Glendalough – A Rock Climbers Guide

A practical guide for the first time visitor

Glendalough 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 is a must visit venue for anyone that wants to experience rock climbing in Ireland.

Rock Climbing Glendalough

Glendalough rock climbing is broken up into several crags comprising of traditional single pitch and multipitch climbing. Glendalough is strictly a ‘trad’ 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.

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The first question is where to start? For the first time visitor I would suggest it depends on experience and ropes / equipment available. 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.

Glendalough Rock Climbing

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.  The approach is not so straight forward with exposed scrambling adjacent to a gully that runs around the corner of the West Wing – caution is advised on approach.

Expectancy (VD) is an excellent crack line and introduction to the slab with several climbs to the left and right also well worth doing – Adam’s Rib (HS) and Lassitude (VS).

The anchor set up requires a working knowledge of setting up traditional protection and good decision making to enable safe belaying of a following partner or abseiling off. 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.

The descent from the base of Expectancy Slab is down the same scrambling approach and accidents have occurred on descent. The options for descent are:

  1. Scramble down the same way you made the approach
  2. Set up an abseil at the top of Expectancy Slab and abseil past the scrambling difficulties (make sure ends touch the ground and be aware of rope rubbing on edges!)

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 climbing is varied, challenging, exciting and the situation is fantastic. 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.

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 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.

The classic first  multipitch routes that most consider is Quartz Gully (HS), consisting of 2 or 3 pitches of climbing. The best pitch being the second pitch with a superb crux and good protection.

The next uber classic in Glendalough is Prelude Nightmare (VS), covering 4 pitches of lovely climbing with the final pitch, starting from an ‘out-there’ belay (Nightmare Ledge) being the jewel in the crown. The climbing is varied, interesting and the route finding challenging for the first time visitor. A Classic.

The next route is arguably one of the best in Ireland at it’s grade.

Sarcophagus is an outstanding 4 pitch route with a scrappy fist pitch followed by 3 brilliant corner pitches involving acrobatic and thoughtful climbing. The crux 3rd pitch is one of the best pitches of climbing in Ireland.

The protection is 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 worthy of attention. It is also possible to link multiple routes together.

If one is operating at the E3 grade then the classic Spillikin Ridge should absolutely be on the list. The start is the same as for Sarcophagus with a break to the right of the Sarcophagus 2nd belay.

The climbing is initially well protected before moving over the 1st bulge (crux) and onto the uber exposed ridge where a delicate dance begins!

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Moving over to the East Wing a host of 3 star single pitch routes starting from Forest Ledge are worthy of 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 and provide the opportunity for good protection and athletic thoughtful climbing.

Jackey, Celia, Aisling Arete and Lethe are all superb VS routes – each with totally different climbing.

Ifreann Direct at HVS is also a brilliant route starting off with a finger crack that demands one’s attention and skill.

Concrete Wallflower (E1) also starts from the ledge and is engaging from the word go! Thin moves demands concentration and good footwork but eased up slightly a few meters up, small wires are required and a non-faff attitude. A must do route if comfortable at the grade (definitely not a candidate for your first E1).

Setanta (E1) starting from the ground a few meters east of Forest Rhapsody is also a must do route at the grade. The climbing in delicate, thoughtful and again demands respect – first freed in 1974!

Rock Climbing Ireland

The Upper Cliffs contain superb routes that are somewhat neglected but of the highest quality. The main reason for the neglect is that access is not always easy, the routes are often over-grown and getting off the tops of the routes can be tricky.

Regardless, those with the required skill set and an appetite for adventure should not over look this area as you may be rewarded.

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.

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.

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On a practical note:

Gear: Glendalough takes lots of nuts, cams, hexes and the odd tri-cam. One good set of nuts (doubled up on the popular sizes), one set of cams, trad quickdraws, extenders and a few slings / krabs and of course your personal climbing gear (belay / prussic..etc). 

Ropes: 60m half ropes are generally best, but a single 60m can be used at the single pitch crags.

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 / can’t trust them and if in doubt then 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.

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!

Anchors: Most of the routes in Glendalough require a broad traditional climbing skill set as often times the anchors are built from protection. There are no bolted anchors in Glendalough. 

Clothing: On a fine day with little winds climbing in Glendalough can be a glorious experience. However, it is a mountain crag and windchill does play a role therefore ignore this at your discomfort. 

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. There are lots of goats and deer in the area of the main face therefore there are lots of ticks during the season – 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. 

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.