Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Suffering Part 2; The Old Man of Hoy

After weeks of preparation, the day was finally here!  We were off to Scotland for stack fest!

I raced down to the station in Leeds (after a really interesting day on a trauma course) to meet Tom, heather and Jonny.  In a rare show of perfect timing, tom and heather arrived in the car from Sheffield just as Jonny got off his train, and we piled into the already quite full car, ready to drive north.  17.15 on Thursday and we were finally moving!

A long drive through the night ensued, and we arrived at Scrabster at 3am.  The drive was made easier by excellent tunes (think Frozen blasted out at full volume with passionate singing from me and heather- I think the boys were asleep at this point..., Spice Girls and Acril Lavigne) and good conversation.  Thanks Heather and Jonny; couldn't have got that far without you both!  The sky was just starting to get light.

We rolled our mats and bags out next to the car (under a very convenient pub verandah!) and grabbed a few hours of sleep in the port.

Alarm at 7am but I'm already up (put it down to nerves), make a final pack and check of our bags (climbing gear, food, warm clothes, guidebook, money, sleeping bags), the next part of our journey is about to begin!  From now on we're on public transport, boarding the ferry as foot passengers to Stromness.

On the ferry and there's all-you-can-eat breakfast!  The staff were great and turned a blind eye to the obvious consumption of 2 plenty-refilled plates between 4 people!  But what a mistake!!  The sea was rough, I was exhausted and before long I was bringing it all back up!  Nevermind...

The ferry to Orkney rounded hoy, and we were given our first glimpse of the Old Man, majestic next to the large towering sea cliffs.

A few hours to burn in Stromness (time to buy anti-emetics), then on to a much smaller ferry over to Hoy.  We jump off the boat full of excitement and energy, and get a taxi across Hoy to Rackwick bay.  Alba, the driver, has spent most of his life on Hoy, is a farmer and drives the school bus; this doubles as a taxi too!

Rackwick bay is stunning!  Large waves lash the shore as a north westerly wind howls across the island.  It feels bleak and remote.  We don't envy the other 2 climbers we met who are biking across the island to the same bothy with heavily laden panniers!  The bothy is beautiful; simple but perfectly situated next to the shore.  It's almost a shame not having it to ourselves.  2 other climbers have already beaten us to it, but they aren't climbing today due to the high winds

Unfortunately we're on a tight schedule, hoping to catch the boat back the next morning to continue on for more adventures, so dump our bags, sort out our kit and then set off towards the old man, Hiking up the hill and around the headland.  The wind continues to blow, but the Old Man looms into view as we round a corner.  Arghhh!  A team decision, the wind isn't THAT bad, and we're off, slipping and sliding down the treacherous descent slope to the bottom of the stack.

Gear on, legs out (check out our sexy stack leggings!!), it's 4pm and the climbing begins... It doesn't get dark til late here right??

Pitch 1; good.  Nice rock, not hard, not sandy.  Enjoyable!  A long time spent on the first belay though as tom battles his way up the next pitch (a steep, sandy, wide crack, out of site, around a corner).  Thank god for the company from Jonny and Heather, because I am now freezing!!!

I head off up pitch 2, but really I mean down!  As it starts with a scary down-climb before a scary traverse!  Glad of the back rope I've got on me that we leave in situ to help with the ab.  I then disappear into the chimney above my head, pushing and fighting my way up.

Pitch 3; lovely!!! Nice rock again, much easier, although I do have my first experience of fulmar vomit...  The sea birds are scary and I've not such a good aim with a hex and sling so need to keep moving on past!

Pitch 4; we go the wrong way (my fault!!) up a dirty, steep corner to find an ominous hex belay and a dubious traverse* to get back on route. Instead we lower back down to the previous belay, and go up the correct pitch 4!  Although I am yet again faced with vomiting fulmars!!  Think large open beaks with bright orange stomach contents projectile vomited towards you....

Back on track, and the final pitch.  WOW!!!  Why aren't they all like this? A perfect corner, full of big jugs, lots of ledges, and no sand!!  I clamber my way onto the top and feel overwhelmed.  I am hungery, thirsty, absolutely shattered, emotional, happy, and scared!  I've done it!  I've climbed the Old Man of Hoy!!!

The problem with climbing is that there is often the issue of getting back down again...  4 abseils later and we're all back on the ground.  What an awesome team ascent of the the old man!  Shoving food and water into our bodies, we repack and get head torches on as dusk is approaching.  We head back up to the top of the cliff (back up the treacherous descent slope), and I am relieved to be on more solid ground!  It's 10.30pm, and we walk back to the bothy in the dark with our torches on, dreaming of dinner as we go.

Saturday morning; a slightly later start of 8am after a night of deep, refreshing sleep, and we are up, repacking bags, then a quick brew next to the sea.  Alba meets U.S. At the road to drop us back at Moarness pier to catch the return boat to Orkney.  Only 20 hours on Hoy, but a truly unforgettable experience.  I know one day I'll be back to enjoy the beauty and solitude that the island has to offer.  But for now we must keep moving.

Back on Orkney mainland and we refuel with copious cups of tea and wander around the coast before catching the afternoon ferry back to Scrabster.   We scoff fish and chips in Thurso before heading over to Stoer; another night time drive down narrow winding roads in the rain, arriving late to yet more howling wind!  We pitch our tent in the lee of some ruined buildings, fully aware of the dubious forecast for the morning.  The Weather continues to be unfavourable in the morning but tom, heather and Jonny are much braver than I am, and make an ascent of the Old Man of Stoer as well.  Very impressive given the intermittent rain and high winds, and not without event (8b Jonny took a lead fall into the sea!!!). I must admit I was relieved when they returned to the car to one piece! 

The plan had been to continue further north to climb Am Buchaille, the third stack of the weekend, but feeling cold and wet, and knowing the forecast remained questionable we instead opted to drive south and head for a warm bed near fort William.

We topped the weekend off with a swim in loch lomand today with my favourite llama, then dinner at the in-laws this evening.

I'm disappointed at not having climbed the old man of stoer.  The fear and adrenaline after Hoy, combined with the bad weather meant I just couldn't face another harrowing experience.  I started climbing after watching a BBC documentary of Tim Emmitt climbing Stoer with Julia Bradbury, so for me this was where my climbing began!  8 years later, I was finally there but wussed out.  Hopefully I'll be back with better weather and a better head next time!

Despite not doing Stoer, it's fair to say the trip was a success!  I climbed the Old Man of Hoy, and suffered doing it.  Another challenge to tick off my list of suffering!  (Thankfully I only included Hoy on the challenge list so I haven't failed, phew!).

If you want to sponsor me to help support Orchid you can do at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers

*in case you don't know already; I am petrified of traversing!

Raring to go at Scrabster!

We WILL be first in the queue for breakfast once boarded... Mmmm!
Breakfast; what a mistake!  Feeling worse for wear after a ferrry journey full of vomiting.
Rackwick Bay; beautiful!

Team leggings at the base of the Old Man!
Heather can't wait to get climbing!
Freezing cold on belay no.1
Scuttling off into a dark, sandy chimney.
Success!!!  On top of the Old Man of Hoy!

Team 'suffering' on top of the Old Man!
Abseiling back to the ground as darkness approaches.
Tranquility at Rackwick Bothy
The second stack of the weekend; the Old Man of Stoer
Team Stoer!  Including Jonny '8B' who took a swim off pitch 1!

1 comment:

  1. I did the Old Man of Stoer in OK weather many years ago, and it's still one of the best climbs I've done, so just save it for a sunnier day Nikki and you'll love it! Well done on Hoy, it looks fantastic.