For those of you not familiar with the area Fair Head is a 5 km expanse of dolerite situated on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Currently there are over 400 recorded routes, many of which follow splitter crack lines requiring techniques such as off-width-ing, hand jamming and general all over body squirming to make any upward progress. I would say the Wild Country crack climbing video series would have been worth watching for the Fair Head virgins.
The event is kindly supported by Mountaineering Ireland (MI) and organised by myself; Paul Swail, along with the help of many volunteers. A special note has to be made for Sean Mcbride, the farmer whose land we cross to enjoy this magnificent crag. Every year he is welcoming, supportive and hospitable to all the climbers by arranging camping in his fields, supplying us with fire wood (and diesel when paper doesn't light it.) and enjoying the social side by joining the climbers for a beer in the evening.
The aim of this weekend is to attract climbers to this somewhat underused crag and create a friendly, vibrant and enjoyable ambiance. This was definitely apparent throughout the weekend with likeminded climbers giving route recommendations, beta on approaches and the odd sandbag.
The 'official' meet takes place over the first weekend in June every year, but with the stable forecast the crag had been busy for a few weeks up until the meet. This meant all the classics were chalked, and some of the harder routes half chalked.
This year's entertainment was in the form of Scottish hot shot Greg Boswell who filled us in on his winter antics, goals for this year and general psych needed to be pushing the limits in Scottish winter climbing. Like the last few years, the slideshow kicked off a few minutes before midnight in the cow shed that Sean the farmer kindly cleaned out for us.
The sheer number of routes being climbed was very impressive with parties on all the 3 star classics. There were a few notable ascents over the weekend; Halloween (E4 5c, 6a) received its first ascent from the ground that included Halloween Arete (E4/5, 6b) to finish, then days later Andy Marshall climbed the 2nd pitch (40m pumpy E4) into the hard and exposed arête in one 65m pitch. Northern Exposure (E5 6a, 6b) having waited nearly 20 years for an ascent received 4 ascents in 2 days and even had parties queuing, something that is unheard of at Fair Head. Visiting Scottish climber Ian Small onsighted Where the Grass is Greener (E7 6b) after nearly 3 hours of effort along with numerous other E5s and E6s.
The meet also attracted a core bunch of highliners from the UK, who set up what is tipped as the highest highline in the UK. It was set up in the gulley of the Grey Man's Path and at over 35m, was intimidating just to look at. After a few unsuccessful attempts on the Saturday mainly due to wind they were forced to slacken the line and wait until Sunday. Unfortunately the winds increased but this didn't put off these dedicated highliners and to the amusement of the many observing ramblers, it was sent by Nadeem Al-Khafaji. A fine effort.
The success of this meet is down to the support shown by local climbers so a big thank you to them. It is great that Fair Head is now becoming recognised as one of the top venues in the UK and it seems like the secret is out - even Johnny Dawes was over battling with some of the Fair Head classics, so it can't be bad.
A big thanks also to the support shown by Mountaineering Ireland and to all who were involved with the meet. Fingers crossed for good weather next year because the rain in Ireland hasn't stopped since.
For details on next year's meet check out www.mountaineering.ie closer to the time.