Wicklow Winter Climbs
The formation of ice in Wicklow may seem a rarity, however almost every year some form of winter climbing conditions can develop in the hills. Good ice climbing conditions may form on average every 2-3 winters, however short lived (or otherwise) they may be. Due to its easy accessibility the Wicklow mtns do provide some interest to the winter climber. A sustained period (10 days or so) of cold northerly through to easterly weather patterns is sufficient to start freezing groundwater and seepage lines. After this, streams and waterfalls start to freeze up. As a rule of thumb, a week of temps around freezing near sea level is enough to get the freeze cycle started. This, combined with strong winds is a recipe for good climbing. However if it is accompanied by heavy snowfall at the beginning of the cycle, the ground water can remain somewhat insulated in all but the most exposed parts, giving deep snow in the gullies not favorable for climbing. Good freeze thaw cycles can turn this to good neve, however this seems quite rare. The topography of the Wicklow hills provides very good surface run off on the steeper valley sides giving good mixed winter routes of waterfall ice and frozen turf. Routes can form from as low as the 400m contour in Glendalough area (more rare), through to the higher steep slopes of Lugnaquilla (very regulary). Out side of the obvious 'waterfall lines' that have all been climbed regularly, Wicklow offers further scope for the more adventurous type. Mixed routes, where seepage lines, frozen turf and rock come into condition can offer very worthwhile but less obvious adventures. The main areas of interest for winter climbing are Lugnaquillia, Baravore, and Glendalough.
LUGNAQUILLIA - SUMMIT AREA
Because of its height Lugnaquillia is more frequently snow-covered or frost-bound than other areas in Wicklow. The climbs are found on the gullies and buttresses of the North and South Prisons which flank the summit plateau. Often snowfall rapidly fills in the climbing lines covering any ice other than the most exposed parts. sustained periods of freezing temps and wind with little snowfall gives the best climbing conditions. The quickest approach is up the track over Camarahill from the Glen of Imaal, alternatively park at the road head in Glenmalure and walk up Baravore valley.
North Prison The climbs are found above the inner corrie, the outer limit of which is marked by a moraine traversing the valley and within which is located a tiny lake or lochán. Climbers are reminded that the North Prison is within the military artillery range. firing schedules ca be found at Army Range Warden Service, Seskin School, Glen of Imaal, Tel: (045) 404653
MAIN GULLY 200m I From just above the lochán an obvious large gully runs up to the summit plateau. It gives fairly easy but quite steep climbing, at its best when the snow has been consolidated by freeze-thaw action, a rare enough event. To the right of Main Gully there are one or two other gullies which also lead up to the summit plateau.
ICEFALL ROUTE 150m III This is a little to the left of Main Gully and starts from a groove in the rocks. The main difficulties are near the bottom where there is a short near-vertical section which could give one or two anxious moments. The route runs up more easily with some short steps for a few pitches to an avoidable iced-up corner which can give another interesting problem. There is no further water-ice above this point so continue directly up or traverse into Main Gully to finish.
ICESLAB Route 45m III Start 15m down and to the left of the Icefall Route near the left side of slabs. Follow ice smears up past a perched block and finish up a series of short steps. Thread belay. J. Lyons, D. Wall 19/11/1995
MAIN CRAG ROUTE 75m IV This is a mixed route taking the left side of a prominent buttress starting a short distance up the boulder covered slope above the moraine marking the edge of the upper corrie. Its second pitch is hard and bold. J. Lyons, D. Wall, 24/1/95
There are further climbing possibilities both on this crag and on outcrops on the hillside further to the right.
South Prison The South Prison is on the east and southern flank of the summit block and the most direct approach is via the forest tracks of the Ow Valley, starting from Aughavannagh. It can be approached from the west via the col between Slieve Maan and Lugnaquillia and then by traversing in beneath the impressive buttresses and gullies. Alternativly drop down into it from the summit. The South Prison contains three well-defined gullies and the last of these, the furtherest to the right is of most interest to the climber. good pics here http://forum.climbing.ie/index.php/topic,64.165.html
RIGHTHAND GULLY 170m II
This gully sweeps up through an imposing terrain of flanking buttresses in which a streamlet provides ice build-up which can vary from eggshell to solid. There are some icy steps and runnels, interesting without being too challenging. The exit funnel can provide interesting problems.
