Glendalough National Park- A Rock Climbers Guide
A practical guide for the first time visitor
Glendalough Valley contains some of the finest rock climbing in Ireland on excellent granite in a spectacular setting. The approach is beautiful, the routes are of outstanding quality up to 4 pitches in length and the climbing is varied.
Glendalough as a rock climbing venue deserves respect and is best treated as a mountain crag, requiring abseiling skills, route finding and a broad knowledge base to operate in comfort.
Glendalough Valley is a must visit venue for anyone that wants to experience rock climbing in Ireland.
Please consider when visiting that as a climber you are representing the climbing community therefore you are requested to adhere to the following best practice guidelines:
Strictly Leave no Trace – including biodegradable material.
Traditional Climbing Ethics – this means no bolts or artificial structures. You are fully responsible for your own risk assessment.
Nesting Season – there are usually birds of prey nesting on the Upper Cliffs therefore climbing in this area is prohibited from March – August. There are few established routes in this area and it is rare to see anyone on this section of cliff during the entire year.
There are strictly no dogs allowed near any of the climbing venues as there are quite often populated by feral goats and wild deer. Dogs on the main trails are requested to be kept on leads at all times.
Parking – Please do not park on the right hand side of the Upper Car Park entrance. Even if you are early and the only one there it will encourage others later in the day to follow suit, potentially blocking access for the Park Rangers and the Mountain Rescue Teams.
Please remember when visiting the Glendalough Valley you are representing the climbing community therefore you are requested to put your best foot forward.
Glendalough rock climbing is broken up into several crags comprising of traditional single pitch and multipitch climbing.
Hobnail Buttress – quite dirty and see little climbing
Acorn Buttress – small clean buttress
Expectancy Slab – adventurous single pitch routes
Twin Buttress – offering the majority of climbing in Glendalough
Upper Cliffs – broken dirty routes that see little traffic, but containing a few gems.
Glendalough is strictly a ‘traditional’ venue which means there is no bolting allowed. The routes are dominated by crack systems that provide quality protection placement and enable the climber to get to grips with laybacking and jamming. Routes are also interspersed with sequences of smearing on slab, pulling hard on crimps and tip-toeing up aretes with significant exposure.
The first question is where to start?
For the first time visitor I would suggest it depends on experience, equipment available and how adventurous you want to be.
For those visiting for the first time wanting to sample single pitch climbing then Expectancy Slab or Acorn Buttress are good places to start. The climbing is in the lower grades but don’t underestimate these as it is a mountain crag and there are no soft routes.
It is also worth stating that there is a scramble approach to all the rock climbing in the Glendalough Valley therefore arrive with the appropriate footwear. The scramble to reach Expectancy Slab is quite exposed and not to be taken lightly, only experienced parties should consider it.
There are several ways to come off Expectancy Slab including scrambling back down the approach route (not advised), abseiling past the scramble, crossing over the far side of the approach gully or walking off the top of the routes.
Each descent route is complex therefore good judgement and experience is required.
Expectancy Slab – Single Pitch
Expectancy Slab contains the best clutch of below VS graded routes in Glendalough with super climbing in a beautiful setting up to 28m in length.
Expectancy (VD) is an excellent crack line that splits the slab. The route on first viewing may appear liner, but there are a few technical traversing moves that feel quite delicate and exposed.
Lassitude (VS) is an excellent route that requires a thoughtful and commit approach to the final moves (crux).
Setting up anchors at the Expectancy Slab top-out requires a working knowledge of traditional protection and good decision making to enable safe belaying of a following partner or setting up an abseil. It is best practice to treat any in-situ anchors at the top of Expectancy Slab with caution and never assume anything – inspect, back up and treat with extreme caution.
Expectancy Slab can be quite a midge-magnet during the Summer in low winds and no direct sunlight, there has been many a rushed retreat!
Cracks on the Garden of Eden
If you are in the Expectancy area and are experienced with multipitch climbing then definitely check out the fantastic Cracks on the Garden of Eden (VS / HVS). This route is a must do for anyone operating comfortably in the VS grade.
