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Rock Climbing in Northern Ireland

Posted on July 24, 2013 @ 11:53 AM in Adventure

Writer, publisher and climbing enthusiast David Flanagan recently took to the Mournes to do what he loves best – rock climbing….

The Mourne Mountains have a huge amount of rock climbing, with nearly 1000 climbs spread over 26 different crags.  And it happens that the longest climb in the Mournes is also one of the easiest.


When viewed from the floor of Annalong Valley the south face of Slieve Lamagan appears to be a vertical wall of almost alpine proportions. However this is just an optical illusion, it's actually a low-angled (at least in rock climbing terms) slab, that lies at around 45 degrees.

A route called FM, named by Roy Johnston, who was the first person to climb it in the late forties, tackles the longest most continuous section of the slab.

FM is graded Very Difficult (aka VDiff), which confusingly enough, is actually considered pretty easy. When the rock climbing grading system was conceived, back in the days of hemp ropes and hobnailed boots, VDiff was considered exactly that, very difficult, but nowadays - largely thanks to improvements in technology - it's at the lower end of the scale. A VDiff climb should be within the ability of a determined beginner.

The 162m long FM is a multi-pitch climb, which means that it's not possible to climb from the top to the bottom in one rope length. So climbers use intermediate belays to regroup mid-climb, this technique is known as multi-pitch.

One Saturday not long ago, my friend Peter and I drove up from Dublin to do FM. The forecast was for a cloudy start followed by sun in the afternoon. As we left Carrick Little car park at noon, the cloud was low and there was a light drizzle falling.  Usually it's not possible to climb in the rain but as FM is pretty easy and the Mourne granite is so rough we were confident setting off.

Shortly after Percy Bysshe we left the track to scramble up the scree slope to the start of the route. Here we put on our harnesses and helmets and tied into the rope. The drizzle was still falling and the mist was sweeping in and out. On the basis that it wasn't getting any drier I set off, climbing carefully, making sure not to slip on the damp rock.

Once I'd nearly climbed the length of the rope, I anchored myself and Peter climbed up to join me. We repeated this routine five times before we got to the top. The climbing was wonderful, the rock clean and solid with plentiful holds.

Most of the route is low angled and delicate but there are two steeper section where the rock briefly becomes vertical.  The first one of these is the crux, the hardest part of the route. The second is the final, and steepest, section of the route. The steep corner has plenty of massive hand holds and the final strenuous pull over the lip is a fitting finale to an amazing climb.

By the time we reached the top the sun had burnt off the cloud and we sat and enjoyed the views down the Annalong Valley, across to the Tors on Slieve Binnian and out to sea. What better way to spend a damp day in the Mournes?

If this has inspired you to explore the rock climbing opportunities in Northern Ireland then make sure to check out the Climbing Section of which includes details on how to get started as well as a list of activity providers and upcoming courses.

David Flanagan
David Flanagan  Writer, Publisher and Rock Climbing Enthusiast

David Flanagan is a writer and publisher from Dublin.
He has been climbing for nearly 20 years, focusing on bouldering, a type of climbing that is done relatively close to the ground without ropes.

He is currently putting the finishing touches on his second book, a bouldering instructional manual. His next project is a guide to the best of Irish Rock Climbing.

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