I’ve got quite into my sea stack climbing recently. They seem to offer something different to your traditional mountain route, in that there are so many variables to think about. The actual climbing is just a small part of what’s involved in the day. Having now done The Old Man of Stoer & The Old Man of Hoy (& the Souter !) the choice was either The Maiden or Am Buachaille.
I went for Am Buachaille because you don’t need a boat to climb it ! It is however located 4.5 miles from the road in the far North West of Scotland, near to the amazing Sandwood bay. We had chosen to climb it via the route Atlantic Wall (E1 5b **) – this decision was made on the basis that the original route up the stack wasn’t very good and I’d seen a couple of pictures of the route on the net and liked the look of it.
Tides are a bit of a problem on this stack – you can setup a Tyrolean traverse to cross the 8 meter channel at low tide, however the platform that you setup the traverse is underwater at high tide. Effectively this means a window of 4 hours to get across to the stack, climb it, descend it and get back. The first ascentionists of our route got stuck on the stack overnight due to rough seas and missing the tide ! (I did have a head torch with me …..)
The tide was going out as we arrived and we got to work setting up the Tyrolean – I swam across to setup the rope, allowing us to cross in dry clothes. Stretchy climbing ropes aren’t the best for Tyroleans close to the sea, so I did get a wet chalk bag swiftly followed by a wet arse. (Must buy a static rope some time !)
I found the first pitch quite tough – mainly because I don’t like going sideways and the rope drag turned out to be quite bad by the time I pulled onto the belay ledge. Lesley Ann managed to second it well. The second pitch was a overhanging flake crack – nice and exposed but fun climbing with big holds all the way up. Any time I had lost faffing on the first pitch was made up by flying up this.
The third pitch looked really nice – a straight crack running right up the wall. This was brilliant to climb, gear when you wanted it, nice holds but increasing feeling of exposure behind you the higher you got. I’ve since found out the guide says to climb a thin crack behind the belay block and traverse left into the main crack. However the main crack direct is the obvious line and more in keeping with the other pitches.
Sitting on the summit I could see the tide was coming in fast and I willed Lesley Ann on to second the pitch as fast as she could. Abbing off was complicated by the very strong northerly wind and we did our best to do the old Indian rope trick of the second down passing the rope down to the first man – this worked OK until the lob the ropes off the end bit where they got stuck round a flake After some faffing I took a hanging belay off a couple of cams, Lesley Ann came down and freed the rope and went to a ledge below my belay. I then went to the ground on rope stretch.
By this time the Tyrolean we had set up to get across was about 1 foot above sea level. I stripped to my kecks and swam for it, we ferried all the stuff across in dry bags / dropped the tyrolean and Lesley Ann swam for it too. We flung all the stuff in the sacks and pegged it over the tidal boulder field to the decent gully.
Brilliant day out – what sea stacks are all about – adventure by the bucket load!