Stacked Up in Scotland: Old Man of Hoy

Sight the Old Man of Hoy for the first time is a thrill and scary experience!

I have been up to H0y before and climb classic route on the Old Man of Hoy, the east Face route. Why then would I return? Well, unfortunately my main climbing partners haven’t climbed it. So why not repeat it! On top of this we offered an open invite to all my friends, and I even put a post up on this blog to see if anyone wanted to be guided up this uber classic route.

One man, a great friend Huw wanted to come, he had just finished his job and was taking a month off. Huw’s only problem was that he was not a climb but also to be fair to him dragging around a few extra pounds. When I mentioned to other friends they thought me absolutely mad, and felt that he would never summit it, they didn’t say but there was a tone to there reply, ‘Oh Really!’.

So last week we made the long drive up to Hoy, I had primed huw with photos and video’s, and explained the route and the challenges in detail. His mission was to get up the second crux pitch, after that it was all easy and we were home and dry. Huw had another problem vertigo, yes it sounds even more ridiculous now doesn’t it, but Huw hates exposure.

I know this as he has told me about been frozen almost unable to walk approaching via ferratas in Italy. I had tried to play down the approach, and the whole exprience of climbing this, the tallest, most exposed and one of the most remote sea stacks in the UK. At 137m tall, and four pitches long, it is a full on climbing experience.

As we got on the ferry for the mainland, I knew that the whole team was going to be buzzing. As sighting your goal for the first time puts a very real slant on it. No pictures can really do the Old Man of Hoy justice, and as you pass it look steeper than any image can convey. A formidable opponent is born.

We spent the night in Stromness, and Huw had already dragged us kicking and screaming to the pub. So the next day we missed the first ferry, and went to get on the second, only to be told that we’d had to wait until 2.20pm. An hour later and the ferry company phone me back and ask why we weren’t on the last ferry. ‘Well, because you said we couldn’t get on until 2.20pm’, ‘Oh sorry we meant you couldn’t get back of Hoy until then’.

Katie view the Old Man of Hoy before we descend to the base

We eventually arrived at car park in Ratwick Bay at 2.40pm, and threw on packs and made a dash for the Stack. In my head I had a cut off time, a time that would make an attempt even more foolhardy than it already was. that time was 4pm. I hadn’t told anyone yet, but for me to get Huw up there I was expecting that I was going to take at least four hours up and then an hour down plus another hour to get back to the path at the top of the crag, plus an hour for luck

I wanted to be at the path by darkness, although there isn’t much of that on the Orkney Isle in June. But working back from 11pm I came up with a 4pm cut off time. I had to be off the ground leading by 4pm, by 4pm, by 4pm.

This figure rattled through my head as we approached, it was a little after 3 as we reach the headland where you can overlook the Old Man of Hoy in all its splendor. We still had a long and difficult approach along an exposed and scary path. I knew that this was going to be a crux of its own for Huw, so as Llion and Katie forge towards the base, I spotted and encouraged Huw down. I had been prime that I was to know when he had reached his limit when every other word was the F word.

Half way down he was at about 1 in 4 words beginning with F, shortly before the bottom we hit the 1 to 1 ratio, he kept it together with mine and llion’s help. We were at the bottom at 3.40pm. Tick-tock tick-tock.

I rushed to get racked up and tried to hurry Huw along giving him one last chance to back out. He sounded determined, and that’s all I needed to hear. My plan was about to go one of two ways, we were about to pull off and audacious ascent, or it was very shortly going to turn into and epic of well epic proportions. I tried to sound confident as I tied huw into the ropes and shot up the first pitch.

As I left the ground the clock turned to 4pm, we had made my mental cut off, now to make the top! First though Huw had to climb the first pitch, he thankfully found it easy (my second mental cut off was that if he found the first pitch hard he was going down!) and as I tied him to the belay, I got him to sit and look out at where we were going, it was a steep and intimidating place.

As I left the belay, I looked back at Huw, knowing the next hour was going to be a challenge for him and me, ‘you still up for it’, the resounding yes told me all I needed to know, this man was ready for a fight.

