With the forecast for most of the Scotland looking pretty grim, Orkney offered an unlikely salvation from a lingering low pressure system which was fabled to be well and truly grounded a few hundred miles off the west coast. Climbing Hoy had been in the back of my mind this year, but I didn't actually think it was going to happen. The weather forced our hand, so we took a risk, and booked a ferry.
Orkney is a fascinating place, green, flat, with cows sheep and crops in every field. It's a very stark contrast to the landscape of Caithness in the far north, which you drive through to get to the ferry port. As we wound our way ever closer to the end of the A9, it appeared that outside of the fertile strip around the coast, the landscape was dominated by moor and bog as far as the eye can see. Orkney offered a comparatively lush haven, that is if you discount the island of Hoy. Sat just south of the Orkney 'mainland', Hoy is a hilly, heather clad giant, which is now days in-part famed for its sea stack, but also for its sandstone sea cliffs such as St Johns Head, which is the third highest sea cliff in the UK (after St Kilda and Foula) and is a staggering 375m high. A truly unique place.
With only a small weather window we got the first morning ferry over to Hoy and made a beeline for Rackwick Bay, the start of the walk-in. 3 miles, a big hill and a few showers later we arrived at the top of the cliff, getting our first glimpse of what lay ahead. Curiously the headland which faces the old man, isn't actually as high as the stack itself, which definitely adds to the intimidation.
|It definitely didn't look that big from the ferry to Orkney!|
|Our first glimpse of the stack. The original route climbs the centre crack line then the rightwards trending fault line to a final corner crack just right of the summit. The route is 135m long and is graded E1 5b.|
|A photo taken by Tim Simmons a few hours after we started climbing|
We climbed the route in 5 pitches, with the 2nd pitch and the final 5th pitch being the most notable. There are plenty of blogs and reviews out there that critique the climbing and break the route down hold by hold, which I will not be doing. The only thing to note is that there is a lot of fixed gear, and before you ask, yes most of it is in a hell of a state and we did back up the abseils (of which we did 3 in total). The rain started just as we reached the top, and didn't stop until we reached the bothy in Rackwick. Luckily the climbing was mostly dry! Phew!
|The first pitch leading to the Galley|
|Rafe stepping out just below the overhanging chimney crack|
|A photo of Rafe just pulling through the roof crack on pitch 2. Photo kindly provided by Tim Simmons.|
|The final steep corner crack, just before the bulge. At this point you can see all the way through the crack out the other side of the stack!|
|Rafe just finishing the tricky section of the huge corner on the last pitch|
|Signing the book just as showers move in from the south|
|The smile is for finishing or for reaching our lunch?|
This climb is one of the best adventures I've ever had. If this route is not on your list. It should be. Special thanks to Rafe for driving from London to Orkney in less than 24 hours and also to Tim Simmons and his wife, who happened to take some photos of us on the second pitch whilst out on a walk the day we climbed it and approached us on the ferry.
On a final note we also visited a few Caithness sea cliffs whilst making our way North. We visited Mid Clyth and Latheronwheel, both of which were absolutely superb and well worth a visit.
|Getting in some extra drying time in waiting for the ferry at Lyness|
|Stealing some climbing between showers at Ysnaby on Orkney|
|Not a bad car park for the walk-in at Mid Clyth. Dream House?|
|Off-width chimney climbing down at Mid Clyth|
|Typical last-day-of-trip weather at Mid Clyth|