7 Reasons To Boulder In Doolin

The bouldering area at Lackglass near Doolin is one of my favourite outdoor places in the country, to climb or to just chill out and enjoy the relative solitude.

It’s a relatively short walk in, through a couple of stony Burren fields and along a stone wall all the way to the coast. With the sun on your face and view cross the Atlantic ocean to the Aran Islands and beyond, on a good day its ace.

There’s times I’ve walked in during the winter storms, just to see what the full ferocity of the crashing waves can do. I’ve never been there on a day so big that the boulders have been jumbled around but, from a reasonable distance, Id imagine its an awesome sight to behold.

To see boulders weighing in the tens of tonnes moved about, flipped on their head, moved across the slab or even gone completely, it has to be seen to believed.

And that’s both the beauty and the shame of bouldering there, every couple of years the route-setters come in and leave us with a new bunch of challenges. Were it not for the fact that they strip away or alter old classics, this arrangement would be perfect.

The problems I’ve listed below are in the grades 5-7 range, because its what I climb and can recommend. There are some classic harder graded problems, but not lots of them.

Hopefully this blog will spark an idea to visit Doolin and try some of the quality problems, while they still exist. Do your best to car pool and always shut the farmers gate. An excellent relationship currently exists with the local farmer who thinks what we do is great craic, lets make sure we never give cause to change that.

Up The Alley, 6A

Revealed for the first time after a big storm circa 2014 and first climbed by Cian Kearns this was an immediate classic on the circuit at Doolin.

A reachy and dynamic first move off the ground to good holds, before a delicate traverse right on tiny footholds, maintain body tension moving up and slap to a small sloping edge for a delicate move to get a welcome top out hold. Its not a given that you get it every time, which makes it both frustrating and special.

Bigfoot 6A+

One of the original classics of the crag that seems to stay untouched despite being relatively close to the waters edge.

Overhanging, with an encouraging start on big holds and a pleasing heel hook, it soon turns much tougher with a big move required off two smaller sharper crimps. The strong can static it, but the rest of us mortals have to suck it up and throw, not quite a full dyno, but certainly very dynamic. The top out hold is a mega jug though and with the opportunity to flail your legs loose and still stay on, it makes for a really enjoyable finish.

Standard Finger Crack 5+

The Reardon Memorial wall is one of the striking features of the crag. A highball wall where you would definitely need a few pads to be feeling it. Luckily the climbs are all mostly straight up.

Solid climbing at the grade, luckily the harder moves on Standard Finger Crack are all lower down when its more pleasant to fall. The holds get juggier as you ascend and top out, but keep your cool as a fall would be a big one. Even if highballs aren’t your thing, it’d be a shame to visit and not tick off at least one. Standard Corner, 4 would be safer tick if you want jugs all the way.

The Egg, 5+

Another of the newer revealed classics, it came on the scene a few years back, got blocked off again after a storm and only this year was revealed again when the “sitting stone” blocking it got moved 40 metres across the slab.

For such a short boulder it can cause awful frustration to figure out the beta. A hand slap followed quickly by a foot stab keeps you steady enough to rearrange feet and make another slap to a big hold before an easier top out. It might look straightforward, but it can be tricky.

Bobs Traverse 6B+

Perfect if you want a beta heavy long problem but without the big falls. You don’t even need multiple pads for the base as its so low to the ground at times. The guide book says do it in any direction, but for me its always going to be left to right. It took me so long to crack it, but like all great problems, it seem like you’ll never get it, til you do.

Good handholds and footholds for the most part, but whatever beta you figure out, its about keeping your concentration and body tension for that one thin move at the crux. At full spread and with blind feet, its about body tension and trusting a small sloping edge to match hands and move again.

Solid Works, 7A

One of the more skin friendly limestone 7As, where you wont get shut down working it after a few attempts. As its not tidal, quick drying and faces the sun, it can be worked all year round, which is a good incentive to stick with it.

Traverse along the lip to the middle of the boulder using a series of heel hooks and open handed holds before a nice mantle, rockover and easier slabby top out. For me, the process and time invested in this will always be special.

Black Corner, 6C

The exact opposite of Solid Works in that for the most of the winter its wet, smashed by swell and builds up a layer of algae on it. Only after a late spring/summer dry spell and some brushing does it come into condition and then you have to hope your free time coincides with low tide and dry weather. You would think that would serve to frustrate, but it only adds to the allure of all the climbs on the large Fireworks boulder even more.

An easy sit start on juggy holds sucks me in for “just one more try”, drop knee, reach behind and match hands on the rail, cut loose and chop kick the left foot to kill the swing, left hand sidepull, steady, right hand side pull, move left hand up to small edge and…. off. Ive never got beyond that move and it motivates me and grates me all at the one time, but does not topping out stop it from being one of my favourite problems? No chance, this is a must do

Add Broken 6B and Emerland 6C+ to the above to make a list of great climbs I love working but haven’t topped.

Add Gutbusters 6b+ to the list if you like problems where you cant see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Ramp 6B+ was one of the great problems of the crag, but a storm took away a huge chunk of the bottom of it and changed its quality somehow. Im sure those working Body Hammer 7B are probably thinking the same.

