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Sea Stack Climbing in Scotland

V isiting to the Old Man

Climbing the Old Man of Stoer, sea stack climbing off the Scottish Coast

6-50 pm
The wind was blowing and the rain hammered against the windowpanes. May the 30th 1996 and only 3 weeks until mid-summers day. A group of us had agreed to meet up and attempt to do some climbing in the far North West of Scotland. The small croft of Glakin was our base for a few days. Only a few miles from the best "mainland" seastack climb in Britain, the "Old Man of Stoer". We had done no climbing so far and the predicted clearing in the afternoon had not materialised. Food and beer was being handed around in the tiny kitchen. A lull in the conversation and we all looked out of the steamed up window, it seemed a bit brighter outside. Bruce made for the door, and Dick and myself followed. The wind was still blowing, but the rain had stopped and clear skies taken the place of the low clouds.7-30 pm
We had to be quick!

The Old Man of Stoer - 200 feet of Torridonian Sandstone

A mild panic followed, rucksacks and equipment bundled into the land-rover. I had drawn the short straw, being the only one who had brought a wet-suit, it was to be my job to swim the short channel over to the stack. A rough track took us to within a mile of the Old Man, Bruce's landrover easily coping with the mud and potholes.Fifteen minutes of walking over rough ground and bog and there it was, dark and broodingly formiddable.8-30 pmA vague footpath took us down the the slippery rock platforms at sea level. Bruce and Dick prepared the ropes for the Tyrolean and I prepared for the swim across the channel. An occasional swell ran through it, and, with the tide at its highest, we discussed the various options. In our haste we had left the guidebook in the cottage, and so were not exactly sure of the correct route. We could however see collections of tapes and ropes which marked the belay points. A short swim, the rope fixed, and soon all three of us were at the start of the climbing.

Preparing for the swim and traversing the tyrolean9-30 pmBruce led the first short pitch around the corner via two horizontal cracks. The rock at this level was still greasy and even with "friends" for protection, a potential plunge into the cold water awaited any error. It didn't take too long for us to all to arrive at the large ledge and at the start of the vertical pitches. Even if we had much time the opportunity for placing protection on the flared cracks on the stack are few and far between. I was "gripped" at a rising traverse on a particularly steep section. 15 minutes saw me at the chockstone belay, shared with a fulmar nursing its egg at the back of a large recess.

Using the existing collection of tapes and ropes in place meant a quick belay, and soon Dick and Bruce were up too. Bruce led through and within 20 minutes the ropes were tight and Dick followed on. By now the night was creeping up on us. A bright moon had risen by the time it was my turn to climb. Bruce had belayed just below the final short pitch, and so I followed Dick up the short corner which led out onto the top. Our visit to the Old Man had been worth it ! Not much space or time was available to us here. Darkness beckoned and after a couple of photos we started to arrange our escape route.

Bruce and Dick on the summit11-30 pm

Bruce and Dick had remebered torches, but we were not exactly sure where to abseil. The concern being the possibility of ending up hanging in space, thus meaning a lot of wasted time prussiking back up the ropes. Thankfully Dick managed to pull himself into the 2nd abseil stance, and by mid-night we were making our way over the tyrolean.
1-30 amBack at the cottage we settled down for the night. smug in our satisfaction cheating the weather. Outside theforecast gale had started and rain hammered against the windows.

Tom Phillips- June 1996

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