The Wild Atlantic Way, with its cliff faces and sharp ascents, is home to world-famous extreme climbing. Near Dingle in County Kerry lies Dunshean Head and its looming sea stacks – here’s what to expect from the Razor’s Edge.
The real world is gone. Work and bills are a galaxy away. All your worries seem to have evaporated. Well, not quite all your worries. You have a new one: how to lean back and step off a 40-metre cliff. Below, the inky, dark waters of the of the Atlantic clunk and slosh against the glowering rocks, heaving into underwater lakes and crevices only to be spat out, hissing. Birds wheel below.
Don’t look down.
And there it is. Over the edge you go. It might have been a mere baby step, but it took one giant leap of faith. But it’s all in your mind. You are safe: a harness is secured tightly around your legs and waist, and a rope belay system will stop your fall in seconds if your jelly legs fail you. Besides, your climbing instructor is well qualified and experienced. Quietly self-assured, he explains things meticulously, and consistently double checks the equipment and rigging.
Before you know it, you’re at the bottom of a sea cliff and clambering over the rocks to the sea stack. The real challenge is yet to come. The plan is now to climb an exposed pinnacle of rock soaring into the blue grey sky: the Needle.
To the west, a shaft of sunlight pierces through the cloud blanket, and bursts into a sparkling arrow at the entrance to Dingle Harbour. Beyond, Slea Head looms while the Blasket Islands stand guard far out in the Atlantic.
Dolphins and whales are regulars around these headlands, but you’ve only been treated to playful displays from their more common cousins, the seals, so far.
The odd cutesy red-beaked puffin peeks out from a craggy vantagepoint. As you cling to the sandstone precipice and try to figure out how to manoeuvre your body an inch higher, gannets nestled on rocky outcrops stare into space, unmoved, as you claw your way up the aptly named ‘Razor’s Edge’. This 30-metre extreme rock climbing route is graded as VS (very severe).
Or so you’re told. You can’t think about that now. Your mind is focused only on the rock under your fingers, literally as old as the hillside that rolls from Bull’s Head to the east, strewn with ancient remains – promontory forts, ogham stones, megalithic tombs and standing stones. Its fissures and grooves have been hewn over millennia by relentless wind and wave, its changing form bearing silent witness to every event that has taken place in the West of Ireland though the ages: local bronze age folk retreating in times of attack into nearby Dun Beag; the making of an earthen ring within Dun Mor or the iron age ring fort on top of Cathair Conraoi mountain, the legendary stronghold of Dara, the King of West Munster.
Not that you are too concerned with all those ancient tales when you finally reach the top. As far as you’re concerned, you just made history by reaching this tiny patch of grass on top of this sea stack. You’re on top of the world, and the grin refuses to leave your face.
If you are not an experienced climber, you should contact a qualified climbing instructor or school specialising in mountaineering, rock climbing and mountain skills in the area.
The Razor’s Edge on the Needle sea stack is graded VS (very severe). It is located at Dunshean Head, near Dingle and details can be found here.
Responsible access to the cliffs at Dunshean is over private land but has been enjoyed and deeply appreciated by local climbers over the past 25 years. Walkers and climbers in this area are asked to be respectful of the livestock and property involved.
Dying to dive in? Check out more fun Dingle activities here. Or check out more Wild Atlantic Way activities and exteme rock climbing here and here.