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A Wintry Day in the Poisoned Glen

Date: 8th January 2010
Submitted by: Columba McLaughlin

Alan Tees and I met up in Letterkenny and travelled to the Dún Lúiché Hostel at the foot of Errigal on Thurs 7th Jan. After a circuitous coastal we hit the snow bound road to the hostel. Later, after a few swallies in McGeady’s pub, a nice meal and a bottle of wine in the hostel, Peter McConnell and Keith Monaghan joined us. Being sociable critters Alan and were easily persuaded to sojourn to the pub again with the tow lads. Late at night, on exiting McGeady’s pub, I slipped and fell on the road covered with 3cms of iced snow - should have put on me crampons. I was soon on me feet but sure it was good practice for the forthcoming weekend. We all made it back to the YH without any further mishap or the need for ice axes or crampons.

By any standards, Friday morning 8th Jan 2010 was a very cold and much frozen morning in Donegal. We upped and away to the Poisoned Glen in Dún Lúiché. Being younger and fitter, Peter and Keith headed off and soon disappeared up the valley. Meanwhile, Iain Miller caught up with Alan and me. Alan had a 15 year old winter project to disperse with in his head. This involved (hopefully) a frozen waterfall / stream on Bearna’s Buttress. Iain had no such project and I was happy either way - sounds exciting. We reached the ‘Australia Slab’ (so called because of its shape) and Alan and Iain opted for a waterfall / stream / gully climb to the left of this slab because we did not hear any water coming down and it seemed that all was frozen. Such was our innocence. Anyway, off we went un-roped and not tooled up. The climb lacked protection for the first 50m so I tooled up. It was no better for the 2nd 50m and when I saw Iain Millar swimming up a vertical wall of UNFROZEN heather and thought that I was next, I decided that enough was enough. I no longer felt safe or confident and sadly said to Alan that I was going to down climb - better now than later was his words. While Iain battered on a head, Alan climbed, with my rope trailing behind him and I down climbed.

I made my way to an area where I had a great view of Castle Buttress. After a cup of soup and few sandwiches I took out the Binoculars and spied Peter and Keith commencing Pitch 2 in No 1 Gully on the Castle Buttress. I thought ‘Great Stuff, by the time they complete that I’ll be well up on No 2 Gully and they might meet up with me’. So, I headed off uphill in a very general direction. It was deep snow most of the way but then I came to a 10m climb angled about 70 degree which consisted of frozen heather and turf and there was approx 10cm of ice on the rocks to my left - whoppee dooo. This turned out to be great fun. Even though I was on my own - I felt really safe here. Above this I found deep snow and I had to move onto a higher rock shelf. This was straight forward and led me out to the base of the gullies on the left (East) of Bearna’s (Windy) Gap. From the summit, Peter had made his way down a bit and he shouted to me and asked me my intentions. So I shouted back.

I moved on towards No 2 Gully and soon came to an almost vertical corner about 5m high. Whilst climbing up the Eastern wall my left crampon came off and I had to down climb again - not a good omen. Eventually, when I reached the top of this pitch I looked back and I saw Keith and Peter following a line towards No. 2 Gully - ‘thank you lord was my prayer’. I then swam up a waist deep snow filled scoop and into the deep narrow rock fissure until I reached the base of the crux pitch. It was about 6m high and encrusted with ice. So I took a food break and Peter and Keith soon joined me. On satiation of our physical needs, Peter led the crux, I followed and then Keith came up. We summated into brilliant sunshine and met Pat Tinney and K McGee on the summit.

We all strode off and descended towards the Poisoned Glen by way of Bearna’s (Windy) Gap. About 100m down we noticed a frozen waterfall on the left wall and soon the conversation got around to routes up it. Peter McConnell was soon trying it out from the lower end but the ice gave way and off he came. We all decided that the pub, a warm fire and a pint was the better option. The waterfall might be more stable the next day. At 5 PM we were in McGeady’s relaxing and reminiscing with Alan about our day. Both he and Iain had successfully climbed ‘Sruthan na Bearna’ . While I knew that I missed out on such a long 400m and very committing climb, I was not jealous. I had made my decision using the best info at the time and I had a great day with several nail biting, blood stirring scrambles and a brilliant climb to boot. Whilst in the pub, Marty McGuigan and Valli Schafer joined us - Yip - things could only get better for the remainder of the weekend.

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