Glendalough Upper Cliffs & Hobnail Buttress

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Printed guidebook available here


This extensive area of mainly slabby rock, often heavily vegetated, forms the eastern skyline above and to the right of the Twin Buttress. Climbing interest is concentrated in the area between the sweeping whitish slab of Lifeline and the long, clean-cut corner of Cúchulainn Groove. A number of routes here compare with the best on Twin Buttress. Yet, the slabs are relatively featureless and protection can be wanting in places. A spell of good weather may be needed to avoid seepage problems on some routes. Outside the area of interest already referred to, the climbs of the Upper Cliffs are largely neglected. Some routes are worthy of more attention but there are also endurance challenges over heavily vegetated, indifferent rock. A rough path leads up and right from Base Camp at Acorn Buttress, across the top of the boulder field.

Start at the foot of the partly vegetated buttress opposite to and across the broad depression from the Witality slab.
1. 36m Mod. Scramble up the buttress until the angle eases; on the right is a long smooth slab.
2. 30m Mod. Climb the slab to the base of the wall above. Move left to a block belay.
3. 27m Move right and up the slab. Make a delicate move and climb the wall above to a small ledge. Move up left onto a projecting block and pull up onto a large grassy ledge. Climb straight up to another large ledge. Move right to a belay near the base of an overhanging crack. Some dubious holds on the lower part of this pitch.
4. 15m Climb the crack, move right at the top and up to vegetation. Several exits are possible, the easiest is to ascend diagonally right.
F. Winder, S. Rothery, 1/3/1953.

LAND'S END 50m HS (4b)
Start immediately left of the large clean slab at the base of an easy-angled corner and slab.
1. 30m Climb the corner until possible to gain the rib on the right. Up this and continue over a small overhang to a good belay stance.
2. 20m Go around the left-hand corner and onto the wall above the gully. Climb a short wall, regain the rib and move up to a large, sloping ledge. It is possible to escape out left.
G. Bergess, F. Cochrane, 27/5/1961.

See topos of the next 11 routes at page 72

SILENT MOVIE ** 67m E3 (5c,5c)
A hard, uncompromising climb which starts up the left-hand side of the smooth Lifeline slab and some cleaning may be necessary on either of the two pitches. Start 6m left of Lifeline at the lowest point of the slab, beneath a small overhang.
1. 45m Climb up under the overhang, then right and up to a pedestal. Make a thin, rising traverse leftward above the overhang and around the arête to a ledge. Climb the crack in the arête for 10m, then delicately ascend the slab moving first right, then left and back right to gain a faint, white break rising rightward to a peg belay under the great roof.
2. 22m Step right onto a steep slab below a break in the overhang, (small wires). Climb this and the corner above for 6m to a small spike. Make a rising traverse to the left (poor wires) for 6m to reach a good handhold beyond the edge. Step down round the edge to climb a good crack behind a large inverted flake. A 50m abseil from the inverted flake returns one to the base of the route. Escape also possible down to the left via short abseil and careful scramble.
R. Dean, P. Stronach, 20/6/1981.

LIFELINE *** 50m E4 (6a, 5b)
A compelling line up a tenuous fracture in the pristine slab. Sustained, exciting climbing all the way.
1. 30m Start slightly left of the crack. Committing moves gain a dubious rest at the pod. Higher, the thinning crack relents and offers a breather on a ledge to the right. Difficult moves lead to a peg at the overlap. From here, move left and make bold moves up a short corner to a spacious ledge and belay.
2. 20m Follow the obvious diagonal ramp in the slab above the belay. Precarious with no protection. Abseil descent as for Silent Movie.
J. Codling, P. Douglas, M. Manson (2 aid points), 6/4/1980.
H. Hebblethwaite (first free ascent), 16/6/1985.
H. Hebblethwaite, top pitch added in Summer 1994.

DEADLINES *** 40m E4 (6a)
Another thrilling excursion in the Lifeline genre. Takes a diagonal line across the Lifeline slab. Start up the quartz vein of Cornish Rhapsody for 4m. Thin moves lead left to a junction with Lifeline. Some more hard moves allow thin ledges to be gained which can be followed up and left to reach the top left corner of the slab. Continue directly and excitedly up the arête above. Abseil descent as for Silent Movie.
H. Hebblethwaite, J. Gilmore, July 1996.

