2018 has proven to be a remarkable year for rock climbing in Ireland. The last 12 months saw many first ascents across the country including Fairhead, Mourne Mt, Donegal, and Wicklow. Equally, we have seen many repeats of hard routes and those that have been forgotten and covered by the dust of the past. Undoubtedly, it was a year full of great effort, joy and success achieved by many… but also it was a year of many unsuccessful projects, failures, and tragedies unfolding in front of our eyes and smartphone screens.

All in all, it was a year of thousands of climbing happenings, but unfortunately, only a few of them are mentioned in this review. What is being presented here is a rather biased selection of 2018 highlights that stood out from the crowd. 

In the meantime, enjoy a rather lengthy read.

 

 JANUARY  

FIRST ASCENTS IN CHILEAN PATAGONIA

 

Paul Swail, John McCune, Will Sim, John Crook made the first ascent (FA) of the 1000m high East Face of the south Avellano tower in Chilean Patagonia alongside three other significant new lines with some pitches up to E5 6b. 

Here is how Will Sim describes their ‘light and fast’ send of 1000m high east face of the south Avellano tower: 

This was meant to be an experiment in to the world of “capsule style”, which after John Crook’s last two attempts we deemed to be the optimum way to make use of fickle weather. However, after fixing the first slabs we collectively decided it would be stupid to haul bags during good weather so we went for the top! It all went over about three days of climbing, but no bivy on the wall after all. We are all in debt to John Crook for paving the way and having us along for his third attempt at this amazing piece of rock! 

 

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SUCCESS AND DRAMA ON NANGA PARBAT

 

On 25th January 2018 Kildare-based climber Tomek Mackiewicz and French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol reached the summit o Nanga Parbat 8126m in Pakistan, making the second ever ascent of this mountain in the winter. The French-Polish team climbed the Messner-Eisendle-Tomaseth route in alpine style, with minimal support and equipment and without oxygen. Unfortunately, Tomek became ill after summitting and their descent turned into a rescue ordeal.

Another Polish team who was attempting a nearby K2 was called to rescue. On 27th Jan a team comprising elite mountaineers Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Jaroslaw Botor, Piotr Tomala (all who were based at K2) were dropped below Nanga Parbat base camp. The team managed to save Elizabeth at 6 026m but was unable to reach Tomek due to deteriorating weather conditions. Tomek most likely died within the next 24h.

The story of Tomek, his devotion to Nanga Parbat, and his unique approach to mountaineering has greatly moved climbing community and attracted major media coverage around the globe. Additionally, the rescue by a Polish team has been dubbed as one of the most audacious and bravest mountain rescues the climbing world has ever seen. 

Here is how Adam Bielecki discribed the events on Nanga Parbat: The impossible happened. Together with Elizabeth Revol and Denis Urubko below the Diamir face. I am tired but very happy. Thank you to all of you for kind words. I am sorry but we had no chance to help Tomek 

 

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ALL-FEMALE TEAM BAGS NEW ROUTES IN PATAGONIA

 

At the start of the year Michelle O’ Loughlin and Freja Shannon and UK climber Sasha Doyle headed off the beaten track to an area that has only been visited by a handful of climbing teams – the granite towers of the Avellano Valley in the Aysén region of Patagonia. During a few weeks, the all-female team managed to established two multi-pitch routes: Route Canal E2 5b on The Tooth and Aumkenk Aike HVS 5b on Aonikenk Peak.

Summing up the expedition on IG, Michelle wrote: In awe. Staring up at potential objectives with @sashawildwomenproject and @theswirishninja. This valley had a very different feel to the next and crossing the col felt like stepping into a different world. Our base camp was close to here and the hanging glacier made for a grumbly, scary neighbour at night. We managed to do a new route on the south face of The Tooth (pointy thing in the top right of the picture) following some nice crack systems on day three up there. It’s probably about E2, and Sasha came up with the name Route Canal. Too many visits to the dentist @sashawildwomenproject ? It was actually a really nice route and a promising start to the trip…

 

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 FEBRUARY 

LUGALLA UP FOR SALE

 

Lugalla, one of the Irish most popular and iconic mountainous landscapes, is sadly going up for sale. Popular among hikers and rock climbers alike, the entire estate together with its surrounding 5000 acres of land (including the cliffs above Lough Tay) is on the market for mere €28 millions. As a result, new ‘private property, trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs have recently been erected at parts of Luggala. This development, and the death in March 2018 of Garech de Brún, the guardian of Luggala, signal a possible change to the long tradition of public access maintained by late Garech, and previously by his mother, to this stunning mountain landscape.

