The Wild Atlantic Way: Climbing on Ireland’s West Coast

I didn’t want to go, but what choice did I really have?  The offer: A free place to stay, 50e round-trip, business-class flights, an opportunity to hang with three great friends who hardly ever get to meet, and the chance to climb at an area that’s been on my list for years.

The timing, though, was horrible. To make this happen I would have to leave home just ten days after returning from a 6-week-long, major expedition to India’s Great Himalayan Range. I would be in piss-poor rock climbing shape after that long at altitude, not to mention that I would be just plum tired of travelling and, no doubt, want only to spend some time at home, resting and reflecting on the previous trip. As could be predicted, the Siren call proved too irresistible to me. I took the bait and booked the trip.

After India, I felt like I had enough time to only do a quick load of laundry and repack, before I once again found myself on a bus, airport bound. The destination? The Burren, Co. Clare, on Ireland’s wild west coast.

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The cliffs of Ailladie, under stormy skies.

Besides the tiny Arran Islands located just a handful of kilometers off the shore, “the next piece of land you would hit after leaving the the Burren is Newfoundland”, chuckled Sonia’s jovial father over breakfast at their home in Limerick. The words echoed in my head as we first approached Ailladie in howling winds that I would sooner associate with Patagonian massifs, rather than single-pitch Irish crags.

Known as the Burren’s premiere climbing area, Ailladie is located directly (and I mean directly) on the North Atlantic coast. This cliff is the first thing the building wind and waves hit after traveling across the entire Atlantic Ocean, and it feels that way. On climbs, the angry emerald green sea froths and stirs and smashes relentlessly into the walls, sometimes just a single meter below your feet. To look up at the imposing grey limestone faces that seem to tower above, with the swells of the ocean just below is vertigo-inducing. Couple this with a strict trad climbing ethic, finicky gear placements, and often wet rock (to be expected in Ireland, I suppose), and it was clear that this crag punches far above its weight class.

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The view from above, looking into the churning, green drink below. Photo by Lauri Hämäläinen.

Our trip, which was only a week long, was exceptionally wet, even by local standards. Yet, this was no match for our enthusiasm. On the rainy mornings we took the opportunity to sleep in late and then check out the local cafes (which, if the rain persisted, often led to exploring the local pubs). For us, it seemed that the afternoon often brought an end to the rains and that blustery sea breeze made quick work drying off the cliffs to passable, “sticky-damp” conditions. With this system we managed to sneak in at least a few climbs every day.

The style of the climbing took some time to get adjusted to. Grades that we were used to dispatching with relative ease now required full attention, and sometimes even that was not enough to see us to the top. We had been warned that virtually every cam placed in such water-polished limestone was to be regarded with suspicion, and this kept us on guard and always hunting for stopper placements among the flaring cracks. As the afternoons passed our familiarity with the stone began to increase. On our second-to-last day, it all came together. We had a full day of blue skies and dry rock, and feeling confident, were able to try some of the harder lines we had been eyeing up all week. The only way I sum it up is to say that when the Burren is good, it’s good.

 

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A rare bluebird day on the west Irish Coast.

Our last day on location was another wet one. Between the rain showers, we spent the morning top-roping a heady route just over the sea. As the rain became more steady and the gaps between the showers shorter, we opted to call an end to all the climbing. We had gotten what we had come for; somehow, we had managed to climb all the routes in Ailladie we had hoped to, with the exception of a single, stand-out line (the most elegant and hardest route on our to-do list). As my father would say though, “it’s always good to leave something to come back for”. The rest of our day was spent laughing our way though local sites, hunting for big waves, eating fish and chips, saying goodbyes to friends old and new, a long drive back to the Dublin airport, and an all-to-brief late-night nap at the airport before an early morning flight home.

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Looking for waves? We found ’em! Photo by Lauri Hämäläinen.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Wild Atlantic Way: Climbing on Ireland’s West Coast

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