Heading up this pitch is fine if you are with a fellow climber you just lace it with gear, with a friend and non-climber it requires greater thought. The initial descending traverse means that you really have to climb a long way with any protection to reduce any pendulum, and essentially leave one rope free of gear for at least 50ft of the pitch, which is about where the crack opens up and eats you.

Turning the lip of the chimney I look down and wonder just how he will fair. Further up and using technique the climbing is OK, I remember my first time here and it felt a lot harder, I wonder how hard Huw would find it?!

At the belay the piece are all in place, I am ready to belay on a very tight rope and Llion and Katie are with Huw now ready to belay him down to the crack. Suddenly it is happening, huw ropes start to come in, and although I am blind to his efforts I can see the progress he is making through the inches of rope that come through the belay plate. As I take in occasional armfuls I shout down bucket loads of encouragement and then I see a hand appear over the roof. ‘Go on Huw!’

In my mind is one thought, if he makes it to the top groove its all over, his only gone and body done it. Then I see his face, he is trying like a man possessed to turn the roof, so I shout where the holds are and he’s then above the roof, exhausted and knackered he takes a few rests but eventually reaches me at the belay.

Huw pulls up on the rope to gain the ledge (this was the only time he pulled on the rope!)

The rest of the route goes easier, and Huw is enjoying every pitch, he even notices that every pitch is different, the first easy, the second a steep crack the third steep and juggy and the fourth an amazing and steep corner. Then we are there at the top sitting enjoy the top with the puffins, watching the world go by.

Huw enjoying the summit of the Old Man of Hoy

Huw hugs me and I hug him back, we text, tweet and facebook as we wait for Llion and Katie who are just behind us, and then make the three long abseils back down. I lose my temper with llion for dropping a rope too early and nearly getting it caught, for which I apologise later, as I was only bothered as it was a rope I had only brought a week ago. He managed to free it.

It was 8pm when we got back to the base. Not bad four of us up and down the stack in four hours. Ahead was the scramble back to the path. Huw was exhausted, although I think we all were, the last food we had was two cheese rolls 8 hours ago. As we got to the car the beers were opened and the celebrations started as we went to the Bothy on the beach.

Ratwick bay and the amazing Bothy.

back in the room

Well i have truly been on holiday. No laptop and i even turned my phone off. Well the battery died!

After fun with ferries we got to hoy and i guided a good friend huw who lets just say he is built for comfort and not for speed. He put in att brilliant effort and climb the old man.

Just behind us was llion and katie. So all four of us sat on the summit of the old man of hoy.

That evening we drank and ate like kings. Burning kelp att the rackwick bothy. The next day we sat, lay, slept and recovered.

An early start the next day and five hours wait for the ferry to the mainland let us climb the castle stack at yeansby.

Now its time to make the drive south to a bunkhouse somewhere before heading home on sunday.

I will do a longer post with photos when i get back. Huw got some great shots of us all on yeansby.

Bye for now!

Ml Assessment

Spent the day out over Snowdon doing a steep ground day assessment for a group from the conway centre. Despite the forecast the weather was much better than I anticipated, and we had a good day out, everyone performed well which is always easier when your assessing people.

I did feel sorry for the one guy on the assessment who had decided to prepare a talk on the industrialisation of the slate valleys. A potted history of Slate, his heart must have sank when he realised that I was assessing him, as he had read and used parts of my article on UKC. Still it was entertaining and educational!

I then had to run home and get packed ready for hoy, so trying to find all my extra large cams. All I know is I could probably do with another Cam 4 and 5. Maybe even a 6!

Anyway off tomorrow morning, so bring on the Old Man, although need to check the weather as we may just head south instead!

Get your Pump On

Well after work I headed up to Bus Stop Quarry, with an eye for Geordie Warcry, hoping for the sun to have dried it out. Unfortunately whilst the hard climbing was dry the bottom was being rained on. The clip stick came in handy and I managed to quickly climb to the third bolt and stick clip draws into the next two.

I then lowered off whilst llion had a go. Then I was up and managed to power through the crux, I have to say my confidence to commit above bolts has improved as despite a small part of my brain wanting to give up as I past the bolt, the more dominant side for now told me to truck on.