And as for all those climbs that were of great quality and fun to climb, but are no longer there.. hopefully ye make a return visit some day, in whatever orientation Neptune decides.

But bouldering at Lackglass isn’t just about nature and climbing for me, it’s about friendship and social sends. It about the lifelong mates that I’ve made through climbing, many of them I met or climbed with the first time at Doolin.

Heres a short movie a friend made some years ago during a spell of hot weather, not the best temps for conditions but some really great memories.

The 5 “Best” HVS’s In Ireland

Writing something like a “best of” list is such a subjective thing, but also such a great thing to get a discussion going.

From writing the previous VS list I know I have a new list of climbs to add to my ever increasing wishlist.

To my shame I have climbed very little in Donegal. I daydream of trips to Cruit, Gola and Owey. Climbs like The Donkeys Pelvis looks like it could make this list with ease, but I haven’t climbed it yet, so I cant comment.

Ive been to The Mournes plenty, but mostly for work and lower graded climbs so Ive not even started ticking the climbs I want to do there personally. But pretty much from the day I bought The Mournes guidebook Parallel Lines and Sweetie Mice jumped out at me and I cant wait to get on them too.

So below is a list of the 5 best HVS’s in Ireland that I’ve climbed, so far. They may not be your best, but they might inspire you to get out and try a new route.

They make my list not solely because of their aesthetic qualities, amazing location or popularity, but because of who I climbed them with and at what stage in my climbing I did them.

I look forward to hearing suggestions of other routes I should add to my list.

Pangur Bán, HVS 5a, 36m, Farrangandoo

No surprise that the best HVS in the country should be at the best crag in the country. But putting aside my blatant love and bias for Fair Head for a moment, this is still a really amazing climb, best saved for late in the evening when the setting sun is on your back. The moves just feel fantastic and the gear is good. Ive had the pleasure of climbing it once on lead and once on second and I cant recall a HVS that Ive enjoyed as much.

Sarcophagus HVS 5a, 5a, 5a, 84m, Glendalough

I dont think Ive ever had an un-enjoyable days climbing at Glendalough, but the first time I did Sarcophagus was one of the best ones. Really good sustained climbing, on solid rock with plenty of gear. The feeling of being high above the Glendalough valley floor amplifies the experience. Its variation finish traversing into Left Wall is one of the top routes in the country too, but as its E1, thats slightly off topic.

Cuchulainn HVS 5a, 30m, Gap Of Dunloe

One of Cons fine routes and one of my first climbs at HVS. I remember being so absorbed in the moment and loved every bit of it, once Id topped out. I seconded Ferdia immediately afterwards and its probably got the cooler moves going through the roof, but for some reason Cuchulainn lives long in my memory as being an outstanding climb at the grade.

Hells Kitchen, HVS, 5a, 5a, 66m, Fair Head

Back to Fair Head and what an epic line. The first time I lead it, I kind of hated it. A really hot day, wearing too many layers and fluffing the top moves, I got cooked in the kitchen. The next time I tried it was a much more enjoyable one and id happily do it again in the morning, if there wasn’t so many amazing routes at FH that I haven’t tried yet.

Hells Kitchen’s famous belay Ledge

Thrust, HVS 5A, Dalkey

Originally recorded as a 2 pitch route, its now commonly climbed in a single pitch. Whichever way you do it, its a classic and for me the best HVS at the crag. Good gear and a strong variation of climbing style from start to finish, its just so much fun to climb. Tucked away, it can be a great option on a busier day at Dalkey. Below is a link to a good video of Thrust being climbed, thanks to Conor for letting me use it.


Honourable Mentions:

Out of my reach, Gap Of Dunloe (a brilliant route and not reachy at all, as per Con the naming of it had nothing to do with climbing rocks).

Great Balls Of Fire, Ailladie (A stunning location and a bit of everything thrown into one).

Pis Fluich, Ailladie – pure marmite, some days i love it, some days i hate it.

Black Widow, Ailladie – 3 boulder problems on top of each other, each level harder than the last, just like a computer game, whats not to love.

Graham Crackers, Dalkey – The E1 5B of Cell Block H makes for a better climb and finish and for me pushes it out of the running slightly.

Meltdown, Gap Of Dunloe – I havent climbed it yet, but its always highly recommended.

Chocks away, Ailladie – another marmite route for people, but one I really loved climbing. Full value for the absorbing crux corner. Trust your feet and your cams!

The 5 Best VS Climbs In Ireland

If you’re like me, then you’ve been spending most of lockdown dreaming about getting out and climbing again, especially at my favourite Irish crags.

Sometimes thumbing through guidebooks and making tick-lists are the genesis of all good adventures.

This is a list of 5 climbs that I think every VS climber should aim to lead at some stage.

They vary in style, location and rock type and could make for a useful base for planning a summer climbing trip around Ireland.

The Black Thief, VS 4b, 24m, Fair Head

If you love hand jams, you’ll love The Black Thief, 24m of cruisey jams and gear on demand. Even if you dont love hand jams yet, then this is the climb to get you started and its fitting that it should be a Clare and Calvin route to start off this list.

