The Scalp

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Grading - Harold Johnson did not believe that he could climb anything harder than V Diff so he graded his routes from this grade downwards. It is now quite clear that he very seriously underestimated his abilities. Do not fall into the trap of believing him. V. Diff can mean VS or even HVS.

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Beyond Kilternan the Dublin to Enniskerry road dives through a narrow rocky pass, formed by an Ice Age glacial lake overflow (Grid. 21 20). There are many granite outcrops and boulders, especially on the wooded eastern side, which offer short steep climbs. Most of them are crack or chimney problems, and they tend to be strenuous rather than delicate. The climbs are ideal for a short sunny winter afternoon, or a fine summer evening. It is pleasant to combine a few climbs with a short walk over Barnaslingan, or perhaps as far as "Katty Gollagher" (Grid 231 200). There are fine views over the sea, and the Wicklow Hills.

Harold Johnson’s name will always be associated with The Scalp climbs. He pioneered most of them, and in 1958 wrote a little guidebook in his own very personal style. We have included his introduction, and have changed his descriptions as little as possible. It is probable that most of the newer routes recorded here were in fact climbed at some stage by Harold, or else by Sean Rothery.

There is plenty of scope for harder problems, but they will be short (this was written before boulders appeared on the scene).

Access - The climbs lie within 100m of T43, the main Dublin-Enniskerry road, some 11 miles from Dublin. Very imited parking beside the road (which is always busy). The No. 44 Dublin—Enniskerry bus passes the foot of the climbs:


(from Harold Johnson’s 1958 guidebook)

In 1925 Quartz Crag, Steep Slab, all routes on East Buttress and numerous short unnamed climbs on both sides of The Scalp were climbed.

There was no Irish Mountaineering Club in those days and I did not know of any other Irish climbers, so friends and relations were trapped into ‘going for a nice walk’. When The Scalp was reached, a rope and spare nailed boots were produced and the victim was tied on and dragged up ‘Steep Slab’ or ‘Quartz Crag’. Alas few ever came again and it became increasingly hard to tempt anyone to come climbing

One day I saw an advertisement in the Evening Mail - ‘two bored young men, tired of life, want a new thrill’. I answered this, brought them to The Scalp but even they never came again. Apparently, it was too much of a thrill

You have no idea how desperately lonely it was to have no-one to climb with and no-one even to talk to about mountains in those days. Everyone in Ireland thought rock-climbing was crazy and I used to long for the friendship of other climbers.

It is wonderful nowadays to have dozens of I.M.C. Members to climb with and very pleasant to see other men and girls with ropes slung over their shoulders and climbing boots on their feet.

In the early 1950’s Sean Rothery did a lot of exploration in The Scalp but we have no details of his climbs.

Climbs in The Scalp are vary short but the beauty of the surroundings and views of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains make it a very pleasant place to scramble in.


The climbs are described starting from the Dublin (North) end of The Scalp. Shortly after passing the Tea Rooms (petrol station), there is a gap on the opposite side of the road. Go through it and walk towards Bray for 70 paces parallel to the road (girls with short legs walk 85 paces). Scramble up over the boulders.

Quartz Crag

About half way up the side of The Scalp 30m above the road, there is a large mass of rock with a crack running diagonally up the face from bottom L. to top R. Near the top, there is a sprinkling of Quartz. This is Quartz Crag.

Flake Route 12m D
H. Johnson & others 1925
Start: At the bottom of the detached flake, just R. of a holly bush. Climb the west face of the flake. From the top traverse slightly L. step into the crack which is followed to a ledge (runner). Traverse L. along the ledge for about 3m and climb quartz knobs to the top (take care the quartz does not pull off).

Crack Direct 10m V. Diff
H. Johnson & others 1925
Start: At the foot of the L. branch of the inverted Y-crack which splits the crag. Climb the crack. There is an awkward traverse move R. where the two cracks join (keep high). Keep on up the crack past a ledge above which it becomes a chimney (runner), best climbed facing R.

Crack - Left Entrance 11m V. Diff
H. Johnson & others 1925
Start: As for Crack Direct. Go straight up broken rock, and then pull up over a bulge to reach a ledge. Traverse R. into the crack (this is the reverse of Flake Route traverse) and finish as Crack Direct.