The move has raised concerns among the public regarding future access. Mountaineering Ireland and The National Parks & Wildlife Service has recommended the purchase of 4,000 acres of the estate (excluding Luggala Lodge and its surroundings). These lands could be purchased at a significantly lower cost than the entire estate and would mean access enjoyed by the public could continue.

The public is encouraged to show their support for the campaign by signing an online petition on CHANGE.ORG

 

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 MARCH 

 

SKI SEASON OPENS IN WICKLOW

 

Everyone remembers the havoc associated with Beast From The East. Empty shelves, shortage of bread and booze in town, closed offices and schools, and lots of snow – scenes that you may have experienced during Cold War era if you are old enough. However, not everything was gloom and doom. After decades of closure, Wicklow and Mourne Mt ski resorts have flourished and seen an influx of recreational skiers and off-piste enthusiasts. Here is a proof:

 

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IRON-DAVE STRIKES AGAIN

 

The rumor has it that everytime Dave Fitzgerald goes on holidays, instead of chocolate he brings a bag full of 8 grades. This proved to be true on his three-week trip to Austria and Switzerland during which he bagged some impressive sends including a king-line of them all – Bugeleisen 8B+ in Maltatal. Other problems included: Lady in Black 8B+  and Imperator 8A.

 

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Earlier today, I managed to climb Bügeleisen (8B+) in Maltatal, Austria! This line is literally as good as it gets. Didn’t think it was going to happen today as my skin was thinning and I’m still trying to shake off a head cold, but I’ve learned that patience is everything in this game. I took 30 minutes to relax in the sun before my last attempt and once I stood back into the shade, everything just connected perfectly at the right time. I feel privileged to climb such a proud line that has been on my mind for quite some time. Feels good to get the ball rolling again. Tomorrow, we night session the sit… 📸by @puzzleglass/ @sam_wlkr This process was all captured on film by @puzzleglass, who I’ll be joining for the next month as we travel through Austria and Switzerland 🇨🇭 #climbing #bouldering #maltatal #climbingfilm @moonclimbing @greatoutdoors76 @j_p_o_c_ @jessjames.uk @d_markey

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 APRIL 

[…] AND THE FIRST 8C GOES TO…?

 

If there was an Irish Oscar for bouldering, it would definitely go to Dave Fitzgerald as 2018 clearly belongs to him. During his trip to Switzerland, he sends one of the Swiss ultimate bouldering jewels – Big Paw which goes at just 8B+/8C. Here is Dave’s account:

Last night, I managed to take down Big Paw (8B+/8C)!! This is one of the best lines I’ve ever seen and the hardest I’ve ever climbed abroad. Using the mini-compression method, I had many doubts whether or not I could piece this one together on this short trip to Ticino, especially given how warm it has become here in Chironico lately. Ya gotta keep trying, though. Under the floodlights, I managed to put all doubt aside and stand on top of one of the best lines in the world! I can’t express how happy this makes me feel.

 

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FIRST ASCENTS AT FAIR HEAD

 

The rising star of Irish trad scene, Rory Cummings together with A. Moles added a new and not-for-mere-mortals line around Rathlin Wall area.

Tech Duinn ** 45m E7 6b R.Cummings A.Moles (headpoint) 20/4/18 A scrappy start gains the absorbing slab below pigeon’s cove, don’t be put off by the bones at the bottom! Left of the obvious vegetated off-width is a short, blunt arête with a round boulder at the bottom. Climb the arête boldly to reach easier ground, then climb directly to the top of the obvious pillar. From here weave your way up to a system of layback flakes (tiny cams). Follow these until they run out, then make a difficult move to a good hold on the right and good undercuts above. Continue straight up to reach a flake on the left (poor RPs), then back right where a heart-stopping move gains good holds between the two blocks. Follow the blocks carefully to an in-situ lower off, or bash your way through choss and spiky bushes (twice the fun) to finish up Tír na nÓg.