Prelude-Nightmare, VS 4b, 4b, 4a, 4c, 74m, Glendalough

One of the best climbs on the crag. Solid rock and decent gear placements when needed. Its always a bit exciting leaving the belay ledge and committing to the airy Nightmare pitch. A must do!

Giraffe, VS 4c, 40m, Dun Seanna Head

Such a dramatic setting and an aesthetic line, with good holds and lots of gear. Waves crashing around the belay ledge can add to the drama, but mostly for your belayer as they will you to hurry up.

Girona, VS 4c, 4c, 47m, Fair Head

Another at Fair Head, but then it is the best crag in the world, so hardly surprising. Girona has a bit of everything climbing wise, but for me the final few moves on the upper section of pitch 2 are class. Hard for the grade but with gear on demand, its an absolute classic.

Jug City, VS 4c, 12m, Ailladie

It might seem odd that a 12m route peppered with jugs can be given the same grade as Girona. Its way easier to climb, but as a climbing experience, if VS is your grade, its up there with anything Ireland has to offer. For most people its there first abseil in route at Ailladie and with good reason too.

Honourable mentions:

Taoiseach, VS 4c, 4c, Fair Head – The slab section at the start of pitch 2 is awesome

Mahjongg, VS 4c, Dalkey – Fun, thin slab climbing.

Roaring Meg, VS 5a, Fair Head – a long route with some excellent moves on it.R

Kudos VS 4c, 4c Gap Of Dunloe – awesome route and a good multipitch adventure high above the valley floor.

Hopefully this inspires some to get out and climb when we are allowed do so again.

Let me know if you agree or even strongly disagree with my choice or if you feel there’s been a glaring omission then I’m happy to hear that too, it might just inspire me to get out somewhere new too.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and Id be happy to chat.

Prusik Knots & Autoblocks

The term Prusik knot or Autoblock is often used to generalise a number of different friction hitches that we use regularly in climbing.

Below are three friction hitches that I use a lot, their pros and cons and when or where I might use them.

The Prusik Knot (aka Original Prusik, Classic Prusik)

Developed by Austrian mountaineer Dr Karl Prusik, this hitch works by threading a cord around a rope and back through itself, usually 2 or 3 times, to provide a locking friction hitch that is difficult to release under load.

Its useful as its quick and easy to tie and can be used in both pull directions. It uses the least amount of cord to make, which can be be handy if you want to connect the Prusik to your harness without having to extend it with a sling.

Its less effective on wet or icy ropes and you should never use a sling for a Prusik Knot.

Perhaps its best use is for a scenario like escaping the system, where you dont want the hitch to release under load, but don’t intend to slide it or move it along the rope much.


This hitch works by wrapping the cord around a rope multiple times and passing the bight from one end of the cord through the bight of the other end of the cord.

It locks really well, in fact it can be practically impossible to slide when weighted if used properly. It can be released easily and a sling can be used as well as cord (see below).

However, it only works in one pull direction and its too catchy to use as a back up for abseiling.

Because it grips so hard, it works really well when used in an unassisted haul set up, for escaping the system or when ascending or descending a fixed rope.

French Prusik (aka The Autoblock)

This knot is tied by wrapping the cord around the rope and clipping the bight at both ends of the cord together with a carabiner.

Its advantage and disadvantage is the same thing, it can be easily released, even under pressure.

As this is often used as a “fast moving” hitch a sling isn’t advisable here either as it could slip/slide more easily and melt.

This makes it perfect for using as a back up when abseiling, when lowering someone on an Italian hitch or as a clutch when using a haul system. It would not be an ideal friction hitch to use as a primary safety when ascending a rope however.

Why do I need to know this? (couldn’t I just use a mechanical device?)

While there are purpose made devices out there like the Tibloc, there are a whole host of reasons as to why knowing how to make/use a friction hitch is a good idea. Below are just a few:

  • Cord is cheaper and weighs less than metal
  • you can wrap a friction hitch around two ropes
  • you can use a sling for some set ups (please see below)
  • It can be untied and used for tat to abseil off
  • it causes less wear to your ropes
  • it can be used easily in descent
  • it could be used to make a runner with two crabs if you run out of quick-draws

How do I make one?

  • Use rated cord somewhere between 60 – 80 % of the ropes diameter. 6mm cord covers most scenarios. If the cord is too thick, it wont grip the rope, but too thin and it could melt or deform quicker.
  • Approx 1.2/1.3 metres of cord is needed.
  • Tie both ends of the cord together using a double fishermans knot and make sure there are no twists in the strands before tie-ing.
  • Make sure there are sufficiently long tails, so the cord doesnt pull through the knot when weighted.

Can I use a sling?

It is absolutely best practice to use a rated cord for friction hitches, but a sling can work too, if used right, lets look at when or why.

A Dyneema sling (least resistant to heat) or a Nylon sling (slightly more resistant to heat) are poor choices for Original Prusiks or French Prusiks, but if you were stuck, could be used as a Klemheist, especially in a scenario where they are butting up against a larger rope knot and are prevented from slipping, like when built behind the master point.

