The Old Man of Stoer, August 2012

Back in the summer, which does now seem quite a long time ago, a group of members set off on a mini expedition to attempt to climb a sea stack off the far north west coast of Scotland. The trip had in fact been delayed by a couple of years owing to one of the instigating members of the team suffering a fractured ankle during a trip to Dartmoor. Recovery from this, and other adventures used up various windows of opportunity but a bit of advance planning found three hopeful climbers leaving Hastings in the early evening for the long drive north.

The first thing to say is that it is a long drive, over 700 miles and 14 hours, but a big breakfast in Ullapool revives the spirits, and the final 50 miles to the campsite is in daylight and through pleasant scenery. The second thing to say is that there is no campsite, rather a flattish piece of ground by a small lochan at the end of a dirt track that becomes eventually becomes un-driveable. It was during this section of the journey that the other two members of the party, having departed from Glasgow, caught us up so the party arrived at our destination as a united team.

After setting up the tents and a bit of a rest, we set off to walk the mile or so to the cliff top where we got our first sight of the stack, always impressive and perhaps a little bit scary. Then comes one of the “highlights” of the expedition, the cliff descent path. This can sometimes be a bit over-hyped, but needs care and is certainly not something one would wish to fall off. However we all arrived safely at the foot and our aquanaut, John, prepared to swim the traverse rope over to the stack. This he achieved in short order, and the mainland crew applied the tension to raise the rope above the waves to enable the rest of the party to cross the channel, yet stay dry. Everybody had a go at “Tyroleaning” ,and then it was back to camp for a meal and a good nights sleep in preparation for the ascent tomorrow.

The team achieved a good crack of mid morning start and were soon gearing up at the start of the climb. At this point two scots lads appeared and asked if they could use our traverse rope and follow us up the stack. We said that this would be fine.

The climb is usually done in five pitches, the hardest being about 4c standard but the exposure and the fact that you are a long way from anywhere all adds to the feeling of adventure.

One of the other considerations are the infamous vomiting fulmars, a bird that looks like a seagull, but has a bill which is more reminiscent of an albatross. Luckily no one got sprayed this time, but I suppose they do probably have more right to be there than us. Another attarction are the seals, which bob up in the water and look at you, probably thinking “what are those funny looking creatures doing up there?”

However, all difficulties were overcome, the entire party arriving at the quite pointy summit, the scots lads even passing round a hip flask of the finest malt.

A long, probably 180ft abseil then got us back to sea level, leaving only the sorting of gear and coiling of (wet) ropes, before the ascent of the cliff and the walk back to camp.

Next day a real early start, 5am,saw tents being taken down and cars being loaded for the drive home. It always seems a bit sad to be leaving what, I for one feel is a wild unspoilt region of the British Isles, but it will be there next time for others to visit, and even perhaps climb the Old Man.


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