Tag Archives: wicklow climbing

A Conversation With David Flanagan

As regular or recent readers will know, i recently went to Ireland for a trip to the Wicklow mountains and was a little scathing about the guidebook.

Well, a comment appeared underneath the post from a Mr David Flanagan, author of said guidebook. He was, let us say, less than impressed by my review.

That is totally understandable; guidebooks don’t make the authors much money and are a labour of love so having some random internet guy write horrid things about it online can’t have been pleasant.

Thankfully for us both, David has been very understanding and we’ve been chatting via email about my post, the guidebook and his thoughts and explanations. I said in the comments, i’m genuinely grateful to get called up on my post and for him to get in touch. He’s been very open to conversation and we’ve been talking it through. So here are some of the reflections since we’ve started talking:

Areas covered

Firstly, a mistake i made with my review: we only went to Glendalough. We didn’t travel to any of the other areas – and i’ll talk more about this in a minute – and certainly didn’t make it to the North, South or West of Ireland. So to judge the whole guidebook based on my experience in Wicklow, nay Glendalough alone, was unfair.

So all of my previous comments related purely to this one crag. As such, i apologise for this mistake. In due course, i’m hoping to explore a little more but until that point, i need to remember to specify.

Maps in the guide

This is the point where David had the most trouble and something we’ve since talked about quite a bit. I have argued that there is a gap in the mapping – with a large scale overview and a very small scale map to get from the parking – and that there should be one in between.

His counter to this: “I think that to find any area would be pretty straightforward on a gps enabled phone” and he has also suggested, “A good road atlas is worth getting. Probably don’t need the OS maps unless you are exploring new areas”.

While i completely understand, i still feel a map with a scale in between the two on offer would pay dividends and it is something that most guides do offer. This is the point where we seem to disagree and that’s fine, we’re entitled to our individual opinions. There are some map-related retractions from my posts and they can be seen below.

Problem descriptions and Photo Topos

Here we get a bit more subtle and into the minutiae of the guide. Again, much as with my first point, it is important to remember this all stems from the relatively small number of problems i encountered; 12 pages out of 230. As such, for me to offer an opinion on Ireland as a whole was unjust and i apologise.

We discussed the problems i had tried and struggled with and some of the issues i’d had and again, to his credit, David listened and accepted what i had said; for example about the back of the Big Jane boulder. Likewise for BBE he agreed that commenting that the rock plinth was in would be worthwhile.

There may be a third edition on it’s way so these subtle differences could well be included.

For me to say, “photo topos for boulders are scant” is harsh and not the case. There are boulders that could do with more attention, as mentioned above, but there are plenty of photo topos in the guide.

Grades

Grades are always a contentious issue and this is a conversation we did have but one that didn’t interest David that much. You’ll always get this, where someone disagrees strongly with the area’s grading but to use three days of bouldering to come out with the comment, “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong” is misguided and with my experience – especially when i then use that to back up the comment – i should’ve known better.

I maintain the grades in this area lack consistency and could do with some outside influence but there is scope for that online in the form of online logbooks and there are not many opinions on problems. Until Ireland and specifically Glendalough attain more international attention, this will be an issue for travelling climbers. Even then, i am willing to concede that i may be wrong.

This is not uncommon. I’ve been to places both famous and not and this is always an issue. It’s normally worse for locals who can debate the intricate details of each problem for a much longer time. As for Glendalough, i still don’t think it’s perfect and i still think Andy’s Arete should be 7a but that is one area in a whole country and my comment, “the grades in Glendalough are shit” was uncalled for.

Overall

Anyone who writes for the public – journalists, essayists, bloggers, forum users, anyone with a social media account including twitter and facebook among the myriad of others – should be held to account for the comments they make. With the advent of the internet and the ease with which we are able to make public statements to be heard by the masses, the more extreme comments can come to the fore much more easily.

I have often dismissed comments of this nature by others as “keyboard warriors” who don’t really care or think about the consequences of their words. This episode has highlighted to me how easy it is to drift into that state of mind without realising.

I’ve been lucky: the guy i slated has had the strength of character not only to call me on it but to discuss it like a professional and i hope i’ve conducted myself in a similar fashion. I can only apologise for making rash comments. A friend said to me, when talking about penning this post, that when he read the originals, he thought i’d get hate mail and to be honest, in hindsight, he might have been right.

I have left the original posts unedited deliberately. As with print media, once you have said something, it is said and i don’t want to tamper with it to try and make myself look less culpable. However, i have posted an addendum onto the post to point people in the direction of my retraction.

As for the guide, it is not, as per my original judgement, a “crap guidebook”. Yes, i’ve used better but i’ve also used much worse and we were able to find the crags i was most interested in and plenty of problems to climb. Yes, the maps don’t live up to my high expectations but they do work, in conjunction with another road map as eluded to in the opening chapters. To pass such harsh judgment based on Glendalough alone was simply wrong and i should’ve been more specific.

