Monday, 3 July 2017

Howling Ridge with Kerry Climbing | The Perfect Hen Party!

Now, it isn't something Hard Core Hillwalkers do on a daily basis, but it had to be done as well just to feel more alive and thrilled. I have been thinking about doing it for almost three years and finally decided to wait no more and give it a go.

One of Howling Ridge's most iconic features high up near the last pitch 

When it all begun... 

It was September 2014 after my first ascent of Carrauntoohil when, after coming back home, I started reading a lot about Macgillicuddy's Reeks and all the routes in this magnificent mountain range. Than some day I came across the picture of Carrauntoohil with a red line drawn almost straight up from the Heavenly Gates. It looked like something completely mad and too extreme. I sent that picture to my friend, Kieran as a joke saying: "next time I'm taking this route, lol". I didn't have to wait long for his reply and that short message I got back was the cause of all the trouble. Yes, Kieran, it was all your fault! :)

The message was: "I did it years ago..."

Since then I couldn't pass the Heavenly Gates without looking up... "It must be done!" I said to myself.
And then one May day I had this brilliant idea of doing Howling as a part of my hen party. Well, I always imagined my hen as something crazy and out of norms, so this was just perfect! I'm a bit of a tom boy, but believe me, I really tried to find some female friends to join me, but I couldn't. Some were busy, some scared, some not available for other reasons.
Without thinking much more I messaged Kieran, Denis and a few others and we managed to make a group of five brave adventurers. I mentioned earlier that Kieran did this climb before with his friends, but I now should say as well that all the gear they had on the day was... a box of Benson & Hedges and a bottle of Lucozade. This time we decided to do it the safe way with proper climbing gear and hire a guide. I booked the day with Kerry Climbing and we were all set.

The Climb

This is a proper climb graded VDiff to Severe, depending on route followed, mixed with scrambling. The exposure must not be underestimated with some sheer drops on both sides in places. It should not be attempted without protection except the elite of some very experienced climbers.

Gearing up at Heavenly Gates...
Finally the 3 of July came and we went to Kissane's Food Store in Beaufort to meet our guide Piaras Kelly. Unfortunately Denis had a bad luck that day and couldn't make it. Well, we have to plan another day for Denis in the future as we know for sure that he would enjoy it.

Four of us: myself, Kieran, Shane and Mike went with Piaras to Lisleibane and walked to the Heavenly Gates, where we geared up. The weather looked promising at the start, but not for long. The higher we went the thicker the fog was. The rocks were wet and slippery of course. As soon as we started the first pitch, I just remembered that my almost three years old boots lost their previous grip and I can't trust them on wet rocks anymore... Yeah, we'll definitely have a ball today, I thought... I was on one rope with Mike and I knew I would give him a fright if I slipped pulling down the rope. I started placing my feet very carefully. In this conditions every boot could possibly slip anyway, so I soon forgot all about it and started getting the thrill of finally doing Howlin' !!!

Mike was first after Piaras, than me pulling up the second rope for Kieran and Shane. There's a bit of scrambling between each pitches, easy enough but with very little to stand on in places.
- Climb when ready!
- Climbing!

Mike and myself climbing in the rain
And off we go to the next anchor point. The other thing we could hear from time to time was our guide's "Yeehawh!" and after the third one we all got that strange feeling that in places where he was doing it, there was something difficult waiting for us...We managed any difficulties very well anyway and soon found ourselves under The Tower which is said to be the route's crux. This is 25 meters of very exposed and steep buttress with lovely views which we unfortunately couldn't see... After The Tower comes one of the very characteristic places of the ridge with a sharp piece of rock pointing eastwards just like the index finger. And that is it's name - The Finger. I personally remembered that bit as one of the most enjoyable on the route. The top of it would be just a perfect spot for one of my famous boots photo if the day was clear... After that point the route turns to the right and meets the neighboring Primroses Ridge. That part it's called The Bridge and it's an exposed knife edge ridge sloping down to the left. When you turn back to see it after passing it it looks like something impossible to stand on...

Piaras belaying Kieran and Shane
The next pitch brings you up to the very iconic feature of the route where most of the breathtaking pictures are taken. Well, we'll have to go back again to do it... This time we had no chance. There is a visible path going around these last little pinnacles if one wants to avoid them, but seriously, what's the point?!
After crossing the top of the gully between Howling and Primroses Ridge, another very exposed place on the route, we finished with the last short pitch with one tricky move. All its left after that is just a bit of scrambling to the top, about 15 - 20 minutes. Passing the sign: "Turn back now, no descent route" gives you that feeling of doing something awesome, only for the brave ones (the hard core ones!)

Descending via Devil's Ladder
The best and probably the most unusual Hen Party it was with one hen and four cockerels :)
We had a lovely day, despite of the weather and we definitely experienced the adventure thanks to Piaras and Kerry Climbing. We can't wait to do it again!
Howling Ridge is known as Ireland's famous mountaineering route. There's 7 or 8 pitches and shorter ones are better to avoid rope drag. It took us about 4 hours to climb that 300 m of a vertical ridge with all the rope work involved.
It was first climbed by Con Moriarty and John Cronin in February 1987. If you want to know more about how it all happened back then, click here.

It's not the most difficult route but probably the most enjoyable one. A good transition from hill walking and scrambling to more technical climbing. If you haven't any previous rock climbing experience you can do it as a 2-day course, offered by Kerry Climbing, where you learn all the basics in the Gap of Dunloe first and then You climb Howling. You don't need rock climbing shoes, you can climb it in your hiking boots, but I personally found my old boots a bit awkward. Approach shoes would probably be the best choice.
Climbing it doesn't feel very difficult. There's a few tricky moves there but I'd call them more awkward rather than difficult. One thing you have to have for sure is a head for heights. You can really feel all the space and the air around you. Loose rocks is something that you have to be aware of as well. Sometimes it takes time to find the right handhold.

The video of our adventure

Below there's a few pictures from some previous climbs done by Kerry Climbing, just to give you an idea of how the place looks like on a clear day. Now you have a chance to ask yourself a question if you would feel comfortable finding yourself there and if that kind of exposure is OK for you... or maybe you just love it already and can't wait to do it...

The view we missed... Photo: Kerry Climbing

Climbers at The Finger. Photo: Kerry Climbing

The most photographed feature of the route. Photo: Kerry Climbing

If your answer to the above question was 'YES', go and book your own Howlin' Adventure with Kerry Climbing. They are experienced and 100% professional. We can definitely recommend them as the best choice.


A quick note about me
Hard Core Hillwalker who wants to become a climber ;)
(climbing Sokolik in Poland)

I'm not a climber yet, but my brother who is a rock climber and does mostly sports climbing, trains me the hard way whenever we meet in Poland. Sometimes I'm afraid to go with him because he always puts me in some 'shitting-my-pants-situations' just to get used to the exposure and learn how to trust the equipment.
He is now able to lead HVS and E1 trad climbs and E3 sports climbs. I will probably never go that far, but I'd be happy to be able to lead some easier routes in the future.

P.S. I'll coil the rope properly next time, Piaras, I promise ;)

1 comment:

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