Posted by Fairhead Climbers on Monday, April 23, 2018

 

A duo Calvin Torrans and Clare Sheridan add new route just right of the Tristan/Iseult

Uisce faoi Thalamh* 112m. E2 5c, 5b, 4c. 21/04/18  Start at the groove right of the Tristan/Iseult groove (which is right of a broken column). 1 30m 5c Climb the crack to a sloping ledge. 2. 27m. 5b Continue up the crack to big broken ledges, big block belay up on the left. 3 55m 4c Climb the groove (big cams) and follow the crack through the bulge to finish up the pleasant corner and slab. 

Posted by Fairhead Climbers on Monday, April 23, 2018

 MAY 

ALTNADUE QUARRY – A NEWLY OPENED SPORT CLIMBING CRAG

 

In early May Tollymore National Outdoor Centre (TNOC) has launched a newly enhanced climbing facility at Altnadue Quarry. The quarry has been leased to the Centre for over 30 years from a local landowner and has been reopened following completion of works, funded by the Department for Communities, to improve accessibility and safety. Major changes and developments made to the facility included the clearing and stabilising of the quarry floor, leveling of the quarry base and the installation of a new a hand-cable on a steeper section of path.

The reopening of Altnadue Quarry is a great step towards improving sport climbing facilities on the island of Ireland and will provide climbers of all abilities with the opportunity to learn new skills and train for competitions. 

FAIR HEAD SPRING CLEANING

 

The Fair Head Cleaning Troops did an amazing job this year in dusting off some dirt and vegetation from 30+ routes getting them ready for Fair Head Meet in June. This voluntary initiative led by Kevin Kilroy et al is a much-needed addition to the Irish climbing calendar and we hope it will become a warm-up event for all Fair Head savvy climbers.

NEW ROUTE AT FAIR HEAD

 

A Dublin boyo, Conor McGovern, adds an interesting line beside The Gray Man’s Path. According to Conor, this route deserves at least 2 stars, has good gear and is hard for the grade…Anyone fancy? It’s up for grabs.

 JUNE 

FAIR HEAD CLIMBING MEET

 

For the majority of Irish trad climbers, the month of June is synonymous with Fair Head Meet. It is believed that 2018 meet has gathered nearly 300 folks from Ireland, UK and some parts of Europe. No wonder it’s the busiest climbing event on the island of Ireland and to cover all happenings that take place during the meet, one would need to write a full blog.

Nonetheless, there are a few highlights that stand out from the rest and definitely deserve a mention. One of them was James McHaffie’s successful ascent of Rathlin Effect E8 6C. A hard-classic-to-be line, originally put up by Ricky Bell, hasn’t seen many contenders. Wonder why…? According to James, the route is massively ”sandbagged”: [..] it was the best and the wildest pitch I’d ever climbed (…) but also bloody great sandbagging Ricky.

 

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FAIR HEAD NEW ROUTES

 

Blackout E5 6b

Duo Kris McCoey & Tim Neill has added a new impressive line besides Bird Hide Rock. A 3 pitch line that goes at E5 6b took 4 days and a tussle with a big block to clean this new 3 pitch line…highly recommended

We are the only team to have climbed this route, it took a solid four days of cleaning during that process I dislodged a huge block that knocked me out on the rope hence “ blackout “ .. lesson learnt ! .. the route is very clean but I would definitely still take a brush just in case , the bottom pitch will probably be dusty with all this dry weather. The technical grades are estimates. Hopefully it gets a second ascent this season.

Superpod E6/7 6c

 

John McCune adds a new route at Terraces called Superpod E6/E7. It is tricky, overhanging, with some fiddly gear – a typical ordeal one can expect from E 6/7 grades at Fairhead.  

DAVID FITZGERALD SENDS NEW BASELINE 8B+

 

On his second trip to Switzerland this year, David Fitzgerald lays the demons to rest by climbing New Baseline 8B+ in Magic Wood. If this doesn’t make you AWED check the clip below:

BEARA’S NEW ROUTES

 

Gerry Galligan, Colm Peppard, Cearbhall Daly, and Barry Watts added 25 routes (between D-HVS ) of a good length and quality at Blackball Head in Beara Peninsula. 