The most important point is this: don’t let my review put you off going. The climbing in Glendalough is worth the trip alone and i’m sure some of the other crags in the area are similarly excellent. The guidebook, as new editions emerge, is becoming better all the time and got us to and around the crag with ease.

If i did go back, would i want the guidebook with me? Absolutely and i think that says it all.

Some Retractions

The following are comments from my two original posts that David highlighted that i wish to retract.

  • “it is massively lacking as even a half decent guidebook”. This is harsh and untrue.
  • “There are practically no maps, photo topos for boulders are scant and the descriptions for the problems that aren’t photographed are often useless”. There are maps, as discussed above, there are several photo topos and often descriptions are perfectly suitable. If there are individual problems with routes you find, the guidebook author is amenable to feedback.
  • “try and find anywhere less obvious – like every single other crag in the area – and the guide lacks even the slightest bit of quality”. I didn’t actually try to find places, we relied on climbing at Glendalough and so this comment was unjust.
  • “i would suggest that even at this wonderfully accessible location, i would’ve really struggled to find anything”. In hindsight, we did find the crag and several problems without help and locals generally gave more specific information on individual problems.
  • “the crap guidebook didn’t actually show us where any other crags are”. It does, you just need to try a little bit. I was being lazy and this comment is not based on any evidence.
  • “the grades in Glendalough are shit”. A snap judgement, possibly born out of frustration at my own performance, that wasn’t backed up by attempting enough climbs. A lesson not to judge grades by one’s own performance over a short period of time.
  • “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong”. I did not try enough climbing in Ireland to make this statement.

Once again, many thanks to David Flanagan for taking the time to discuss this with me.

A Slightly Less Ranty Post About Irish Tourism and Bouldering

Firstly, apologies for the ranting in my previous post. Some aspects of the trip did annoy and frustrate me, considering my background and expertise but that doesn’t mean i want to inflict that on my good readers. So, here’s a photo of me, Tess and my daughter looking super cute in the tent two days after my birthday, chilling to the Jungle Book soundtrack:

Now that we’ve brightened the mood, back to the activites of last week. As i’ve said, it wasn’t just a climbing trip this one, with family time being just as imortant and with that in mind, the Sunday was to be spent doing just that. The problem was we didn’t really know what family time should involve around the mountains of Wicklow…

After a morning of mild indecision, eventually we did head out, dropping in to the “market” in Roundwood – actually just a handful of old ladies with cakes and plants for sale in the local Church hall – before heading North. The plan was to head into Bray, to try and find an outdoor shop and buy gas, before grabbing something to eat and seeing where the wind took us. Little did we realise that it was Sunday in a very Catholic country.

Everything was closed, much as the same way as i’ve experienced around Europe in the past. A quick search online showed our intent to buy gas was doomed from the start and tensions started to fray as the day ticked on and we hadn’t actually done anything. We drove along the coast but were stymied by the roofbox and the added height and it began to look like we’d not achieve anything when unexpectedly, we found ourselves at the Great Sugar Loaf.

An obvious tourist trap – born out of the fact it’s visible for miles around – The Great Sugar Loaf is one of those unique mountains/hills that sits isolated from everywhere around it. At 501m above sea level, and with the road and car park eliminating quite a chunk of that ascent, it’s not really a tough walk, even considering the scrambly gully. It was a nice little wander and the view at the top was outstanding! We could see over Dublin, across to the Wicklow mountains and right across County Wicklow. Busy with people – and you could certainly understand why on such a nice day – it was a great little find and meant we headed back to the campsite after a successful Sunday after all.

Monday came and to my surprise, i was treated to another climbing day. I say surprise as to be honest, i didn’t think we’d get another one in but Em did a sterling effort in dragging us out quickly and efficiently, proving it is possible, and the poor forecast turned out to be a false one.

Yet again, we headed up the valley in Glendalough; partly because the crap guidebook didn’t actually show us where any other crags are but mainly because i had unfinished business on Andy’s Arete. At the car, we loaded up and i was keen to test out getting me, Rosie and all of our stuff in to the crag ready for Baby leave this summer. So, i saddled up with the Petzl pad on my back, my climbing bag and changing bag hanging off the back and a baby strapped to my front.

The problem was that i couldn’t get the waistband up properly so all the weight was pulling down hard on my shoulders. As a consequence, i was leaning forward quite a bit. That meant that little Rosie’s head drooped quite badly and then needed supporting by my hand. We got more than our fair share of funny looks on the way in! and i have enormous gratitude to Em for taking the baby and an unladen pad on the way back.

