Fair Head Meet 2014 - Report

© Leman Lemanski

Over the weekend of the 30th – 1st June 2014 the annual Fair Head Climbing Meet took place. The meet started 5 years ago as a social event to get people climbing at Fair Head. With little advertising and only a guest speaker on the Saturday night to entice folk up to Fair Head for the meet it has steadily grown every year in popularity – a true testament to just how good the climbing is. Having the weather gods on our side for the weekend also helps and this year we were treated to some beautiful sunshine and great air temperatures allowing people to climbing in the middle of the crag (north facing) in t-shirts! For those who patiently hung around on Sunday, the showers soon headed off and their reward was a dry cliff.

Fairhead in all it's beauty...  © John Orr
Fairhead in all it's beauty...
© John Orr

Most UK-based trad climbers have now heard of Fair Head. Over the years it has generated a lot more interest with climbers from the mainland UK and further afield travelling over to sample it's delights. One thing that was lacking was an up to date guidebook. The last guidebook was put together by Irish climber Calvin Torrans before colour printing was cheap, the internet allowed people to keep in touch so easily and share crag information/pictures. This said Mountaineering Ireland commissioned a new guidebook with the editors being local climbing wad Ricky Bell and climbing photographer Craig Hiller. It arrived on the first day of the meet. This is no sales pitch but the new guidebook is easy to use, informative and most of all extremely inspirational. I reckon with its arrival this could persuade any doubters out there that it really is worth a visit!

John McCune entertaining the crowd in the cow shed  © Paul Swail
John McCune entertaining the crowd in the cow shed
© Paul Swail

The meet officially kicks off on the Friday evening with people journeying from all over Ireland, UK and further a field. The base for the weekend is in farmer Sean McBride's field/campsite. He actually owns about 3 km of Fair Head – it is nearly 6km long so keeping him involved and supportive of the meet is very important to a healthy relationship between the farmer and climbers. As with every year before, he was very supportive supplying firewood, moving porta-loos, giving climbing directions and even a bit of route beta. The weekend lecture also takes place in one of his cow sheds that a week before the meet started was full of cow dung! A great effort clearing it out for us - thanks Sean!

The Saturday night talk this year was given by local Irish climber John McCune. John over the years has been developing new routes throughout Ireland, repeating hard classics especially at Fair Head along with some adventures in the Alps. He generally keeps himself under the radar so this talk was a great chance for everyone to hear all about it!

Nick Bullock about to enter into the crux of Hallowe'en Arete, E5  © Tim Neill
Nick Bullock about to enter into the crux of Hallowe'en Arete, E5
© Tim Neill

With 200 people visiting the crag over the weekend it was no surprise to see teams on most parts of the cliff. Due to its sheer expanse and even with this number of climbers the crag never feels busy, you might have to choose your route carefully but there is always choice and the new guide really helped!

During the weekend the buzz was electric with lots of top out smiles, one-liners such as: "that might be the best route I have ever climbed" and Irish banter! The sheer scale and style of climbing at Fair Head can be intimidating so the weekend of the meet is a nice time for local climbers to share beta with newbies. This year also saw quite a few climbers give up their time to take some of the keen Irish youth climbers out and to inspire them.

Damien O'Sullivan finding his focus on Marconi, E3
© Leman Lemanski

The classics (most routes with 3 stars) in the VS – E6 range were well chalked but there were a few notable ascents. Kevin Kilroy cleaned and climbed The Doffer, an E1 off-width in the prow area. The route required 2 x #6 and 2 x#5 cams and still felt bold – this is quite often the case on the more 'old school' routes. John McCune along with myself added a new 4 pitch E6 in the middle of the cliff called Un jour, Peut-Etre. This route took 30+ hours of cleaning but has left Fair Head with one of the best climbs at the grade and 110m of climbing! Ian Rea added The Vital Spark, E2, something he described as a new route for mortals! I added Full of Energy, Ready 2 Party, a 3 pitch E5 and Ricky Bell also outdated the guidebook with a new route still unnamed in the E7/8 region. A few rare classics like Learning to Fly, E5/6, Stop Making Sense, E5, London Calling, E5/6, Death or Glory all received ascents and Brian Hall impressively onsighted Above & Beyond (E6) after 4 hrs of effort – his belayer might not have thought that!

Paul Swail on the first ascent of Full of energy, Ready 2 Party, E5  © John McCune
Paul Swail on the first ascent of Full of energy, Ready 2 Party, E5
© John McCune

Well that is a quick round up of what happened over the weekend of the meet. Like every year people make new friends, climb amazing lines and sample some of the black stuff (Guinness). To experience what it has to offer come over next year and get involved. The meet takes place on the first weekend of June every year.

A big thanks to Mountaineering Ireland for supporting the meet every year and the McBride family for being so supportive of climbers using their land for their enjoyment!

To keep up to date with the most recent activity at Fair Head you should check out the Facebook page maintained by local climbers - Fairhead Climbers

You can find out more about Mountaineering Ireland and sign up for next year's meet by checking the website: Mountaineering Ireland

The new guidebook will be in shops shortly!

John Orr on Maiden Voyage, E5
© Paul Swail

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Swaily

Looks great. After years of saying I'm going (and years of living in North Wales, being comparatively close, and never having gone) I promise I'll be there next year!!
20 Jun, 2014
Great weekend and met some new faces, many thanks to organisers.
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