These climbs are not quite as described by H.J.; they have been altered a little to give three near separate lines.

Safety Second 6m Font 6a
D. Flanagan 07/12/14
Follow the line of least resistance up the middle of the south facing wall. A highball boulder problem rather than a route. Go straight up broken rock, and then pull up over a bulge to reach a ledge. Traverse R. into the crack (this is the reverse of Flake Route traverse) and finish as Crack Direct.

From the top of Quartz Crag, walk south descending a few feet along the base of a very broken rock wall. At the far end of this, about level with the middle of Quartz Crag, there is a small square tower.

Harold's Cross 7m V Diff
First ascent: H. Johnson, E. Bottomley, Margaret and J. Walsh, J. Roy, 1st March 1958. (H.J. wrote "The word ‘Cross’ denotes affliction and penance rather than anger! I was on my knees half the time!")
Start: Directly below the tower. Climb across a slab, and make two mantleshelf moves to reach a block below the final overhang, which is climbed direct (awkward and strenuous). It is possible to escape to the L.

From the top of this climb walk 12 m. east, then descend a little to Charlie’s Wall, which has yielded several routes

West Face Edge 7m Diff
Charlie McCormack, Moira Laracy, H.Johnson, 1957
Start: At the junction of the overhanging south face and the easier angled west face. Climb up. the corner, first on small holds, and then on jugs, to the top.

Mona's Route 7m Diff
Charlie McCormack, Moira Laracy, H.Johnson, 1957
An alternative route just L. of West Face Edge.

Black Fault 8m V. Diff
Bob Norton, P. Hardiman, 23rd March 1958
Start: At the foot of the black broken rock just R. of the main overhang on the south face. Climb the fault. This is quite strenuous, but the rock is (fortunately!) sounder than it looks. Finish up the narrow V-notch between the south face overhang and a big prow. Awkward and strenuous.


From the bottom of Charlie’s Wall walk 20 m. south, and descend to an attractive little pinnacle

North West Face 7m S
Start: At the foot of the pinnacle, just above two flakes.
Climb to a small ledge 2.54 m. (the original description carefully specifies 8ft. 4 ins!) from the ground (strenuous and off-balance). Balance delicately on the ledge, feeling to the L. for a crack which provides a much-needed side pull. Jug handles above lead to a strenuous finish.

Right Hand Route 7m Diff
H. Johnson, E.Bottomley, Margaret Walsh, 1st March 1958
Start: As for North West Face. Climb up the steep wall on good holds to the top.

Cracked Wall
H. Johnston
Somewhere in this area H.J.’s guide has CRACKED WALL, which the present editors failed to identify.

The description below is copied from the old guide:

"From the base of Eugene’s Pinnacle traverse to the R. to a 22 ft. wall with prominent cracks running vertically up it.

Cracked Wall Diff
Bob Norton, March 1958
The main obvious centre crack

Cracked Wall Diff
Bob Norton, Padraig Hardiman, 23rd March 1958
The thin lefthand crack

Unknown Diff
Bob Norton, Padraig Hardiman, 23rd March 1958
The slab and overhang around the righthand corner

While searching for Cracked Wall, the editors found a vertical wall About 40m. above Eugene’s Pinnacle. Near the middle there is a square chimney, and leading left from this point is a slab finishing in a crack.

Square Chimney 6m Diff
L. Convery, 15 February 1976
Climb the chimney, which overhangs slightly, on good holds.

Tree Chimney 26m S
H. Johnson, Pat MacMahon, C. McCormack, 12th March 1958
To the L. of Steep Slab there is a formidable overhanging wall. The route is here. Start: at the foot of the tree.
1) 13m. Climb the overhanging wall by backing up the tree! "In a high wind the tree sways and one is liable to be pinched. Also sometimes one has the impression that the rock itself is moving, which is disconcerting".
2) 6m. An easy scramble. 3. 7m. A hard vertical wall.

