When one hears the name Inis Mór, thoughts turn to beautiful limestone cliffs, a warm local culture, Tedfest, Dún Aonghasa, cycling quiet roads and pints of Guinness.
For those interested in climbing, Inis Mór has historically being a niche venue for bold and hard traditional climbing but in recent times sports climbing has been developed by local and visiting climbers. Due to an excellent guide by Colm Shannon, a video by Team BMC and spectacular pictures appearing on Instagram most Irish climbers will have heard of Inis Mór but not ventured out.
This first time visitors guide is in no way a replacement for the excellent climbing guide as it contains no topos, but rather a selection of practical observations from someone that has visited many times over recent years.
Inis Mór has been on the periphery of Irish climbing since the mid 80’s, visited by Crispin Waddy and fellow connoisseurs of bold adventurous trad. A smattering of striking liner lines were established between the grades of E2 to E5/6.
In subsequent years more development occurred, mostly by visiting climbers, climbing similarly bold trad lines culminating in 100+ established routes.
In 2014 Ricky Bell, Gaz Parry and friends ventured out to Inis Mór to explore the potential for new routes and came away inspired by the beauty of venue, the improbable potential and quality of the compact limestone. Since then local climbers and visiting climbers have established 70 sport routes and a number of closed/open projects.
The routes vary from 5a to 8b/+ split between two sectors, Pointe Fiáin and Aill an Ára Thiar.
When visiting a new climbing location for the first time the bulk of the questions can be split between two variables – the logistics and the climbing specifics.
Let’s start with the logistics.
The majority of climbers visiting tend to use the camp site, which has excellent facilities and a big kitchen. There is strictly no wild camping at the top of the crags, those doing so may jeopardise continued access.
There is a well stocked shop for all food supplies at Spar and a couple of pubs offering good food and Guinness.
If you have forgotten chalk ‘The Man Of Aran Coffee and Crafts’ located across the road from the Bar pub has stock.
It is mandatory to stop and buy yummy fudge from the Man of Aran located beside the Bay View Restaurant.
If taking a rest day consider hiring a bike and venturing Westwards along the beautiful quite roads.
Regarding the climbing season we found April to September is the best time to visit for more reliable conditions.
We mostly choose 3 days trips and found it works well to arrive early on day one, climb out little hearts out. Have a full days climbing on day two and leave in the evening on the third day.
We have however done a two day trip and have never regretted it.
From seven visits in 2022 we were only rained off once, but missed a few climbing days due to seepage. While limestone dries quite quickly with a little wind, there can be quite bad seepage several days after heavy rain.
We also found that with direct sunlight the seepage dried up nicely, but once the cliff comes into the shade the seepage can return with a vengeance.
From the camp site to the anchors of Pointe Fiáin takes approx. 40 to 50mins walk.
Access is via a short abseil (7m) using bolted anchors at the top. You can find the location in the guide.
While Inis Mór is being developed as a sports climbing venue it is very much on the adventurous side. A good knowledge of building abseils, and the know how to ascend a rope safely is necessary.
Depending on what time you visit, climbers may have several ropes in place when you arrive. The anchors can only take so many fixed lines. If you use a fixed line that is already in place make sure to treat it with respect, including any rope protectors that are in place.
If using someone’s fixed line, make sure to find them, thank them and ask them when they are leaving as climbing out in the dry is airy (difficult) and climbing out when wet is not a good idea (dangerous).
When we have visited, we used 10mm cordelette to create an anchor using the bolts and several bunnies ears thereby allowing other climbers to fix an independent line. If we left before others, we left the cordelette in place but stripped our fixed line. When leaving the crag before heading home we would strip the cordelette.
The base of Pointe Fiáin is a little different than most sports crags, as it has circular pools of water and areas covered with beautiful green algae. As the cliff is limestone when wet it’s a tad slippy, but step in or near one of the pools and your feet will be air bound!
Walking across the base of the cliff requires caution as any accident would require a complex rescue.
Even after a prolonged dry spell the pools of water can remain at the base of routes. This means if a climber starts up a route and tried to downclimb they may find themselves in a tricky situation. We have found a clip stick essential to protect some of the routes when the base is wet.
We also found an Aldi heavy duty bag is ideal for keeping the rope out of the water.