Blackball Head is a headland 5 kilometers from Dzogchen Beara on the way to Dursey Sound. Traveling west from Castletownbere, 2.5 km west of Dzogchen Beara turn left and follow a minor road 2km to the harbor. For more info about the area go to Irish Climbing Route Database

 

 JULY 

July has been a busy month for Ricky Bell. This time his focus was on new routes in Donegal and Mournes. In a space of three weeks, Ricky completed two FA of very impressive lines: Bumble In The Jungle E8 6c  and MegaStegosaurus E8 6c. Full routes description below:

Bumble In The Jungle E8 6c  40m
This is a line up the wall to the right of the famous route Divided Years on Buzzards Roost. It climbs an obvious crack in the middle of the wall until its terminated by a some undercuts and bad feet. The finish is the crux, traversing under the last curtain of granite at the top of the wall. I’m looking forwards to spending a lot of time in the Mournes again this coming year. There’s so many great routes in those hills.

 

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It’s amazing up there💚 Running around in bouncy fields of bone dry bog cotton and trying really hard in the shade. Getting toasted on undercuts. Found some crystals too. I managed to scrape up this thing last week. Good team of nutters🐝 at the roost. @sam.gordon_pt @shaneblack35 🤘 Thanks @m0loughlin for this footage of a go when I buckled 😝 and then encouragement when holding the ropes on the good/sketch go☘️ Merci Merci Bumble in the Jungle E8 6c . . . . I could have done with ur biceps @donaghyaaron @ultrahealthandfitnessad on this one mate:thanks for the help when I had a not funny elbow back in the spring. U we’re really great🙏Back to full noodle arm power💥and enjoying my climbing 🙂 . . . . @scarpa_uk @dmm_wales @marmot_mountain_europe @sublimeclimbing #discoverni #mournemountains #irishclimbing #outside #bigspaces #hotontheprodge #rockclimbing #ultrahealthandfitnessad @donaghyaaron

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Megastegasaurus E8 6c.   25m
The obvious crack line on the leaning wall on the left. I found it pretty brutal placing the gear on this thing but the difficulty eases at half height and its really fun to the top! The intro is hard.

 

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🌈Spent last weekend trying to plank it @islandervisual @causewaygirlbt57 in magical Donegal. Did loads of moseying about too. I managed to get up this mega crack line I’d stood at the bottom of years ago with @pjswail and @hillerscapes right after the carnage of @houndlips 30th birthday blow out… 🐳 The bottom section of crack looked nails then. @m0loughlin and I figured it out on a rope and it actually climbs super cool. Fingery locks, laybacks, jams, a big bastard crimp and even an arm bar. It was a battle to place the gear which wasn’t as bomber as it first looked. @m0loughlin took a couple of purple poppers on her go..!!! I unconsciously ran it out in the middle forgetting to place a donker grey cam in a finger lock as I went past it….🤭bit sketch…☘️ MegaStegosaurus E8 6c . . . . footage by @m0loughlin 🎥 @scarpa_uk @dmm_wales @marmot_mountain_europe @sublimeclimbing #discoverireland #donegal #irishclimbing #outside #bigspaces #fallingdown #rockclimbing #purplepopper #tradclimbing

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CONOR MCGOVERN ASCENTS CHOMOLUNGMA DIRECT

 

Another great send by Conor McGovern. This time he managed to complete 2nd repeat of Chomolungma Direct E7 6C which was initially developed by Ronan Browner back in 2000.

Here is what Conor said about his project: Climbing Chomolungma Direct was weird, you climb Chomolungma to the very end and get a good rest and then have to do the top section, which is very bouldery and has a potential for huge airtime, but it’s well protected. Great to give it 2nd ascent.

 AUGUST 

THE DARK SIDE ACCORDING TO RORY

 

2018 has been a remarkable season for Rory Cummings. Between March and August, he managed to onsight many Fairhead E6s, such as Primal Scream, Hells Kitchen Arete and Above and Beyond. On top of that, he redpointed Divided Years E8/E9 6c in June with the preplaced gear. His latest achievement was an ascent of Andy Marshall’s popular hard classic, The Dark Side E8 6c. 

