The Lesser Spotted Hen

If the square eyed sop reading this likes to avoid doing work as much as I do, then they will know from the last article that dry Irish weather is rare.  Having used one of the dry days up, I looked to the second date to further my prowess (or lack of) upon the sacred Granite of the greatest crag upon this or any other planet (Hen Mountain).  Yes for a while now I have been seeking to complete every climb on Hen, and though I am still a way off yet, the day after Cove I got a little bit closer.

I leave here a poorly known piece, from the neo-classical period, composed by the great Stravinsky herself (it is little known trivia that Ivan was a unisex name in Russia, around the 1880’s when she was released from the Matrix).

People were active on the Saturday, but sadly not on the Sunday.  Between this and my lack of searching I was down one climbing partner.  As I woke at about 11am after a forced lie-in, I had the ingenuity to try one of my friends from school.  Alas, he is still as lazy as ever, and decided not to go on a dander up Donard and Commedagh with me.  Woe is me to be sure.  But I saw this as a blessing, as with nobody to climb with this was the perfect time to tick off some of the easier routes I had yet to get done on Hen.

These routes are the sort which under normal circumstances one never quite can be bothered to do.  Things like being really short, having no gear, being hard to find, or by the time I decided to do all the routes on hen are a few grades below what I consider challenging (yea I know it’s a bit snobby, but we all do it a bit).  The first few fell under the category of:

Half-way up the Tower Tor.

There were five of these routes (a sixth existed but I had already climbed it at some point, in this dimension’s timeline at least).  The first was The Boulder.  Now when I say “half way up” I mean it, and it’s that annoying terrain somewhere between walking and climbing: SCRAMBLING.  What does this mean in real terms? Simple: it’s not fun enough to enjoy, but not easy enough not to get a bit tired doing it.  Absolute hell so far as I’m concerned.  To do that five times for five routes? Not a chance, I had a different plan.

I scrambled up to the ledge half way and dumped my bag and hiking boots, put my phone in my pocket (no sense leaving it somewhere I couldn’t get to if I broke my legs now is there?) and headed up The Boulder.  It was the easiest of the climbs there, a Diff, and after each climb I would down-climb it to the start of the routes, far shorter and faster than a round trip.  Easy enough, I moved on to Y-Crack Left and Y-Crack Right.  Not bad routes at all, just maybe not worth the scramble, though there was a beautiful finger-lock jug in the Right variant.  All while doing these routes I eyed up holds and moves for Travelling Tales (the hardest of the routes) and was working up to it.

The penultimate climb was called Slanting Slipper, and actually I thought it was the only one worth the scramble.  Lovely lay-back moves to move your feet up a slanting ramp, all easy but delicate and a good test of my balance (this being the first time soloing since before X-mas).  The only disappointment was that the route didn’t last that little bit longer.  Now was the more daunting climb, Travelling Tales.  This was scary for two reasons; I was worried about “finding myself”, and for a climb of the grade its a bit of a serious solo when you start at half height of the Tower Tor.  Even if you bugger the crux, only 2m off the ledge, you are still a good bit higher than that from the soil.  But thankfully I had scouted the right beta and made it up without incident.  One final down-climb and I was heading up to the summit with all my belongings recovered from the ledge.

The final climbs landed in the category of:

Far too eliminate to bother with.

There were four of these, the first and ONLY enjoyable one being LA Raider Direct (well that’s not strictly true but I will explain in time).  LA Raider Direct, a meddlesome rock-over to start, and as I thudded my heel down somewhat brutally, I discovered a small hollow sounding part of the small ledge one stands on.  Doing my best to ignore what I had just learned, I considered the daunting slab above me, looking for those first few feet and hand holds (small rounded crimps and large crystals).  After a few precious and important moments, I had sighted the things, and began a very fun ascent (the sort of fun that comes from standing on small holds and magically sticking).  All went swimmingly and I hit the gentler slab above, which you can just crab-run up which is a brilliant way to finish the route.

Next on the list was Ancientcy, which quite awkwardly isn’t in the photo the guide shows.  The description being all there was to work from “Climb to the left-hand end of the shelf and step right and up a groove”.  So I found the shelf (I’m fairly sure of it), went to the end, looked right, saw a small groove (the most obvious one) and climbed it.  Supposedly 15m long (not even close mate, but that’s the route descriptions at hen for you) and I had done something similar to the description.  Without the first accentist there to guide me, it’s as close as I’m likely to get.

Then I came to the last “two” climbs.  I say last two, when I quite bitterly believe there to be one.  The guide has a good go at forced perspective, and in the photo it does look like there are two lines in their own right.  However, in my opinion (and I do mean opinion, as adamant as I am about the issue I understand that I MAY not be right) Sudden Impact, the right hand route, is an eliminate as you must ignore the bowl feature on the left, and use only the crack to move upwards.  The top section is the same for both routes.  The guide shows two lines, but the top is the same for both (the guide shows a difference of, what is in real life, 20cm between the lines).  The left route, Superbowl is again a sort of eliminate, where I painfully struggled to resist putting a foot out to what I considered to be Sudden Impact.  This time you use the bowl feature, but can go no further to the right.  Now both routes were lovely to do, but in the end I came around again and did my own variation, utilizing both the crack and the bowl, again with the same top out, as it is the only available one.  It seemed to make much more sense to me.  were these routes put up by boulderers?

In summary, both those routes are lovely, though frustratingly eliminate.  If I had to pick one, it would be Sudden Impact, but I would still rank LA Raider Direct (and regular LA Raider) to be the best of the category.  I had a few other routes I planned to tick off, but as it was almost 5pm (sunset at 6pm these days) and I didn’t have my head-torch with me (not required if all goes well in a day, but I do feel vulnerable without it).  Common sense (or perhaps the firm knowledge that I am an accident prone being) dictated a brisk walk back to the car, and a well deserved coffee at home.  Not a bad day at all, especially for only getting to the top of Hen at ten past two in the after noon.

Oh, I also took a photo of the only bit of snow on Hen that day, for you winter mountaineers.


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