Wearing a helmet is a personal choice, but I would strongly recommend for climbing on Inis Mór. Generally the rock quality is compact and excellent but we have had two incidents where rock came away from a route. One at Pointe Fiáin and one sizeable lump at Aill an Ára Thiar.
While everyone will have a different perspective on what safe bolting looks like, we found the bolts to be well placed offering just the right amount of excitement. As a short climber I found the start of some of the routes airy, another good reason for a clip stick.
When orientating yourself at the base of the abseil at Pointe Fiáin, understand that the guide for the sector starts at the opposite end of the cliff you are standing on and works back to where you stand. Open the guide and go to the disclaimer at the end then work from there and the routes are in sequence.
While several people have developed this sector, the majority of the routes have been established by Hugh Hennessy providing some of the best climbing at the venue.
Last year Colm started creating excellent topos of the sectors, starting from Aill an Ára Thiar and working back towards Pointe Fiáin. At the writing of this, most of Pointe Fiáin is absent but this will no doubt change in time.
Without topos we found the best method was to walk to the far end, where Rebel Yell is and work back from there as the corners provide good orientation.
Warning, prepare for your jaw to be on the floor when you see the first massive cave to the left of Rebel Yell, it’s absolutely incredible.
For the first time visitor, depending on experience of course, there are two 5a’s and 6 good 6a-6b routes to keep everyone happy. Several of the 6’s are good fun providing thoughtful and excellent climbing.
There are four excellent 6c’s that provide a mixture of thoughtful, acrobatic, technical and brilliant climbing.
For those operating in the 7a range there are several striking lines that stand out and offer a firm challenge in a spectacular situation, check out the picture of Mathieu Maynadier on Piercing Banba in the guide!
Aill an Ára Thiar
If however you are operating in the 7a – 8b range then Aill an Ára Thiar is the place to go.
There are several abseil possibilities for access that can be found in the guide. As the general height of the cliff is 35m to 40m we found a 50m provided enough rope for the anchors and line.
It may be worth brining a few slings and krabs if you want to set up an independent anchor to that offered using the bolts.
While Aill an Ára Thiar has one 6b+ and two 6c’s, the main attraction are the three star 7a – 8a routes.
The three classic 7a (+)’s are a good place to start, Perfect Storm, A New World and Gardners World, all offering exciting technical climbing in brilliant positions.
Pete Robins, visiting climbers and local climbers have added a selection of 2 to 3 star 7b – 7c (+) routes since 2019, offering amazing climbing in wild situations.
Remember, if you intend on jugging out you better leave some bicep gas in the tank!
It goes without saying a strict leave no trace behaviour should be adopted, regardless if it is biodegradable or not.
There are no toilet facilities at the top/bottom of the cliff therefore a thoughtful approach is required. While Inis Mór as a sports climbing venue is in it’s infancy, it will draw more attention and it would be nice if it didn’t stink of crap and urine in the future.
Please do not crap under a stone on top of the cliff as this could lead to tensions between landowners and climbers. If absolutely necessary bring a trowel, dig a small pit and cover it over. Bring a zip lock bag with you and carry all toilet paper out.
At the base of the cliff there is no where to take a poo and please do not pee into the pools as they will stink during the Summer.
Please do not camp at the top of the cliff no matter how tempting it is, and I admit it is tempting as the opportunities are perfect. But access to the cliffs and the cliffs themselves are owned by Islanders, it would take little to loose access.
The local business folks on the Island are acutely aware of what goes on on the Island therefore all climbers visiting should put their best foot forward. Pay for camping, purchasing food on the Island, buy a few beers and let folks know you are there for the climbing and that you appreciate it.
If there are any queries regarding the climbing on Inis Mór, Colm Shannon is the man to chat to. Colm, Hugh and others have put time and effort into developing Inis Mór as a sport climbing venue, please respect the ethics as outlined in the guide.
Rope 50m for Pointe Fiáin
Rope 50m- 70m Aill an Ára Thiar depends on route choice
Draws 12 – 20 depending on route choice
Clipstick – Essential
Helmet – Essential
Abseil Rope – 10m for Pointe Fiáin
Abseil Rope – 50m for Aill an Ára Thiar
Equipment for ascending a fixed line
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.