Wot I done yesterday. By Al Baker.
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 the hill.
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 cigarette.
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.
Occasionally, 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 and spray.
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 higher.
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 further up.
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.
I 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 climbing.
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 my surroundings.
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 encouragement.
"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 pull signal.
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.
A V-shaped 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 top.
Perched on the small pointy bit we laughed and took pictures of our silly selves.
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 ..
More stories from Winamop
Copyright reserved. Please do not reproduce without consent.