Second Ascent of Historic Dùn Briste Sea Stack by Iain Miller

© Marion Galt

25 years after Mick Fowler, Nikki Duggan and Steve Sustad summited in 1990, Irish sea stack fanatic Iain Miller has made the second ascent of the 45m high Dùn Briste - or 'broken fort' - sea stack, 50 metres off the north Mayo coast at Downpatrick Head, Ireland, with partner Paulina Kaniszewska. Although intending to repeat the original route Doonbristy MXS, Iain discovered a new line which he has christened Chaos Theory XS 5a/b.

Dùn Briste with Iain on the summit  © Marion Galt
Dùn Briste with Iain on the summit
© Marion Galt

The stack has a remarkable history, having separated from the mainland relatively recently in 1393 following a major storm. People left stranded on top of the stack were reportedly rescued by a ship's ropes and the remains of buildings in which people were living on the night of the storm are still visible today on the flat summit of the stack. Scientists deposited on top by helicopter in the 1980s studied the settlements and concluded that both people and livestock shared the living spaces in Medieval times.

Iain and Paulina prepare to sail to Dùn Briste
© Marion Galt

A sea-stack ascensionist extraordinaire, Iain has over 60 first ascents to his name around the Donegal coast and more than 600 first ascents in the Orkney islands and the Donegal mainland. He made the first ascent of Bothanvarra - Donegal's second-last unclimbed sea stack - in 2014 and still has his eye on the final unclimbed objective, despite two failed attempts.

Calm conditions in the Atlantic on the day of the ascent made for a relatively straightforward crossing to the stack in an inflatable dinghy. The route itself consists of friable stratified ledges with some seriously run-out climbing high above the sea.

The first crux...  © Marion Galt
The first crux...
© Marion Galt

Iain has continued his esoteric passion for establishing new lines on sea stacks since our last interview in 2014. He told UKC:

'Since Bothanvarra I've focussed on new-routing on the previously climbed stacks in Donegal, with a couple of rather foolish solos on a collection of previously climbed sea stacks called the seven summits of Donegal - seven worldclass stacks still pretty much unknown. I'm also teaching myself how to paraglide with mixed results so far.'

Dùn Briste - The Broken Fort
© Marion Galt

When asked about his next goals, Iain was candid in his response:

'Future plans, ha ha - I only tell when they are done.'

We'll leave you with this quote from Iain's blog, which describes his attraction(?) to the pursuit of sea stack soloing:

'Sea stack climbing is an extremely foolish activity in which the consequence of getting it wrong can be death. Free soloing sea stacks is a mind bending game in which each and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Alas the odds are also heavily stacked in the sea stack's favour with hundred of good reasons why this is a bad idea. The equal and opposite side of this is the overcoming of primal fear and loathing that comes from meeting and facing the inner you, your most tricky opponent.'   

Iain Miller having made the first ascent of Stack Attack  © Marion Galt
Iain Miller having made the first ascent of Stack Attack
© Marion Galt

Below are the details of Mick's original route and the new route climbed by Iain: 'We intended to climb Mick's route but strayed into the unknown!'

Doonbristy 42m MXS
Start at the landward side of the ledge system at 15m on the west face. The route follows the seaward arete of the stack, mainly on the left-hand side. 
1/. 18m 5a/b Climb up right-wards over an interesting overhang (on good holds) to gain a shallow groove in a band of lighter coloured rock. Climb this to an excellent ledge on the arete.
2/. 24m 5a/b Climb onto a projecting ledge above the stance and gain a much smaller projecting ledge above. A short wall leads to a good ledge and easier (but loose) ground leading to the top.
M. Fowler, N. Duggan, S. Sustad May 1990.

Chaos Theory 42m XS
There is a huge non tidal ledge system at the base (approx 10m above the sea) of the west face.
1: 18m 4b From the seaward end of the walkable ledge make a couple of moves up to the grim-looking overhang. After a couple of ups and downs, hand traverse left above the void to the sanctuary of a large non-tidal ledge. Climb up and over the steps above and crawl through the birded gap above.
2: 24m 5a/b At the far left of the huge ledge climb the well-protected groove with a hard move onto the ledge system above. Run it out forever (8mish) to a small crack in suspect rock above. Climb grooves and ledge systems above to finish up a superb layback corner and awful chimney above.
Iain Miller, Paulina Kaniszewska 28/08/16

Visit Iain's sea stack guide on his website.

Read a UKC interview with Iain.

Watch a video of the climb below:


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13 Sep, 2016
It would be interesting to know more about the building remains on the top. By who, why and when they could have been built. And how the people got on top in ancient times... (are there traces of ladders? Fishermen where used to climb scary cliffs, but to build something I guess they had installed something more safe...) Sorry for the ignorance, but I know nothing about seastacks
13 Sep, 2016
'The stack has a remarkable history, having separated from the mainland relatively recently in 1393 following a major storm. People left stranded on top of the stack were reportedly rescued by a ship's ropes and the remains of buildings in which people were living on the night of the storm are still visible today on the flat summit of the stack.' People were living in the houses on the mainland before it separated, so they ended up stranded on the stack.
13 Sep, 2016
It would have been a headland originally when people would have settled on it, then holes would have developed through the peninsular. Storms would have kept enlarging these arches until they finally collapsed leaving the sea stack as we see it today. Pretty well the same process for all sea stacks.
13 Sep, 2016
sorry, I just watched the video *blush*
13 Sep, 2016
What is the final unclimbed one called? Or is that a secret...
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