Pierre is writing an article for french climbing mag Grimper about bouldering in ireland. He asked me a few questions and I have included them and my answers here.
1. Are you the Irish Bouldering Guru?
Look at it this way – if I was on mastermind my specialist topic would be bouldering in Ireland. I’m just a trainspotter. People assume I’m a wad and are then a bit confused when they meet me.
2. What are your name, age and familial status?
You know my name. 33. Married.
3. Do you consider yourself a true Dub?
4. Do you remember your first climbing achievement?
Do you mean the first time I climbed? It was either with scouts or on an outdoor course I did when I was 11 or 12. I haven’t any achievements of note.
5. I’ve been told you were once a scout. Is that true? Do you think this is where your quest for exploring the Irish bouldering potential started?
Technically I still am as I’m a scout leader. Yes I was in scouts. This was when I grew interested in the outdoors. A lot of the early bouldering I did was in north Wicklow, places like Knocknagun. We would walk or cycle up and camp. It was as much, if not more, about the camping and all that that entails. For years we would spend weekends in Glendo camped in the forest or amoung the boulders. Bouldering during the day and sitting around the fire drinking at night. I always used to feel sorry for the other climbers as they headed off back to the carpark and home when we would have the whole valley to ourselves as the darkness descended.
6. Were there any other people from the Dublin mafia in the scouts?
Mafia? Some of my friends who I climb with were. I have always climbed with my friends. I suppose I’m Iucky that way. A lot of them whom I climbed with in the past no longer climb but they are still my friends. I have always been interested in the outdoors.
7. Did you already know many of the places you later visited as a boulderer? If so, were they better or worse than what you remembered?
The impression a places gives to a boulderer and a non-boulderer can be very different. Yes I remember being in Lough Bray and Glendo between the time I first climbed and started to climb independently. I received a tip off about Glenmacnass from my friend Kev who had spied the boulders from a distance while on a scout hike.
8. Why did you start bouldering? And with who?
Ever since I started climbing independently I was a boulderer. At first it was because we didn’t have any gear of our own. In my early years I spent a huge amount of time bouldering in the quarry, particularly Ivy Wall. Probably why I never go there anymore. Once I started college I had use of a rack and I gradually acquired my own. For a while I was pretty into trad climbing. Diarmuid, Ped, Kev and I started developing some new routes in Raven’s Glen near Maulin in Wicklow. It was great fun, cleaning and climbing. At this point I would of bouldered in Glendo a few times. But once we got tried of the faff of new routing our focus turned to bouldering and I haven’t looked back since.
9. Which routes have you climbed in Dalkey quarry?
I’d say I have done most of the easy ones and none of the hard ones. I once tried to onsight a route called Praying Mantis in the quarry. Fortunately I placed a siderunner which was the only piece of gear that held when I fell a few feet from the top. In a way this is my best and worst memory of the quarry. I did love the place once. I used to spend so much time there soloing or bouldering.
10. Are you doing any trad-climbing lately?
None for years.
11. Did you ever have to argue about ethics? Do you remember your worst/best discussions?
I have had lots of discussion but no arguments. I once talked to the infamous Si O’Connor on the telephone which was pretty weird.
12. Bouldering or sport? Bouldering or trad ? Ever had to pick a side?
I have never sport climbed. I choose bouldering over trad all the time. I do like soloing but haven’t done much of it in the last few years.
13. What is your occupation at the moment? Any plan to change in the future?
I’m an unemployed house husband. As for the future I have no idea. Would like to do another book, have loads of ideas but I’m not sure how viable they are. I’m sure something will come up. I’m in no rush.
14. The recession has probably affected your climbing. Was that good or bad?
You are right. The reason I wrote my guide was cause I was made redundant from my job. I felt it was now or never. I could have written it in my spare time but it would of taken years and I would have ended up hating it before the end. Quick and painless is the way. I’m glad the way things have worked out.
15. Your hardest ticks?
Bouldering : I would say I might have done 6c at some stage. Somehow somewhere. Definitely no more.
Trad : E1 I would think but soft quarry E1.
Sport : None
Other : None
16. Have you visited every single area detailed in your guide? If not, how many of the places described in your guide have you actually visited yourself?
I just counted it up and I haven’t been to 6 (Rocky Bay, The Loaf, Fanad, Doagh, Rubonid, Greyabbey) so thats 84 out of 90 which is 93%, pretty good I reckon. Basically I ran out of time and couldn’t get to them. I couldn’t find Rubonid actually.
17. You have compiled 5 PDF versions of the guide since 2000. What were the main issues you had to discuss, apart from the obvious problem of grades?
I never have any hassle about grades, they aren’t a bit deal, I don’t spend ages staring into space wondering is Andy’s Arete really 7a or 7a+. I laugh when I hear or read people take them as fact. While I’m massively grateful to all those who every contributed to the guide I can’t help wonder about the rest, the silent majority who contribute nothing. I’m not saying the irish climbing scene is any worse than others in this regard but I do find it frustrating sometimes.
18. The format of the guide seems a popular one these days. What are your favourite bouldering guidebooks? (I am referring to the actual products, not the spots).
My main inspiration was the Peak Bouldering Guide which is one of my favourites. If you think about guides of a similar format – landscape A5 – and subject – bouldering – are always going to look pretty similar. There are exceptions like Simon Panton’s North Wales guide which is a one off. I like 7+8 but I’m not sure if it is a good guide. It’s style is very extreme.
19. ‘Ben’s Font’ became ‘Cloghogue’, but ‘Ayton’s Cave’ remained ‘Ayton’s Cave’. Any comment?
Plenty. I suppose part of the logic of that was that boulders in Cloghoge (I dropped the U after doing more research) already had a name that described them pretty well. Cloghoge means rocky place in Irish. And the river which runs within meters of some of the boulders is called Cloghoge. When the Ayton’s Cave name came up I didn’t like it. Still don’t. But after doing some research I couldn’t find a name that referred to that part of the coast and Howth Cave was a bit too general. So Ayton’s Cave didn’t have a name so Dave had a good claim on naming it.
20. You decided not to mention the first ascents in the guide because you said that ‘one can never be sure it will be correct’. Holds break, boulders move – every 6 months in the case of Doolin – and vegetation grows. Clearly, your guide will be incorrect before the end of the year – as all guide books do. Any comment?
Part of the reason I didn’t credit FAs alongside the description, name and grade was that I didn’t know most of the FAs so it would of been a largely blank entry or a ‘?’. I did consider listing FAs for the list of top 89 problems but in the end the benefits of getting it right were out weighted by the hassle getting it wrong would create.
21. You provide your readers with a list of 89 best problems, but what are your top three?
I haven’t done Echo Arete on Polldoo which is the best problem in Ireland I think. I’m happy not to have done it on the basis that I will get it done at some stage. There aren’t really two standouts. St Kevin’s Slab is a pretty cool piece of rock and I like the way it came about. I was searching for photos of boulders on the internet, as one does, and saw a tourist photo that had this nice looking slab in it. I took note of it but had low expectations literally I thought it was going to be too small. Low and behold it was a beautiful clean slab, the perfect height and difficulty. It’s not often things work out that well.
22. Finally, are you ‘the short span’ of that title?
No. The short span is mentioned in a poem by Geoffery Winthrop Young http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Winthrop_Young
“In this short span between my finger-tips on the smooth edge and these tense feet cramped to the crystal ledge I hold the life of man.”
I liked it very much then and still do.