CORNISH RHAPSODY *** 110m E1 (5a,5b,4a,4a,4a)
The first two pitches constitute a minor masterpiece, full of vibrant quirky character. Best when the ramp on the second slab is dry.
Start on the right-hand side of the big, grey slab at the foot of a quartz vein.
1. 36m Climb the quartz stairs until a shallow groove leads up left beneath the overhang (peg runner). Traverse delicately right and pull up uncomfortably to a grassy ledge and a large block belay.
2. 20m From the top of the block pull boldly onto the wall above. Move up right, then back left and up to gain the legendary ramp. No more than Severe when dry. Tiptoe across this ethereal gangway and belay in a broad scoop at the far end. (Possible abseil; recommended).
3. 18m Climb the slab to the right and move around the corner. Continue up past furze and belay in a crack on the right.
4. 21m Continue up the crack for a few metres, then go diagonally left for 6m, and up steep grass until possible to traverse right to a holly tree under the overhang.
5. 15m Climb up under the right side of the overhang to a chimney, which is followed to the top.
J.H. Deacon, V.N. Stephenson, 11/8/1959.

CORNELLOW 142m VS (3c,4a,4c,3c)
The main difficulties are short-lived and usually damp. Start 3m right of Cornish Rhapsody and just right of the gully forming the edge of the slab.
1. 24m Climb the juggy arête to a grassy ledge below a smooth slab. Peg belay.
2. 9m D. Traverse right across the slab to a peg belay 3m left of an overhanging corner.
3. 21m Climb the slab to the groove and follow this to a ledge; then up a step to a belay.
4. 33m Climb the short, steep corner above (crux) and out right to a gently sloping groove. Continue up over grass and rock to belay in a cave.
5. 10m Traverse right and climb vegetated cracks to blocks.
6. 45m D. Traverse right until 3m left of the top of Cúchulainn Groove. Continue up vegetation to the top.
S.R. Young, D. Ó Murchú (crux aided, A1), 17/6/1973.
B. Davies, S.R. Young, (first free ascent when dry) August 1975.

FREEBIRD ** 109m HVS (5a,4c,4a,4a)
The compelling crack-line near the edge of the left wall of Cúchulainn Groove. Idyllic climbing at a reasonable grade. Abseil advisable after Pitch 2. Start about 6m left of Cúchulainn Groove.
1. 16m Climb the steep crack. Pull out left at the second bulge onto a slab. Climb this to a niche. Swing out right onto a ledge below the main wall. Belay at the base of an obvious crack.
2. 22m Climb the crack to the rotting abseil slings.
3. 35m Move left from a ledge, go around the edge and descend a few metres to a grassy ramp. Move left along this and up vegetation. Continue leftwards to the belay at the top of Pitch 3 of Cornish Rhapsody and finish up the last two pitches of this route. Alternatively a dirty direct finish continues at HVS above Pitch 2. Not recommended.
P. Daly, T. McGurk, 17/6/1979.

BLUE MOON ** 46m E3 (5a,6a)
The thin crack in the centre of the left wall of Cúchulainn Groove. Needs a dry season. As of 2007 the route was unclimbable because of vegetation.
1. 16m Climb the first pitch of Freebird to a ledge and traverse right to reach the base of the crack. Belay.
2. 30m Climb the crack until it tapers to a hair-line. Make crux moves to gain a good hold at the base of the left crack. Climb the twin cracks, (sustained, well protected) until the left crack runs out. Make hard face-moves (5c) diagonally left to reach a slanting break. From here gain a ledge above.
R. Fenlon, A. Fenlon, May 1986.

Follows the huge, clean-cut corner groove, one of the most striking features of the Upper Cliffs. The large crack, often wet, is better suited to the stout footwear of olden days than modern high-friction rubber. A true classic, not to be missed. Approach via a grassy ramp to the right.
1. 15m Climb the steep groove to a good ledge at 15m.
2. 30m Continue in the crack until it is possible to move right and up easier ledges to trees. Abseil off (recommended) or climb above the trees and move right behind the large detached block. From here follow the top pitch of Alien's Way, HS, or continue traversing right and climb the slab by easier cracks.
P. Kenny, F. Winder, 7/8/1950.

