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A Winter's Day on Errigal

Date: 4th January 2010
Submitted by: Columba McLaughlin

At brief notice, Martin McGuigan, Peter McConnell and myself met in Letterkenny and we headed off to Errigal - Donegal’s finest mountain. Having travelled from North Inishowen , I was able to see along the way that Errigal was white and that there was not a cloud to be seen. We parked at a small roadside space and headed uphill in the direction of the Western ‘Red Gully’.

On reaching the snow covered scree slopes, we traversed diagonally eastwards in the direction of Thumb Ridge (North West Ridge). This ridge is characterised with three pinnacles. On the way we crossed a set of frozen footprints and assumed that these belonged to Brother Iain who was in the vicinity the week or so before. On reaching the 1st Pinnacle, it was dry with no snow or ice. We stopped and put on our crampons. Peter heaed up the gully on the western flank of Tower Ridge. Marty and I were more ‘Poly Poly’ and conserving of our energy.

We minced our way up to the 2nd pinnacle and I spied a moderately steep viable gully on its western side with virgin snow and no evidence of any frozen or other footprints. Marty noticed it too and we agreed to do it un-roped. It provided a very pleasant outing. The exit was over a rocky obstruction onto a lovely snow crest just below the 3rd Pinnacle (Leaning Rock Crag). Marty called it ‘Redpole Gully’ and we agreed on a Grade I Length 50m. Peter was higher up the mountain and he waited on us. We minced our way up the steep snow slope towards Peter and a prominent rocky mass on the same line as ‘Thumb Ridge’ came into view. There was no evidence of any footsteps leading up towards it. On reaching a huge triangular block guarding the climb we didn’t find any evidence of anyone being here before us. ‘Another virgin climb for deflowering’. Peter was chomping at the bit to have a go. Initially the climb goes up centre of the scoop and then Peter traversed left. This involved a number of airy moves with lots of air beneath our heels but there was frozen turf in the right places. Unfortunately, the climb lacks protection and one was conscious of the abyss yawning at our feet. Marty climbed 2nd and I went up last. A great climb but protection is sparse. Peter called it ‘Heather’ and we agreed on a winter Grade II/III Length 30m.

We carried on the ridge for a bit and Marty opted to forgo the ridge for a venture into the top of the gully that flanks the western wall of the final summit ridge of Tower Ridge. Options here were to traverse up a short ramp to the top of Tower Ridge or to have fun on the snow encrusted rock wall in front of us. Marty headed up the rock and Peter and I duly followed. A delightful exit onto the final ridge below Errigal’s 2nd and lower summit. Marty called the climb ‘Snow Bunting’ and all agreed on a Grade I Length 30m.

The summit of Errigal had a small but wonderful cornice on the eastern side. We stopped for lunch and to savour the 360 degree panoramic views and to take loads of photos. It was absolutely wonderful. About 3pm or so we decided to exit with some bum glissading down the Great Gully which faces directly North and under the eastern wall of Tower Ridge and we by passed the frozen ‘Rock Window’. I suggested that we traverse westwards under the 1st Tower of Tower Ridge and soon found ourselves back on Thumb Ridge with day light to spare. Marty suggested that we straighten out ‘Heather’ and make a direct ascent. Well it was 4pm but we agreed as the light was good. Up the steep snow slope we went again to the large Triangular block. When Marty was half way up it, a hail storm broke and with the spindrift coming down the climb and Marty bombing me with lumps of frozen snow, it made the climb have a really wintry feel about it. Who needs Scotland when you got stuff like this in Ireland ? Marty took the direct route hugging the right wall. I followed and Peter came up after that. It is a lovely climb and has some protection in the wall on the right just below the crux block at the top. Marty named it ‘Snow Goose’ and we agreed a Grade II Length 30m. We made it back to the car in darkness but with smiles as big as Cheshire cats. What a magnificent excursion on a snow encrusted North West face of Errigal and 4 brilliant climbs included.

05 Jan 2010
Keith M

looks fantastic, Anymore days planned in the snow?

06 Jan 2010

No sign of a big thaw yet, and there's more sub-zero weather forecast before the weekend. Has it ever been better than this?

06 Jan 2010

I am heading down to stay in the YH Thurs night, for Fri and Sat. Anyone else?

Photo of Route