What do you need rock climbing shoes and flip flops, good planning and a bag full of enthusiasm for? Climbing Am Buachaille at Sandwood Bay, that's what. Especially if you have done no outside rock climbing before! This is the challenge that Andy and Ethan set themselves, with an atitude of giving it a go, getting the right training, and just being happy to be in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. It's good for all of us to take on challenges, new adventures, and to stretch ourselves every now and then. This trip certainly ticked all the boxes.
The weather was with us all the way. Learning to climb rock in warm sunshine above a calm glistening sea, on some of the most amazing rock anywhere, is pretty cool. Many people will choose a venue with fewer distractions to learn core skills like tying in to the rope, belaying, the pitching system, communication, asbeiling and taking out protection. But there is something totally inspiring about going to one of the farthest away bits of Scotland and learning all the skills as you go, in the place you want to be climbing. We chose a nice, gentle warm up and progression through the grades to start. V.Diff felt pretty hard as the first climb, and there was only 10m of it. But, very soon, the eyes saw the holds, fingers and feet connected with the holds, and balance and muscles worked in unison (most of the time) to allow for the climbing to happen.
We worked up to the same kind of grade as we would encounter on Am Buachaille, did several abseils over drops high above the sea, and generally got used to the system of climbing and solving the many little awkward problems that always crop up. Then we spent an idyllic night at Sheigra community crofters wild camp site, happily paying £5 per head for the luxury of flat machair for the night. Rain in the morning was forecast to clear early, and by breakfast time the blue sky was already returning and it was looking good for climbing Am Buachaille. However, this is the ultimate triathlon, with cycling, swimming and rock climbing, as well as the tide and sea state, sea gulls and slippery and sandy rock to deal with. Climbing Am Buachaille is a wonderful day of climbing, despite the quality of the climbing!
Get there early so you have plenty of time to prepare and swim the channel as soon as you can. In this way you will have the maximum time available to climb and abseil off before the tide rises again. We were ahead of time so we had the daunting site of the stack awash with water right up to its base, and waves crashing over the rocks all the way to the mainland cliff. Time to relax, wait and reassure yourself that the tide was going out. Not only this but the wind was dropping away, and the waves settling down. It was a very midgey walk down the steep loose path to the boulder beach so we were grateful of the plunge into the sea channel to wash away the little biters.
Three pitches of bold, sandy, steep rock climbing with occasional fulmar chicks still on the nest got us to the top, on Ethan and Andy's second day of outdoor rock climbing. To be fair, these guys have climbed Tower Ridge and Inaccessible Pinnacle, but two days of mountaineering don't prepare you for this kind of rock climbing! They both took it all in their stride though, seeing each and every section as a problem to decifer the solution to, calmly working out the problem until the correct combination of weight shift, pushing and pulling was found to unlock the move to the next one.
The swim back across the channel always seems a lot more friendly than the swim over in the first place. Only just after low tide, with calmer seas and more shelter provided by the base of the stack did make it much more friendly, but there is a psychological part of the calmness too. Swimming over for first time was full of uncertainty, swimming back was just fun. Massive congratulations to Andy and Ethan for even taking on the challenge, let alone how well you picked up everything and put it into practice straight away on one of the country's most adventurous sea stacks. Big respect!
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.