Three Rock Books and Vertical Life team up to produce digital version of Bouldering in Ireland


A few days ago Vertical Life launched new digital guidebooks versions of Bouldering in Ireland and Rock Climbing in Ireland.

Based in Austria, Vertical Life already have a wide range of digital guides on the app and are looking to expand their coverage. I think that their app is going to be the de facto digital climbing resource, if it isn’t already, and am delighted to be working with them.

The advantages of a digital guide are many but the stumbling block for me was the effort involved in developing the app. So when approached by Vertical Life, who already had the app in place, it made a lot of sense for me. Obviously I still think there is a place for print books and anyway it’s not a case of choosing one over the other. It gives you the option of the leaving the guide at home or in your bag at the foot of the crag and it meands that once you have installed the app you have access to all the guide at all times (assuming you have your phone to hand). A great backup in case you forget your guide or don’t feel like carrying to the crag.

The app itself is very slick and intuitive. Bar charts show the range of grades at each crag and you can track the routes/problems you have climbed so there is a lot of extra functionality as well. You can build ticklists and get directions to the crag via Google Maps. There is also a social aspect in that you can tick routes, comments on grades and see what others have done.

Anyone who buys Bouldering in Ireland Rock Climbing in Ireland (or Rock Climbing in Ireland) from this point on will get access to the respective digital guide on the app for free.

Each book will have a sticker on the first page that when scratched off will reveal a once-off code that grants access to the guide on the app. I think this is a really great offer.

People will also be able to buy either the entire guide or even just a small section (a crag or area) through the app. This is a great option for visitors who are interested in just one specific part of the country.

Download the app now from the Google Play or Apple store.

Fitzgerald repeats Wonderland 8b and Soul Revolution 8B+ on the same day

David Fitzgerald on Wonderland 8b, Glendalough. Ellie Berry.
David Fitzgerald on Wonderland 8b, Glendalough. Ellie Berry.

Almost three years to the day after Michael Duffy did the first ascent of Ireland’s hardest problem, Soul Revolution 8b+ in Glenmalure, it has been repeated, for the first time, by David Fitzgerald. Amazingly he also did the second ascent of the neo-classic Wonderland 8b in Glendalough on the same day.

Fitzgerald, a 22 year old Trinity student, has been quietly ticking his way through Duffy’s first ascents*. Having been so far ahead of the rest of the pack for so long, Duffy has had first dibs on the hard first ascents in this country, certainly those in the Wicklow area. After his monumental day yesterday Fitzgerald, who has only been climbing 4 years, has achieved his goal, and has almost run out of established problems to climb in Wicklow.

“With each year, Michael is still, and probably always will be, pushing the sport to a whole new level. His dedication and hard work is something for which I will never be able to thank him enough. The lines that he has established have led to some of my most cherished memories and I still have a mountain of them to climb. Contact, The Model and Man Machine are to name a few and I am itching for an opportunity to try these lines. I just need a car…”

A climber doing a 8b and a 8b+ in a day in somewhere like Font might only merit a short, moronic, post on, but here, in this bouldering backwater, it’s a big deal. And if you see it as the two hardest problems in a country getting their second ascents on a single day then it certainly is significant.

“I had a total of eight sessions working Soul Revolution. I had perfect conditions for each of those sessions and it suits my style pretty well, yet it still proved to be resilient. It’s the most intricately powerful piece of climbing I’ve ever tried, situated in one of the most idyllic spots in Wicklow. Wonderland has been on my mind for years now, it still remains one of the most inspiring lines I’ve ever laid eyes upon. I had a total of four sessions working Wonderland, however, it was wet for three of those sessions. Luckily it was dry yesterday and I was able to make the most of it…”

Duffy on the FA of Soul Revolution. Michael Duffy collection.

