Bouldering with Goats

by Chris Redmond. This article first appeared in the June 2005 issue of Urban Climber.

Original Route

I 'm heading from Galway to Glendalough. Packed into a small two-door Volkswagen with four other family members mom, dad, my sister and her fiancé My family has always supported my climbing and my father enjoyed shooting climbing photos. We travelled over to Ireland to see my father's side of my family and soak up the culture. The trip was a little more than ten days and we would be near the boulders for only four of them. I was going to be climbing by myself and I enjoyed being alone. As we drive the landscape reveals sweeping fields of granite boulders. My palms begins to sweat out of anticipation. The roads create a serious feeling of vertigo and I’m bursting to get out of this sardine can, to touch the granite that reminds me of the stone in Yosemite Valley. We pull over so my father can take shots of the rolling green. Making the most of being out of me cot I run down a small bluff and encounter a perfect weather-sculpted boulder, clean and boasting friendly slopers. I want to get my brushes no shoes but know we will first have to go to the bed and breakfast in Glendalough, as my family eagerly awaits some much needed rest from travelling. As the drive winds on, my excitement to explore this country's rock mellows. I'm almost asleep when we pass the Wicklow Mountains and I see a hillside covered in huge, untouched granite blocks. "I love Ireland " I think to myself as I doze off.

We pull up to out accommodation for the next five days - a nice home and plenty cosy for this family vacation. Things are simpler here in Ireland than in the States and the locals reflect it - they are so kind and humble, always offering interesting comments "I guess you climb rocks because they're there" a local in a pub once said to me.

In my little room I pull out the small topo map I downloaded from the internet and start to plan the next day. I have four days to boulder here so that means no rest days. I've been training four days on at a time to prepare for this time frame, the main question being how my skin will hold up. According to my research, the established problems are well within my limits (V0 to V7). I had recently been at Heuco and did several double digit problems in a week so I expect to get a lot of climbing in.

The Ruins

The next morning, the sun through the window wakes me up to the good news that its not raining. It isn't long until I arrive at the boulder riddled park of Glendalough. Mountain goats run around a pair of lakes and a long hike opens up into a small valley covered with granite blocks. I'm shocked. Photos I've seen don't reflect such a visual overload. I run to the boulder known as Big Jim and warm up on the established lines (V0-V5/6).

This is my first time
bouldering with goats

I head to an area by the Monastic City ruins which are more than 1,200 years old and find a clean face with friendly holds. The rock is the best granite I've ever encountered, better than Bishop or Joshua Tree, California. I clean my shoes and start to chalk up. When I turn to drop my chalk pot, I realise that a local goat is checking out my trail mix. This is my first time bouldering with goats, so I let the little guy help himself.

I head up the trail, stopping at several problems and enjoying the variety of angles and styles - slab, overhanging, face. I walk up to a prow located high off the main trail, find a line and attack it. It's clean and striking composed of powerful moves, My muscles burn and two fingertips start to blow; time for a smoke break ... which turns into a wine break ... and the day winds down. I lean back and look at the cliffs and boulders. After only one day of climbing I'm convinced I want to stay longer or move here. Walking out I'm consumed with the next days agenda: "What should I warm up on? What didn't I see today? Can I find the boulder field I saw from the car - the one in the Wicklow Mountains?"

On the Ruins boulder

I get a late start in the morning due to a few too many Guinness' the night before. I made it to the parking lot around noon where things are still a little damp from an early morning shower. I head to the top of a trailhead where a system of waterfalls begins. I spot a proud corner line on a tall block and work my way toward it. The landing is poor and it hasn't been cleaned. Rather than risk an injury, I choose to pass and explore other new lines. Dropping down past the talus I see an inviting roof. It takes about five minutes to clean and I find myself projecting the thing. Working on the roof goes well, and about two hours later I start to link the moves and work it over and over. It's obvious I'm toast as I fall from the top three times in a row.

The roof that is now known as Chillax

Walking out, I dip my hands in the lake and notice my battle scars - bruises on four fingertips. As I tend to my wounds, I overhear my family talking about heading to Dublin for the day. This burns my eardrums since we only have one rental car and I'm bouldering tomorrow. Heading back to the B+B, my body comes down from its natural high and my should cramps. Still, it's comforting to know that I gave 100% today. Nothing a forty minute shower and some pain meds can't cure. I speak with my family about the next day's events and we come up with a solution seldom heard in the bouldering community - an alpine start - since I need to have the car back by late morning.