Aramid slings have a high melting point and I have successfully used them as a back up French Prusik when abseiling, without any damge or melting. This makes them suitable for all types of friction hitch.

In this article Ive talked bout some advanced techniques liked hauling, escaping the system or ascending fixed lines and about knots which may be unfamiliar to some climbers.

If you dont understand these techniques and terms used above then consider doing a training course and up-skilling your climbing knowledge.

Id strongly recommend using an AMI qualified instructor to show you too, as they will have been trained and assessed on what to teach and how to teach it.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and Id be happy to chat.

Belaying: Harness Loop Or Rope Loop?

First and foremost, if you are tied in with the rope, it is always preferable to belay from the rope loop.

However we dont always tie in (indoors, sports) and there are sometimes exceptions.

Let’s look more into this below, from the point of view of the belayer and the leader.

Indoor climbing/Single Pitch Sports climbing/Bottom Roping

There is no need for the belayer to tie in with the rope, so belaying directly from your harness loop is the obvious and safe thing to do.

Be sure to regularly check the stitching and quality of your harness loop for wear and tear and signs of degradation and retire harnesses when they become unsuitable for use.

Bottom rope belaying direct from harness loop

You would expect the bolts/chains/anchors to be of solid quality in these instances and its of little relevance to factor in shock absorbancy on the system.

Just make sure to always tie a knot in the end of the rope or to a rope bag to prevent the rope from pulling through the belay device, there are numerous recorded instances of this occurring every year, causing serious accidents.

Single Pitch Trad Climbing

Belayer/second: Its a strong personal preference of mine that the belayer/second always ties in from the start and belays off their rope loop in this scenario. This is for two main reasons:

  • Shock absorbancy: If the leader was to fall, belaying from the rope loop will give a little more shock absorbancy under loading. While you would expect the paid out rope to dissipate most of the forces created by the fall, in my opinion, on trad gear, every extra bit of shock absorbancy is wanted. Reducing forces on our leader placed trad gear is generally a good thing.
  • Preventing incidents: On a few occasions I have seen the belayer not tie in, belay from the harness loop and the leader pull up all of the slack rope through the placed gear when safe. Perhaps unnoticed by the second as they put on their shoes. This isn’t a massive issue if the climb is straight up vertical, where the rope can be lowered back down to the belayer, but this can lead to placed gear being left behind. Mainly this becomes an issue when the route traverses or zig zags. Getting the rope back to the second and ensuring they are safe en route would be quite difficult and could lead to them taking a wild swing or even decking out.

Lead climber: Fundamentally, its safe for the leader to pick either option. Should a second fall the comfortable option is the most sought after and that is why we would belay off the rope loop.

Leader belaying from rope loop

The forces of a seconds fall on our body while belaying from the harness loop can be very unpleasant.

We dont really have to think in terms of shock absorbancy for the anchor system here, as in most scenarios the leader will have had time and space to make good anchor choices.

This might be different in Areas of poor rock quality. The last two times I belayed my second off my harness loop were at Murroughkilly and Oughtdarra. Both are areas where the rock is extremely friable and anchors are complex to build. In this instance I belayed off the harness loop as I want my body to be the first shock-absorber, then the rope system.

Mulitpitch Trad/Sport Climbing

Belayer/second: for the same reasons as above I would expect them to belay off the rope loop while on trad multipitch routes. Either option is safe for sports climbing multipitches, but the rope loop is again the preferable option. For incident prevention I would expect the belayer to be tied in from the very start.

Lead climber: While sports climbing its likely that there will be bolted anchors at stances and that you would belay directly off them, so this really isn’t an issue here unless you suspected your bolts to be compromised.

Compromised bolted anchor

Trad climbing throws up a few choices though. If you have placed multiple bomber anchors and are swinging leads, I would preferably do as a single pitch leader would and belay off the rope loop.

If you weren’t swinging leads and the anchors were bomber, id either belay off the rope loop or more probably build a sling based system and belay directly from that.

But sometimes on a trad multipitch your anchor doesnt make you warm and fuzzy, so as a leader you would belay your second from the harness loop. It might be uncomfortable if your second falls, but it might just be the difference in your anchor holding or being compromised.

Rusty Pegs and small wires? Maybe an occasion for a harness loop belay.

Every scenario is different and the above are general rules I try and follow as much as possible, but its also worth saying there are always times when breaking the rules is appropriate for the scenario, experience or further training will tell you when.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and Id be happy to chat.

Cams: Breaking The Rules

For some Trad climbers using cams can be more nuanced and less obvious than a sinker large nut in a perfect constricting crack.

Common myths and absolute rules of using a cam can also lead to misunderstandings. Remember, there are few absolute rules to placing gear, think of them more as best practice guidelines as opposed to hard and fast rules.

Below I have listed some of the misconceptions about cams I’ve heard and occasions when its appropriate to break the rules.

You cant use cams in The Burren.

Limestone is considered a soft rock. Not the kind of soft that you can take ground falls and be happy, but soft in that its top layers or microns are softer than that of granite or quartzite.

