70 metres long, with a tough and intimidating first half and at around 35-40 metres you’ve got ten metres of arete climbing with a lot of moves around 6b/c which are on the wilder side with a drop zone Ricky had mentioned could be down much of the Rathlin wall. It made it even better that it was Rickys route, someone who has blown me away with his terrifying and novel looking new routes in great settings all over the place.
I’d clocked it was going to be a sandbag and on arriving at the base and looking up at it I immediately gave up on trying it without an inspection. If Ryan had been there I would have sent him up for a laugh to check out the flight paths and test some gear. My first lead effort felt a real calamity.
I’d been to Fairhead for a week in 2010, 2011 and a day with Swaily in 2014. It’s one hell of a cliff, certainly a contender for the best of its type. John Orr has always organised the trips. The 2010 one had shit weather but we still did loads as it dries so quick, I remember having about three 3 hour belay stints on a hanging belay with a northerly wind and losing cards for washing up the pan a load of us had cooked sausages in, I got hot aches. Chris Guest and Luke Brooks made up the rest of the team and Sean the farmer took pity on us all being the only ones camping in his field and brought us some beers. The 2011 trip was the windiest conditions I’ve ever climbed in but again was a great week with one of the highlights watching Ian Small onsight an E7 called Styx having had to sit out the rain for ages and let it dry when he was on a shelf halfway up. The one day with Swaily he managed an impressive piss hanging on the end of the traverse on the E6 Above and Beyond before continuing up the headwall, the first time I’ve seen that kind of thing managed.
This trip had once again been sorted by John Orr and with Tim Neill in tow we headed out for the Fairhead meet which must have had 250-300 climbers in the field. The great Calvin Torrance was there new routing and offering advice and calum gave a great talk with the best climbing footage I’ve ever seen of him truly scraping up Kaluza Klein-unbelievable.
We all had particular objectives this trip unlike the previous visits. John wanted to do The Complete Scream, Tim was keen for Hells Kitchen arete and I was on to try Rathlin effect.
The first day we arrived we all went abseiling, John to clean Seabhac, Tim HK arete and me a possible new route which unfortunately wasn’t going anywhere.
A day eventually arrived when I could try it. I’d had 2 brand new 70 metre ropes sterling had given me stashed in a cave and when I got ten metres up John said one was cored. I couldn’t believe it and was convinced a rat had been at it. After sorting a new rope strategy I set off on my calamitous go. To get to the nest of gear at 20 metres is the easy part of the route that I thought to be E6/7 and the traverse left from here is what I wasn’t looking forward to having some of the hardest moves on the route and a reasonable runout. I was chuffed to get through the traverse to a jug at the lip and ok-ish cam right on the lip of the roof. When Ricky did it he missed out this cam which would mean facing a real pearler of a lob. From here a lunge left leads to a wild layback and the main rest on the route.
Feeling pretty confident I set up for the lunge and realising I wasn’t getting anywhere near the distance required I knew I was in trouble. The move off an ab rope feels very different after 30 metres of climbing. Ricky was there to egg me on but after 10 minutes of trying to rest in a shit position with intermittent chucks for the arete and lots of swearing I was totally cooked and gutted I had to do the intimidating traverse again. After abbing back down to reassess that move me and John did Seabhac which gave me my first pitch of climbing at Fairhead on this trip on day 5!
The next day whilst I was having a properly chummy rest day in Ballycastle Tim was at the other end of the spectrum laying the demons (put there by a Cumbrian) to rest by climbing Hells Kitchen arete. During the Fairhead meet a climber had taken a huge fall off Hells Kitchen itself, falling 20 metres onto his belayer then another 20+ metres to near the ground. After being airlifted off they were fortunate to be out of hospital a few days later.
Kris Mcoey and Tim had managed a new route, Blackout which Kris had knocked himself out whilst cleaning on a prior trip. We celebrated that night in Johns yellow trafic van, John, Tim, Kris, Liz, Leon, Heather, Aggie, Kelly +. There really were some great tunes being played.
The last day was Johns day. The Complete Scream, I remember him eyeing it up in 2010 on our first visit. I abbed into the belay first and on arriving there was chuffed to be getting 4G. I started streaming James Williams’ set from the Youtopia party straight away. Once John arrived at the belay I knocked it off to let him find his ‘zen’.
As he set off with his hooks and gaffer tape I prayed that he wouldn’t be coming back down to land on me like the poor lad belaying on Hells Kitchen a few days previously.
We finished on the amazing corner of Conchubair before guinesses on the ferry back to Holyhead. We all promised to be at the Fairhead meet again next year.
Good skills John, Tim, Kris and the Fairhead party crew. But also bloody great sandbagging Ricky.