpitations he'd been looking for. Pete, myself and Niall finished up with Kerry Widow (HVS 5a) just as the sun was setting. I made the mistake of going for the false security of trying to stay deep in the crack and was going nowhere until Niall advised a step out from below and I eventually got out. We all felt we deserved a cold beer now so after feeding the kids and arranging for PJ and co. to babysit we went off for a couple of cold Guinness in McGrory's.

There were competing fires about the place when we returned and after some laughter round the Monaghan fire involving George's tent and the colour yellow and the Himalayan expedition that Keith wants to go on but can't (next year Keith, me and you in jeans on bicycles with a flat of beer under each arm) we gathered round the big one below. More singing and setting the world to rights ensued. My last memory is saluting Niall "You're a legend!" as I fell sideways off my chair. From the ground I heard "Mr Feeney, always a pleasure!". Niall and Ferg stayed up to watch the sunrise and try to disprove the theory that there is no song in the world that you can't sing with the word "Ferg" in it. "The Ferg I love so well", "Ferg out of Hell", you get the picture.

Monday morning began warm and got hotter - by 11am it was 18 degrees. Needless to say it was a struggle to rise and shine but we managed to pack up the car and after a breakfast at the garage I took Sean over to Dunmore for his first ever climb up Bluebell (VD). Though a bit nervous he managed it and enjoyed it thoroughly, followed by John and then Helen who, in the Feeney tradition, climbed it in big boots. I faffed about doing a bit of abseiling and listening to scary stories of bald guys getting skin cancer on the head. I realised I'd only applied sunblock up to the hairline so went and rubbed it in all over the bonce.

I helped Colm climb Cheating Bitch (S 3a) where he sweated over the twisting section on to the final slab and then led Peapob (VS 4b) because Fergie Ferg wanted to be scared on something. The day was scorching by now and badly hung over I sweated on this old favourite more than I should have, Rodney slagging off my huffing and puffing from the top of Calamity Collins (Vs 5a) that he was belaying Julie up. I brought Niall up easily enough and then Ferg, who got his wanted scare as his trainers slipped a few times. He was bouncing around the cliff top though when he finished, glad he'd beaten the route that threw him off on the first day. Meanwhile Odhran followed Julie up Calamity. For a while I thought that they were all doing Ten CC (E1 5b) and congratulated Odhran on doing an E1 and maybe beating Niall's hardest route of the weekend. But it turns out Niall had been climbing with Pete Cooper on the Saturday and had been taken up an E2 (though without prior knowledge which is a bit unfair of Mr Cooper). Niall's friend Alex took on Calamity as well and was full of gear questions at the top so I definitely think we've got some new converts to the sport. Tired but happy I packed up and headed home via the ice cream shop.

The weekend then was a complete success for me. All the children that came along had a fantastic time despite the early morning rain. They ran about and played till dark (and after it) and there wasn't a Playstation in sight. One of the best sights for me was watching the fearless way Thomas, Eoin, Holly and Pol were climbing up the steep grassy slopes near the beach and sliding down headlong towards the rocks. Alan and I watched with trepidation like fussy parents but relaxed as they repeated the feat over and over. Another was watching my cousin's Sean wee fella Ethan, who is normally painfully shy, really come out of himself and have a great time running around with the others. Yet another was watching Sean beam with pleasure as we caroused through Saturday night and I asked him the eternal question: "Sure where else would you rather be?". I tend to pop this question on the cliff tops of Fairhead or Gola in the beaming sunshine having just climbed a nice line and surrounded by friends from the club. At times like that where else would you rather be? Maybe I could think of one or two but they would be morally dubious and bordering illegal and it's apples and oranges really...

Finally I loved watching Niall, Odhran, Ferg and Alex all test themselves on difficult routes, getting the fear and getting over it, and rejoicing as they made the top out. That exhiliration of taking on the rock and beating it, despite being scared to death sometimes and asking "Why the hell do I put myself in these situations?", it's the reason I climb and it was great to see others catch that same bug. I saw it with Mike last year and sure look at him now! Over and out.

Photo of Route