Soul Revolution 8b+ is a beautiful overhanging wall hidden away in a clump of pine trees not too far above the road in Glenmalure, Wicklow. The 7c+ stand start revolves around a dynamic move off a decent crimp. The sitter starts in a rounded bowl shaped cave with no holds only changes in angle before breaking out onto the face. After the first ascent Duffy said:

It’s the most technical thing I have ever climbed on. Took ages to figure it out. Starts off with tight little moves under a roof and then everything starts to open up and get big and dynamic, brilliant line, amazing climbing.”

In contrast to the hidden away setting of Soul Revolution, Wonderland 8b sits smack bang in the middle of Ireland’s most popular bouldering area, at the top of the valley in Glendalough, just a stone’s throw from the path. As such the roof problem has received a lot of attention since Duffy did the first ascent in December 2010 but, in spite of this, it hasn’t seen a second ascent until this week.

Walker Kearney working Wonderland. From
Walker Kearney working Wonderland. From

Wonderland consists of a series of compression moves across the roof culminating in a big slap to a good sloper on the lip, the crux is holding the swing.

Working New Base Line 8b+ in Magic Wood. Outsider photo.

I asked Fitzgerald what’s next?

“I still have a very long list of projects to accomplish this year, it seems unending. They all inspire me in their own individually challenging ways. I’ve a few undone projects on my mind this year, so I’m hoping to give something back to the community in that way. “

Read Fitzgerald’s blog here

Check out his film the Hills have Allies on EpicTV.

*For those who don’t know here is a selection of only some of Duffy’s first ascents

  • Wonderland 8b, Glendalough, December 2010
  • Contact 8a+, Carrigshouk, December 2009
  • People of the Sun 8a+, Glendalough, March 2011
  • Leviathan 8a, Portrane, May 2010
  • Dutch Gold left 8a, Glendalough, Feb 2011
  • Dutch Gold 8a, (with a top out) Chris Davies FA, Glendalough
  • Switch 8a/7c+, The scalp, July 2008
  • Leftism 7c+, Glendalough, December 2008
  • Astro 7c/+, Black Valley, Kerry, April 2010
  • Primer 7c/7b+, The scalp, July 2008
  • Super Bock 7c, Glendalough, December 2010
  • Exit Planet Dust 7c, Black Valley, Kerry, April 2010
  • White Lightning 7c/7b+, Black Valley, Kerry, April 2010
  • The Spunk 7c/7b+, Aytons Cave, Howth 2010
  • Maneater 7c/7b+, Aytons Cave, Howth, Summer 2010
  • Neon Lights 7b+/c, Electric Mountain 2008
  • Sow your wild oats, 7b+, Glendalough 2010
  • Lemon Sole 7b+, Summer 2009
  • Pascals’ ss 7b/+, Glendalough 1997
  • Electroshock 7b/+, December 2010
  • Block Party 7b / E7, Dalkey Quarry, Dublin, Summer 2009
  • Big Al Qaeda 7b, Robin Hoods Stride, Peak District, 2003
  • Kinky Reggae ss 7b, Glenmalure 2010
  • The Mentalist 7a+, Glendalough, 2009
  • Bump in the Night 7a, Black Valley, Kerry, April 2010
  • Piece de resistance 7a, Mall Hill 2009
  • Permadry 7a, Glendalough, 2008
  • Lip service 6c+, Electric Mountain 2008
  • Gen Tilly 6c, The Scalp 2008
  • Sherpa Tensing 6c, Black Valley, Kerry, April 2010
  • Dub Step 6b+, Brimstone West 2010
  • Duffy Slap 6b, Glendalough 1997

Loop Head, Clare – new bouldering area

Richard Creagh on Draíocht 6A/+

Richard Creagh has found some new bouldering on the sandstone boulders of Loop Head in County Clare.

These boulders are just east of George’s Head near Kilkee. Park at the East End near Byrne’s Cove and walk east and down to the obvious platform between George’s Head and Lackglass. There are some easier scrappy bits  and maybe a line left of Ciotóg that I must check out next time.