Rory says: The start of the dark side is a bit different now that the pillar has gone, a bit harder than before and no gear but still the same grade. The original description says “start at the bottom of a flake in the middle of the wall. Climb the flakes which leads to a short crack and pedestal. Move up and left from this to a good ledge.” That could now be replaced with “Start at the left hand end of the huge white scar 5m below a big ledge. Gain the ledge with difficulty then step left and climb the fingery, unprotected seam to another smaller ledge.

FIRST ASCENT IN DALKEY QUARRY

 

August proved to be yet another successful month for Conor McGovern. This time he spotted an opportunity around the Upper Cliffs in Dalkey and squeezed in a new line called Crisis E7 6b.  This route is still waiting for its second ascent, so don’t waste your time folks and start training, 2019 climbing season is just around the corner.

 

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FIRST FEMALE ASCENT IN DONEGAL

 

In early August Michelle O’Loughling completed First Ascent on TranarosaRex E6/7 6b in Donegal. If the grade is confirmed the line could be labeled as Ireland’s hardest female FA  – all we can say is WELL DONE MICHELLE

TranarosaRex E6/7 6b    20m
The steep and airy right hand arete. It starts from the ledge on the right and is really punchy straight away. There’s a hard move at the top keeping true to the arete.

CALIFORNIA DREAM ED 2

 

George Ponsonby and Hugh Irving completed California Dream  ED 2 7a in Envers des Aiguilles area. This impressive 450m 13 pitches granite face came down quickly in an onsight style. This was their finale route during a two-week trip to the area, during which they managed to tick other classics, such as Contamine ED1 6c+, Gervasutti Pillar TD 6b, Le Soleil a Rendez-Vous Avec la lune TD+ 6b, all in a pure OS style.

A few weeks earlier George, together with Uisdean Hawthorn and Paul Collins, completed Cache-cache ED 1 and Harold et Maud TD+ 6b. 

 

 

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 SEPTEMBER 

NEW 8A+ in GLENDALOUGH

 

David Fitzgerald has added a new boulder problem called Rightism. The line goes right of the famous Leftism 7C+. This is a great addition to Big Jane’s menu of problems. Here is Dave’s account of the day:

Yesterday, I made the First Ascent of Rightism (8A+) in Glendalough! We always laughed at this project in the past. I acknowledged it, but never really thought it would actually go. When I was out last Sunday, I somehow cracked the sequence that had been staring at me for years. It’s not even complicated, it’s as basic as it gets. I just always thought that one of the handholds would be a foothold. It’s a little bunchy, as you need to avoid dabbing on the rock beside you, but it works well. Start as for Leftism, trend rightwards and finish up ‘The Groove’. So happy to contribute to the majesty of the Big Jane block. Great day out…

 

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TOC 50TH ANNIVERSARY

 

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre has celebrated its 50th anniversary. TOC, which is owned and operated by Sport Northern Ireland, is located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. The Centre has been providing skills and leadership training in paddle sports, orienteering, mountaineering and rock climbing for half a century.

 

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 OCTOBER 

WHY ARE ALL THE ROCKS DIFFERENT SIZES

 

During the month of October Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park saw a major influx of Irish vagabonds campaigning for Michael D. Obviously for Paul Collins, Martin Dunne, Conor McGovern, and Hugh Irving  that wasn’t the only reason to be there. The boys had more ambitious plans than getting into the presidential cabinet. Their eyes were clearly fixed on the big walls of the Yosemite Valley but not only..

During their long stay in States, the team managed to climb a few impressive lines including: 

  1. The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite, California – climbed by Paul and Martin over 3 long days
  2. Prince of Darkness, Black Velvet Canyon, Redrocks, Nevada – climbed by Paul and Martin
  3. The Regular Northwest Face, Half Dome. – climbed by Paul and Conor
  4.  Positive Vibrations, Incredible Hulk, High Sierra, California – Paul and Hugh

Great effort by them all !!!

