Yesterday the weather was brilliant, all glorious sunny
windshine blue. We left the house at 9am in the Landrover, John white and I. We
drove the single track road over the rocky hills to Stoer, catching glimpses of
the sea, bouncing over silver stream bridges and dodging sheep. We drove up
Culkien way and onto the track at Loch cul fraoich. The track was quite dry and
we managed a mile or two till the peat bogs closed in.
Excited we unloaded our gear, spilled it out onto the short dry
grass, brightly coloured tape, ropes and shiny metal clippy things. After
sorting out what would be needed we left the box of faded blue dents and
automotive history and set off on foot, anticipation pulling and tugging us up
On the way up the landscape unfolded. In one direction we could
see all the mountains of Assynt, in the other, the sea stretching across the
Minch to the Isle of Lewis, broken white patches crashed along rocky shores,
seagulls wheeling in the salty air. We began our seaward descent.
We were almost at the cliff top when we saw it, a low looking
pinnacle of sandstone appeared to be attached to the very edge of the cliff
top. Changing our heading a touch we moved toward it until Physics, vision,
gravity and all the angles in our four dimensions arranged them selves under a
cloudless blue sky to reveal the Old Man.
The cliffs dropped giddily away two feet from our stance. Not a
word was uttered.
The chasm between us and the stack was a natural extravaganza,
full or rather empty with raging white sea, crashing into a narrow rock channel
two hundred feet bellow, across the channel stood the Stack of Stoer some 200
feet away from us, the "Old Man", unnervingly thin at its base rose up to 230
feet bulging out in its middle and tapering to a point at its summit which was
roughly level with the cliff top, it had somehow become separated from the land
by time and sea , a narrow topheavey pencil of defiant sandstone.
"Blimey" I said, doffing my pack and sitting down to roll a
I sat near the edge of the chasm and watched that sea boil in
the gap, wondering who was going to volunteer to swim it.
when the bed of the channel became free of foam, through crystal clear water, I
could see the long ribbons of sea weed endlessly streaming this way then that.
Birds flew bellow us in the gap, Fulmars, showing off as usual,
decorating the wind with delicious ease.
John and I sat and watched, took
it all in. We talked bollocks till the others arrived.
Chris and Mark arrived first closely followed by two chaps I'd
never met before, one of the two, Douglas who had offered in advance to swim
the gap, having never seen it before seemed distracted by the raging abyss so
that he hardly noticed our exchange of greetings, not even the handshake.
After having been informed of Douglas' offer, John and I set
about giving him a proper ribbing, the other three joined in heartily.
We began our descent of the cliff, scrambling and balancing with
heavy packs down that "path" that only a climber would recognise as being so.
It was as near vertical as a it could be and loose with shale.
Concentration allowed for only the fleetingest glance from the task
underfoot to the one ahead.
At the base of the cliff we threw our packs
down and began to gear up, all except Douglas who paced up and down the rock
ledge surveying the channel.
Between us we rigged some anchors for the Tyrolean Traverse, a
length of line that would take us over the water to the base of the stack.
Five people and a handful of climbing gear saw the job done swiftly.
Douglas who was no longer a strapping young lad stripped off to
shorts and shirt, he carefully stashed his round wire rimmed spectacles as
Chris threw him the end of a rope.
Douglas then tied the rope around his waist, complained briefly
about the difficulty of entry and swiftly disappeared off into the roaring foam
He emerged at the base some 60 feet away and scrambled up the
barnacle covered rock to an accompaniment of cheers and applause. Reaching an
array of ancient and tattered gear left in place by previous parties he
threaded the traverse rope which we pulled back across the channel.
Chris was the first to go, fixing himself to the tensioned line
he swung out over the sea, hand over hand, pulling himself out across the
channel, climbing gear swinging and jingling from his harness just above the
sparkling, rushing water.
Pretty soon we were all over.
Having reached the base of the stack we surveyed the next
hurdle, a dash between furious waves to some rocks all but hidden from view
around the north side of the base.
One by one we waited for our moment and
made the dash.
I was lucky and managed to stay dry, some didn?t.
Clambering over slippery rock we reached a large ledge on the
south side 30 feet above the sea. Chris and Mark roped up and disappeared off
on a traverse which took them out of sight toward the landward face to complete
a circumnavigation of the rock which would bring them another 30 or so feet
Ten minutes later the two older members of the party followed,
leaving John and I to pick our noses and stare out to sea and along the craggy
coastline. We allowed them a good head start so?s to avoid a traffic jam
John lead the first pitch, an easy traverse to the land ward
face followed by a fairly steep and awkward section which ended on a spacious
ledge, overhanging slightly above the sea. I lead part way up the next pitch
but due to the steepness and my unfamiliarity with that particular rock, I hung
around too long and eventually backed off to join John once more on the ledge.
The holds are very rounded I said, John looked horrified.
managed to convince him that the next pitch would be better suited to him,
being more Gorilla shaped, he sort of agreed.
We swapped stance and John
Gorrillared off up the steep bit, disappearing up into the blue, boosting both
our moral. The slack rope was soon pulled up and I left the ledge.
Being attached now to the safe end of the rope I skipped up the
difficult section without second thought. I followed the rope collecting Johns
gear as I went.
I found him sitting in a cave, "appropriate" I thought. Sunshine
filled the cave, we were well out of the wind, it was hot and a strong smell of
seagull-shit filled my nostrils.
I looked over the edge, we were quite high
up now, again there were Fulmars flying bellow, the sea crashed and swirled
around the by now pretty narrow looking, base.
The next pitch was definitely mine whatever the difficulty, off
I went traversing north, upward and onward, the steep vertical rock above
threatening to push me off increasingly narrow ledges into far away crashing
sea and rock .
I sure was glad to be an experienced and fearless climber. It
was cold on the North side, I found a suitable ledge on which to belay myself
and having done so gave John three tugs on the rope, a signal for him to begin
John took his time, I was beggining to shiver, having tucked in,
zipped up and fastened every bit of clothing, I was free again to contemplate
The rope inched up very slowly and my hands became stiff
and cold, I was not enjoying being huddled on this desperately small shaded and
wind torn ledge, It all seemed so far away from the joyous warm sunny day I had
left behind not 10 minutes ago.
A Fulmar eyed me on the wing, stopped for a second at arms
length before dropping steeply away, missing the ocean by an inch far bellow.
Eventually John arrived and balanced up the last awkward bit with some
"Fuck" he said "it's cold round here". He squeezed past my
frozen carcass and seizing the start of the next pitch, he disappeared off up.
I continued to huddle on my ledge, stuck between a rock and a vacuous place.
I fed John the rope, watched it inch painfully up, waiting for my three
At last the three pulls came, I stood up stiffly and waited for
the slack rope to snake its way up.
Cold fingers sought sketchy holds and I was off again. Difficult
at first until stiff muscles and mind began to work in unison.
crack formation beckoned me in, away from the exposure of cold and height but
experience pulled me out, I straddled it one foot either side, fresh air bellow
me and all around.
That bit done I looked up and saw the others huddled on
the final ledge.
Up I went the last 20 feet to Join them.
Their triumph of reaching the summit had passed and they too
were looking rather cold.
John and I pushed on up the last 10 feet to the
Perched on the small pointy bit we laughed and took pictures of our
I decided to celebrate with a cigarette and watched
helplessly as the wind tugged at my cigarette paper sending most of the last of
my tobacco out into the blue.
We were level with the cliff top, some tourists pointed cameras
and binoculars at us though somehow I don't think they will remember that day
as well as I ..