The route starts as a strenuous layback move that eases off a few meters from the ground. It then morphs into bits and pieces of all types of climbing, best described as adventurous. The final crack contains the crux of the route and one needs to be strong, steady and skilful to enjoy this amazing final sequence. The top-out is delicate and the anchor building on top requires good judgement.
One of the best routes in Glendalough.
Some will climb routes on the main face of the West Wing and then abseil down Expectancy Slab to do this route.
The single pitch Stray Dog is also worth checking out if one is operating comfortably in the E1’s, but be warned it’s bold, hard and strenuous.
Glendalough Main Face – Multipitch Routes
If you have come to Glendalough for multipitch climbing then it’s onto the main face for a plethora of classic routes. The approach is similar to that of Expectancy but before going too high there is a faint path running Eastwards (right) along the bottom of the main face. While this approach is more straight forward than that of Expectancy there is exposure and caution is recommended.
Quartz Gully – Hard Severe (HS)
The classic first multipitch routes that most consider is Quartz Gully, consisting of 2 or 3 pitches of engaging climbing. The first pitch is scrappy and requires a solid psychological approach as the protection is spaced. The second pitch is the reason you are on this route, it is superb. The crux section is well protected but requires a cool head while arranging protection.
The top-out anchors are all natural requiring good anchor building judgement.
Prelude Nightmare – Very Severe (VS)
The next absolute classic in Glendalough is Prelude Nightmare.
The route starts with a leftwards travers on a sloping ramp requiring a solid psychological approach as the protection is minimal. This leads to the navigation of several blocks and platforms before the exciting rightwards traverse towards Nightmare Ledge.
Nightmare Ledge is in a wild position and is best described as a small pulpit-like ledge with just enough room for a belay set up using a small crack system behind the ledge. The final pitch is the crux involving a delicate climb above the belay and an exposed step rightwards around the corner toward a quartz vein. The exposure is immense and a fall would be less than ideal, but the climbing is amazing.
Sarcophagus – Hard Very Severe (HVS)
The next route contains arguably one of the best pitches of climbing in Ireland at it’s grade.
Sarcophagus is an outstanding 4 pitch route with a nice first pitch that is adequately protected.
The second pitch hints at what is to come as you climb out of a corner with an awkward sloping final move. The protection is good but the climbing physical. Occasionally there is climbing-tat at this belay stance, be super cautious when using in-situ-tat!
The third pitch is an absolute classic starting on a large ledge the corner invites you in as it progressively becomes more challenging, technical and demanding. The protection is excellent but it is easy to become chronically pumped while placing it.
The forth pitch has an adventurous feel to it and starts from a wild belay position
The protection is generally good, the belay stances superb and the climbing is just brilliant.
It is advisable that Sarcophagus is not your first venture into the HVS grade as the engagement is consistent till the top. A route you will remember!
There are a host of other top quality routes on the main face that provide engaging, exciting, technical climbing mostly following crack systems.
Spillikin Ridge – Extreme 3 (E3)
If one is operating at the E3 grade then the classic Spillikin Ridge should absolutely be on you wish list. The start is the same as for Sarcophagus and then follows Fanfare to a good belay directly below Spillikin Arete. The fun starts on the crux pitch as you set off making considered, delicate moves below the first bulge and arrange protection for what is to come.
Negotiate the first bulge which is considered the crux and a crack system will bring you to the next smaller bulge. Surmount this and travers the quartz line before making the final exposed moves onto the arete.
An absolute Irish classic.
Forest Ledge – Classic Single Pitch Routes
Moving over to the East Wing, a host of 3 star single pitch routes are worthy of your attention. Forest Ledge is reached by one or two pitches of the multipitch Forest Rhapsody.
Forest Ledge is spacious and a fantastic place to spend a full day climbing. The routes are all different, exciting, athletic, thoughtful and mainly follow crack systems.
Jackey, Celia and Aisling Arete are all superb VS routes involving technical, delicate crack climbing.
Ifreann Direct at HVS is a brilliant route starting off with a finger crack that demands one’s attention, strength and skill.
Concrete Wallflower at E1 is engaging from the word go! Thin moves at the start demand concentration, good footwork and commitment as the climbing is thin and the protection awkward to place. A must do route if comfortable at the grade but definitely not a candidate for your first E1!
