Since Pete Smith's article in 2006 with the addition of a further 500 routes in many new locations there have been many developments in the Donegal climbing scene. The county of Donegal on the North West tip of Ireland can easily be said to contain more rock climbing venues, routes and both climbed and unclimbed rock than the rest of Ireland combined.
With over 2000 recorded rock climbs on over 150 cliffs including Ireland's highest sea stack, Ireland's longest rock climb, the highest mountain cliff in Ireland and Ireland's longest recorded ice climb, Donegal plays host to many adventurous locations for the exploratory expert rock climber and beginner alike.
At the North West tip of the Innishowen peninsula Malin Head is Ireland's most Northerly point. The climbing is on granite sea cliffs and the continually pounding ocean has produced a cliff architecture that contains every conceivable climbing feature with many slabs, arêtes, ridges and face climbs. The climbs are mainly single pitch in the sub E1 grade range. A spate of new routing in the last few years has produced over 120 climbs including 15 routes on the seaward face of the large Skildren Mor sea stack which dominates the area.
Croc an Affrain
Sitting in the centre of the Fanad peninsula this forgotten mountain crag got a new lease of life when a wind farm access road was built to within 10 minutes walk from its base. There are now over 40 single pitch routes mainly in the VS to E1 grade range.
The West Coast
Stretching the length of Western Donegal is An Ghaeltacht, an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), 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.
An Port Bay
Of particular note is An Port, one of the most remote, beautiful and unspoilt places in Ireland. 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.
Ends of the Earth crag - Glenlough Bay
At the most remote tip of the Slievetooey peninsula in Ireland's most remote location, sits the Ends of the Earth crag, a perfect 40m hanging slab of quartz. There are currently 14 routes up to HVS, with all the routes being worth at least 2 stars and a very real feeling of being totally and utterly alone. This crag is best visited during an angry south west sea as there is a perfectly located blowhole at the high water mark which creates large explosions of salt spray as the big sets roll in.
Ends of the Earth Crag Topo
Sturrall Ridge - Western Donegal
To the south of An Port sits the Sturrall Headland living equidistance from Glencolmcille village to the south and the port road end, this is the mother of all ridges. The Sturrall Headland is an extremely inaccessible and foreboding place to visit. Access is by a steep scary scramble and a wee 300m sea passage deep into the realms of chaos.
The ridge itself is approximately 800m long starting at the seaward tip and travelling landward over the summit and along the ridge to where the headland joins the mainland.
By far the biggest development in Donegal has been on its sea stacks, there are over 100 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 of these beasts. An adventurous spirit and a sense of humour are essential components of a day in the company of Neptune, Gaia and the forces of nature.
The rock is a mixture of quartzite and granite, and running the entire coast is a band of basalt, which features heavily on many of 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 lengths of sea passage across truly atmospheric seas. Prior planning is essential including a forensic study of the previous week's 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 found north of the Scottish border.
Tormore Trio - Cnoc Na Mara
Cnoc na Mara is an iconic and truly outstanding sea stack, when I first saw it, 100m high, from the overlooking cliff tops it was the inspiration to make the first ascents of all 100 of Donegal's unclimbed sea stacks. It is safe to say this stack represents all that is great about adventure climbing. Its impressive soaring 150m long landward arête provides one of the most rewarding and adventurous rock climbs in Ireland. It is easily an equal to the mighty Old Man of Hoy off the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland.
Cnoc Na Mara, an outstanding 100m sea stack off the West coast of Donegal.
Access is by a monstrous steep grassy descent followed by a 20m abseil to a storm beach at the entrance to Shambala. As you descend this steep slope sitting out to sea Cnoc na Mara grows with height reaching epic proportions as you get closer to the beach. Gaining the beach alone is an adventurous undertaking in its own right and is an excellent taster of what is to come. From the beach paddle out for about 120m to the base of the stack.
The landward arête is climbed in four pitches each pitch being much more atmospheric than the last. The fourth pitch is the money shot, a 58m ridge traverse with 100m of air either side of you as you negotiate the short steep sections along this outstanding ridge traverse.
Gaining the summit is like being reborn into a world where anything is possible it truly is a surreal and magical place to be. The whole world falls away below and around you, as you are perched on a summit far from anything else. The descent back to sea level is an involved affair and requires two abseils and a great deal of care and guile.
The seaward face of this stack holds a further two routes both weighing in at about VS and 130m long and requires a great deal of care and attention to detail as the potential for epics are huge but the rewards are even greater.
An Bhuideal Topo
An Bhuideal sits approximately 1.5km north of An Port and is quite simply an iconic sea stack. Its twin summits provide three rock climbs that have few equals in the country. It is easily an equal to the much better known Old Man of Stoer off the north west of Scotland.
Access is by a steep exposed scramble down the huge ridge on the headland to the north of the stack followed by a 30m abseil onto a superb storm beach facing the beast from the north. A 300m sea passage from here along the landward edge of a series of outlaying skerries will take you to the base of the landward face of the stack.
The main tower is the thicker southern one and contains two excellent Severe rock climbs to its summit. There is a quad-rigged belay station on its summit allowing an abseil down the centre of the landward face.
First ascent of a new route on An Bhuideal sea stack found just north of An Port.
The slender North tower, which looks like an old fashioned milk bottle from the sea, provides one of the most exposed and scary rock climbs in Ireland. At the amenable grade of VS this route winds its way up the landward and north faces to a tiny sloping summit. The summit feels like it sways slightly as you sit on it. The abseil off this summit is not for the faint hearted as it is incredibly exposed and relies on a summit cairn as the primary anchor.
All three routes provide a truly outstanding adventurous day out.
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.
Donegal Sea Stacks - An Port
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.
First Ascent of Stac an Iolar (The Eagles Stack), off the island of Aranmore.
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. All the crags on Cruit are less than 5 minutes walk from the car and provide excellent single pitches routes mostly in the V.Diff to HVS grade range.
Stac an Iolar
Download the free rock-climbing guide to Cruit Island and go and explore this beautiful island. (http://www.uniqueascent.ie/sp/directory/details/cruit-island).
For further information on rock climbing guiding, instruction and holidays in Donegal visit http://www.uniqueascent.ie/.