After a quick break to catch my breath and allow myself to stop sweating, i got on some of the boulders close to the path. These are really convenient and indeed meant i could also keep an eye on Rosie and not have to run off on my own. There are also some real gems in there. But then we get onto the subject of grading…

Now i’m aware that i advertised this post as less ranty than the previous but this does need to be said: the grades in Glendalough are shit.

Let me explain. In any area, there is often a disparity in what climbers think is, say, a 7a compared to elsewhere in the world. That’s quite normal and is to be expected but in the Wicklow mountains, it seems this is just that step too far. There were apparently classic 7a climbs there that i couldn’t figure out how to step off the floor (not a problem i usually have) as the holds were simply too poor. That just doesn’t happen on 7a.

On Saturday’s session, it took three attempts to finish off a simple 5 – and that was on the second session. Remember that not last year i climbed 7c+ in North Wales. Yes, i’m off form, and yes, i’ve not long had a baby but a fall from grace this large would only really result from a substantial and debilitating injury. A week before we left, i flashed a 7a+.

Now we're back, I get to regale the story of our trip to #Ireland to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen! Here I am, #hangingout while trying Mark's Problem 7a+ which didn't go. Once back and ticking stuff on my @27cragsofficial logbook, I found out it's actually called Greg's Problem Traverse at 6b+. Always nice to tick something you didn't realise was even there! In #climbing terms, our time in #glendalough didn't quite meet my hopes but what a place! And the #bouldering certainly warrants a return! Thanks @emks93 for the photo and the support during the trip #irishbouldering #irelandbouldering #wicklow #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #sandbag #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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You could make the argument that it’s a very different rock type to back home and you’d be correct, granite is a very different beast. It was when i climbed on granite in Ailefroide in 2005 and 2006, in Val Daone in 2010, in Squamish in 2011, in Zillertal in 2013, Magic Wood in 2012 and again in 2014 and on Dartmoor in 2012. That’s not to mention last year’s Great Swedish Bouldering Tour, mostly on, yup, granite.

I’ve also climbed hard while away. No less than two of my 7c ascents were abroad, as well as several 7b and 7b+ ticks. The point of this isn’t to blow my own trumpet, it is just to offer some evidence to the opinion that the vast majority of these climbs are at least two grades undergraded, compared to almost everywhere else i’ve been.

You could also make the fair point that we were there out of season, at the height of summer at the end of June and you’d be right too but again, bear in mind that all bar two of the places listed above were at exactly the same time of year. No, pure and simple, listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong.

Andy's Arete in #glendalough is one of the best climbs I've tried anywhere, not to mention in #Wicklow. It is immense, and a testament to the #quality of #irishbouldering. It is not 6c. The problems with grading here were huge in all of the climbs I came across and it was something I have gone into depth about (slightly more than I intended) in my latest blog post, link in bio. It shouldn't matter but sadly it does, it puts people off and makes a mockery of the system. And considering how amazing the rock and the #climbing are, it is nothing short of a travesty that needs to be addressed if they ever want to attract people to this wonderful country. #Ireland #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing-pictures-of-instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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It shouldn’t matter but the fact is it does. Grades are a measure of your ability, a way of selecting climbs that are at the level of difficulty that you want to try. When you get shut down on something you should theoretically be able to achieve, it is demoralising and can even put you off an area.

In many ways it was very similar as we trudged over to try Andy’s Arete ss again at 7a+. The bottom section hadn’t proved too bad, just the top to finish off and complete. So after a few tries, i opted to try the stand, mainly to work the upper moves.

I’d snatched for the right hand hold on the arete but not held it and didn’t really know how bad it was to be. Again, based on the grade, i was expecting it to be a pretty decent hold that allowed me to readjust before slapping the top. When i caught it and found out it was worse than the previous hold, i was more than a little surprised. It took the entire rest of the session to get the stand start complete. The grade: 6c.

Now, this really did annoy me, i shouldn’t be struggling like this on a 6c and if it hadn’t been for the conversation with Ryan mentioned in my previous post, i’d be more than likely trudging back in a proper sulk, shocked at being utterly abject compared to my former self.

Now the stand was done, i was keen to finish it from the sit start, the beta wired, although by this point i was conscious of Em beginning to get a bit bored. I did try a few more times, with an eye to her perhaps trying some of the quality lines on the Big Jim boulder but when the spots of rain arrived, i thought the bad weather was gonna hit us and we packed up quick. The stand will have to wait and i’ll have to return. If i didn’t know better, it would be easy just not to bother.

And therein lies the problem for Ireland and the Irish bouldering scene. Couple this latest one with the two issues mentioned in my last post and you just can’t see Ireland becoming a major bouldering destination any time soon. And here was me saying i’m not going to rant… Oops.