If I have the choice between a nut and a cam, I’ll probably use a nut every time. But if I have the choice between a cam or no gear at all, I’m clearly going to try a cam.

When using cams in limestone, we should allow for the softer nature of the rock and treat our cams a little more like passive pro than active pro. We should look for the constrictions and rugosities that exist on limestone cracks and we should attempt to place our cams into the crack where its wide, sliding the lobes behind the knuckles or constrictions.

A nicely constructed cam

When done right, this makes the placement not only reliant on the active camming of the lobes. but also the passive piece of metal being just too big to squeeze out of the crack. I find I even adopt this technique on all rock types now, optimising placements.

On routes like Nutrocker, where the crux crack is very uniform and highly polished, I think we have to work harder on limestone to find an optimal placement than if the rock was granite. A technique I use on limestone is to imagine a thin layer of ice covering the walls of the crack. That forces me to seek out the above mentioned constrictions rather than just rely on the cam working as it normally would.

Failing that I just seek out the deepest possible placement without inserting the trigger. This at least allows the lobes more opportunity to hold.

Theres plenty of good nut placements on Nutrocker anyway, so it’s not like we have to rely on a cam, but most people know the climb and it serves well to visualise the rock surface.

You cant use Cams in horizontal cracks

This came up recently on an RCI training course I was running. One of the trainees had been admonished by a climbing partner for placing a cam in a horizontal crack.

In fairness this was a thing when the stems of cams were rigid metal and there was a potential for the stem to crack off the edge of the crack under load.

Pic courtesy of @justbombergear

This is way less of an issue these days as manufacturers have gone to great lengths to engineer flexible stems from spun wires.

Wider Lobes always on the bottom

When using cams we should always aim to use the wider outside lobes on the widest area of the rock. Think about lobes as legs. If we adopt a wide legged stance its hard to push us off balance, but if we stand with a narrow stance, its much easier to be unbalanced.

Especially on horizontal cracks of a uniform nature we ideally want the wider outside lobes to be on the bottom side of the crack. This is the most desirable outcome, as it leads to less walking, more stability and spreads the load better.

However, we dont always get presented with a perfect uniform crack and there are always exceptions to the rules. The opening or “mouth” of a horizontal crack can be flared and funky for example.

In the photo above, the cam just wont slide anymore inside the crack when the wider lobes are on the bottom (A). Whereas using the same cam with the wide lobes pointing upwards it slides much further inside the crack (B) and ultimately looks to be the better placement.

In an instance where the top edge of the horizontal crack may extend wider than the bottom edge of the crack, it can happen that an “upside down” cam placement is the best option to achieve surface area contact for the cam lobes.

How the lobes are making contact can sometimes rank higher than which way the wide lobes are orientated.

You cant use a cam in a bottom rope anchor

While cams can walk or their placement be altered by a moving rope, they are acceptable to use as an anchor, if an alternative isnt available.

Yes, if you’re setting up a bottom rope anchor, the anchors will be out of sight when in use, so ideally its highly preferable to use a sling, nut or hex, but we dont always get preferable choices and have to use whats there.

Maybe by equalizing two side by side cam placements with a sling, into a singular anchor point, we can lessen potential for walking or movement, obviously used as a part of a bigger anchor set up.

For example, trying to set up a bottom rope on the popular Cronin’s Crack without cams will have you exploring.

All 4 Lobes must be touching rock.

4 points of contact are best. 3 points of contact can be fine, but you want it to be the two wide outside lobes camming and possibly sacrifice one of the inside lobes

I once placed a small cam on a route called Sunken Business in The Gap. Only 3 lobes were in contact, with one of the outside lobes hanging in free air, but it was all that I could find to place at the time and the only piece between me and the ground.

I continued to climb and actually reached a positive hold, but couldnt take my mind off what looked like a funky cam placement, I freaked out a bit, started to down climb, slipped, fell and thanks to great belaying and 3 lobes I stopped about 1 inch off the ground.

It was a weird way to learn a lesson but a lesson learnt all the same.

I dont recommend testing your gear this way if possible though.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and we can chat.

When placing cams there are certain criteria that, given the choice, we should always aim to achieve. However, we aren’t always given the choice and we have to use whats in front of us on the route.

Cracks naturally aren’t all uniform in shape and size and this can be

Rock Climbing: Placing Trad Gear

Whether its building an anchor or placing it while on lead, how can you tell if your trad gear is safe or not?

Luckily there are 5 golden rules for deciding if your gear is bomber without having to take a nervy fall to find out!

Direction Of Pull

If the piece of gear you placed is only good when pulled up and you are going to fall down, then its not very likely to hold. Now this might seem simplistic but it gets a little more complicated when you add in horizontal cracks on traversing routes.

If you place a piece in a horizontal crack that pulls right, but you are about traverse left, then a fall or even the rope could easily dislodge your piece.

And remember, when placing a cam in a vertical crack, make sure the stem is angled at a 45 degree angle to the cliff (towards the ground) and not at a 90 degree angle to the cliff, otherwise under load it could move or pop quite easily.