I got past the crux to the tricky move to the jug in the groove and fell off pumped. Still was good to fail, but be strong in the head and keep going till I was proper finished rather than just thinking I was!

After that Llion lead Gnat Attack, and I have to say those bolts are very worn now, hopefully we can get them replaced soon. Not a bad night after a day hitting the jumars coaching all day! One day I will actually redpoint all these route I have narrowly failed on, as one more move on Geordie Warcry and you get to a rest and easier climbing to the top!


Private coaching weekend

James goes to make the 'Off the Beaten Track' move

Well I sent the weekend teaching two really noce guys how to climb harder, on a personal coaching weekend. Was great to see them improve, although they were aready pretty good. One james had some of the best footwoak I have seen in a long time, and carl was also better than he thought.

I spent saturday baking in the slate quarries, as it allowed me to get them doing some technique work whilst on easy sports climbing, and at the same time got them thinging about break a route down. So we did a few routes on the sidings before I got James to lead Off the Beaten Track, which is about E2 on bolts.

After another route above looning the tube Carl lead Looning the Tube, both did them in great style, and showed they can keep there head nice and relaxed. As well as break the route down and get rests where they needed to.

We then finish by James leading Peter Pan, he did really well, and little does he know that the top move has taken some pretty big scalps, as the hidden hold is, well, hidden. After that Carl lead Seamstress and James Peter Pan, so they manged to get a lot done on slate.

Today the weather was very odd this morning, rain coming from what seemed like nowhere. So I decide to go to gogarth, only to look out across angelsey from the Beran Filling station and see clag, but clear skies towards tremadog, so we headed there instead where, they lead Yogi and Merlin Direct.

I hope they had a grteat weekend and enjoyed it as much as I did. They made me remember that the climbs I do all the time are simply amazing. Something that you do occassionally forget when your running laps on them regularly. They simply loved every route I put them on.

Carl on Looning the Tube - Slate quarries

Admin Day and Moving Website

Well I headed to the pub last night, it seems that my friday night is now on thursday, there was a good crew in the Heights. With a few people from Plas Y Brenin celebrating the end of there month long rock climbing course. Which sounds liek they all had a great time, one even brought my book.

Anyway today despite the amazing weather, I was doing admin stuff and starting to move my NWR website across to the LITV parish. Here’s a link to the work in progress, the hope is that it will drive a few more people to the site and get me some more work. feedback always appreciated.

Pigeon’s Cave Session

BBQ at Pigeons Cave

I got a text a cople of nights ago, for a team climb and BBQ at Pigeon’s Cave on the Great Orme. So headed down there this evening. After a quick ‘warm up’ or as I called it a pump out on String of Pearls, and E3 and a rather lame attempt by me on Mr Olympia, we headed down to the cave where I tried the Cou, failed first attempt and really fought hard on the second but conditions were very very greasy, another one to ‘do next time.

Anyway some great action shouts of various members of the team.

Dave working Stiff Upper Lip at Pigeons Cave
Synchronised Cranking - Tim and Dave amongst the Steeps at Pigeon's Cave
Dave foot loose, fancy free and campusing through the 'Stiff Upper Lip!" in Pigeon Cave
Dave on Stiff Upper Lip
Tim on the Coo
The Super Clip Stick! Dave gets the clips in Stiff Upper Lip!
Tim on The Coo - mPigeons Cave
Sunset and Home!


Focus On: Jude Spanken

I first met Jude Spancken many years ago, when she was studying at aberystwyth in mid/north Wales. She was a very good climber, and a month or so ago I put up a video from Hot Aches of her climbing ‘Lord of the Flies‘, after I saw the clip at the Paul Diffey slideshow at LLAMFF. As well as climbing to an extremely high level Jude often had in her hands a Camera, and despite her protests below that her climbing photograhy ‘needs work’. She has managed to capture many great images over the years.

She now lives in France, but before that she spent many a year living in Llanberis, but eventually the rain drove her mad, and she headed to sunnier climbs (sic). You can see some her images at her website.

What or Who inspired you to get into photography?

