Fowler adds a sea stack to his long first ascent list
- Saturday 20th May 2023
Mountaineer Mick Fowler has added another summit to his long list of first ascents, by dipping his toe in the Atlantic Ocean. With fellow climber Chris Harle, Berghaus ambassador Mick successfully climbed the Devil’s Castle sea stack in County Kerry, Ireland.
The Devil’s Castle stands in the ocean, well out from the vertical Bromore Cliffs near Ballybunion. Despite the area’s popularity with tourists, the tall and slender sea stack had maintained a low profile in climbing circles and remained unclimbed. Mick Fowler had first spent time climbing sea cliffs in Ireland over 30 years ago but didn’t get to the Devil’s Castle at the time and the objective had been weighing on his mind ever since.
Mick takes up the story: “For an England-based team, getting a 3.6m inflatable boat in the car and over to Ireland is an expensive hassle and the risk of failure due to rough seas and poor weather is enough to dissuade most. But for four time-flexible sexagenarians, there really is no excuse. And so, spotting a reasonable forecast, Chris, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Barnwell and I took the plunge, crossed the Irish Sea and headed for the wild coast of County Kerry.
“Inflating and launching Deflowerer 3 from the busy tourist beach at Ballybunion proved incident free and the day proceeded with only one bag and one person ending up in the sea. Such incidents do not detract, they serve to make adventures more memorable. Close up, the stack showed itself to be vertical all around and of a blocky structure resembling a magnificent Jenga tower. It did not look easy and success was not guaranteed, which is as we like it - uncertainty being a key feature of an adventure.
“The climbing involved carefully judging which of the little blocks was the most secure and always pulling or pushing straight down, never outwards or sideways. It’s a careful, judgemental style which I find most rewarding. Chris too enthused cheerfully. The summit was as a summit should be, small but perfectly formed with the highest point flat and ready for a cairn. I always think a cairn finishes a stack off nicely.”
Mick’s time in Ireland has served to whet his appetite for sea cliff climbing and more trips are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, he is also preparing for his next expedition, aiming to climb a technical unclimbed face on a 6000m peak, for which his use of a colostomy bag will provide an additional challenge. In 2017, Mick was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive treatment, involving an ostomy (a procedure to re-direct the bowel to an exit through an opening in the abdomen wall). He rebuilt his fitness and returned to high altitude – and sea stack – climbing. Now 67, Mick continues to seek out challenging and interesting objectives, both close to home and in the remoter corners of the world.