The alarm clock blinks 4:30am. My body wants to sleep, but my mind knows this is my only chance to find the area I photographed in the Wicklow Mountains. I start the car and jumpstart myself with a smoke, only to discover two miles later I'm driving on the right (or wrong) side of the road. If it weren't so early I would have caused a major accident. Soon I'm in the vast open space and rolling hills of the Wicklow Mountains. I'm not sure if I'm on the correct raod and start to get annoyed - I didn't wake up at the crack of dawn to aimlessly drive around. A bend finally unveils the boulder field I glimpsed days ago. I park, and full of excitment, run to the biggest boulders, some of them standing 25 to 30 feet tall. I can't believe what I'm walking through - an untapped boulder field sporting some fine granite. I clean a 30 degree roof - only four moves long and the top moves are fairly tame.

Another view of Chillax

Exploring some of the larger blocks. I find that a major problem is getting off the top. Not wanting to be bogged down by "minor details" I'm entranced with finding ways up the boulders. I survey a 25 foot arete and take a chance driven by the unkown. About half way up I hit a small, sharp crimper. The next move from that crimp is huge, but the target hold looks like a bucket...and then it's over? I hit the crimp and stare at my fingers on it, willing them to stay closed. I chuck for the jug. "Whack! Unggh!" I latch on to the bucket and can't help but let out an exertion-induced yell. Pasting my feet back on, I realise it's not over. I reach around, groping, only to find a pinch. Twenty feet up with no spotter and no other options, I work my feet up and grab the tiny thing. My body uncontrollably shakes as nerves and adrenline work through me. I remember to breathe and work my feet a bit higher and bump my hand. Salvation comes with the sharp top, and I let my feet rip away from the rock. Chest heaving, I sit on top of the boulder for a while to calm my nerves. I begin thinking about how many new problems are here and wonder how many years it would take to develop an area of this volume. What a great problem, I hope I'll come back and do it again. After finding my way down, I check the time and head back. My return drive is blocked by a farmer herding his cattle down the main road; a traffic jam, irish style.

The hillside north of the mining village in Glendasan

On the BBE boulder

The next day I wake up to a fairly clear sky. For the most part, the weather has been overcast and cloudy, so when the sun comes to full blaze things look much different - rather heavenly. We drive into the park and I try to make up for a night of dehydration by drinking as much water as possibile. I want to finish the roof I found, and try that proud corner. A tall order as I have only four fingers that aren't bruised and sore to touch. I warm up and go straight to the roof. Mission accomplished after a few tries. I'm so surprised that I go all the way to the top to check out the corner. I don't want to get hurt even though it's my last day, so I take the time to clean the line thoroughly. It doesn't look too bad at the top. Evaluating the landing however isn't a fun affair. The problem is about 22 feet high, but the landing drops into a pit and fades left. No pad and no spotters make it seem scary. Looking at this line you can tell that in the states it would be a classic highball with a five pad minimum. I study the moves carefully, figuring that if I give it my all the first try, I might do this thing. Bouldering solo creates an added amount of skill in which judgement and evaluation are essential to success.

I chalk up and start the opening moves on thin, fingery holds and soon my feet are pasted up on each wall. The body positioning is unusual. It demands serious stemming and consistent pressure between my feet. I press hard with my feet, slowly working my hands up the seam. A long reach to a good gaston gets me half way up. I work my feet higher. I need to match on the gaston and cross over to a small crimp. As I match and hit the crimp, my left foot starts to barndoor and a view of the dismal landing appears. I tighten every muscle in my body to fight the swing and walk my feet higher. Now I can reach the top, but my feet are too high, holding me tight to the wall - I can't generate any movement. I start to reach, mere inches away from grabbing the lip. My right foot skates out and my body unwinds. Too tired to panic, I take a deep breath and let my right leg float freely. I grab the top, exhausted. As I work my feet up and rock over, my arms start to lock up. I put my foot up and throw my body on the top. I lay there, physically wasted, knowing that if I close my eyes I'll fall asleep.

The view down the valley

I head down the trail toward the lake to stop and try the prow one last time. I sit down to pull my shoes on and my arms immediately cramp. I stop and put them away, admiring the line knowing that I will be back one day. My family is picnicking by Big Jim where a nice slab lies on the backside. The whole family works it for a while; my dad and sister get the send. It was so nice to see my family playing on the boulders which I had fallen in love with in only four days. My family was never upset with my desire to explore the bouldering on our trip. They supported my mission and enjoyed relaxing and taking in the beauty of Ireland.

Four years have passed and I haven't been back, but bouldering in Ireland has grown. Tons of new lines have been done and a host of new, hard problems abound. Still, there is loads of rock and huge untapped regions of adventerous bouldering on high-grade granite. Glendalough has the highest amount of established problems and the Wicklow Mountains host a wealth of potential. I start to plan my next trip but can never decide what the time frame should be: a month, a year, a life time. Round trip or one way, it's that good...

It seems that Chris may of beaten the locals to a few first ascents. Glendo regulars may recognise some of the descriptions, the "prow located high off the main trail" could only be The Fin, the "inviting roof" is Chillax, and the "proud corner line on a tall block" sounds like King Cobra.