Quality Of Rock

If the quality of the rock you are placing the gear in isn’t good, then it may not matter how well you place you gear.

We should investigate thoroughly the quality of the rock, both in the crack itself and the overall quality of the rock in the local area of the crack.

Quality of rock on sidewalls of the crack very good!

If the rock has hairline cracks around it could it be friable and have potential to move or crumble under a heavy load? Remember a piece of rock only has to move a millimetre in order for your gear to pop.

Flakes: I have seen gear placed behind suspect/loose flakes as a pyschological piece to get through a move. While this might be helpful to you on lead, if you fall its not just you in danger but your belayer too. Risking a bigger fall might actually be the safer thing here.

Surface Area Contact

This one should be simple but so often I see climbers not fully understand it. The aim is to get maximum surface area contact between the side of the nut/hex/cam-lobes and the side of the crack its placed in.

We can achieve this best by looking for a constriction on a crack, placing a piece in where the crack is wider and sliding it towards where its constricted or narrowing.

Constriction alone isnt good enough though, as maximum surface area contact between the piece and the rock ensures better hold and less movement of the piece by the rope.

Size Matters

Yes bigger is better, but not at the expense of surface area contact.

If you have the option of placing a number 3 nut with 100% perfect surface area contact or a number 11 nut with 70% surface, then size doesn’t matter and go with the size 3 nut. Its more than strong enough to hold and should be trusted.

If you have the option of a size 3 nut or a size 11 nut and they both have similar surface area contact in a good quality crack, then yes, choose the bigger piece.

Deeper is better

The deeper we can place the piece inside the crack the better, however, again only if it doesn’t compromise the surface area contact.

Often we dont have muliple depth choices with a nut as they rely more on an element of constriction. Cams however can work better in uniform/parallel crack.

So if you have the option of placing a cam 1 inch inside a uniform crack or 3 inches inside a uniform crack then obviously the latter is the better option. Just make sure you dont put the cam so deep your second cant release trigger.

Scoring Systems?

I have seen people use scoring systems for deciding whether a piece of gear is good or not. I dont use these systems for a few reasons, but mainly its because it can be totally redundant if not fully understood.

A piece of gear scoring badly on point number one (direction of pull) but brilliantly on all the other points is still likely to pull out under fall.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

Mountain Leader: What is a QMD?

Logging quality mountain days (QMD’s) after your ML training is one of the core requirements of your consolidation.

It is important that this list of QMD’s is diverse, provides plenty of challenging moments for you and shows your dedication to becoming a well rounded ML.

What constitutes a QMD?

A QMD should entail the following:

– The candidate is involved in the planning and instigation
– The walk would last at least 5 hours and take place in an unfamiliar area
– The majority of time should be spent above 500m, distance should be over 16km with over 600m of height gain during the day and cover a variety of terrain
– The use of a variety of hill walking techniques
– Adverse weather conditions may be encountered

– Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in the Irish and UK hills

To elaborate on the above, our routes should encompass the following criteria:


The walk should be both physically and mentally challenging for you. A tired brain and legs are always a good sign that you pushed it on a day out. If you arent tired by the walks finish, then perhaps you should have tagged on that extra peak along the way.


Exploring new terrain and getting out of our comfort zones and the hills that we walk regularly is a great way to consolidate. We wont be relying solely on memory to navigate and it will stimulate the all important decision making parts of the brain. Remember, we aren’t aiming to be a “Kerry ML” or a “Mournes ML”, we are aiming to be an ML, able to work anywhere in the UK and Ireland.


Both the weather conditions and the underfoot conditions should provide challenge for us. We need to be practiced in all types of both so that we can be assessed and work on all types of both. Murphys Law will dictate your assessment will happen on a weekend of atrocious weather, I know mine was. You have to build up that toughness and resilience along the way, so dont only be a fair weather trainee.


When going to walk in a new area, figuring out where you are going to start/finish your walk, where you will park and if there are any access issues is a skill in itself. These logistical skills will be invaluable for when you are working as an ML and have the expectations and requirements of real clients.

QMD Examples

The context of any QMD is important. Weather conditions, time of year/daylight and underfoot conditions play a huge part in the context of any of these examples, so maybe thats where the description in your DLOG can provide additional info to just distance, height and time travelled. Its worth noting this before giving examples.


Starting at Glendalough, you climb Derrybawn, Mullacor and Lugduff and continue along to Turlough hill. At this point you have 4 likely options:

B: descend the spur to the minors path, and take the trail back to the carpark. This would be the weakest option and although you would have hit the time and distance for a QMD, I personally feel it wouldnt count as the latter part of the day doesnt provide any navigational challenge.

C: Descend via Camaderry, providing additional time spent on the hills and possible navigational challenges if the visibility is poor. A solid enough QMD.

D: Take the St Kevins way back to the carpark. While this is more rugged and broken than the miners trail, it provides little challenge navigationally and I wouldnt consider it a good QMD.

E: By dropping down to the Wicklow Gap and ascending Tonglegee and The Brockaghs, you have chosen a committed day out on the hills, will utilise lots of skills and will have logged an excellent QMD.


