Winter in Ireland is a very fleeting mistress with a sudden drop in the ambient air temperature and an even swifter rise in temperature, Winter conditions in the Irish mountains can come and go in a single day. It is when a period of extended cold weather hits the Emerald Isle, it is then that its mountains are transformed into a true winter wonderland. The online winter climbing guide is found at uniqueascent.ie.
At the northern end of The Derryveagh Mountains in County Donegal lives a huge flat topped mountain called Muckish named from the Irish, Mucais or an Mhucais, meaning the pig's back. The south face of the mountain holds the easiest and most popular route to it’s huge flat topped summit. The north face of Muckish is a completely different beast as the entire face is dominated by a huge steep sided corrie. This corrie holds the remains of the ancient mining works used long ago to extract the high grade quartz sand from the mountain, the sand was then used to produce high quality glass.
Looking for Donegal Ice
The old miners track into the corrie provides an excellent and easy summer navigation route into the corrie and up onto the summit of the mountain. When winter hits county Donegal this corrie is transformed into an outstanding winter mountaineering venue. The steep normally wet sides of the corrie freeze and are plastered with snow. With a few freeze/ thaw cycles this snow soon consolidates and is quickly transformed into superb neve. This neve provides outstanding underfoot conditions for winter walking into this magnificent corrie. The miners track is quite steep in places and a single walking axe and crampons are recommended as the track weaves it’s way up and through several amazing but steep gullies to the huge summit plateau.
Unclimbed Winter Ground
From the summit of Muckish Mountain the views are vast, uninterrupted and breathtaking as far as the eye can see towards the Slievetooey massif to the South, the Inishowen Peninsula to the North and the surrounding Derryveagh mountains.
Poisoned Glen climbing
Poisoned Glen in the Derryveagh Mountains is by far the most outstanding winter climbing venue in Donegal and a contender for the best in Ireland. This wall of north-facing cliff stretches for over a kilometre and reaches a height of 400m at its highest point on The Bearnas Buttress. The cliff is seamed with deep wet gullies and hidden vertical water courses and given the correct winter conditions it will provide many lifetimes of icy climbing potential. Alas when the glen comes into excellent condition it is prone to temperature inversion which can allow for good conditions for the walk in but means an early start to avoid the midday thaw on the high faces.
Errigal Mountain is Donegal’s highest point. Its south ridge route is climbed by thousands of walkers on an annual basis. Under winter conditions this mountain provides exceptional winter mountaineering routes on its exposed north, west and east faces. The climbing is mainly mixed climbing on faces and arêtes with the north face providing the excellent 200m long, grade III Tower Ridge.
Slieve Snaght Summit
The North face of Mac Uchta, Errigal’s next door neighbour provides a collection of steep snow gullies all in the lower grade in a spectacular and lonely setting.
The north face of Maumlack high above the shores of Lough Croloughan provides an easy accessed venue with a reliable collection of water ice routes.
The huge, remote and mildly intimidating north face of Slieve Snaght in the Derryveagh Mountains, provides a selection of excellent low grade winter climbs in a superb and atmospheric location.
The Horseshoe Coire is a huge steep sided corrie immediately to the northwest of Lough Barra in the Derryveagh mountains and provides many steep water courses and falls. The potential for further winter routes here is enormous alas it is south-facing and requires a prolonged deep freeze.
Square Cut Gully
The above locations are just a small sample of the winter climbing available when conditions allow, with many more less reliable venues scattered throughout the county’s mountain ranges.
Iain Miller is a rock climber living working and playing on the sea cliffs, sea stacks, uninhabited islands and mountain ranges of County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The climbers guide to Donegal is http://uniqueascent.ie/undiscovered_donegal.