A Guide to Rock Climbing in Donegal
A Guide to Rock Climbing in Donegal
Leaving solid earth behind in Ireland’s northwest
The county of Donegal contains more things to do in Ireland in the form of rock climbing venues, routes and rock than the rest of the country combined. From the mudstone roofs at Mucros in the southwest to the granite slabs of Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point, there is a wealth of diverse and unique climbing venues throughout the length and breadth of the county.
With over 2,000 recorded rock climbs on over 150 cliffs, including Ireland’s highest sea stack, longest rock climb, highest mountain cliff, and highest recorded ice climb, Donegal plays host to many outdoor activities, and is perfect for the exploratory expert and those new to mountaineering alike.
Stretching the length of western Donegal is An Ghaeltacht, an area of outstanding natural beauty, a place where the rugged granite mountains meet the untamed eastern Atlantic Ocean. Scattered along this coastline in some of the most beautiful and remote locations in Ireland live a collection of truly awesome sea cliffs and sea stacks.
Of particular note is An Port, one of the most remote, beautiful and unspoilt Ireland attractions. This lonely rugged coast stretches from Glencolmcille in the south to Maghera in the east of the county. The gentle rolling untamed hillsides of Slievetooey provide the backdrop for this 30km stretch of 200m-high quartz sea cliffs. This stretch of coast is home to 30 of the most inaccessible and outrageous sea stacks it is possible to imagine.
The Islands of Cruit, Arranmore, Gola, Umphin, Owey and Tory provide many lifetimes worth of outstanding sea cliff climbing and between them are home to a further 20 or so superb Granite sea stacks. These islands are a step back in time with an idyllic setting, unchanged in many ways as the rest of civilisation marches with modern pace.
Cruit Island, in the heart of the Rosses, provides over 300 rock climbs on its many immaculate granite sea cliffs, and separating these sea cliffs are some of the most beautiful sandy beaches it is possible to imagine. Download the free rock climbing guide to Cruit Island and go for an adventure on this beautiful island.
There are two main mountain areas in Donegal: the Derryveagh Mountains in the Rosses, and the Bluestacks in the south of the county. The rock climbing history of both these mountain ranges stretches back over 50 years, with routes being climbed in the 1960s. The Derryveagh Mountains provide the highest mountain cliff in Ireland, situated at the back of the beautiful Poison Glen at Dunlewey at the base of Errigal, the county’s highest point.
Donegal has over 100 sea stacks dotted along its coastline providing over 150 recorded climbs to their summits. Many of the stacks found along this coast will require you to use considerable nautical, vertical and spiritual guile to reach the summit. An adventurous spirit and a sense of humour are essential components of a day of extreme sport in the company of Neptune, Gaia and the forces of nature.
The rock is mixture of quartzite and granite, and running the entire length of the coast is a band of basalt, which features heavily on the sea stacks. Many of the stacks have access issues in the form of 200m loose sea cliffs overlooking and guarding access to them, followed by varying length of sea passage across truly atmospheric seas. Prior planning is essential, therefore, and an awareness of the previous week’s weather in Ireland is important, including a forensic study of wind and swell forecasts.
For truly awesome climbing in a mind-blowing location, Cnoc Na Mara and the twin summits of An Bhuideal just to the north of An Port are both equal in their quality to a couple of very famous old men north of the Scottish border. For the more adventurous sea stack connoisseur, the Lighthouse stack and Stac an Iolar on Arranmore Island, Dare to Be at Skelpoonagh Bay, Tormore Island (Ireland’s highest sea stack), the Unforgiving, and the aptly named Satan just to the north of An Port will provide an experience you will never forget.
Sea stack climbing is a unique and adventurous activity that requires the use of non-conventional climbing equipment and an intimate knowledge of the sea. A small, inflatable boat, (as small as safely possible, as it has to be carried for many miles, abseiled and scrambled with), is a handy bit of kit, as is a 200m length of 8mm polyprop, required to provide a slack line Tyrolean to ensure the safety of the boat.
In addition, amongst the huge selection of mountain equipment required it is worth considering the following: kayaker/surfer booties, sturdy dry bags, 20m of 12mm abseil tat, a selection of disposable gear for abseil anchors including pegs, an Alpine Hammer for the odd vegetated pitch, Ray Bans for photo opportunities, and a massive smile.
For further information on rock climbing guiding, instruction and holidays in Donegal, please visit Unique Ascent.
Main image by Grace5mith
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