Scottish Sea Stack Odyssey
Tomas and his father Charlie wanted to climb Old Man of Hoy to raise funds for Climbers Against Cancer. At the age of 12, Tomas is quite young for such a big challenge and the question was asked, who made the youngest ascent? It seems that Tomas not would be the youngest; Ollie Buckle climbed it last year with his father at the age of 10. With a bit more digging into the archives, it transpired that a 7 year old boy climbed it with his father way back in 1968.
One of the 15 million viewers who tuned in to watch the 1967 live spectacle were father and son, Arthur & Roy Clarkson. They planned their ascent for the following year. Seven year old Roy and his father from Lancashire took five hours to get to the top, watched by his mum and brothers and sister. The Orcadian reported that once on top they enjoyed some orange juice and blackcurrants before building a cairn!
However, Tomas climbing the Old Man of Hoy at the age of 12 was a very notable ascent and we planned on climbing all three Patey stacks in the one trip. Old Man of Hoy, Am Buachaille and Old Man of Stoer were all first climbed by Tom Patey and if Tomas could climb all three he would be the youngest person ever to do so.
Charlie, Tomas and I met in Inverness on Saturday along with star mountain guide Donald King who would be climbing with Kelvin. We also met film students Fiann and Charlie who came along to record the climbs on film. It was a wet and blustery drive north to Thurso but sailing past the 300m high cliffs of Hoy and getting our first view of the Old Man were inspiring. It takes a whole day to get to Rackwick Bay from Inverness with 120 miles of driving, a 90 minute ferry ride to Stromness followed by another 30 minute ferry ride to Hoy and a short taxi shuttle to Rackwick Bay. Thankfully, we were greeted by a wonderful bothy in one of the most spectacular bays in Scotland. We sorted gear and settled down for an early start to go climbing the next day.
Sunday turned out to be dry, sunny and not too breezy. It was perfect for climbing the red sandstone of Hoy. There are no restrictions imposed on us by tides since Old Man of Hoy is not tidal. We scrambled over the boulder ridge connecting the stack to the mainland and got on with the climbing. There is just one simple pitch before we were thrown into the crux pitch of the whole trip. As well as being E1,5b climbing there is a descent and a traverse to get into the crux corner system which is overhanging above and undercut below. It's really quite a spectacular place to get used to sea stack climbing! As ever with sandstone, bridging and pushing on the flat and rounded holds is the key, something that is hard to train for on a climbing wall!
After the crux pitch the climbing eases off dramatically. However, there are four more short pitches each with a mix of damp rock, sandy ledges, loose blocks and fulmars vomiting and pooing on you! We got to the top in good time though and enjoyed a few minutes soaking up the unique character of a sea stack. Being surrounded by the ocean is quite a feeling on a rock climb and we even saw a pod of orca swim by the base of the stack! There was such a sense of everything fitting together for the trip. The weather, the team, the challenge; it was all coming together. Getting up is just half the job though and we had three tricky abseils to enjoy to get back down before a second night at the bothy in Rackwick Bay.
Just as it took a day to get to Hoy, it took another whole day of traveling to get back to mainland Scotland and around the north coast to Sheigra. This was another wet day and we were grateful to be driving. Free wild camping in the sunshine at Sheigra with a bit of bouldering set us up for the climb of Am Buachaille. This is certainly the most serious of the three stacks with a long walk in, no phone signal, a swim to the stack and bold climbing on dubious rock. Again, the sun was shining so the swim was very pleasant (once we were used to the cold shock of jumping in!) and we got to the summit in plenty of time.
There is some time pressure on Am Buachaille to get back to the mainland before the tide comes in. There have been a few enforced nights spent on the summit and we did not want to add to this list! Youngest person to spend a night on a sea stack was not a target we wanted to reach! One abseil gets you down though and we even managed a wee tyrolean traverse to get Tomas (and Donald just about) back across the channel in the dry. A relatively short and absolutely spectacular drive got us to Lochinver pie shop for dinner!
In comparison to Hoy and Am Buachaille, The Old Man of Stoer is quite friendly. There was a tyrolean rope in place and the rock is quite solid and non-sandy. In fact the climbing is really good and with no fulmars it turned out to be a really fun day of climbing! We were in the groove, well used to the feel, the atmosphere and the smell of sea stacks and we enjoyed a few minutes of warm sunshine on the summit looking over the ocean to the Outer Hebrides and Canada beyond.
So, the team of Tomas and Charlie, Kelvin, Donald and I climbed all three Patey sea stacks in the sunshine in five days. For Tomas, this is the youngest ascent of all three; for all of us it was one of the best climbing trips we have made in Scotland. The group of people, the weather and the climbing itself all made it a trip to remember forever. Many thanks to Fiann and Charlie for coming with us and filming the whole thing. I'm really looking forward to the footage and the film that will be out in a few months. Scotland really is the best!
It is lovely to read about your 3 stack climbing expedition Mike. Thank you so much for writing about it so clearly and explaining the topography and the route. The photos are brilliant too, thanks to Fiann and Charlie.
I'd like to add my thanks to those above for taking care of Tom throughout this adventure. Lovely pictures, the stacks look beautiful (and terrifying) but it sounds like Tom (and everyone else) did really well, helped by the clement weather! Tom seems to have really enjoyed it and it is an achievment that will boost his confidence and one that he will remember forever :)
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.