ALIEN'S WAY 62m VS (4b,4c,4b)
Takes a crack on the upper part of the rib right of Cúchulainn Groove. Start 9m right of the groove.
1. 12m Just right of the corner climb up grass to an overhang with a ledge on the right. Up a strenuous little V chimney above to a stance.
2. 15m D. Pull awkwardly onto the heather above and move diagonally right to a large recess with three holly trees.
3. 18m Climb the corner past the top holly tree until a big overhang is reached. Cross it via the horizontal crack and continue up the clean crack above. After 6m move left to a large flake belay on the edge of the rib.
4. 17m Move back into the crack and surmount the overhang. A few metres higher is a stance by a huge flake pointing into the groove. Climb the arête above via the thin flake on the edge. Climb heather to a stance. Follow heather to the left across the top of Cúchulainn Groove to finish.
N. Drasdo, H. Drasdo, 21/4/1954.
Variation: Native's Way 30m (4b)
3a. From the belay move right around the corner and continue along a very narrow and airy ledge on the face. When this fades out move up a short crack and hand traverse right under the overhang until it is possible to pull onto the slabs above. Climb a short wall and then move up left until the flake at the top of Pitch 4 is reached.
3b. 30m Move left to a narrow chimney between a huge flake (the right-hand wall of Cúchulainn Groove), and the vertical wall of the ridge. Climb the outside of this chimney. At 6m move left, mantelshelf, and continue up easy rocks until possible to move right behind the large flake on the right at the top of Pitch 4. Approximately 40m right of Cúchulainn Groove there is a buttress with a long wall capped by two nose-like overhangs. The next two routes follow obvious crack-lines on the buttress.

Follows the wide, clean crack running directly up the face of the buttress. Obstructive vegetation higher up. Bring jumbo Friends and hexes.
1. 36m Climb the crack on the left. Move right to the base of the offwidth. Climb this past a difficult bulge (crux). Finish up a short wall above the crack to a grassy ledge.
2. 9m Move left around the overhang and join Little Eiger.
3. 15m Climb Little Eiger to the heathery slopes and the top.
E. Goulding, D. Moloney, P. Higgins, 7/8/1962.

A diagonal crack crossing Fissure MacUalgairg. Very vegetated.
1. Take the crack above the holly tree, traversing in from the right and climb to an easier crack running up the slab to a flake belay.
2. Traverse up under the overhang on the left. At the tree step back right to a ledge and trees (crux).
3. Traverse right and up a grass slope, passing under a large overhang at the far end. Up a crack a few metres, then step left to an earthy ledge and then left across a slab. Belay.
4. Escape around to the left and zigzag up a grass slope to finish above Cúchulainn Groove.
R. Wathen, B. Madden, 8/4/1958.

THE SCRAMBLE 100m S (4a)
A discontinuous and highly vegetated route, Pitch 1 is severe, the other pitches are easier and innumerable variations are possible.
Start to the right of the long wall on which Alien' Way is situated there is a steep wide gully. Beyond this there is a grassy ramp that trends diagonally up the cliff. Follow the ramp until it passes under a small overhang.
1. 14m (S). Climb the slab from right to left until the overhang is reached. use a crack to pull over this and climb the chimney above to a stance and belay beside a huge flake.
2. 27m Climb the left edge on the wall above until a traverse right to a cave is possible. Climb through this onto the ridge above. Stance and possible belay. Scramble along the ridge until the steeper vegetation is reached. Tree belay.
3. 13m Climb one of the grooves leading to dense vegetation, struggle through this to the base of a chimney behind a large flake.
4. 22m Avoid the overhang on the right by moving up vegetation and left to a slab. Climb this from right to left and make a slightly delicate exit at the top.
5. 24m Climb the chimney, at the top traverse left a few metres and up vegetation to a stance behind a large flake.
Variation 2a. 18m Move right from the belay and ascend the flake. From the top pull up a short wall, and move up among the blocks to a stance and belay.

HOME GROWERS 43m VS (4c,4b)
High on the cliffs, beyond Cúchulainn Groove, there is a clean section of rock about 45m in height and 30m long. The route takes an obvious line up this section. Start at the lowest point of the buttress left of a small overhang. It is possible to scramble up to start but abseil approach is recommended.
1. 27m Climb the crack (thin at first) past an overhang on the left and continue up to another overhang. Step left and up the crack to a grassy ledge. Go diagonally left to a holly tree at the foot of a small corner.
2. 16m Climb the corner above to the top.
E. Goulding, J. Heffernan, May 1977.