Most leisure walkers who climb Tomies and Purple Mountain either stop on Purple or at the Glas Lough and retrace their steps to the car or drop down to the Head Of The Gap and walk home via the trail road.

While it may look like a small area on a map, both of the above would would be full days out distance and time wise, encompassing steep terrain, major peaks and navigational challenges less obvious than it first seems.

However for the purposes of logging a QMD, retracing your steps (in this particular instance) would be a little contrived, unimaginative and personally I think a softer QMD.

Walking via the Gap Of Dunloe trail road (B) is one of the most scenic and beautiful walks in the country, but its not ML terrain, even after a tough climb of Purple. Not a QMD.

However, if you headed up Drishana (C) from the Head of the Gap, then down the Ballagh Pass to Strickeen, it would be a solid QMD, covering lesser travelled areas of the Gap.


Perhaps a lesser visited part of the Connemara Mountains, climbing the Devils Mother and around Maumtrasna would make for an excellent QMD. Steep ground, awkward underfoot conditions, potential difficult navigation across the plateau in bad weather and not a trail in sight. A great day out.

The Mournes

Perhaps not the usual way to climb Donard, but by utilising the Mournes Shuttle Service or carpooling, a really great day out could be had by starting at Carrick Little. From memory it felt like a big day on the legs and a way in which you can encompass one of the provincial highpoints while still attaining the distance required for a QMD.


There will be plenty of times when you don’t quite hit all of the above criteria but still have a quality day in the hills and are a little unsure whether to include them as QMD’s or not.

Im firmly of the opinion that if some of your walks hit most of the above criteria but possibly come up short in others, I still think it can be logged as a successful QMD.

Justification of why will depend on your description of the weather, terrain and events of the day.

In addition to the above info, I would add the following advice:

  • try to log walks on all 4 provinces of Ireland. If you aren’t familiar with the rest of the country then doing the 4 peaks is a good place to start. Just not by the obvious trail. Do the provincial high point one day and a lesser travelled nearby peak the next.
  • try get to all the mountainous areas of Ireland at least once.
  • try tick off major peaks on your walks.
  • try to get to either Scotland, Wales or England at least once to hike, before your assessment.
  • get creative with your route planning and look at link up routes.
  • try log some classic “crossings” of the Irish hills. These take commitment, planning, navigation and logistical skills. There are many to choose from, for example :      
  • – The Iveragh Crossing (3-4 days)        
  • – The Sliabh Mish (2 days)        
  • – The Mournes Wall (1 long day or 2 days with camping) 
  •        – The Beara Penninsula (2-3 days)
  • – The Twelve Bens (1 long day or 2 days with camping

Should I log non-QMD’s?

In short, yes. Log Everything! Include everything you do on your DLOG. Even times when you gave up after two hours of persistent bad weather and retreated to your car with your tail between your legs. It might not be a QMD but it shows the assessor a few things, like:

  • you were willing to go out on the bad weather days and the good.
  • you know the frustration of what its like to fail, pick yourself up and come back for more.
  • That you are committed to the process of becoming an ML and that you didnt just do the bare minimum required.

Can I just log the bare minimum before assessment?

Technically yes. The requirements are set in stone. Unofficially and in my opinion its a poor reflection on you as a candidate not to have above and beyond the requirements.

An assessor wants to see in you a passion for the mountains, the bare minimum isnt a good impression.

When you start working as an ML, will you do the bare minimum for your clients or go above and beyond? If your answer to that is the former then perhaps the ML isn’t for you.

If you are interested in becoming a Mountain Leader please click here for further details.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post or other skills or awards.

RCI: Problem Solving

This post will hopefully give clarity to trainee Rock Climbing Instructors around what kind of problems they will be asked to solve or discuss on assessment. If you haven’t read the problem avoidance post, its definitely worth reading too.

In this post I don’t discuss how to actually complete any of the problems that might arise, for a few reasons:

  • It would become a lengthy post.
  • you should have covered these on your training.
  • I don’t want to encourage the inexperienced to try out these methods.
  • Figuring the solutions out for yourself or with peers will lead to much better retention.
  • But please get in touch if you cant remember how to manage one of these scenarios and have completed your RCI training.

What are we going to look at?

We are going to look at common, less common and complex problems which could occur indoor or outdoor climbing at a single pitch crag.

If time and ability of the trainee allowed, the trainer might have chosen to discuss complex problems. However, there should have been a clear line to identify when a problem is considered too complex and outside of RCI remit.

Common problems

Examples of common problems are as follows:

  • Climber stuck on a ledge
  • Climber moving off route
  • Climber refusing to be lowered
  • Climber inverting when being lowered
  • Client belaying badly/incorrectly, under supervision
  • Client hair/scarf/clothes caught in a belay/abseil device
  • Knot on the slack rope below the belay device
  • Harness on incorrectly/twisted

It should be within the scope of all RCI’s to know how to prevent and solve all of the above problems and/or slight variations of them.

