Donegal Sea Stack Climbing
Living along the western seaboard of County Donegal live 100 guardians of an ancient and little known world. Sculptured by the pounding heart of the wild Atlantic Ocean over thousands of our lifetimes. These towering rock sentinels stand guard at the outer edge of our distant shores. Mark the boundary between the moving and the static. These gothic leviathans are the last remains of a time long forgotten.
Imagine travelling 20km on single track laneway from the nearest main road followed by a 4 km walk over Ireland’s last great wilderness to visit the most remote point of land on mainland Ireland. From here standing on the summit of this near 1000 foot high sea cliff we are overlooking the distant edge of the further. From here we descend to sea level to arrive on outstandingly beautiful storm beaches in the most remote, isolated and atmospheric locations in Ireland. We launch from the shore to cross open ocean and land on the bases of these wave sculptured rock towers. We then climb these lonely towers to arrive on a pristine pinpoint summit far from anywhere in the real world.
Standing on an isolated summit over 100 metres above the ocean, 500 metres from the nearest point of land on mainland Ireland and over 20 km from the nearest main road can easily be described as a truly spiritual experience. You are now standing on a summit that has been visited and stood on fewer times than the surface of the moon.
The county of Donegal boasts two major Irish mountain ranges and over a thousand kilometres of coastline. With one hundred sea stacks and many diverse climbing locations. Donegal currently plays host to many lifetimes worth of world class rock climbing in some of the most beautiful and unspoilt locations in Ireland. The scope for further exploration and the opportunity to discover unclimbed rock is almost unlimited. There is an unexplored adventure waiting through every mountain pass and around every remote headland. There is a wealth different types of climbing venues found throughout Donegal from easy accessible road side venues to huge mountain cliffs found high in the remote Donegal mountains.
Donegal Rock Climbing
What Donegal provides for an adventurous climber is more rock climbing venues and routes than the rest of Ireland combined.
Where the rock climbing on Donegal’s coast line truly excels itself is on its sea stacks. There are a shade under 100 sea stacks with currently just over 150 recorded routes to their summits. The stacks are found along the coast of Donegal’s mainland and its western islands sit in some of the most remote, isolated and hostile coastal locations in Ireland. What these sea stacks provide is a large collection of the most adventurous, remote and atmospheric rock climbs in Ireland. The free Donegal Sea Stack Guide is http://uniqueascent.ie/sea_stack_guide
Sea Stack Equipment
Sea stack climbing involves accessing huge towers of rock that stick out of the sea. It is this access that makes these locations so special. A day out on a sea stack will typically require a 250 meter descent to sea level to access an isolated storm beach. This is followed by an UBER committing sea passage along the bases of currently unclimbed 250 meter high sea cliffs. In a totally committed and potentially inescapable locations, this will allow you to gain the bases of the sea stacks. The commitment required and the sense of primal fear that accompanies these marine journeys has to experienced to be understood.
As always, tad of logistics and planning is the key to success with the adoption of perhaps less orthodox climbing equipment. These include 600m of 6mm polypro, a lightweight Lidl Dingy, a single lightweight paddle, divers booties, a 20ft Cordette, a pair of Speedo’s, heavy duty dry bags, 20m of 12mm polyprop, an alpine hammer, a snow bar, a selection of pegs, a chest harness/inverted Gri-Gri combo and a big Grin! We then climb these towers of rock to arrive on pristine pinpoint summits far from anywhere in the real world. Standing on a pinpoint summit over 100m above the ocean, 500m from the nearest point of land and 20KM from the nearest main road. This can easily be described as a truly spiritual experience.
Living off the coast of Donegal are some of the most beautiful, remote and uninhabited islands in western Europe. Found in the nautical hinterland between mainland Ireland and the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. These islands provide a unique unspoilt habitat for many rare and rarely seen animals, birds, insects and plants. All the major islands have significant amounts of outstanding quality rock climbing on both their sea cliffs and sea stacks. Island visits are easily described starting with the easier permanently inhabited islands such as Cruit with its bridge to the mainland or Arranmore and Tory with their daily ferry services.
The next set of islands are a small step up the ladder in the terms that they only have summer residents in holiday homes and a summer ferry. Gola and Owey Islands have an incredible amount of quality rock climbing on their granite sea cliffs. Both Islands have been climbed on since the 90’s with Owey over the last few summers getting a rebirth. This has led to a large amount of very hard routes being climbed on it’s higher and steeper seaward faces.
The next tier of islands have no ferry service and no, or very few summer inhabitants. They are also less than a kilometre sea passage from the nearest mainland pier. Inishsirrer, Inishmeane and Inishfree Lower are each pristine islands with immaculate tropical style sandy beaches. With their relatively easy sea passages they make great starter islands and even better days out.
Remote Island visits
Raising the bar a little the next set of islands have longer sea passages involving circumnavigations around other islands. A wee bit of nautical knowledge is required to reach these middle distance outposts. Umfin, Tororragaun and Raithlin O’Birne each offer a remote island experience. The landings of Umfin And Raithlin O’Birne being easy beach landings and Tororragaun being a tidal rocky shelf landing.
The final set of islands are the very remote and harder to reach with over 5 kilometre sea passage from mainland Donegal and no human inhabitants at all. Stags Rocks and Roan Inish both providing very different far distant island experiences. The Stags are very rarely visited and landed on as they are tiny and steep sided lumps of rock. They are also open to every ripple of motion south through to north.
The sea stacks and islands found around the coast of Donegal will provide the reader and visitors to the county a lifetimes worth of outstandingly naturally beautiful places to visit and explore. With all but a fewer of the harder to reach places requiring hiking, kayaking and rock climbing skills.