Take a line close to the exposed arête on the large steep slab above and to the right of Home Growers. Descend by abseil to the base of the slab, near its left edge. Follow the fine cracks directly to the top. The climbing is delicate but well protected in a wild position of great exposure.
J. Lyons, J. Stark, 9/9/1990.

MARATHON 190m S (4a)
This vegetated endurance test ascends the discontinuous region of the Upper Cliffs by about the longest direct line. To reach the start move diagonally up left from the most westerly of the mine dumps over boulder-strewn ground to the lowest point of the cliffs.

XANTHOS 34m VS (4c)
Takes the prominent Cúchulainn-like groove near the top of the right-hand section of the Upper Cliffs above pitch 10 of Marathon. Abseil in from a spike on the east side of the groove to a grassy ledge at the start.
Climb the groove via the wide crack in the back until the overhang is reached. Surmount this and climb the corner with a narrow crack to a sloping ledge. Continue up the groove to the overhang. Move left and over to exit onto heather.
T. Wolfe, S.R. Young, 13/9/1975.


This is the small crag below the right-hand end of the Upper Cliffs. It comes into view just after passing the Upper Lake. Zigzag up an old mining track just after the forestry plantation. The climbs, in general, are short and relatively easy but interesting and enjoyable nevertheless.

See topos of Hobnail Buttress routes at page 86

WOODSIDE 13m VS (4c)
Start on the upper left-hand side of the buttress, left of a large holly. Climb a series of short cracks and awkward ledges left of the holly trees directly to the top.
M. McSherry, J. Lyons, 15/5/1992.

PYRAMID ROUTE ** 30m HS (3c,4a)
Start on the left flank of the buttress around the western corner. A crack runs up to a little overhang directly under the pyramid.
1. 18m Climb the crack and continue straight up for 10m. Move left to gain the base of the Pyramid - a huge perched block with a crack running up its left side. Climb this crack to a stance near its top.
2. 12m From the top of the Pyramid make a committing move across a void to gain the wall behind (crux). Climb the overlap and finish up on quartzy holds.
Unknown party, 1949.

Follow Pyramid Route to below the Pyramid. Surmount the left-hand block below the wide, vertical crack. Climb the crack.
D. Ó Murchú, J.A.C. Breen, J. Butler, 5/4/1972.

MUGGER 39m S (4a)
Start at the bottom left edge of the buttress directly below the long overhang of the Pyramid block.
1. 20m Climb the left edge of the buttress to this overhanging block.
2. 19m Climb the south face of the Pyramid block and step across to the overhanging wall. Traverse left to a block below a wide crack. Climb the crack to the top.
S. Darby, J. Butler, D. Ó Murchú, 13/5/1972.

Start just right of Mugger.
1. Climb the slab above, trending diagonally rightwards towards a small overhang split by a niche. Belay on the right side of the overhang.
2. Take the overhang on the right or by way of the niche (harder). Continue left towards the base of pyramid block. Escape is possible here or:
Variation 10m, HS 4b: Climb right, towards a flake and a large right-trending crack 5m below a holly tree. Traverse right along the wide crack to a grassy ledge and finish up the wide crack of Hobnail Chimney.
M.P. Smith, J.R. Evans 26/08/2002.

HOBNAIL CHIMNEY * 33m HS (3c,4b)
Start at the bottom centre of the buttress at the base of a narrow undercut slab bound by an edge on its left side.
1. 14m Gain the slab from the left and follow its left edge to the foot of a short chimney and a stance beneath a square-cut overhang.
2. 19m Climb the chimney past a sound chockstone to a spacious ledge. Climb the wide crack above, entering it from the left.
F. Winder, P. Crean, 28/12/1948.

Start as for Hobnail Chimney.
1. 23m Climb the left edge of the slab to a wall. Climb the wall via a corner and move right. Climb the overhang via a steep crack and continue up to the wide ledge of Hobnail Chimney.
2. 10m Traverse left on an obvious flake. Climb the left edge of the slab and traverse right under the holly tree past a rocking block to exit.
D. Ó Murchú, J.A.C. Breen, J. Butler, 5/4/1972.

Start up the slab 1m right of Slag via a right-hand corner.
1. 23m Move out onto the slab (crux) and traverse right to another right-hand corner. Climb to the top of the slab through some interesting vegetation and up the twin cracks to a small ledge. The wide and easy crack above leads to the belay shared with Slag.
2. 8m Climb the wall on its right-hand side (crux), to belay once more in cohabitation with Slag.
J.A.C. Breen, J. Hobbs, August 1991. A crack in the centre of Hobnail is home to several holly trees. The next route starts a couple of metres right of these.

