Snow and Learning at Lower Cove

For now we are back into this, the glorious and ever radiant Irish trad season.  Yes boyos and boyettes (the female of the species) we have been collectively rubbed our hands together, sneakingly left the immersion heater on, and left the door wide open to let the heat out.  Our efforts have been rewarded by the outside climes reaching near-bearable (bearable is a bit of a stretch after all) conditions.  None of this “17 degrees in winter with sun” bollocks (the Spanish left their senses long ago, likely due to sun-stroke).

Now before the main bulk (and likely madness-driven tales of whimsy that will be contained therein) I have selected a song, using great care, at complete random, to both match and juxtapose the text.

There are some events which only occur a few times in a life time.  A Total Solar Eclipse occurs just once every 138 years (quiet Campbell, Wikipedia said so, that’s good enough for me).  The last recorded Total Eclipse was in 2012, and before that I watched the 1874 eclipse from a balcony in Oslo while on a trad trip to the Ennedi desert.  Even these events are more common than a sunny day with no clouds in Ireland.  This was an event not to be wasted by the watchful.  Other observant parties included Roisin, Rooney and Rose.  Due to real life commitments by Thomas O’Hagan (the fool) I luckily got substituted into the group and plans were set for Lower Cove.  Not my favorite crag, but it slowly regains my trust.

I awoke on the morn of good weather, low and beholden unto thee, the weather man was spot on.  I ate a hearty breakfast of toast, and a cafetiere of coffee (as this is able to sustain the average adult human for 16 hours by itself).  Fully fueled, I drove the rather fun road of the coast up and round to Carricklittle carpark, managing to be there about 10 minutes before the others.  This allowed me to blast some tunes for a while, and discover that the ice-scraper in the door pocket will rattle perfectly in pitch along with the bass speakers.  After the last chord of “Bringing sexy back” by Mr Timberlake was played, the second car arrived and preparation had to begin.

I approached and immediately began the harassment that is characteristic between friends on this island of ours.  For it wouldn’t do to let people think you cared for them at all, the scandal alone would ruin you.  After realising that while I had a full rack and rope for Rose and I, Roisin and Rooney had half-ropes and half a rack (and that may be generous).  Somehow they scraped together a semblance of gear, while I asked some gentlemen the time which turned out to be twenty past four o’clock (as they smoked some “tobacco”).  Soon we were on our way and regretting it immediately.

As it turns out, Rooney and Roisin had both been out on the town the night before, as they have social lives and I do not.  This was slightly amusing to me, but a more pressing matter was the need to plan.  Stephen and I talked of doing a half-length run of the Annalong challenge, to figure out the most efficient route and routes to follow.  We also brought up the unexploded shells topic, and the site where they filmed the fake moon landing (near Blue Lough would’t you know).  But soon we were nearing Lower Cove, and stuck by how warm it really was in the Irish trad season, and so proceeded to stick our faces in the patches of snow on the slope up to the cliff.  Somehow (and I really don’t know how) we resisted the urge to start a snowball fight, and made it to third corner in good time.

Now, fully characteristic of the weather, the wind picked up and immediately it became Baltic.  Rose and I eyed up the classic (which now I think about it I hadn’t yet climbed) Pillar Variant, while Roisin and Stephen attacked Agag’s wall.  I was to lead, and after a bit of faff, though a fair bit less than I expected, I was upward bound.  Finally home on the granite, and ushered on by the cold, I ran the thing out a bit more than I would have normally and linked it into one pitch.  Strangely within this one climb it started to snow lightly, followed by sunshine to warm me once I was on the arete, followed by more snow, only to be replaced by some lovely warm wind (not warm at all).  But at the least I was at the top of something, and therefore the trip was already looking to be a success all around.  Rose followed up having seemingly no bother, having been briefed on removing tricams on second before hand.

As I looked over while belaying I saw that Roisin was making fine progress on Agag’s wall, and was nearing the top as Rose and I greeted and congratulated her in the one sentence.  The brevity of the event was driven by the temperatures at the top.  We quickly descended towards our bags, as I savored the feeling of hot-aches after a trad climb.  This, children dear, is part of the fun.  Climbs should cost an effort to get to, get up, and get psyched for the next one.  It is the difficulty of the thing which makes it so worth doing, and worth pursuing.  It had been far too long since I had lost feeling in my fingers while climbing on cold granite.

Our plan was to then dander over to First corner and get Rose her first trad lead, and add her to the ranks of the elite.  The route to be conquered was the ever endearing Tyro, which I imagine has been the first trad lead for many a member of the club, or at least many a climber in the Mourne area.  This particular route, for the bewildered, is a corner/crack thing with plenty a rest and gear to spare, so very appropriate to start people off on.  Rose sailed up the thing with great style and confidence, with one scary slip, though apparently the Welsh are not afraid of falling and simply catch themselves, so in the end I felt quite superfluous at the end of the rope.

After Rose topped out I dandered around to teach the making of rudimentary anchors.  All the basics were covered, as well as some of the less basics as Rose was rather enthusiastic in learning the other potential options for anchors and the such.  At this time, the other pair made their way round to have a go at First Corner, as the exposure to sunlight was much in demand (also possibly to check we hadn’t chucked ourselves off a cliff somehow).  I ran around to the bottom to second up the route, as I very much wanted to get my gear back from the Mournes.  I was fairly pleased to see Rose had a natural ability in the gear placement category (it doesn’t come so easy to some in the beginning, myself to be one of those with starting struggles).  As I finished the route, we realised two things.  First that we were late in leaving, as parties had to be in Belfast for work times, and second that Rooney and Roisin had coiled the half ropes all the way only to find they were intertwined at the end.  Fuck it, it’ll do.

We made plans to rendezvous at the carpark, and make haste to our bags left at third corner.  On the traverse over to them, I found out that Rose was also addled in the brain like myself.  That sounds like an insult, but I consider it a complement, as she too thought things such as “the snow makes the moss look more green” and “useless thoughts are not so useless, if they are at least interesting in nature”.  This led to the conversation about my colour-blindness and how the Mournes winter landscape is exactly all the colours which I get mixed up when placed beside each other.  All the while we jogged most of the way back to the main path by the forest to catch up to the other pair who were doubtless miles ahead by this point.

As we neared the carpark we realised we were actually ahead, and sat eating meat-pies, and drinking suspicious tasting tea from an ex-mouldy thermos.  Soon the group was whole again, and we rushed into action to get on the move in time for jobs (not me though, because I am a drain on society).  A fantastic day out, no significant incidents were had and so the trip was a resounding success.

It was while I was teaching all the basics of trad that I realised that most of the sentences started with “Thomas O’Hagan taught me that….”.  It seems that over the years I have learned the finer points and tricks from various members of the club, for which I and very grateful.  But the very basis and basics of my knowledge of trad climbing and being safe outdoors seems to have come from the Great and Immortal Thomas O’Hagan.  

A many great thanks to Thomas for teaching me the basics, and just as many to the people (who are too many to list) who have contributed to the more focused and refined of my trad knowledge.  With out it all I would just be a filthy boulderer.