 

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The Nose, El Capitan, in three long days! #thenose #elcapitan #yosemite #whyarealltherocksdifferentsizes

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DUKETOBER

 

Undoubtedly October ’18 is a month that belongs to Philip Duke. Over 2 years of hard work, training, dedication, finger injuries, and sleepless nights paid off and Philip’s biggest bouldering dream up to date has come true. On 28th Oct he managed to send his long-term project Thea 8A at Turlough Hill, Wicklow. Thea is not only Philip’s second 8 grade ever but also it’s his first ever FA at that grade. Interestingly, this is only second FA of 8A grade (and above) that was completed in Ireland in 2018 (the first one being Rightism 8A+)

A King line with a hard dyno off shallow crimps to an exciting highball finish. Can’t get better than that. It took me a long time to figure it out, over 2 years. I had some bad injuries that put me out for 8 months so it was constantly on my mind. I trained very specifically over the summer for it and it paid off. It meant a lot topping it out and getting to name it.

However, Thea was not the only surprise that Philip had for us in October. Two weeks before sending his dream projects Thea, Mr. Duke completed his very first 8A boulder problem Afro Left Sans Block 8A, which was only 3 rd ever ascent of this block. As Philip says:

It was unexpected as it wasn’t a project I had in mind. I had done the 7A+ version a week or two
before and was only slightly curious about the San version. Doing Afro gave me a lot of confidence to
go on do the next big one. It was my first 8A. Its not too often you hit a major milestone grade, I
haven’t had much time to reflect on it with college work and then sending Thea so soon after.

 

 

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LEFTISM FOR SEAN O’CONNOR

 

One of the Glendalough classics Leftism 7C / 7C+ saw yet another send this autumn, but this time by a rising star of Irish bouldering Sean O’Connor. It is believed that Sean (16 years of age) is the youngest person who has ever repeated Leftism, so the significance of this send is quite remarkable. Here is a short account from Sean:

I never would have put this line on my tick list as I thought I was not great with the crimpy technical style which is found in the start of the climb. I went out with a few lads to try it and did all the moves on my first session. I later completed it on my 3rd session.

 NOVEMBER 

TRUE BLUE 3

 

The first week of November proved to be very successful for members of Irish Youth Squad who went to Fontainebleau last fall. During a few days Sean O’Connor, Tommy Myles, and Luka Hallisey made impressive quick sends of many Font classics. There are a few problems that deserve particular mention: Sean’s send of Carnage assis 7C and Air Sweden 7C+; as well as Tommy’s tick of La Deferlante 7B and Carnage 7B.

We are pretty sure we will hear about this trio quite soon as they already showed some incredible drive and determination not only when competing internationally but also when sending some hard boulders. In the meantime, watch this nice wee clip from Tommy which sums up the Font trip.

ROB HUNTER BECOMES IRISH YOUTH CLIMBING TEAM COACH

 

Following 4 years in the role, Terry O’Connor has stepped down from being a Youth Climbing Team Coach and his position was taken by one and the only Rob Hunter. 

Rob Hunter, the author of many hard FA in Fairhead, Mournes, and Wicklow, is one of the leading climbing coaches in Ireland and is definitely the right guy to head the Irish youth squad. We are truly chuffed by this appointment and we are wishing him the very best of luck.

 DECEMBER 

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

 

If you haven’t heard about Moon Board, you probably never bouldered for real. Developed by legendary Ben Moon, the board is a very effective strength training tool and is probably one of the most talked about things amongst boulderers. 

The concept of the Moon Board is simple. It allows users all over the world to climb and train on the same problems as each other and discuss the problems via an app or social media (see #moonboard on IG). With thousands of problems (including 260 benchmark problems), the Moon Board became a great tool for training power, strength, and measuring your progress by climbing up the ladder of benchmark problems (these are usually the hardest per grade).

Some people pushed the concept of mood-boarding even further. Reportedly, there is an unofficial competition between the top Moon Board users and Irish climbing community has its rep. It’s Michael O’Neill, Dublin based strongman who is well known for his stellar performances during the international youth climbing comps  (in May ’18 Michael got to the Final of European Youth Cup in Portugal). As per MoonBoard official statistics, Michael is ranked 10th (as of 12.12.18) with 212 benchmark problems on his account. Bone effort…

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