Old Man Of Hoy April Adventure Blog
The 19th & 20th April saw us making a last minute impromptu trip to the Old Man Of Hoy for some adventures, staff training and a generally awesome time.
On the trip we had Jim, Lianne, Louis, Tim and Duncan (16yo). It was a last minute decision to climb the Old Man of Hoy and was based entirely on the phenomenal weather forecast we saw coming up with two beautiful bluebird back to back days and light winds. Plus it was April – that means fewer fulmar, no puffins … and as a result far less vomit from birds on the route and us. In fact, somehow we avoided getting any at all!
Jim and Lianne set off late the night before and picked up Duncan from Inverness and proceeded to drive up to Scrabster to sleep in the back of the van before waking up to a glorious sunset. Duncan had climbed some winter routes in the Northern Corries before and some smaller single and multi pitch routes, but this would be his first bigger multi-pitch venture as well as his first climbing trip away from home. His dad who would normally come along unfortunately had to work (but there is always another time!)
Shortly after waking we met with Louis and Tim who had opted to drive through the night with minimal sleep instead of driving up the night before. We boarded the first ferry across on this glorious April morning and treated ourselves to a hot fully cooked breakfast to fuel ourselves for the coming Old Man of Hoy Adventure. On route we chatted about other climbing trips past and future and once we got in view of Hoy we nipped outside to watch as the ferry sailed past the sea stack. It was an amazing feeling to see the stack but also marginally frustrating knowing we were so close but had to go past to Orkney before returning back to Hoy on a different ferry and then getting a taxi to the other side of Hoy. It is a roundabout route but it is the only way you can get there unless you opt to kayak across the sea!
Getting into Stromness we headed to a cafe to fuel up on coffee and cake as well as a quick nip to the local co-op to pick up a well needed bottle of whisky for after the climb. The time passed quickly as we soaked up the glorious sun rays sitting outside chatting, laughing and generally admiring the seaside village of Stromness.
Soon it was time to board the second ferry across to Hoy which thankfully is much quicker … and the taxi was even waiting for us on the other side ready to drive us to Rackwick Bay where we deposited our larger bags and decanted our climbing kit into smaller rucksacks more appropriate for walking and climbing – leaving behind all the heavy kit, tents etc so we did not need to yomp them over the hills. Onwards to to the Old Man Of Hoy and epic adventure in the beautiful April sunset that Scotland often provides.
From Rackwick, it is a short hour or so walk to the cliffs at the top looking across to the Old Man of Hoy followed by a steep scramble down to the base and a walk across the old collapsed second half which actually joins the old man to the mainland – in theory maybe not making it a sea stack at all … The Old Man itself is estimated to be in danger of collapse and may not let for much longer with a huge 40m crack separating sections at the top leaving one part overhanging.
From the base we split into two teams – Jim and Duncan set off first followed by Lianne, Louis and Tim. The first pitch scrambles up some blocky terrain and provides an excellent warm up in the sun on good quality sandstone. It tops out on a huge belay ledge which is always nice to see and comfortable as well. The second pitch down climbs a short distance before traversing across on great feet and good underclings towards an imposing overhanging corner. From here some extendable quickdraw are crucial to ensure the ropes run smoothly on your ascent. The first roof is imposing but technically not that challenging with great hand holds and even better foot holds on the wall. Once you commit you realise it is actually quite easy going for e1 5b. But once you are over this you reach the infamous coffin – a body width chimney crack with good holds all the way until you have to pull out of the chimney to reach around and continue to the top. Just at this moment the good holds seem to be just out of reach and some technique is required to climb your way up efficiently. Once done the climb cruises to the top of pitch two with a small ledge to belay on.
Pitches 3 & 4 continue up traversing slightly rightwards on good but dirty holds dodging fulmars on most of the ledges. Not challenging other than hoping you don’t get vomited on by birds. And Pitch 5 – the final pitch, is the true masterpiece of the climb. A beautiful 40m corner crack seperating the two sections of the Old Man Of Hoy – you can literally see right through it which is quite eerie, and certainly leads you to not want to fall on any gear in case of pulling the whole stack down!
Jim and Duncan topped out on the Old Man Of Hoy at a relatively respectable 2:30 minute time from setting off on the adventure from the base to having both climbers on the top admiring the April sun going down over the horizon slowly. They then lay down on the top admiring the stunning sunset across the sea while they patiently waited for the second team coming up who, whilst Jim & Duncan had finished 5 pitches, were still on pitch 2! They could have started downwards but it was more beautiful to stay on the top of the stack and admire the views across the sea and all head down together later on.
After a couple of hours the other team arrived and we proceeded to hastily save the last few seconds of daylight abseiling the 3 abseils back down to the ground. Then returning from whence we came to pick up our deposited kit and make our way to Rackwick Bothy a short distance from our bags. Here we savoured some well earned dinner at around 11pm and cracked open the bottle of whisky (alas Duncan had to watch for this part).
Day 2 saw a leisurely start with a quick dip in the freezing sea and huge waves … It’s not called Rackwick for nothing: this translates to wreckage bay from old Norse due to the numerous lost ships there. We then took the taxi back, had a beautiful crab breakfast in a cafe before catching the two ferries back across to the mainland to head back to Newtonmore, dropping Duncan off in Inverness on our route back.
It was an magical trip to climb the Old Man Of Hoy in April and a truly stunning adventure – it may be the first ascent of the year as normally ascents begin around May when the weather gets a bit warmer and nicer. And for Duncan ,with his first bigger summer multi pitch adventure, hopefully it will open the way to many more trips out into the mountains .. for anyone to climb this route at 16 is darned impressive!
At Highland Outdoor Adventures, we offer the opportunity clients to be guided up the three iconic sea stacks, the Old Man of Stoer, Am Buachaille and the Old Man of Hoy, as part of our 4 day sea stacks odyssey course. If you are interested in seeing more photos check out our Instagram Page.