South Prison, Righthand Gully
the steep wall to the right (as in the photo) offers numerous short steep mixed lines at about grade 5+ or so.
To the left of this a gully with negligible water flow forks after about 50m and either branch may give interesting climbing.. A gully further left again is of slight interest.
Ice climbing conditions may develop at various places in and above the Baravore Valley, also known as the Fraughan Rock Glen. park at Glenmalure road end and walk up. 20-30 mins.
-An ice-smear (Grade II) may be found on the slabs below Great Gully on the cliff-bound north side of the valley. It is possible to finish up Great Gully itself with a short icy exit near the top.
-Great Gully Ridge *** 140m(Grade V) Winter Ascent 20 Jan 2013 Patrick Scanlan,Rowan Cunningham,Liam Brophy,Niall Roche. In the cliffs to the right of Great Gully there are two well-defined long gullies which have been ascended by Ray Morrissey and Paul Kavanagh. The diagonal left-hand gully (Grade IV) has a steep poorly protected section which is the crux. The right-hand gully is steep and narrow but easier at Grade III. Between great gully ridge and these 2 gullies there are 2 long seepage lines that form up in heavy freezes. They probably offer steep grade 5+ mixed climbing.
-Ice may also form on the low-angled slabs which sweep down from the head of the valley just above the cutover forest on its right-hand side.
-Ballinaskea falls. ** (Grade 2/3) as marked on OS sheet 56. a well defined stream that cascades through the right hand end of the north facing bluffs (on the south side of the valley). 3-4 short pitches can be linked to give up to 150m of enjoyable and involved mixed climbing. mostly waterfall ice, with good frozen turf and rock, depending on which line is chosen. escapable at multiple points.
-Approximatly 200m left of Ballinskea falls (the second gully along, and last before rounding corner to Arts Lough) contains an engaging 30m pitch of fun technical mixed climbing up a groove to the left of a long ice smeared slab which steepens at the top. poor gear. grade 2/3
-In the upper valley reaches to the south-east of Baravore there are numerous small buttresses where short ice-falls may develop. Whilst short, these pitches offer some steep technical sections and do offer some sport to those taking the Baravore route to Lugnaquillia. (Similar icy sections may be found further away above Kelly's Lough).
Because of its relatively low altitude ice routes form rather infrequently in Glendalough. The most favourable location is high on the shaded north-facing slopes beyond the Upper Lake on the south side of the valley where the following routes are found.
CLIFF GULLY 250m II/III This route is reached by a shallow stream gully and begins about half way up the side of the valley to the right of a line of cliffs. The gully is marked by a few small trees and is opposite the old mine works. The route offers relatively easy climbing over long stretches with a few steep sections, all in a surprisingly impressive mountain setting. J. Lyons, L. Brady, January 1985.
CASCADE 200m III Another shallow gully to the right of the previous route leads up to this ice-smeared system of slabs and steps leading up diagonally rightwards to the cliff-tops. The difficulties near the top depend on the exit line chosen. J. Lyons, 23/12/1986
The next two routes are found a little further up the valley more or less directly above the mine buildings. They are fairly close to one another and approach is directly from below. The left-hand route is slightly recessed in a large amphitheatre.
MEMORIES OF SNOW 80m IV 1 35m Climb up to gain a ramp rising rightwards. Up this past a thinly iced bulge and traverse out right too gain a good belay at a blocky wall. 2 45m Make a long and trying traverse back left to gain the bottom right of a broad steep ice cascade. Climb this diagonally left to the base of the forbidding final ice-wall and up this to finish. Move right a few metres to belay. J. Lyons, H. Hebblethwaite, 29/12/1995
COLD DANCE 200m IV This route begins above a large boulder field where ice-smeared slabs again sweep up to the right. There are two steep sections over rock-bands. The first can be climbed on the left if conditions are poor; the second involves some steep climbing diagonally to the left followed by an exposed and precarious rightwards traverse to finish. J. Lyons, H. Hebblethwaite, February 1986
WINTER PALACE 60m IV This route is found on a broken cliff roughly opposite Twin Buttress and across the Gleanealo River where it descends rapidly to the valley floor. Scramble up over the boulder field to the base f the ice fall. 1 30m Climb the iced up nose of rock at the bottom left side of the face about 10m right of a steep iced slab. Move right to a short thinly-iced groove; gain this and work to the base of an ice-wall. 2 30m Gain a narrow ice ramp either directly or by bridging on the left and then climb the vertical wall above (crux). Easier climb up diagonally right leads too an obvious niche. Escape by an obvious holly tree, located beside a birch tree on a large ledge above. J. Lyons, D. Wall, 10/1/1997
The left and right waterfalls of Twin Buttress give excellent climbing during the odd winter freeze-up. Since this crag is low-lying and south-facing a very severe period of frost is needed to bring it into condition.