I remember that from quite a young age I would borrow my neighbors Nikon SLR camera and took it exploring around the village where I grew up in Northern Germany. If I look at the images I took back  then (I must have been between the age of 12 and 15) it seems that I really used the camera to document the things I loved and enjoyed doing but with a real curious approach as if I wanted to explore them further. So I guess I always had this curiosity in me and the urge to capture my environment and things that stand out for me.

Have you done any formal studies in photography, if so how has it helped you?

In 2000 I did a one year Diploma course in Professional Photography at the Western Academy of Photography in Victoria, Canada. I knew nothing about the technicalities of photography when I started the course. It helped heaps in understanding the equipment, the techniques and in giving me a critical approach to my photography. It was a very creative and inspirational environment and it was the first time I really enjoyed going to school. All classes were thought by actively working professional photographers who would come in to give the classes and talks.

What’s best Digital or Film, and why ?

There are huge advantages to digital I think. I am shooting far more for myself now as the costs of actually producing images is so much lower (once you have all the equipment). For high pressure jobs such as weddings or more commercial stuff it is really good to be able to check up what you’ve got without shooting expensive polaroids.

I think there is a definite downside to it as well though and I am very glad that I did my training the film way.

Being able to just shoot tonnes of frames without the worry of extra developing costs I think there is the danger of people putting less thought into each frame. Often it seems to be about quantity rather than quality and I think it is important to not loose the mindset to really think and compose with care. An image may otherwise loose its depth.

What has been your favourite photoshoot, and why has it stood out for you?

I have just been to the Isles of Scilly to take the pictures for an article for Trail Running magazine, so the trip is really fresh in my mind.  Following a couple of runners around the Islands was great fun and we had some really wild weather. But there has been others. One of my first commercial shoots was a trip to Morocco. It was immensely stressful as I was sent out there with 5 models and no direction, cash advance or any prior organisation.

Apart from coming up with the photos I had to do all the driving, hotel and inland flight booking and whatever else needed to be organized. I can’t remember how I actually found the time to take photos but somehow it worked out fine and it was a great experience.

You have an impressive collection of published images, which are you most proud of?

Proud is maybe the wrong word but I am always pleased when a shot worked out although the circumstances were really challenging. For example there is one shot for Jack Wolfskin they printed on the Front Cover of one of their leaflets. The brief was to go out in really stormy conditions to get some good windy looking photos for their wind proof tops. The days the shoot was scheduled for was one of the calmest days you can imagine. There wasn’t the slightest breeze whatsoever and we spend all day running around the mountaintops trying to find some windy spots.

What style best describes your photography?

I like simplicity. I find clutter in images distracting from what the image is actually about. I don’t think I consciously try to create images that are simple and clutter free but I think I am naturally drawn to scenes that radiate calm and simplicity whilst having some depth and beauty to it.

If there was anyone in the world dead or alive you could photograph who’d it be and why?

I really love taking portraits. Certain people trigger the want in me to photograph them. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. It doesn’t necessarily have to be conventional beauty or fame or that the person is well known for something in particular. I just meet some people that have this strong light shining through them, they radiate something special and when I see that I want to photograph them.

What do you look for in your images?

Maybe my above answers in partial already explain. Though I often feel that I am not looking for pictures but I simply find them. I seem to stumble across them, often unexpected. I do try though to really think about what it is in particular that attracts me to a scene, what objects or emotions work together and are important, then focus on that and try to eliminate everything else out of the frame.

Any top tips for the next generation of snappers or the keen amateur who is looking to improve there climbing photography?

I don’t actually think climbing photography is necessarily my strength and I am still working on ‘getting it’ myself in my climbing shots.

But yes, look at a scene. Ask yourself what is it about this scene that drew you to it in the first place and try to bring that out. Often only slight changes in angle and composition make an enormous difference in how a picture ‘feels’.

And don’t stop being critical about your images. Look at them and keep asking yourself what you could have done better.

What’s your next project?

Personal or for work? I have a wedding to photograph in a couple of weeks Weddings usually take a lot of energy and focus to photograph.

Personally I actually would like to work on my climbing photography this summer. That is something I could do better but have not really invested too much time into in the past. I always seemed to be too busy climbing myself.