Fair Head is one my favorite places for climbing (even though I’ve only been there once before!). This place is an absolute must for anyone who is considering himself somewhat serious trad climber. I takes no prisoners, is very intimidating and absolutely unforgiving for the ego (albeit it takes all the gear you throw at it!)
There is no easy climbing at Fair Head. I think two thing are required to start enjoying this place 1. Know how to jam 2. Be comfortable leading grades HVS/E1 (you really want to be minimum E2 climber to ‘truly’ appreciate the might of Fair Head though).
The Fair Head Meet is an annual gathering of climbers taking place during June Bank Holiday weekend. Around 300 to 500 climbers from all over the Ireland, UK and beyond calls in to Sean’s Farm (the land owner) and for those few days totally overtakes the place.
This was my first time attending, mainly because in previous years I just wasn’t strong enough before to jump on anything above VS (and trust me, all the classics are always under siege, with people queuing to give them a shot).
This year was meant to be different, as I though I’d be strong enough to try myself. Unfortunately the poor weather forecast meant that a lot of my potential partners decided to stay behind (and save their weekend ‘passes’ for better occasion). Fair enough.
And here is where it got different for me – I normally don’t climb with random, just met people, but I took a chance and posted a mini add on the FB Irish climbers group ‘Looking for Fair Head climbing buddy’. Sure enough a quickly got a response – and that’s how I met Peter.
Turns out he was also solo for the weekend, and after some brief vetting (also known as internet stalking) we’ve decided to team up. Peter is a NI native who lives some 40mins drive of Fair Head. He has passion for the great outdoors, been climbing for similar amount of time and grades as I do. Perfect match. Not even tinder could do it better!
I arrived to Sean’ Farm (that hosts the event) on Friday evening. We sorted the gear, decided on early start (7am wake up) for the following day, got couple of beers and headed to the Barn for Calvin Torrans and Clair Sheridan’s talk.
These two are absolute legends and pioneers of Fair Head. First ascensionist of many, many of the routes in Fair Head and beyond (over last 50 years!). Calvin, at a young age of 76, still climbs super hard, just recently (last 2 weeks) establishing 3 new routes in E4/5 range ( example: Njold’s Saga, E4/5, 6a/b. 2PA. 43m. C Torrans, C Sheridan. 25/5/17)
Saturday morning welcomed us with good weather forecast – it supposed to stay relatively dry until later afternoon (3.30pm or so).
We set of from the campsite as planned and were by the base of our first route by 8.30am:
Pangur Bán *** 36m HVS (5a)
C Sheridan, C Torrans. 14/10/1977.
A delightful pitch. Climb the corner and crack as for Crib Pad Crack and continue straight up past a short steep wall to finish via the sustained crack above.
I got the first lead, and with the double set of cams set out into the unknown. I got to say, Fair Head HVS is nothing like Dalkey (where average route length is 15 meters) or even Glendalough HVSs. It’s always long, sustained and just full on experience near my limit.
We quickly abbed off. It was Peter’s turn. He’s chosen:
Lazarus * 24m VS (4c)
T Ryan, K Higgs. 10/1977.
Climb the first crack in the gully to a jammed rocking block and continue up the groove above to an overhang. Pass the overhang on the left (crux). Continue more easily up the crack above.
We were flying up these routes, but more and more people started to show up. For my next route I’ve chosen:
Stone Mad 39m HVS (5a)
T. Hand, J McKenzie. 19/5/1979.
Start just right of Sabre Rattler. Climb the short slab to the start of a crack, continue up the crack past a bulge (crux) to a large platform. From here step right into a short corner with jammed blocks and continue to the top.
I remember both of my leads to be very long. Longest single pitch HVS I’ve ever done. I also remember using all of the cams I had on me (and I had doubles of almost each size up to size 4 BD).
We knew the weather was closing in, so quickly picked a route for Peter:
The Offence 24m HVS (5a)
D Stelfox, R Lawson. 8/4/1980.
Runs up from the left side of the grassy ledge. Climb the arête just right of The Fence using blocky holds on the right to the base of the cracks. Climb the cracks to a ledge on the right. Continue up a crack to the top of the pillar on the left, follow the crack to the top.
Even though these last 2 routes didn’t have any “*” (meaning they’d be of high quality & recommended) they were super enjoyable, and if they were in any other place, they all would have at least one each.
As we were topping out our 4th route together, it started to rain, and we knew that was it for the day. It was still relatively early (around 3.30pm), but the forecast had ‘rain all afternoon’. It wasn’t wrong. We got back to the campsite, had some food, beer and rest, and set off to Tom Randal’s (of Wide Boyz fame) talk on his and his climbing partner’s exploits and adventures.
Another great presentation by one of the world’s top climbers.
The Sunday plan was simple – do two quick climbs before the rain catches us (forecast for showers from 12).
8am departure with bags full of hardware got us plenty of time to accomplish that. It was definitely colder that day (tshirt climbing previous day vs 2 layers on Sun).
We got pack to The Prow sector and decided to jump on whatever was free at the time. Simple pick:
Curlew 28m VS (4c)
I Rea, E Cooper. 17/3/1985.
This takes the crack right of Revival. Climb the crack to the top of the pillar and finish up the right-hand crack.
As I made first steps into that route, a lone American wolf from California, and aspiring crack climber, Connor, who recently moved to NI, bumped into us and asked if he could join us (we met him the previous night, so he wasn’t exactly a stranger). No problem at all, since we had extra time, and clear agenda of 2 routes for the day anyway.
For the final route of the trip Peter picked:
Good Morning Judge 24m HVS (5a, 4a)
S Billane, V McCartney. 19/3/1977.
Start in the corner beside a short chimney with an overhang.
1) 12m (5a). Climb the short chimney to the overhang. Pass this on the right and belay on the pulpit.
2) 12m (4a). Continue up the crack to the top.
I’m not sure why would someone do it in 2 pitches, we did it in one.
I actually don’t have any picks of the start of the route but chimney climbing is not something I’d have much experience with.
As I made my way up the chimney (ass jamming FTW!) two big blocks (water melon size) got loose from under my feet and hurled down with force, stopping some 200m below the crag (or so I’ve been told by people how narrowly missed them). Luckily I managed to shout and anyone at the base of other climbs managed to move aside. No injuries.
The climb was mighty, and hopefully the boys taken some shots of our struggles. Again – loads of hand jamming, probably the most of all the climb we did.
That was it for us for this weekend. Peter is travelling for work tomorrow, I was also happy to call it (mainly in light of poor weather that was supposed to hit the region).
We sorted the gear, had celebratory hard boiled egg each (cause why not!), and headed back.
I have a feeling that’s not the last time I see him though 😉
I got rest of the photos here .
Also EpicTV’s coverage from this years meet is worth watching (to get a glimpse of the feel of this place ).