Meet the President

Meet the President 6B+ SS hugging the bottom of the boulder and make some steep moves up and over.

Minnie's Bloc

1. Ciotóg 6B SS in the right of the alcove and move up and left by two left-hand moves.
2. Draíocht 6A/+ SS, or low start if the pool is full, at the bottom of the leaning arête and climb it to the top.

They’re all superb.

Richard Creagh on Pocket Full of Diamonds 6B
Richard Creagh on Pocket Full of Diamonds 6B

Across the bay on the Kilkee Cliff Walk is the Diamond Rocks (go down the steps near the white shelter and scramble west to find the little leaning wall with quartz crystals in the crack on its left end. Pocket Full of Diamonds 6B takes the right end of the wall from a SS with two crystally pockets, and straight to the top. Another cracker.

First Ascents – reposting old article from 2008

Photo by Jeff Gardner.

We are lucky in Ireland to have so few climbers and so much mountainside and coastline to explore looking for unclimbed rock. There are first ascents for anyone prepared to put in a little work. It’s even possible to scramble about in the scree in Glendo, the most popular bouldering area in Ireland, and find new problems. Even in Fontainebleau, the largest and oldest bouldering area in the world there are new problems of all grades to be discovered. This is due to two factors, bouldering is relatively new so we are early on a steep curve (call it the ‘golden age‘ if you want, which John Sherman defines as a period when three star problems of all grades are abundant and undone) and secondly it is an accessible activity (ie. solo, without a lot of equipment and time). The first might hold for routes but the second definitely doesn’t as new routing is very demanding of time and commitment.

When I say new I should probably prefix it with ‘possibly or as far as I know ‘ but that gets a bit tiresome quickly. But the fact is you can never be sure. This issue isn’t unique to bouldering, what about Everest, did Mallory and Irvine do the FA?. But as bouldering has only recently been seen as a significant and noteworthy aspect of climbing and ascent of a boulder leaves little mark of its passing this issue is more of a factor in bouldering than other activities.

This article by Chris Redmond about his visit to Glendalough five years ago illustrates this nicely. Chris visited Ireland from the US and climbed a load of problems and then went home. Later some locals come along and climbed the same problems (Chillax, The Fin and King Cobra for starters) assumed they were first ascents and named them.

Glanakeera Rock near Turlough Hill. Photo by Diarmuid Smyth.

Bouldering has only been recently been considered worthy of documentation so there is real lack of history. In a place like Glendalough where the boulders are on route to a very popular crag it’s no surprise that some problems were done a long time ago but who did what when is lost in the mists of time.

In contrast areas that have been recently discovered are often better documented for example in North Wales 80% of the boulder problems in the graded list in Simon Panton’s guide were done post ’97 and the first ascentists are known.

Not every piece of new climbing will be recorded, this depends on individual’s perception of what is worthwhile. For example the Mall Hill bouldering area was revealed a few years ago when a large swathe of forest was cut down, some routes were also climbed and claimed on the two crags, however some of these routes were climbed back in the day before the trees were planted. They were never recorded as according to the first first ascentist ” at that time anything smaller than Twin Buttress was not considered climbing, how things change”.

Why bother?

When discussing first ascents and guide books someone will always say “We should keep quiet about new areas and let people discover them for themselves?”, this is an approach favoured by a lot of surfers.

I understand this attitude when there is an extremely limited resource but this isn’t the case with bouldering in Ireland and anyway only a minority are interested in exploring so the majority will miss out on the undocumented climbing and will be concentrated on established, well documented areas. Secondly non-locals with limited time will miss out on lots of good stuff, how would you like it if there was no guidebook to Font and you had to wander around looking for the boulders?

Having said this I don’t think that there is any need to exhaustively catalogue every variation and problem in every bouldering area. Often these variation or eliminates are best discovered for one’s self (or not at all).

Fair Valley near Turlough Hill, Photo by Ped McMahon.