Setanta at E1, starts from the ground a few meters east of Forest Rhapsody is an interesting route. The climbing in delicate, thoughtful an demands respect.
The Upper Cliff – Adventurous
The Upper Cliffs see little attention due to the high quality of the clean granite on the other main areas, but mostly because the access is involved and at times exposed.
There are a plethora of routes of the highest quality mostly involving following crack systems and corners. The biggest issue is that the crack systems are usually full of dirt and grass.
Several routes that if clean would be among the best in Glendalough include, Lifeline, Cornish Rhapsody, Freebird, Cúchulainn Groove and High Exposure.
It is worth noting that there are birds of prey nesting on the upper cliffs most years, therefore best to avoid during nesting season.
Resources – Glendalough Valley
HikeandClimb has produced Ireland’s first 360 degrees rock climbing guide, Glendalough Valley. The guide is free and interactive.
The Mountaineering Ireland guidebook ‘Wicklow – Rock Climbing Guide‘ has all the route descriptions and topos available. This can be purchased from Mountaineering Ireland or through all reputable outdoor stores.
The site climbing.ie has a vast amount of information including topos, descriptions and additional info.
For those not interested in roped shenanigans, Glendalough has some of the best bouldering in Ireland and Dave Flanagan’s superb book ‘Bouldering in Ireland‘ is also available from all good outdoor stores and on-line.
On a practical note:
Gear: Glendalough takes lots of nuts, cams, hexes and the odd tri-cam.
Recommended are a set of nuts doubled up on the popular sizes – one set of cams with a few extra size 1,2,3 – 12 – 15 trad quickdraws – several extenders using 120cm slings- three 120cm slings and one 240cm sling – 3 spare carabiners and of course your personal climbing gear including a prussic.
Ropes: 60m half ropes are generally best, but a single 60m can be used at the single pitch crags. Most of the abseils will require two 60m ropes joined.
Abseiling: Getting off the tops of the most of the routes requires solid abseiling skills. As always treat any in-situ anchors as you should all anchors, give them a good test, understand why you can or can’t trust them and if in doubt, back them up. Always put knots in the ends of your ropes.
Word of Caution: When abseiling off the top of the main face with 60m half ropes be aware that all ropes have different levels of stretch, therefore your ropes may not touch the ground! It may be necessary to trend leftwards at the bottom to reach the ground. Always put knots in the rope ends.
Access: Park in the Glendalough Upper car park and walk 30mins into the crag. Be aware that the car park closes at different times depending on time of year! The car park costs €4 and if there is no one attending the barrier, the machine only takes €2, €1 and 50c coins.
Anchors: Most of the routes in Glendalough require a broad traditional climbing skill set as often times the anchors are built from placing protection using natural features. There are no bolted anchors in Glendalough. Occasionally there is climbing-tat or in-situ anchors, treat them with extreme caution – inspect them thoroughly and back them up if required.
Clothing: On a fine day with little winds climbing in Glendalough can be a glorious experience. However, it is a mountain crag and wind-chill does play a role therefore ignore this at your discomfort. Conversely, during the Summer with little winds the main face can become a boiling cauldron. Many a party has been roasted while on the multipitch routes and did not bring enough water.
Place to stay: Laragh and Glendalough has many options for accommodation – from the Irish Mountaineering Club Hut to the Glendalough Hostel to the Glendalough Hotel and a host of B&B’s. Be warned that during busy Summer months it may be difficult to find accommodation. There is no wild camping allowed in Glendalough National Park.
Hints and Tips: Some of the single pitch routes in Glendalough are obvious but good route finding is required for some of the multipitch routes.
A solid communication strategy should be discussed if there is any wind as communicating from the top can be impossible!
There are lots of goats and deer in the area of the main face, therefore there are lots of ticks during the season.
It is advised to be cautious and carry out a self check when at home in the shower.
When to visit: Rock Climbing in Glendalough is available all year – Jan / Feb tends to be quite wet and not appealing, but even during this time it is possible to steal a beautiful day at the crag.
Happy Climbing and stay safe.
Rock Climbing can be a dangerous activity resulting in personal injury or death. Anyone reading this blog should be aware of this and are responsible for their own actions and involvement.