Steep Slab * 38m VD
H. Johnson & party, 1925
A good climb, probably the best in the Scalp. It is quite hard of its grade, and has both delicate and strenuous moves. Start at the bottom of the slab.
1) 14 m. Start up the small overhang, moving diagonally left onto the main slab. Then follow the right edge of the slab (thin move at 10m) and take a thread belay at a boulder in the gully right of the slab about 3 m. below the top of the slab.
2) 12m. Traverse left across the top of the slab, then climb the left side of the little wall and go up the slab to easy ground. Walk about 10 m. to the foot of a wall.
3) 7 m. Climb the steep but easy wall (4) 5m. Stand on the boulder and pull up over the overhang.

About level with the top pitch of Steep Slab, and a little further south is a small buttress split by a crack, with a tree at the bottom. Here is

Conifer Crack 6m D
L. Convery, J. Lynam,15/2/1976
Quite hard. Chimney up using the tree to the foot of the crack. Step delicately out left onto the slab, and climb to the top, finishing in the crack.

East Buttress

Below, and to the south of Conifer Crack is a big buttress set at an easy angle. H. Johnson scrambled on this buttress, but mentioned only one line, a scramble starting left of the slabs on the south side, going up the slabs, and then up to the top (H.J., 1925). Guidebook checking produced two lines which are perhaps worth recording.

Winter Solstice 24m D
L. Convery, J.Lynam,Nick Lynam. 31/12/1975
Easy. Start at the foot of the buttress beside a detached block. 1)14m. Climb up steep rock on good holds left of the detached block, then swing right onto the slab. Climb easier rock bearing right to the foot of a wall, right of a V-groove.
2)10m Climb the steep little wall ahead to easy ground, then bear left and up the nose to the top.

Diamond Flake 11m D
L. Convery, . J. Lynam, Nick Lynam (leads shared), 21st September l975
A diamond-shaped flake lies against the left wall of the buttress, directly below a birch tree on the buttress crest. Start at the bottom of the flake. Climb the right side of the flake (or the left, harder) to where it abuts against the wall. Climb the wall on large holds (watch out for loose rock) and finish left of the birch tree.

Rothery's Rocks

Near the south end of The Scalp is another group of interesting rocks, which Sean Rothery explored. The editors found two good problems:-

The Pinnacle 4m VD
The north side of the obvious little pinnacle offers a short interesting problem in side pulls.

The Two Tiers 10m VD
Start at the foot of the buttress below a leftward trending slab.
1) 6 m. Climb the slab and then the wall above just right of a crack to reach a broad ledge.
2) 4m Climb the layback crack in the wall above. There is a good finishing jug handle!

The West Side

Half way through The Scalp, at the parking place described earlier, look straight up the rocky western side. There are three obvious rock formations near the top. The largest one is in the centre and has two routes. A rough path leadsup to the foot of it.

Walsh Rarebit 17m VD
H. Johnson, H., P., and J. Walsh, C. McCormack, George Strunz, 22nd March 1958.
"So called because after some years of absence due to matrimony the Walsh brothers, Paddy and John, found themselves on the rocks again, and encouraged by their sister Margaret, formed 50% of the party." Start just left of the lowest point of the buttress, near the path, at a crack.
1) 6m Climb the crack, which is quite hard to emerge from. 2) 8m From the grassy ledge climb the main crag by a crack in the centre. This leads to the right and after an awkward move you come out onto heather near the top of the crag.(3) 3m. An easy scramble to the top.

March Hare 18m VD
L. Convery, J. Lynam (leads shared), March 1976.
To the right of Walsh Rarebit is a recess and a slab with a diedre running diagonally right 1)7m. Climb into the diedre, move right to the edge and then straight up to the grassy ledge. 2) 8m. A couple of metres to the left there is a big horizontal flake. Climb onto this, then go right to the edge and up by the crack to the top of pitch 2 of Walsh Rarebit. 3) 3 m. As for Walsh Rarebit.

The crag to the right of these climbs has a fine overhanging nose on it's right side and gives a couple of fun and worthwhile wee routes:

Path of Hands 9m E1 5c.
D. Ayton, B. Hall, J. Hale, I. Burnell March 2013
Climb blocks belos the left arête to gain the hanging slab. move right onto Arete and place protection. from here launch upwards to top. Could be HS.

Path of Hands.jpg

Scalped 9m E5 6a.
B. Hall, D. Ayton January 2013
Climb to under overlap (crucial peenut 2), then bust some moves through this and up to the second quartzy break (good cams). A tricky mantel leaves you standing on the top.