Howling Ridge is one of the few really good mountaineering routes in Ireland and as such its popular. If you’ve not climbed it before, it can feel a little daunting to try, but if you have the right skills, it shouldn’t be.
Hopefully this blog gives you some ideas on what not to do if you are considering climbing it.
- Don’t Climb It in Rock Shoes
Even though Howling Ridge is given a rock climbing grade of VD, 99% of the route is scrambling/mountaineering and can be done easily in boots.
There is a 10 metre section on The Tower where it might be nice to have your climbing shoes on, especially if you’re not used to technical climbing in your boots, but other than this you are moving fast over scrambling terrain.
- Push, Don’t Pull.
The sedimentary sandstone rock on Howling Ridge is very loose and extremely dangerous if pulled loose. Dangerous to the leader, the seconds and to hillwalkers below.
Climbers with less experience often resort to pulling down hard on handholds, but as anyone that’s ever taken a climbing lesson will have heard: climbing is more about pushing with your feet than pulling with your hands. Nowhere is this more apt than on an extremely loose and chossy ridgeline like Howling Ridge.
Practice mantling and pushing in on holds, which should hold them in place, rather than pulling out too aggressively and have the discipline to stick to this style of climbing, even when faced with the exposure on the narrow and steeper sections.
This sounds simple, but I’ve often seen climbers resort to just trying to pull hard when they cant figure out a move.
- Place Enough Gear.
There are four main reasons why a lead climber/Instructor/Guide would place gear.
- To keep themselves safe
- To keep their seconds/clients safe
- To show their seconds/clients what direction to climb (and where not to go!)
- To teach them
You will hear some leaders/Instructors say that they don’t need to place any or very much gear to keep themselves safe on a route like this, especially as they “know the route”. This may be the case, but it shouldn’t be all about the leader, especially if their seconds/clients are novices.
On traverse sections, gear can be used to protect the seconds/clients from swinging in the event of a fall or slide.
As well as a leader may know a route, I’ve often seen them not place enough gear, which resulted in their seconds not knowing where to climb and going off route. This can be lethal on a mountaineering route where the less travelled sections of the ridge are loose and break off. This can be amplified by strong winds, which blow the ropes off route and confuse the seconds as to where to go.
- Avoid Large Groups Or Climbing In Large Groups
Howling Ridge can be popular and rightly so, its an amazing experience, but quite often it can be climbed by multiple parties of the same club on the same day. Each to their own and I understand not everyone’s schedule allows it, but Id prefer to climb it on a less crowded day, so I always try to avoid weekends and stick to climbing it midweek. This can make for a more enjoyable experience and a feeling of adventure, as opposed to waiting in line for your turn.
I also only ever climb Howling Ridge as a party of 3. Rockclimbing and Mountaineering most commonly happens in pairs and some times trios. Any more than 3 people and climbing a mountaineering route becomes less authentic and more of a tourist experience. While it is possible to ascend a roped scramble as a large group, for me, its not how I like to experience the mountains.
I was asked once by a group of 4 to lead them up the route. I knew one of the 4 had climbing experience, had been on HR before and knew how to place gear. So I convinced him to lead 1 of the group on a separate rope to me, trailing behind while I lead the other 2. This was empowering for him, with me in close proximity if they needed, he had the confidence to push on and lead the route himself. This speaks to how I wish to engage in the mountains, in a transformative and not transactional style. If you are ready and have the skills, I would much prefer to push you towards being self sufficient.
Do your research, learn the route and get as familiar with the topo as possible before you attempt Howling Ridge.
There are enough good photos, videos and guidebook descriptions out there to be as familiar with the route as possible prior to trying it. While the top of the route isn’t that complicated in terms of route finding, perhaps at the start or middle section, there are places where climbers can drift to the sides of the ridge. One recent incident resulted in a party of climbers getting lost on the ridge and having to spend overnight on the ridge while waiting for Mountain Rescue to come for them in the morning for this reason.
If you are on lead on the route and feel like you have taken a wrong line, there is always potential to retrace your steps and consult with your climbing partner(s), even if this slows you down in the short term, it could mean safely summitting.
- Take Your Time
If it’s your first time on Howling Ridge, slow and steady will win the race, better to be sure of your gear placements/anchors/route finding. Its not the Alps and the walk off the top of Carrauntoohil shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to someone capable of climbing HR.
While climbing Howling Ridge can be a long day out, it’s not as serious as in the Alps or Scottish Winter and getting up and down as fast as possible shouldn’t be the goal of your day. Enjoy the climb, have fun and soak in the experience! Better to be efficient and calm rather than racing up it and making mistakes and errors of judgement.
If its outside summer months, pack head torches, maps and a compass and have the ability to use them. Getting home to the cars as it falls dark can be part of the overall experience rather than another thing to race against.
If you are interested in learning rope skills, gear placement and techniques, perhaps this might interest you