Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Old Man of Stoer

When I moved to the Highlands my first route nearly was the Old Man of Stoer, but we arrived at the lighthouse carpark to be told that a group of 8-10 people had just headed across to all climb it - a climbing club from somewhere! We ditched the idea as we didn't want to wait behind 8-10 people on a sea stack!

Having just got out of the truck I fell in mud! A good sign for the day

First sight of 2 old men
As we are nearly into October I didn't think we would climb it this year, but with a good forecast for Saturday and Loz submitting and having the appropriate paperwork authorised (just kidding) we decided to go for it. It was exciting that Gemma would come along too and take some pictures from the land.

There she blows
A 7.30am departure saw us up there at ?9:30-10am. Things didn't initially go well, I went behind a wall for a wee and promptly fell over in the mud and got absolutely covered in it! The walk in to the stack was also comical... basically we were both wearing worn out trainers with hardly any grip on the sole and the ground was sodden... We got soaking feet and barely made it in one piece slip sliding our way across the headland!

Loz swims the channel

And sets up the tyrolean

My top half stayed dry!
Gemma went off for a swim coming after we had faffed around to take some pictures. As it came into view I felt excited and anxious!

We belaying at the top of the 3rd pitch
Loz on his way up to me
Looking down on it from the headland we saw one team about to start the climb and no tyrolean traverse in place.

Sometimes you just have to reassure!
I'd read that the scramble/descent down to the sea was pretty full on, and it didn't disappoint. I can't remember a scarier path, soaking wet mud, grass and rocky sections to down climb in trainers we both should have replaced... I had no doubt that one slip would have been certain death! I thought it was like descending a (muddy) version of Sharp Edge in the Lakes, but more serious with no anchors as its all loose!

Anyway we made it and Loz swam the channel and set up the tyrolean. This went well, but.... erm as we only had dynamic ropes it was hard to get enough tension. We got the climbing ropes and gear across without getting wet, but when it came to my go I got a very wet 'undercarriage' hahaha.

As we set off the other climbers were abseiling off and just touched down with their 60m ropes (more on this in a moment)..

The climbing was great, really clean, dry and rough rock. The route gets VS 5a, but I thought that the initial '5a' pitch was easier and it was pitch 2 and 3 that were harder. You pass through some great ground with the ever present exposure because you are on a sea stack.


I got the last pitch and almost had a tear in my eye when I topped out (honestly!). We snacked on top and took in the views from the lofty point before embarking on the next challenge - getting down..

So with 50m ropes you have to make 2 abseils as they aren't quite long enough..... We'd spotted very dubious rusted pegs and tat on the landward side about 15m up that we presumed people use but to be honest it looked rubbish... We'd also spotted a completely bomber rock 5 placement higher up that we considered using (leaving), and it was good, but I'd be nervous doing a free abseil off 1 x nut.

nearly down!
As Loz looked over the brink he spotted some fixed gear and what looked like a belay/ab point more to the South not mentioned in the guidebook and we headed to this. It was perfect and we got down no bother in 2 abseils, the second being exciting completely in free space.

Down to swim pants! Take out the tyrolean, and swim (eventually)
Loz headed back over the tyrolean, now fine as the tide had dropped so he didn't get wet like me earlier and I 'volunteered' to strip the gear and then swim back across the 8m channel .

Heading back to the lighthouse trying not to fall over (again)
Okay I'll be honest here, I'm not a confident swimmer and the sea terrifies me! But I thought it would be good to do it for these reasons!! Stripped down to my pants it took a little while to summon the courage to get in... I think Loz was wishing he'd done it so we could 'move on', and he did at one point pull the snag line to 'encourage' me in.... I also heard vague shouts from Gemma on the rim 'encouraging' me to 'just jump'!!

Well I did and it was fine, and quite warm actually. We packed up and headed back up the death slope, now not as scary going up as is always the case and after meeting Gemma and a french and German tourist headed back to the lighthouse and on to Ullapool for fish and chips.

Note: both Loz and I both slipped over on the walk back and got soaked - its amazing that we made it up and down the stack but couldn't safely negotiate the walk in/out without (lots) of incidents!

It's funny but during the whole thing it was a real mix of feelings, I guess I couldn't totally relax until down, across the sea channel and back on the mainland. The climbing was the easiest bit of the whole escapade. What an adventure and I'm now musing the other 2 most obvious sea stacks in Scotland, but maybe I need to practice my sea swimming first (for Am Buachaille at least).

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