Less Common Problems

Examples of less common but still realistic problems are as follows:

  • second climbing past a runner
  • The second cant unlock the crab they used to belay you
  • The second cant remove a piece of gear
  • client belaying off a wrongly threaded gri-gri
  • client belaying of a gear loop
  • collapsing/fainting belayer
  • climber physically stuck in a crack
  • compromised/untied knot on a climber

It should be within the scope of all RCI’s to know how to prevent and solve all of the above problems and/or slight variations of them.

Complex Problems

I am including these as examples of what a trainee should not be asked to execute on an assessment or while working as a qualified RCI.

  • Y Hang, snatch or pick up rescue
  • any scenario that involves you soloing
  • any scenario that involve you ascending/descending a rope using a prusik
  • any scenario that involves you rigging a haul system
  • counter balance abseil

Will I be asked to perform a “Y-hang” or “pick up” rescue?

No. While this was taught as part of the syllabus when I passed my assessment, it is no longer within the remit of the RCI.

To quote the MTA guidance notes directly “prusiking, counter balance abseils and “snatch” rescues are beyond the scope of the Rock Climbing Instructor Scheme.

I hope the above gives a decent checklist of problems for you to practice solving, but feel free to get in touch about any scenario you would like further explained

And remember:

  • always practice problem solving in a safe and backed up way or under the tutelage of an experienced mentor if you are unsure what you are doing.
  • problem avoidance is always better than problem solving,

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this video or other skills.

RCI: Problem Avoidance

The best solution for problem solving is to avoid creating the problem in the first place. It seems so simple, but it works.

Ask any experienced RCI how often they actually have a major problem to solve or “rescue” to enact and I’m sure the answer will be hardly ever.

Having a good eye for potential problems and having a good working knowledge of the crags and cliffs we use with clients is the best possible way for us to avoid major problems.

  • Avoid routes with large ledges on them, such as Frost In May at Ballyryan. If a climber gets cragfast and cant be talked down, you ideally want them to eventually lose grip and safely fall off the climb onto the safety of the rope. If the climb you have set up has a large ledge, then they could easily stand or sit for quite a long time without falling off.
  • Avoid traversing routes as much as possible. This doesnt mean that you have to stick to routes that are completely vertical. A lot of appropriate single pitch introductory climbs will have a small element of traversing in them and this is fine once managed or where they present a low consequence outcome for the climber should they fall. However, routes that traverse consistently are best avoided due to the obvious potential for big swings.
  • Overhanging routes can cause problems with overweight or top heavy clients inverting. If the overhand is very steep, the client could take a big swing during a fall. While its unlikely you would set up overhanging routes for a novice, the RCI doesnt always just work with novices and many climbers coming from an indoors background are more than comfortable and able for an overhang. Setting up a bottom rope on Stigmata might be frowned upon though.
  • Loose or suspect rock. Any routes with obvious loose rock or suspected dangerous loose rock should be avoided. I have a personal dislike for bottom ropes on Porcupine at Dalkey Quarry, as there is a massive and “booming” loose rock near the top, dislodging which would certainly create a severe accident for climber and belayer.
  • Attentive belaying is as important as just taking in. Its common to see an instructor belaying a climber while also chatting to the rest of the clients on the ground. While taking in slack rope is the primary concern of the belayer, they should also be observant of where the climber is going. They could easily move off route while the belayer is distracted, creating potential for an uncontrolled swing or climber getting cragfast.
  • Jewellery, scarves, hair, watches and phones can all get stuck, wrap around or fall out of pockets while climbing. Always remember to start every session by asking clients to remove jewellery, put away coins and phones, or anything that can fall out of a pocket and hit someone. Choke hazards like scarves and catch hazards like long hair should be removed and tied up respectively. Insist on this, perhaps even provide a small box or bag where they can leave their valuables and dont accept a client who thinks “it’ll be grand”. Describe finger “de-gloving” in detail if they arent respecting your request.
  • Helmets shoulds be properly sized and fitted. If a climber does bang their head, you want the correct parts to be protected.
  • Harnessess should be fitted properly, around the fleshy part of the belly and above the hip bones. Not on the hip bones. They should be regularly checked especially if the climber took them off for the bathroom or a cigarette break.
  • Use triple lock carabiners for clipping in. If you’re clipping customers in rather than tying in, be it for efficiency on a bottom rope set up or for the safety line on a group abseil, use a triple action locking carabiner and always always double check its properly locked. I have observed people in the past who described themselves as experienced climbers, not fasten up a screw-gate carabiner they were about to rely on.
  • Clear and concise briefing prior to climbing is much simpler than solving a problem. Perhaps having the first climber or another instructor demonstrate what you would like them to do when being lowered, would prevent a nervous client not wanting to relax back onto a bottom rope. Likewise, it needs to be explained to novice clients that they arent attempting to top out on a bottom rope before they start climbing. It can be hard to direct or instruct someone who is far away at the top of a climb, feeling nervous and with strong wind deafening your instructions.

But sometimes problems occur and to fix them, we should know what to do. To learn more, read this blog on solving common problems.

Remember to always dress and stress your knots, put a knot in the end of your abseil rope and tie a good stopper knot.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this video or other skills.