First or best

It’s worth distinguishing between different types of first ascent. At one end of the spectrum is a first ascent of a newly discovered problem maybe in a new or unfrequented area, the first ascentist bags the problem because they were the first to find and try it not because they succeeded where others had failed. At the other end of the spectrum is the first ascent of a ‘last great problem’ in an established, popular area. In this case the first ascentist did the problem because they were the best climber.

The reward is the same, a first ascent, but what is being rewarded is very different. The explorer is rewarded for their vision in finding the new line and persistence in searching for new areas. The ‘last great problem’ climber is getting pay back for their training and talent.

…done years ago…

A few years ago Andy Robinsion cleaned an amazing arete in Glenmacnass, the first bouldering meet was approaching and the fear of his first ascent getting ‘robbed’ was the motivation that got him up Solidarity just a week before the meet.

This drive for the first ascent can be seen in all aspects of climbing. It can result in some shit route and problems, how many routes are cleaned, climbed and documented only to never be done again?

Solidarity, Photo by Dave Flanagan.

Climbers place a value on first ascents. This value has consequences for the wider bouldering community as more and more bouldering is discovered for all to enjoy. However the golden age of exploration on this planet is over. The poles have been visited, Everest climbed. However the instinct to explore is still there, it’s part of our natural curiosity to see some boulders up on a hill and wonder if they are any good. Maybe one damp day you decide to walk up to them and have a look, if they are good you get excited and come back as soon as possible and climb all you can.

Big man on campus Al Sarhan at Aughrish Head.
Photo by Michael O’Dwyer.

What changes?

A chalked hand and rubber shod foot leave little mark of their passing especially once the rain has washed the chalk away, so most FAs leave no trace. Of course some leave their calling card in the form of heavy handed wirebrushing or chipping but that’s another story.

When John Gill was asked if a FA of his later turned out to have been done previously, would he be disappointed?

I think I probably would be disappointed – at least a little. I viewed bouldering much like creative math – the extra excitement of getting a result first. Of course, when I was active, bouldering was not very popular, so I usually didn’t have to contend with this situation.

Again, like mathematics, There are many mathematicians who eagerly work on solved problems as a form of competition and sharpening of skills. That wasn’t me. I enjoyed the research part of my doctoral program much more than the classwork leading up to it – many in similar programs feel the opposite.

If the emphasis is on solving the problem then it shouldn’t matter if it has been done before once you don’t know the solution. But the reality is that there is something special to it, a primitive human satisfaction in being first.

Ped cleaning a new route in Annalecka
Photo by Dave Flanagan.


It’s my opinion that the first ascent is only really of significance to those directly involved, the important aspect for the wider community is the word of the ascent being spread. If a first ascent is incorrectly claimed this might force the actual first ascentist out of the woodwork, the first claim caused this to happen.

One is never obliged to report anything you do and some people are more willing to share their conquests than others (when take too far Americans call this ‘spraying’). However by saying nothing you are relinquishing your right to complain when someone does the ‘first ascent’ of your problem.

We should be grateful to those who are out there finding new problems, cleaning, climbing them and spreading the word. There are at least two companies offering prices/rewards (Revolution Climbing and DRTopo) to people who submit guides to new bouldering areas maybe this is the beginning of a movement away from sponsoring just the best climbers and encouraging people to get out there and explore.

A very nice problem in Wicklow Gap. Photo by Ped McMahon.

Kim Leyland on St Kevins Slab, Glendasan.
Photo by John Coefield

John Gill said when asked about the importance of first ascents “My approach in the 1950s and 1960s centered on exploration and first ascents. I was never very interested in doing something that had already been done, when there was so much out there to discover – so many untried problems to solve.” more here.

FA Fever

Porth Ysgo in North Wales was rediscovered as a bouldering area in the late 90s. The boulders had been first climbed on the in the 70s and even featured in a Stone Monkey ad in the early 90s however it took a new generation of Welsh boulders to raise the profile of the place so that now its an essential stop on the North Wales bouldering circuit. I suppose that a discovery has to come along at the right time to be really appreciated by the masses.