1. 23m Start below and right of the handsome crack in the main slab in which a pine tree once grew. Scramble up a crack to a heathery ledge. Move right, up a left trending corner and step left into the base of the crack. Follow it to a wide terrace. Climb the wall above to the left of some ivy to belay in a recess.
2. 7m Cross boulders to reach a crack on the right side of a sloping boulder below the ivied wall. Traverse left across the top and climb the corner-crack above to belay below the next wall.
3. 10m Climb the wide crack, lay-backing from the left, and continue to the top. Alternatively climb the wall to the right of the crack, and use the fine crack that slopes to the left to reach the wide crack. This increases the grade to HS.
J.A.C. Breen, J. Hobbs, August 1991.
Variation: 1a VS(4c) From the heathery ledge move up and left onto the slab at the bottom of a thin straight crack which slopes up right towards the top of the crack which once was home to a pine tree. Follow this through an overlap. As the crack bottoms out on it's mid section, the wider Pine Tree Crack to the right may prove useful. G. Galligan, 11 July 2010

1. 20m Start up a series of slabs, to the right of Pine Tree Cracks, towards the cantilevered rock stuck in a recess above and continue up the vegetated corner to belay in the recess.
A more direct start up the slabs is Severe.
2. 17m Leaving the recess by its right-hand side, climb the large boulder and wall to the right of the ivy. Belay on a large
crack in the rear wall.
J.A.C. Breen, J. Hobbs, August 1991.

The next three climbs are found on the upper part of the buttress, above and right of the tops of climbs 108 to 115 and left of the top pitches of Pine Tree Cracks.

118. HOBNAIL SLABS 13m HVS (5a)
Start on the left-hand side of the buttress and climb a series of steepening slabs going slightly left and finishing at the apex forming the highest point of the face.
J. Lyons, M. McSherry, 17/5/1992.

Start on the left front face of the buttress at a steep crack. Climb the crack (crux) for 5 - 6 m, move across left and over a bulge, climbing generally up the left edge to the top.
J. Price, C. Bauer (previously top-roped), November 1983.

120. HOBNAIL CRACKS 15m HVS (5b)
Climb the crack as for Hobnail Groove and follow the continuation cracks, going slightly right to the top.
J. Lyons, M. McSherry, 17/5/1992.

A pleasant excursion up a long, broken rock rib. Start well to the right of Hobnail Buttress at the bottom left-hand side of the rib.
1. 40m Gain the face on the left and make a thin traverse to a slanting crack (crux). Use this to gain the crest of the rib.
Climb up blocks with a tricky step up left of the holly. Cross broken ground to belay at a block.
2. 45m V. Diff Move out left and climb a thin broken rock rib and continue up to large blocks. Scramble up the blocks with a nice finish up the left edge of the final block.
J. Lyons, S. O Hanlon, 16/5/2004.

A scramble located on a buttress about 250m right of Hobnail Buttress. It takes a quartz chimney (crux) to a heather terrace; wander up the slabs and finish over the piled boulders.

The face to the left of the quartz rock of the Gealaras chimney. Pull up strenuously on steep rock. Work up to a block slightly to the right. A cosy arm and shoulder jam begins the balancy traverse out left. Keep going delicately to the top. Belay in the deep crack. Worth a look.
Eoin O'Sullivan, Conor Burns, 18th April 1999.

New Routes

"Deviation" may be "Vortex" which was badly described in the old guidebook. Comment or removal welcome.
Deviation HVS 5b
Essentially a variation on "Vortex". Climb "Acorn Crack" as far as the jammed chockstone and step out right onto the vertical wall - reaching for a fingery ledge and mini-jug situated above the left of two thin parallel cracks (crux) A quick sling over the mini-jug will prevent a potentially hazardous fall. A semi-dynamic move from here gains another good hold and the large ledge above. Cross over the chimney of "Inferno" and finish as for "Vortex".
C. Mogensen, P. Carolan. 18. Oct. 2008.

"Patash may be the variation described in "Provo" Comment or removal welcome.
Patash HS 4b
Takes the thin crack between "Provo" and "Facilis Descensus" - finishing to the left of the block at the top.
P. Carolan, C. Mogensen 18. Oct. 2008.