County Donegal is Off the Beaten Track … If you love the idea of setting foot on terrain that has less foot traffic than the moon, then the mountain ranges, rugged coastline and imposing sea stacks of County Donegal are whispering your name.
Up here it’s different. — Iain Miller
If you love the idea of setting foot on terrain that has less foot traffic than the moon, then the mountain ranges, rugged coastline and imposing sea stacks of County Donegal are whispering your name. Donegal provides more climbable rock in some of the most remotely beautiful locations than the rest of Ireland combined.
‘Up here it’s different’ is the marketing slogan used to describe this most northern part of Ireland, and the one hundred sea stacks on the coastline live up to that promise.
Sea stack climbing offers an unforgettable outdoor adventure combining nautical and climbing skills. Your sea stack adventure starts with the guide meeting you at your accommodation. Together, you hike from the nearest road, along a clifftop path to descend a sea cliff, and then walk across a deserted beach to board an inflatable dinghy. This will whisk you across the waves to your sea stack destination, where you will be expertly guided to the summit.
What makes this adventure unique, according to Iain Miller, the highly experienced mountaineering instructor and guidebook author who offers guided sea stack climbing, are the interactions between the climbers and the natural environment.
“The pristine marine habitat of the Donegal coast — including basking sharks, seals, dolphins, gannets and fulmars — allows climbers to experience at first hand the wonders of the natural world.”
According to Iain, some of these natural experiences can even include being spat at by protective fulmars and swimming with basking sharks (you’ll be relieved to find that they only eat plankton).
We had a chat with Iain to find out more about County Donegal and the experience of sea stack climbing. Below is our Q & A with him.
Q: What sets County Donegal apart as an ‘off the beaten track’ destination?
Donegal boasts two major Irish mountain ranges, over a thousand kilometres of coastline, one hundred sea stacks and as many diverse climbing mediums and locations as you will find in the rest of the country. There are currently a shade under 3,000 rock climbs recorded throughout the length and breadth of the county. These include: Ireland’s longest rock climb, Ireland’s largest mountain crag, Ireland’s longest ice climb and Ireland’s highest sea stack.
County Donegal offers world class rock climbing in some of the most beautiful, remote and unspoilt locations in Ireland.
Read more about Country Donegal climbing HERE.
Q: Which of the one hundred sea stacks here would you recommend?
Cnoc na Mara (Hill of the Sea) represents all that is great about adventure climbing. Its location and isolation, and the fact that a 150m long knife edge ridge takes you from sea level to a summit 100m above the ocean, makes it one of the best sea stack climbs on earth. Standing on its pinpoint summit 500m from the nearest point of land and 20km from the nearest main road can be described as a truly spiritual experience.
Q: Why aren’t more people doing this?
Of the 100 sea stacks found off the Donegal coast, over a dozen have only been climbed by me alone. Another 20 or so have only been climbed once or twice.
There are quite a number of additional skills required to climb safely and return from a sea stack summit. Simply having rock climbing skills does not help would-be sailors with the nautical issues of stack access.
Q: Your website states that no previous climbing experience is necessary, yet from the videos, the summits look pretty steep and high up! What kinds of safety measures do you put in place for novices?
I have taken 20 years of seafaring experience combined with 26 years of hillwalking/mountaineering/sea stack climbing experience to devise many safety techniques and guidelines. These unique techniques allow me to take a wide variety of people safely to places they would never be able to visit alone.
Q: What are some of your best memories from sea stack climbing in County Donegal?
There are defo far too many memorable moments to ever say which is best, but here’s a shortlist: Swimming with basking sharks is always good fun; watching fulmars being born; getting spat on by adult fulmars; guiding an 11-year-old girl to the summit on Cnoc na Mara and being head-butted by a bull selkie.
So if you’re hankering after an off-the-grid experience where it’s just you, your fast beating heart and some curious gannets, then County Donegal in wild Ireland awaits. You can book you’re sea stack adventure RIGHT HERE with Wilderness Now or if you have questions please send us a message HERE.
How to get to County Donegal? It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Here some basic tips how to get up to the top of Ireland.
FROM IRELAND: If you’re already in Ireland, then your best bet is to drive. Plan ahead there are no motorways. Here’s a Google Map of where to go for Sea Stacks. Donegal
FROM NORTHERN IRELAND: Derry, in Norther Ireland, is the nearest city and has direct flights from UK including: London Stansted, Liverpool and Glasgow. More info can be found or the City of Derry Airport website.
PLANE TO DONEGAL: You can fly to Donegal’s local airport from either Dublin or Glasgow. Then a local taxi will get you there. Or rent a car. More info HERE.
CAR TO FALCARRAGH FROM THE UK: To get to Falcarragh by car from London involves taking the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin and then driving up into the North West corner of Northern Ireland. The whole journey takes around 11 hours 20 mins including 2 hour 45 on the ferry.
Book your Sea stack adventure here: https://www.wilderness-now.com/activities/climb-in-ireland/