It seems funny that the best bouldering area in the country is on the beaten track, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country below a crag which has been climbed on since the fifties and very close to Dublin. Surely there are other brilliant bouldering areas out there?

Art’s Cross Boulder, Photo by Ped McMahon.

The Process

For me the whole process is very pleasurable. The hard yards exploring, the ‘moment’ when you walk around the corner or over the hill and the boulder still looks good, the last few yards to the boulder you speed up, throw down the pad and start pawing holds, your mind full of possibilities, the brush comes out and the shoes go on, maybe it’s figured out maybe not. The happy walk, the rat fed, down the hill with a final look back at ‘your’ problem, no longer just a lump of grey granite but an almost living thing with a sequence marked with a few patches of chalk and a few spots slightly cleaner than the rest.

Nice rock shame about the face, Photo by Dave Flanagan.


I know of a few boulderers (devout searchers to a man) who believe in the application of karma to the hunt for boulders. Those bad days where everything is double overhead from a distance but shrinks to waist high when we walk up the inevitable hill accumulate karma for the days when as John Watson so elegently puts it “A weekend of untouched boulders and hero stones, fine rewards in lost places, I pay thanks to the golden ratio: for every good day we must suffer so many bad… the necessary trade-off of awry days, bad weather, midgies and plain stupidity” More here.

The ideal mindset of the seeker is hope rather than expectation. The ‘perfect boulder’ doesn’t exist, its just a theoretical concept to justify all that effort. I think I will leave the last word on all of this to John Gill:

“My friends and I were Quixote knights in search of an elusive grail: the prefect boulder problem”.

Bouldering in the Mournes Video

Check out this great video by Rob Hunter (co-author of the Fair Head Bouldering guide) climbing a few of the classic Mourne boulder problems including

  • Cloud Nine 6bish FA Chimney Rock Mountain
  • Huckleberry Huggin 7a stand (sit has been completed at 7bish) FA Binnian North Tor
  • Writer’s Bloc 7c FA Binnian North Tor
  • Felsic Fantasy 7a FA Binnian North Tor
  • Apprehension 7bish FA Binnian North Tor

mizzornes mantles from Fairhead Bouldering Guide on Vimeo.

Project giveaway #7


The crag in Lough Dan has a very steep, undercut base. And I think it would be possible to traverse the underside of the roof from left to right. Most of this problem would stay pretty dry in the rain. There is one hard crux exiting the roof and crossing the first section of steep wall but it’s probably not more than 7a. This is a long problem and would probably feel more like a route.

The traverse would start on the right just above the black pad.
The logical finish is in the shadow on the left hand side.

Historic Bouldering

IMG_3146 copy

This quarter’s issue of Irish Mountain Log contains an interesting piece by Barry Dalby of EastWest Mapping about Charles Thompson a mountaineer, teacher and collector of placenames. Among the photos is one of Thompson – or possible a friend – bouldering in Glendalough. It appears that most of Thompson’s climbing was done early in his life so the photo probably dates from the 1920s which must make it one of the first photos of bouldering in Ireland. Dalby suggests in the caption that the photos is possibly Glendalough but I’m almost certain that the problem in question is on the large boulder that lies just off the path between the Path Area and the Ruins. The boulder is crossed by a sloping diagonal ramp. I will confirm next time I’m there.

Project giveaway #6


This one is a little closer to home, and it goes to show that even the most popular venues have hidden – in plain sight – gems to be climbed. So Three Rock, the middle tor, around the right hand side of the wall where it turns right there is a wall, almost like a freestanding boulder. The line keeps to the right using the arete and the slopey breaks. There are plenty of holds on the bottom but the top looks like a typical Three Rock battle.


The landing is reasonable, a pad and spotter would be nice. Hard to know the grade, probably somewhere between 6a and 7a I would guess.

The last great problem on Three Rock (could have been done before of course).