LEFT-HAND WATERFALL 100m IV The climbing is steepest and at its most sustained in the final pitch where the usual exit line is found somewhat to the right. Several parties including Keefe Murphy, Louis Mooney and Ian Ryan, January 1985. A steeper and more direct line goes up the final ice-wall at grade V Tony Burke, same day ascent.
RIGHT-HAND WATERFALL 100m IV Climbed in three pitches, the first pitch is steep and bold, the second pitch is rather broken and easy and the third pitch is again steep and perhaps thin; pegs, particularly blades, may be found useful or necessary on this final pitch J. Lyons, H. Hebblethwaite, January 1986.
WICKLOW GAP AREA
Numerous good quality mixed lines can form up on the steep bluffs behind Lough Nahanagan. Drive down to the power station compound and park up where seems appropriate. walk around the lake either direction, depending on what line is sought. pics can be seen here http://forum.climbing.ie/index.php/topic,64.180.html
North facing bluffs- (grid ref: 080 986) from left to right.
-The steep rocks to the very left contain some steep ice flows worth exploring.
-The left of the 3 long seepage lines provides a worthwhile mixed route. grade 3 ish. this trends leftwards from an obvious steep short waterfall at the very bottom middle of the face. some interesting sections.
-In The Groove takes the obvious right trending deep groove/gully with steep walls on its left. This gives excellent technical mixed climbing at around grade 3/4, depending on which options are followed at the top. approx. 60 m long? thin gear.
-Outside The Box * is a quality seepage line about 200 m to the right of 'in the groove' that starts about half way up the face and finishes at the top. about 70 m in total ?. multiple steps of about wi3 lead up to a very steep pitch of about wi4. the line continues to a final steep wi3 top out.
There is further interest amongst the North East facing bluffs directly behind the power station. grid ref:
-2 obvious lines exist at the very top of the bluffs, one a low angled slab, and a right facing corner up and left of it. left hand route climbs at grade 3/4.
A good pitch of waterfall ice forms at the bluffs (grid ref). When formed it is clearly visible from the main road as it descends from wicklow gap westward, on the left hand side. Park where a service road forks off downhill from the main road. Follow this to its end, then contour up to the obvious ice falls and smears. 20 mins. pics here- http://forum.climbing.ie/index.php/topic,64.180.html
Indian Winter Grade 2 ice steps lead up to the main pitch of about 15m of steep WI4 ice. easier if climbed on the right hand side. then relents again to about WI2 to the top. there are various other grade 2-3 short steps, both sides, worth climbing on. Lovely situation.
LOUGH BRAY LOWER
2 worthwhile climbs have been climbed in the back of the lough on the two main streams. To access, park at the roadside cottage, and walk up the roadway a little. Where possible, and before the private gates, cut off right and walk around the boundary of the property. Once past the trees, the ice comes into view on the left. 20 mins. Main flow on the left. Smaller gully on the right. pics can be seen here http://forum.climbing.ie/index.php/topic,64.165.html
-Left hand route- grade 3** A few straight forward ice Steps, followed by a Solid 15-20m ice flow, harder on the right hand side (grade 4). The gully eases off up above, but is still somewhat endearing. Brilliant formations.
-Right hand route- grade 2*. Very engaging deep gully at the start gives excellent cryptic climbing. Then up the steeper headwall to a long meandering easier angled ice flow.